Trauma bonding renders victims of abuse incapable of conceptualizing a realistic sense of self, it manipulates them into equating abuse with love, and it corrupts their perception a healthy relationship so severely that without the guidance of a qualified professional victims of abuse will continue to find themselves in abusive relationships simply because they’re familiar. Trauma bonding is extremely dangerous so the importance of learning how to prevent them is immeasurable.

The best approach one could have to preventing a trauma bond is to learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy interpersonal relationships and use this information to set, maintain, and protect the healthy boundaries they set with others and with themselves.

In this article you can expect to learn the difference between love and abuse, how unhealthy relationship make people feel like they need to be perfect, the difference between healthy and unhealthy arguments, and why people have realistic expectations in healthy relationship.

Spotting the Difference Between Love and Abuse

The intensity of the manipulative tactics that abusers use often blinds victims of abuse to the warning signs of an abusive relationship. Characteristics like jealousy, possessiveness, and an uncontrollable desire to control others accidentally get equated with healthy interest, love, and passion.

The reason that love frequently gets equated with abuse in trauma bonded relationship is because of something called cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency between beliefs, behavior, and information it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension, we will change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent.

In abusive relationship cognitive dissonance manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and ultimately normalization of abuse.

How is this even possible?

By and large, the way abusers are able to manipulate their vicitms into equating the most blatant forms of emotional and physical abuse with love is through a manipulative technique called mirroring.

A victim of abuse being manipulated by her abuser through mirroring

In an abusive relationship mirroring is when the abuser will absorb an extraordinary amount of information about their victim’s identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life.

This “void” in the victim’s life usually circulates around the victim’s definition of a healthy relationship and the victim’s sense of self.

For example, someone who has grown up in an unhealthy/abusive environment with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers is going to have an extremely corrupted perception of what a healthy relationship is and have a hard time conceptualizing a sense of self without the guidance of a qualified professional.

This type of upbringing causes the person to naturally gravitate towards abusive relationships simply because they’re familiar. So, when they cross paths with someone who is invalidating, devaluing, dehumanizing, and chaotic, it fills a void in their life because they’ve never experienced a healthy relationship.

A trauma bonded wife coming home to an abusive husband.

Here’s another example.

Someone who has been taught by their primary caregivers that love is love bombing, devaluation, inconsistency, and internalized anger/aggression, is also going to have a corrupted perception of a healthy relationship.

If they were to cross path with someone who was constantly love bombing them in the beginning of the relationship but pulled a one-eighty and began to devalue them, be inconsistent, randomly fly into a narcissistic rage, but always pull them back into the relationship with a captivating display of love bombing, they’re likely to miss the red flags of how toxic the relationship is because it mimics the relationship they grew up watching.

A woman being confused about her relationship because she doesn't know what a healthy relationship is.

One last example.

Imagine that someone has grown up in a healthy environment with available, responsive, and consistent primary caregivers and because of this, they’ve found themselves in a few different healthy relationships that didn’t have a shred of toxicity in them.

If they were to cross paths with an abuser, instead of using mirroring to mimic the a dysfunctional relationship like the previous two examples, the abuser will use it to mimic the core values, goals, aspirations, insecurities, and vulnerabilities of the victim and reflect or “mirror” that identity back to them.

What this does is it makes the victim feel as if they’ve met someone who understands them incredibly well, someone who they can grow with, and someone who they can easily envision a healthy, happy, and secure future with.

The moment the abuser senses that they’ve got the victim hooked, they’ll drop the act and begin their abusive pursuit of validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control.

A woman falling into the devaluation phase

This list of examples can go on and on but the point is that abusers are astonishingly good at being exactly who their victim needs them to be just long enough to get them hooked on the relationship.

As we mentioned before, once this happens the abuser will begin the devaluation and discard phase which is where cognitive dissonance comes into play.

You see, mirroring places victims up on an emotional pedestal where they feel like all of their needs are being exceeded. The moment the abuser drops the act and essentially dropkicks the victim off of the emotional pedestal, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension because the victim is experiencing an inconsistency among beliefs, information, and behavior.

This forces the vicitms to make a very difficult decision…

Do they acknowledge that the person they once envisioned a healthy, happy, and secure future with is a manipulative abuser or do they find some way to justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse to hold onto joy that they felt when they thought that the bond they shared with their abuser was authentic, special, and unique.

We cover this much more thoroughly in our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction but abusers are experts at manipulating their victim into a state of cognitive dissonance where they justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse for months, years, and sometimes even decades.

A trauma bonded man justifying his wife's abuse to his mother

This information isn’t meant to scare you. It’s meant to show that love is not perfect. It doesn’t matter how happy and secure the abuser’s ability to fill a void in your life made you feel, it is not love.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll never have a healthy relationship that fills a void in your life, it just means that it doesn’t happen in just a few months. It takes years of hard work and healthy boundaries to achieve.

If you’re in the midst of an abusive relationship or already have a corrupted definition of a healthy relationship, the best way to see the difference between love and abuse is to seek out the guidance of a qualified professional to help you reconstruct your definition of a healthy relationship and use that information to set and maintain healthy boundaries with others.

Suggested Reading: How Do You Know if a Bond Is Trauma or Love, Can You Love Someone That You’re Trauma Bonded To

Healthy Relationship Don’t Make You Feel Like You Need to Be Perfect

In the beginning stages of an abusive relationship it is very common for vicitms of abuse to experience a very subtle form of manipulation called typecasting, which is a technique that is designed to exploit one’s desire to look good to other people. 

The subtleness of typecasting often allows it to fly under people’s radars but it’s essentially when an abuser makes a comparison that is designed to manipulate the victim into believing that if they want the abuser in their life, they have to be similar or better than the person that the typecasting is comparing them to.

8 phrases narcissists use when typecasting

Typecasting makes vicitms of abuse feel uncomfortable with just being themselves. It makes victims of abuse submissive, non-confrontational, and wary of their actions out of the fear of “disappointing” the abuser.

Typecasting doesn’t necessarily mean that the abuser has any type of genuine feeling towards the person they’re comparing the victim with. In fact, it wouldn’t be above them to make up lies to typecast their victim.

It is just a manipulative tactic abusers use to manipulate their victim into believing that they have to be perfect to begin the process of gaining power and control over them.

Respect, validation, admiration, reassurance, compassion, fairness, empathy, intimacy, honesty, and loyalty does not require perfection.

The Difference Between a Healthy and an Unhealthy Argument

It is really important to learn the difference between a healthy and unhealthy argument because the fact of the matter is that all relationships have arguments. So, by understanding the difference between the two you can use that knowledge as yet another tool for preventing a trauma bonded relationship from flourishing.

In a healthy argument there isn’t any gaslighting, you don’t feel dominated, your voice is respected, there’s no narcissistic rage or contempt for one another, and you feel comfortable expressing your thoughts, emotions, feelings, and needs.

In an unhealthy argument the abuser will use your vulnerabilities and insecurities to devalue, invalidate, dehumanize, and confuse you into a submissive silence. Abusers use argument to fulfill their insecure need for power and control.

Their brains morph into a massive encyclopedia of your vulnerabilities, insecurities, fears, weakness, things you’ve done “wrong” in the past, and anything else that can help them “win” the argument.

The point is that in a healthy relationship you can have you an argument that brings you clarity and not self-doubt.

A trauma bond is heavily dependent on the abuser’s ability to make their victim feel “wrong” or “the problem” when advocating for themselves. It’s for this reason that paying attention to someone’s demeanor and motive during an argument is a significant aspect of interpersonal relationships that is worth paying attention to!

In Healthy Relationships You’ll Have Realistic Expectations For the Relationship

One of the most common signs of a trauma bonded relationship is when someone has vague and unrealistic reasons for being in the relationship. The reason for this is mirroring.

We spoke about this in a previous section, but just as a reminder, mirroring in an abusive relationship is when an abuser will absorb an extraordinary amount of information about their victim’s identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life.

Suggested Reading: Is Trauma Bonding Intentional?

What this does is it essentially places the victim up on an emotional pedestal where they can see a happy, healthy, and secure future with the abuser and with that comes very concrete reasons for being in the relationship because of how “perfect” the abuser is presenting themselves as.

A victim of abuse showing signs of a trauma bond

When abusers begin to devalue, invalidate, devalue, and dehumanize their victim, all of the reasons they had for being committed to the relationship begin to fade away. If a healthy relationship ever got to this point, there would be an honest and open discussion about the future of the relationship.

Sadly, abusers are very good at presenting themselves as irreplaceable with dozens of narcissistic behavior patterns that are designed to confuse the victim so what often happens is that the victim remains trauma bonded to the relationship but can’t explain why.

5 Examples of Vague Reasons For Being in a Relationship

  • There’s just something about him/her. You wouldn’t understand…
  • I can’t even explain it… We just have a strange connection…
  • Well, I’m not really sure but I know we’re meant to be together…
  • We had just a magical connection before he/she got so stressed… I can’t just leave!
  • I know it’s not love… but it isn’t hate either… I don’t want to let go and realize I lost my soulmate…

As a general rule, those who are in healthy relationships are going to have clear and concrete reasons for being committed to the relationship that circulate around trust, respect, honesty, mutuality, growth, and passion.

If you don’t have clear and concrete reasons for being in a relationship, you should reevaluate the relationship with the guidance of a trusted confidant or qualified professional.

5 Examples of Solid Reasons For Being in a Relationship

  • He/she is kind to me. 
  • He/she makes an effort to understand me even when we are arguing.
  • We motivate each other, I can see myself building a future with him/her.
  • He/she always respects my boundaries.
  • We’ve been together for so long and still find ways to grow as a couple.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Trauma bonds can be prevented, but by no means is it an easy task. Abusers, especially those with narcissistic personalities, devote their lives to maintaining their falsified identity. So, if you are to prevent a trauma bond from being formed, you need to have the same amount of dedication to educating yourself on the dynamics of a trauma bonded relationships with the guidance of a qualified professional.

As promised, we’d like to invite you to read our article about setting boundaries against abusers. In What Are Some Boundaries That You Can Set With a Narcissist and What Happens When You Set a Boundary With a Narcissist you’ll be able to grasp a comprehensive understanding of setting boundaries in high-conflict relationships.

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    Join Our Free Healing Program

    • A Weekly Group Session With a Psychologist
    • A Weekly Video Lesson From a Therapist
    • Support Groups (Sat. & Sun. 10am-3pm ET)
    • A Daily Trauma Recovery Guide

      Highly Suggested Reading About Trauma Bonding: What Are the Signs of a Trauma Bonded Relationship, Why Are Trauma Bonds so Hard to Break


      This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a health care provider for guidance specific to your case.