Once a person learns about trauma bonding, a common question they have is, “What are the signs of a trauma-bonded relationship?”

10 Signs of a Trauma-Bonded Relationship:

  • You feel an overwhelming emotional connection.
  • You are in denial of the abusive nature of the relationship.
  • You find yourself making excuses for your abuser’s actions.
  • You exhibit unhealthy attachment patterns.
  • You experience intense fear of separation or abandonment.
  • Your emotions towards your partner are conflicted.
  • There is a repeated cycle of abuse.
  • You have lost your sense of self-identity.
  • You have become isolated from friends and family.
  • You feel an unshakeable dependency on your abuser.

In this article, I will guide you through these ten signs to help you better understand the signs of a trauma-bonded relationship.

1.) You Feel an Overwhelming Emotional Connection

An intense emotional connection in the context of trauma bonding is not the same as a healthy emotional connection. 

This happens because the abuser often subjects the target to a cycle of abuse and strategically placed moments of “kindness.”

You see, after a period of abuse, the abuser may show “kindness,” which leads the target to feel a sense of relief and gratitude. 

This inconsistent reinforcement creates a powerful bond, as the target becomes increasingly desperate for the moments of “kindness.”

Suggested Reading: Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?

5 Signs You Might Have an Intense Emotional Connection:

1.) Thinking moments of “kindness” from the abuser are signs of their true feelings.

2.) Believing the intensity of the relationship is a sign of its strength or depth.

3.) Feeling that no one else can understand or connect with you in the same way.

A man worried about leaving his abuser.

4.) Believing the intense emotions you feel for the abuser, whether positive or negative, is evidence of a deep connection.

5.) Convincing yourself that the pain and suffering are worth it because of your deep emotional connection with the abuser.

2.) You Are in Denial of the Abusive Nature of the Relationship

Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that helps us cope with reality when it is too difficult to accept. 

In trauma-bonded relationships, the target often denies the severity of the abuse or even that the abuse is happening at all. 

This is because acknowledging the abuse would mean acknowledging the need to leave the relationship.

As you can imagine, acknowledging something like this is incredibly difficult due to the strong emotional connection.

5 Signs You Might Be In Denial:

1.) Minimizing the abuse by thinking, “It’s not that bad.”

2.) Convincing yourself the abuser didn’t mean to hurt you or that they couldn’t help it.

3.) Believing the situation will get better even though there is a pattern of abuse.

4.) Thinking that the abuser’s good qualities outweigh the abuse.

5.) Believing it’s your fault or that you somehow caused the abuse.

3.) You Find Yourself Making Excuses for Your Abuser’s Actions

Excusing the abuser’s behavior is one way the target tries to cope with the cognitive dissonance created by the situation. 

Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two contradictory beliefs or values. 

In this case, the target may believe that the abuser loves them while also recognizing that their behavior is abusive. 

To resolve this dissonance, the target often excuses the abuser’s behavior, attributing it to external factors rather than accepting that the abuser chooses to be abusive.

5 Signs You Might Be Excusing the Abuser’s Behavior:

You might think or say…

1.) “They had a really tough day at work, that’s why they acted that way.”

2.) “They didn’t mean it, they just have a hard time controlling their emotions.”

A woman trying to justify a narcissist's behavior.

3.) “They were just drunk, they’re not like that all the time.”

4.) “They only act like that because they care so much about me.”

5.) “It’s not their fault, they had a really difficult childhood.”

4.) You Exhibit Unhealthy Attachment Patterns

In a healthy relationship, people care for and support each other in a balanced way. 

However, in a trauma-bonded relationship, the target often feels a compulsive need to care for and protect the abuser despite their abusive actions. 

This unhealthy attachment stems from the intermittent reinforcement of the abuser’s affection and the target’s desire to win their approval and love. 

5 Signs You Might Have an Unhealthy Attachment:

You might think or say…

1.) “I need to be more understanding and supportive, then they’ll stop being so angry.”

2.) “If I can just make everything perfect for them, they’ll be happy and won’t hurt me.”

3.) “They’re going through a lot, it’s my job to take care of them.”

4.) “I have to stay strong for them, even if it means sacrificing my own needs.”

5.) “If I don’t take care of them, who will?”

5.) You Experience Intense Fear of Separation or Abandonment

Fear of separation or abandonment is common in trauma-bonded relationships because the target has been made to believe they are worthless or unlovable. 

5 Signs You Might Fear Separation or Abanodment:

1.) Believing that no one else will ever love or care for you.

2.) Feeling intense anxiety or panic at the thought of being alone.

3.) Convincing yourself the abuse is worth it to avoid being alone.

A trauma-bonded woman with a fear of being alone.

4.) Believing you won’t be able to survive or function without the abuser.

5.) Fearing the abuser will harm themselves or others if you leave.

6.) Your Emotions Towards Your Partner Are Conflicted

Feeling conflicted emotions towards the abuser is a classic sign of trauma bonding. 

The target often feels love, pity, and care for the abuser despite feeling anger, resentment, and hurt. 

This is because the abuser may have manipulated the target into believing they are the only one who can help or understand them. 

A narcissist gaslighting someone.

Additionally, the cycle of abuse creates a confusing mix of emotions, as the target is grateful for the moments of “kindness” but also angry and hurt by the abuse.

5 Signs You Might Have Mixed Emotions:

1.) Feeling guilty or selfish for being angry or resentful towards the abuser.

2.) Feeling responsible for the abuser’s well-being despite their abusive actions.

3.) Wanting to leave the relationship but also wanting to stay and help the abuser.

4.) Feeling grateful for the moments of “kindness” despite the ongoing abuse.

5.) Believing the abuser is a good person despite evidence to the contrary.

7.) There Is a Repeated Cycle of Abuse

I’ve already briefly touched on this in previous sections, but the cycle of abuse is a pattern that is often seen in abusive relationships. 

It consists of episodes of “kindness” followed by episodes of abuse.

This cycle is particularly manipulative because the moments of “kindness” get the target to hope the abuser has changed or that the relationship can be salvaged. 

This intermittent reinforcement (the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals) strengthens the trauma bond, making it more difficult for the target to leave.

Suggested Reading: What Is the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle?

5 Signs You Might Be In a Cycle of Abuse:

1.) Feeling a sense of hope and relief during moments of “kindness” because you believe the abuse is over.

2.) Feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness during episodes of abuse because you believe it’s your fault or that you deserve it.

3.) Convincing yourself the moments of kindness are a sign that the abuser is changing or that things will get better.

4.) Believing if you can endure the abuse, you will get to the “good times” again.

5.) Feeling stuck in a never-ending cycle of hope and despair without a clear way out.

8.) You Have Lost Your Sense of Self-Identity

In a trauma-bonded relationship, the target often loses sight of their needs, desires, and sense of self. 

This is because the abuser often manipulates and controls the target to the point where their world revolves entirely around the abuser and their needs. 

Over time, the target may lose touch with their identity and begin to define themselves solely in relation to the abuser.

5 Signs You Might Have Lost Your Sense of Self:

1.) Feeling like you don’t know who you are anymore, apart from your relationship with the abuser.

2.) Feeling like your needs and desires are unimportant or irrelevant.

A woman feeling like she doesn't have a right to feel how she does.

3.) Believing that your primary purpose is to serve and care for the abuser.

4.) Feeling empty or lost when you are not with the abuser or focused on their needs.

5.) Having difficulty making decisions or asserting yourself without the abuser’s approval or input.

9.) You Have Become Isolated from Friends and Family

Isolation is a common tactic used by abusers to gain control over their targets.

By isolating the target from friends and family, the abuser can exert greater control and manipulation, as the target has fewer outside influences and support. 

The target may also withdraw from loved ones out of shame and embarrassment about the situation, further deepening their isolation and dependence on the abuser.

Suggested Reading: 5 Ways That Narcissists Isolate You

5 Signs You Might Be Experiencing Isolation:

1.) Feeling ashamed or embarrassed about the relationship and not wanting others to know.

2.) Feeling like no one else will understand or believe you.

3.) Believing that your friends and family will judge or blame you for the abuse.

4.) Feeling like the abuser is the only one who truly cares for or understands you.

5.) Feeling isolated and alone, even when you are with other people.

10.) You Feel an Unshakeable Dependency on Your Abuser

Dependency occurs when the target feels like they cannot function or survive without the abuser despite the harmful nature of the relationship. 

This can occur for several reasons. 

First, the abuser often manipulates the target into believing they are worthless, unlovable, or incapable of caring for themselves. 

This erodes the target’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, making them feel like they cannot manage their life without the abuser. 

Second, the abuser often controls various aspects of the target’s life, such as finances, housing, or social connections, making the target dependent on the abuser. 

Lastly, due to the isolation from others, the target may feel that they have no other source of emotional support, further deepening their dependency on the abuser.

5 Signs You Might Be Dependent on the Abuser:

1.) Believing you can’t manage your life without the abuser, even if there is evidence to the contrary.

A woman feelinglike she can't survive without the narcissist.

2.) Feeling like your abuser is the only one who can meet your emotional needs despite their abusive behavior.

3.) Fearing you will be unable to cope emotionally or physically if you leave the relationship.

4.) Believing you are not strong, smart, or capable enough to leave the relationship and rebuild your life.

5.) Feeling a sense of desperation or panic at the thought of ending the relationship, even if you know it is harmful.

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

So there you have it, ten signs of a trauma-bonded relationship. I hope this article brought you value. Thank you so much 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.

If you’re ready to heal, visit The Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse to get started.
Share this post to help others trust their experiences.

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About This Article

We used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create parts of this article to enhance its accuracy and readability. It underwent a strict human editorial process before being published. See additional information.

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