During our last support group meeting, one of our community members asked an intriguing question: “Is trauma bonding intentional?”
In some cases, abusers intentionally create a trauma bond by alternating between abusive and affectionate behaviors. However, not all abusers know the psychological effects of their actions or deliberately try to make a trauma bond.
In this article, I will explain the manipulative tactics abusers use when they intentionally try to create a trauma bond.
But before we get started, please note that I am not suggesting abusers are consciously aware of the concept of trauma bonding.
This article highlights the manipulative behaviors abusers intentionally use to get the target to feel dependent, in every sense of the word, on them (trauma bonding).
1.) Love Bombing
Love bombing is when an abuser showers their target with affection, compliments, and gifts at the beginning of a relationship.
This overwhelming attention makes the target feel special, valued, and loved.
However, this behavior is intentional because the abuser is trying to quickly gain the target’s trust and affection to establish control over them.
Love bombing plays a critical role in creating a trauma bond because it establishes a strong emotional connection.
It also sets up the target to be more tolerant of the abuser’s negative behaviors later on in the relationship.
Once the target is “hooked,” the abuser will often change their behavior dramatically, leading to a desire to regain the affection and attention they once received.
Suggested Reading: How to Protect Yourself Against Love Bombing (7 Steps)
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where the abuser intentionally deceives their target into doubting their perceptions, memories, or sanity.
For example, the abuser might deny something happened or accuse the target of being overly sensitive or paranoid.
This is intentional because the abuser is trying to create a sense of confusion and self-doubt in the target, which makes them more reliant on the abuser’s version of reality.
Gaslighting contributes to trauma bonding by eroding the target’s self-trust and making them more dependent on the abuser for validation and a sense of reality.
Suggested Reading: How to Stop a Narcissist from Gaslighting You (3 Steps)
Devaluation involves the abuser criticizing or belittling the target to erode their self-esteem.
This can involve name-calling, mocking, or pointing out the target’s flaws or mistakes.
This behavior is intentional because the abuser tries to make the target feel worthless and dependent on their approval.
Devaluation plays a key role in creating a trauma bond because it erodes the target’s self-worth and makes them more tolerant of the abuser’s behavior.
Because the devaluation makes them feel like they deserve the abuse or that they won’t be able to find someone better, trapping them in the relationship.
Suggested Reading: What Is the Devaluation Phase?
4.) Intermittent Reinforcement
Intermittent reinforcement involves the abuser alternating between affectionate and abusive behavior.
This can create a sense of unpredictability and anxiety in the target as they never know what to expect.
This behavior is intentional because the abuser tries to keep the target off balance and constantly seeks their approval.
Intermittent reinforcement plays a crucial role in creating a trauma bond.
This is because the unpredictable nature of the abuser’s behavior can create a sense of addiction in the target.
Suggested Reading: Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?
Over time, the target may start to crave the affectionate behavior and tolerate the abusive behavior in the hopes of receiving the positive reinforcement again.
This cycle can create a strong emotional bond that is difficult to break.
Isolation involves the abuser encouraging or forcing the target to cut ties with friends and family, which increases their dependency on the abuser.
This tactic is intentional because the abuser wants to control the narrative and eliminate outside influences that might support the target.
Isolation is key in creating a trauma bond because it removes the target’s support system, making them more reliant on the abuser for emotional support and validation.
This increased dependency can strengthen the bond between the abuser and the target, making it harder for the target to leave the relationship.
6.) Playing the Victim
Playing the victim involves the abuser pretending to be hurt or misunderstood to gain sympathy and control the narrative.
This can involve the abuser blaming the target for their abusive behavior or accusing the target of being abusive themselves.
This tactic is intentional because the abuser tries to shift the blame and manipulate the target into feeling guilty or sorry for them.
Playing the victim contributes to trauma bonding by confusing the target and making them question their behavior and perceptions.
This can cause the target to excuse the abuser’s behavior and try harder to please or appease them, strengthening their trauma bond.
Triangulation involves the abuser creating a triangle between themselves, the target, and a third party, either real or imagined.
This can involve the abuser comparing the target to others, spreading rumors or lies to pit people against each other, or even forming alliances with others against the target.
This tactic is intentional because the abuser tries to create a sense of competition, insecurity, or conflict in the target.
Triangulation contributes to trauma bonding by making the target feel insecure, isolated, and anxious, leading them to seek the abuser’s approval or alliance.
This can strengthen the trauma bond between the target and the abuser, making it more difficult for the target to recognize the abuse or seek support from others.
Suggested Reading: 6 Examples of Triangulation In Narcissistic Relationships
8.) Silent Treatment
The silent treatment involves the abuser ignoring or withholding affection as a form of punishment.
This can create a sense of anxiety and a desire in the target to “make things right” with the abuser.
This tactic is intentional because the abuser tries to establish control by manipulating the target’s emotions.
More specifically, it makes them feel anxious and unsure of their standing in the relationship.
The silent treatment plays a role in creating a trauma bond by establishing a power dynamic where the abuser has control over the target’s emotional well-being.
This can make the target more compliant and eager to please the abuser to avoid being ignored or rejected.
9.) Threats of Abandonment
Threats of abandonment involve the abuser threatening to end the relationship, withdraw their support, or exclude the target from a social or family group.
This can create a sense of anxiety and a desire to appease the abuser.
This tactic is intentional because the abuser tries to establish control by manipulating the target’s fear of abandonment or exclusion.
Threats of abandonment play a key role in creating a trauma bond by tapping into the target’s fear of being alone, unsupported, or ostracized.
This can cause the target to tolerate abusive behavior and try harder to please the abuser to avoid abandonment or exclusion.
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
While they may not be consciously aware of the concept of trauma bonding, abusers intentionally use the manipulative behaviors I listed above to get the target to feel dependent on them. I hope this article brought you value; thank you for reading it!
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.