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14 Ways to Break a Trauma Bond

Reading time: 17 mins
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Figuring out how to break a trauma bond is a process that involves cutting ties with an abuser. Needless to say, this process can be difficult and can take a considerable amount of time.

Healing from a trauma bond can also be challenging because this unhealthy attachment does not simply heal with time. In fact, getting over a traumatic bonding is a complex procedure that needs a combination of professional treatment and self-help coping strategies.

To get over the trauma bond, it is important to have healthy coping skills in order to break free from the shackles of abuse. Continue reading to learn about the 14 ways to break a trauma bond.

1. Learn for yourself

Learn for yourself and gain access to resources that can help educate you on what is a trauma bond. There are various available resources online for those experiencing abuse, and you can also try visiting your local violence shelters and agencies that offer victims support, advice, crisis counseling, and safety planning assistance.

This first step is essential to help you become aware of the situation you’re stuck in and how you can possibly get out of it by seeking help from others. By learning for yourself, you become self-aware, and you realize that something is wrong with the relationship you are in.

Educating yourself about your situation is also a way of admitting that something does not sit right with you, with the way things are going. One obstacle you may encounter, however, while learning for yourself, is that the perpetrator who is obsessed with you may keep track of what you’re checking online or may even search for you when you try to leave the house.

All obstacles considered, nothing can change the fact that educating yourself about your situation is still one of the best ways to free yourself from a trauma bond because it is the first step to doing so.

Learning for yourself may prove to be difficult at first, compared to other ways of breaking a trauma bond. After all, the first step is often the hardest, because it signals change, and change can be scary. However, as you make progress, the path will become clearer and easier, and so will the process.

2. Focus on the present moment

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Focus on the present moment and be mindful of what is happening in the here and now. Pay attention to how your partner is currently treating you and how they make you feel at the moment.

This is important in helping you focus on the quality of the person and your relationship with them. Does he or she make you feel unloved? Trapped? Do both of you have mutual goals?

The benefit of focusing on the present moment in breaking a trauma bond is that it allows you to see the person as they really are and keeps you away from distractions, such as unhelpful thoughts, including “what if” questions and “could be” scenarios.

An obstacle you are likely to go through during this step is your mind going against you by allowing you to think that the good times you shared with the person may happen again not long in the future, or you may think that it is still possible for them to change for the better.

However, focusing on the present is one of the best ways on how to break the trauma bond because it helps you be mindful of what is really going on around you and accept your abuser’s toxic behaviors for what they are – an attempt to control you and your reality.

In an article written by Rajeev Kurapati, M.D., for mindbodygreen, he stated that it is nearly impossible for people to be in the present for an extended period of time because the mind perceives it as something that’s not worth dwelling in, simply because it’s guaranteed.

3. Distance yourself from the abusive individual by taking a step back

Distance yourself from the abusive individual by taking a step back and see how it may benefit you. Create some space between you and the abusive person by taking time apart and putting yourself first.

Taking a step back helps you gain clarity or a broader perspective on the real status of your relationship. It is also beneficial because it helps you consider things more clearly and aids you in making informed decisions about what to do moving forward.

Creating a distance, however, is not always easy. One particular obstacle you may encounter is the lack of time and space to really think about taking a step back because you are so immersed in the cyclical pattern of abuse you’ve been in for the longest time. This makes it difficult for you to see all the options and possibilities outside the relationship.

Learning to distance yourself means that you have already gained some self-awareness about your situation and how it requires you to reflect on the aspects of your relationship, so it may be relatively easy to do compared to other ways on how to break a trauma bond.

4. Attend a support group meeting

Attend a support group meeting where you can have the opportunity to be with people who are likely to have similar problems and experiences as you. There are local support groups and various other organizations that offer support groups for abused individuals, their family, and even friends.

Meeting and talking with other support group members is crucial in offering and receiving support, encouragement, and comfort from people who can provide companionship. Attending support groups also helps you realize that you are not alone in your struggles and there are people who understand what you’re going through.

An abusive relationship can easily make anyone feel as if they’re trapped and isolated from others. Some obstacles you are likely to encounter when attending support group meetings include transportation and a busy schedule for in-person support groups and technical problems, as well as lack of face-to-face contact.

However, participating in a support group meeting is one of the most effective ways in breaking a trauma bond relationship because it helps you realize that there is a bigger world outside your relationship and provides you with the social support you need as you move forward.

If you have enough time to participate in support groups in your local area, it may be easier for you to do this step.

5. Take care of yourself

Take care of yourself and engage in activities that are good for both your body and mind. These activities for your body-mind wellness may include eating healthy, getting lots of sleep, drinking plenty of water, exercising, and doing activities you enjoy.

This step is important in freeing yourself from trauma bonds because when you practice self-care, according to BetterUp, it allows you to be the best version of yourself in various areas of life.

Taking care of yourself is also beneficial for your physical and mental health, as it boosts your immune system, increases your energy levels, helps you manage stress, and lowers your risk of illnesses.

However, people in an abusive relationship may struggle with self-care because they tend to put their perpetrator’s feelings and needs first, often at their own expense.

It may be difficult for an individual who got stuck in a cycle of abuse to engage in a self-care routine at first because it may trigger feelings of guilt and negative feelings related to their self-worth, or they may feel that they don’t deserve self-care at all.

6. Consider what you want the future to hold

Consider what you want the future to hold and think about how you can shape it. This entails believing and making ways to improve your current situation, so you can look forward to a better future.

This is crucial in setting yourself free from a trauma bond because future thinking is a reminder that anything can change, even the situation you’re in right now. Another benefit of looking forward to the future is that it helps you act on influential changes at the present time to shape a more positive and successful future for yourself.

A particular obstacle you may encounter when thinking about the future has something to do with its uncertainty. As an article entitled “Why it’s so hard to think effectively about the future” published in Quartz stated, an explanation that neuroscience can offer is that the brain loathes uncertainty.

However, future thinking is one of the best ways on how to heal from trauma bonding because it changes your mindset and allows you to have a new way of thinking. When you envision a good future where there’s no abuse, it activates your feel good hormones, which are linked to decreased negative emotions.

People may also find it hard to consider the future because years of suffering from emotional abuse may lead them to think that they’re not worthy of a better future or that they can’t do better than the abusive person they are with.

7. Engage in constructive conversation

Engage in constructive conversations with people you feel comfortable, safe, and confident to be with. Establish healthy relationships with individuals you can truly express yourself to and show up as your true, authentic self.

This step is important to develop your skills in sharing your feelings, expectations, and opinions. Engaging in constructive conversations is also beneficial for you because failure to communicate stems from the fear of being rejected or upsetting your partner. When you learn how to communicate healthily, you speak your truth assertively, and you start aligning your words with your actions.

Potential barriers to engaging in constructive conversations include the silent treatment, yelling, screaming, sarcasm, and put-downs that you may have been exposed to during an abusive relationship.

As a result, it may be hard at first to communicate your needs and boundaries due to being emotionally overwhelmed or stressed.

8. Permit yourself to get well

Permit yourself to get well by first sitting with your feelings instead of disengaging or distracting yourself. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions and be ready to accept that it is a part of your path to healing.

When you realize how feeling the pain can help you become aware of the things you wish to improve in your physical, emotional, and mental health, you are preparing yourself to move through the path of healing and wholeness.

Some potential obstacles when you embark on the journey to healing are the uncomfortable feelings and the fact that it can take a lot of time and energy. However, it is important to understand that permitting yourself to get well is one of the best ways to break free of trauma bonds. It allows you to be kinder to yourself as you give it all the time it needs to fully heal from the wounds that hurt you.

Self-healing can also be difficult for people who were abused because they have kept their uncomfortable emotions buried for so long that they have created a defense mechanism by just ignoring them.

9. Talk to a Professional

Talk to a professional who specializes in recognizing and treating abuse and/or trauma bonding. An article entitled “How to Recognize and Break Traumatic Bonds” published in Healthline states that it is generally recommended to consult a trauma-informed therapist who is an expert on the complex impact of trauma.

While there are ways on how to stop trauma bonding like the ones on this list, you may still find yourself needing professional help to break the cycle of abuse – and that’s okay.

Seeing a professional can help you better cope with your situation and provide clarity about it. Mental health professionals can also aid in identifying the factors that may have contributed to the development of the trauma bond and teach you more healthy coping strategies to maintain future relationships.

The obstacles to mental health help-seeking among victims of abuse often center on fear, such as fear of judgment, fearing for their safety, and fear that no one will believe their story.

Talking to a professional may prove to be harder than other ways on how to stop trauma bonding because several factors may be considered as a barrier to seeking help. These include lack of accessibility to mental health services, financial difficulties, stigmatizing beliefs, and lack of awareness about their problem.

10. Maintain self-compassion

Maintain self-compassion and cut yourself some slack. You, more than anyone else, deserve kindness. However, it’s important that this kindness comes from yourself first.

According to an article written by Kristin D. Neff from the Educational Psychology Department of the University of Texas at Austin, higher levels of self-compassion are associated with increased feelings of happiness, connectedness, curiosity, and optimism, as well as decreased anxiety, fear of failure, and depression.

Learning how to provide yourself with self-compassion can also help you gain the strength and courage to put yourself first and to believe that you deserve to live a better life than the one you’re currently living, as stated by an article written by licensed family and marriage therapist Beverly Engel for Psychology Today.

Moreover, according to findings reported by Emily M. Bauman, Dave Haaga, and Mary Ann Dutton in their study published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, because survivors often experience psychological manipulation, they tend to adopt maladaptive coping strategies, such as submissiveness and self-blame. These unhealthy coping skills can be obstacles to self-compassion.

However, being kind to yourself is one of the most effective ways on how to get out of a trauma bond because it is important to give credit to yourself for finally listening to that voice inside you that says you deserve better.

This step may be difficult at first, considering how you were only offered crumbs of kindness during the relationship, but it is a step worth trying in order to acknowledge and attend to your suffering.

11. Practice yoga regularly

Maintain a regular yoga practice, which allows the body to activate its inner healing cascade and calm. Yoga programs can support trauma survivors in their healing journey.

Practicing yoga can be highly empowering for victims of abuse because it offers methods for calming down the nervous system and teaches ways to self-soothe, which can offer relief for someone who has dealt with traumatic events in which they had little control over.

Another one of the many benefits of yoga is that it gives survivors the opportunity to connect with their body again. This involves letting the body notice the sensations that arise from it, which can also influence the way one experiences emotions.

According to a cross-sectional study from Kathmandu, Nepal on the benefits, barriers, and determinants of practicing yoga published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the reported barriers of maintaining a yoga routine include lack of energy in doing yoga, lack of knowledge about its benefits, the possibility of injuries, and poor physical/health condition.

Despite potential obstacles, however, practicing yoga can set you up for trauma bond healing because it helps alleviate physical manifestations of trauma, helping you feel safe once again in your own body.

Nowadays, with the help of YouTube, it is easier to have access to yoga routines that you can do at the comfort of your home. Attending in-person yoga classes is also an option if you’re after a relaxing ambiance and atmosphere.

12. Focus your energy on a project you love

Focus your energy on a project you love, yet you have been putting off for the longest time because your world used to revolve around only one person. Now that you’re learning how to get over a trauma bond, you can have time for hobbies or activities you once enjoyed again.

This step is important in rediscovering yourself and remembering who you really are before you lost yourself to an abusive person. Another benefit of starting a project you keep putting off is the sense of progress and renewed motivation when you finally allow yourself to focus on something you love that has nothing to do with your partner.

Some obstacles you might encounter when trying to focus your energy on starting a project include negative self-talk, setting unrealistic expectations, and high levels of stress. Those factors may cause you to feel overwhelmed when trying to complete your project.

However, shifting your focus and redirecting your energy remain some of the best ways to heal from a trauma bond. This is because you can be able to turn your negative energy into a positive one by taking the difficult emotions and putting them into something new, allowing you to get back on a more productive track.

It can be harder for many victims of abuse to focus their energy on a long put-off project because trauma leads to serious changes in energy, motivation, and desire for usually pleasurable activities.

13. Keep a journal

Keep a journal and allow yourself to put your trauma down in words. A journal provides an avenue for you to express your innermost feelings.

Journal writing is used in dealing with a wide variety of mental health conditions because it can lessen the impact of a stressful situation if you write about it as it occurs.

Another benefit of journaling is that it can show you a pattern of abuse and violence as they happen. It can also help you identify which unhelpful thought patterns influence your behavior the most.

Some obstacles that may keep you from keeping a journal are a lack of time, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling exposed. These might make it harder for someone to keep up the habit of journaling.

Mental health journaling, however, is simply one of the best ways a trauma bonded individual can explore their thoughts and feelings and gain a better understanding of them. This was something they were not able to do during the abusive relationship because they were too occupied with its highs and lows.

Keeping a journal is easy, as you can grab any blank paper or notebook and just start writing down your thoughts and emotions, whether good or bad, and reflect on what you have written right after.

14. Stop imagining what “could have happened”

Stop imagining what could have happened and start taking actions that can propel your healing. Dwelling about what it could have been like if you had left or fought back sooner defeats the purpose of moving forward.

It is essential to stop worrying about what could have been because these things are not relevant anymore and will only keep you from taking any concrete actions to improve your situation.

Not dwelling on “what-ifs” is also beneficial because when you do not give power to your worries, you start taking control of your thoughts and not the other way around. This is critical in achieving any healing-related goal, whether short-term or long-term.

Some obstacles you are likely to encounter when trying to stop thinking about what could have happened are feelings of regret, ruminating about the past, and thinking about alternative possibilities.

However, being able to overcome these obstacles will largely benefit you, as avoiding what-if thinking is one of the best ways to go on with your trauma bonding recovery. By doing this step, you are able to recognize and identify the unhelpful thought patterns that are influencing your reality.

Learning how to take control over your thoughts is not easy. It takes a lot of focus and hard work. There are also days when unwanted thoughts that come unannounced may take a toll on your mind.

What is a trauma bond?

Trauma bonding is an emotional attachment that forms between an abused individual and their abusive partner due to patterns of abusive behavior in the relationship. While it is commonly associated with unhealthy romantic relationships, trauma bonds can also occur between family members, colleagues, and friends.

In their article entitled, “What is trauma bonding?”, Pace (Parents against child exploitation), adds that the term ‘trauma bond’ is also referred to as Stockholm Syndrome. It happens when a victim develops a strong sense of loyalty and other positive feelings towards their abuser, even when the bond is damaging to them.

How to break a trauma bond after a breakup?

broken chain fence

You can break a trauma bond after a breakup by doing things such as educating yourself on the topic of trauma bonding, cutting off your abuser, engaging in new activities, making healthy relationships, and taking a break from dating.

After getting out of the abusive relationship, the first thing you might want to do is to educate yourself on the topic of trauma bonding. This gives you knowledge on what is a trauma bond and provides you with further information on how it develops in a relationship.

Through educating yourself, you can gain self-awareness about what you have gone through and protect yourself from experiencing it again in the future.

Next, it is also important to cut off your abuser entirely. Go no contact and cut ties with your abuser. Walk away from them physically and emotionally, and ignore them. This may be difficult at first due to feel-good hormones taking a dive during a challenging phase of your life, but as time passes by and with the help of a support system or a professional, you can feel normal again in no time.

Another thing to do is to engage in new activities which you find enjoyable. This is an effective way to free your mind from thoughts about your abuser and to keep you from dwelling on what if questions about your past relationship.

By challenging yourself to do new things, you also meet new people, and you can start making healthy relationships once again. After suffering from an unstable relationship, it is time for you to focus on forming healthy bonds now. You can take a class, go to a new restaurant, go out with friends, volunteer, or anything that fosters stable and safe connections.

Lastly, you might want to go off the market in the meantime. It is not a good idea to get back into the dating scene while you are still recuperating and are still in a vulnerable state after a breakup. Take a break from dating, so you can work on yourself every day and give it enough time to heal.

How to break a trauma bond after domestic abuse?

Breaking a trauma bond after domestic abuse can be done by initiating divorce, gathering resources, working with a trauma-informed therapist, going minimal contact, joining a support group, and working on your self-worth.

First off, if you have not ended your marriage with your abusive partner yet, that’s the ideal place to start. File for a divorce, during which you can also file for a family violence and child protection order, where a parent and the children can be protected from the abusive spouse, respectively.

After this, you can also gather resources online that can educate you about trauma bonds. This way, you can clearly see how unhealthy your relationship was, and you can stop blaming yourself for how your marriage turned out.

Working with a trauma-informed therapist is also very important because you’re not only dealing with the trauma bond, you’re also trying to work through a divorce. Needless to say, these experiences can take a toll on you, so it is ideal to seek professional help, so you can also learn healthy coping strategies as you go on your healing journey.

Next, if there are kinds or shared property involved, you can go minimal contact than going no contact at all. This also depends on other factors, including if your partner tends to engage in harassing, stalking, or violent behaviors. If this is the case, then going no contact may be the best option.

Joining a support group – where you can meet and share experiences with people who are going through the same troubles – can also help you feel safe in a new environment. After being in countless unsafe situations, you can have a support network where you are given the chance to establish safe and secure connections.

Most importantly, it is crucial to work on your self-worth after suffering from trauma bonds following domestic violence. Working on your self-worth will help you build confidence, self-esteem, and will help you establish the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

How long do trauma bonds last?

A study conducted by Unfilteredd, an organization that aims to spread information about abusive and manipulative relationships, revealed that trauma bonds last for an average of 5.5 years for individuals bonded to a romantic partner while the average duration of trauma bonds for those bonded to a family member was 12.2 years.

Among the participants of the study were 150 survivors of trauma bonded romantic relationships and 150 survivors of trauma bonds involving family members. The organization adds that 96% of the respondents of the study identified cognitive dissonance as the reason behind the continuation of their trauma bonded relationship.

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that explains the discomfort or psychological tension that abused individuals feel when he or she is faced with the unpalatable fact that an abuse is taking place because it does not align with their accepted view of the world.

As a result, one or both partners will deny the toxicity that is being evident in the relationship and will carry on as if everything’s normal despite outsiders noticing the opposite.

Where can I find assistance to break a trauma bond?

The aftereffects of a trauma bond can be lasting, but you can get past its negative effects with the aid of professional treatment. The Diamond Rehab Thailand offers a wide range of therapeutic techniques for trauma-related concerns, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), 12 steps treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness therapy, and EMDR treatment.

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Each of these therapy interventions are designed to help you develop healthy coping skills that can be used to manage your symptoms and prevent escalation. Your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your condition and will be tailored to your specific needs by an internationally trained trauma team.

How common is a trauma bond?

A trauma bond is extremely common because it does not only happen in romantic relationships, but can also be evident in various other dynamics, including child abuse, military training, parent-child relationships, kidnapping, political torture, and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). According to Domestic Violence Statistics from The Hotline, in the United States, 14.8% of women and 4% of men have been injured as a result of intimate partner violence, which includes rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

Many victims of domestic violence or abuse find it difficult to leave their abusers because they have a deep bond with them that keeps them there even when things are dire, as stated by licensed therapist Dr. Liz Powell in an article published in Well+Good.

What are the stages of trauma bond?

The stages of trauma bond perpetuate the cycle of psychological distress and pain often seen in unhealthy relationships. The 7 stages of trauma bond are listed below:

  1. Love bombing: refers to a manipulative tactic often used by abusive people in which they shower their victim with attention and affection as a way of manipulating them. Love bombing is characterized by over-the-top romantic gestures, excessive praise, and admiration.
  2. Trust and dependency: After gaining affection from their victim, the perpetrator will then move on to winning over the victim’s trust, which sets the abused individual up to think that their abuser is the only source of validation and attention they can have.
  3. Criticism: Once the abuser has tested their victim’s trust and dependency on them, they will suddenly start criticizing the victim and blame them for things that are not their fault. This ends up with the abused individual over-apologizing when it isn’t their place to do so.
  4. Gaslighting: is a stage where the abuser makes their victim doubt their own thoughts, sanity, and perception of reality by manipulating or denying factual information. This leads the victim into confusion that ultimately makes them think that they cannot trust themselves.
  5. Resigning to control: At this stage, the person on the receiving end of the abuse is aware that discussions do not work anymore and just lead to more conflict, so he or she will avoid any further conflicts by giving in to their abuser and doing things their way.
  6. Loss of self: Loss of self occurs when the target of abuse settles for anything – even much lesser than what they deserve – just to achieve some sense of peace. Over time, this emotional abuse causes the victim to lose their own sense of self and confidence.
  7. Emotional addiction: The cyclical nature of trauma bonding causes the abused person to become addicted to the highs and lows of the toxic relationship. There may be a period of peace where the abuser may apologize and love bomb the victim all over again, only to take all the attention and affection back and blame the victim again for behaviors he or she did not commit.

Can a trauma bond be fixed?

Yes, a trauma bond can be fixed. It might require a lot of work, and it probably won’t be easy as well, but as long as both people involved in the unhealthy dynamic are willing to change their situation, things may improve.

This might be extremely difficult, however, if only done by the couple. It may prove to be more helpful if a trauma bond will be repaired with the help of a licensed mental health professional. After all, a serious tune-up in the relationship may entail learning how to communicate, improving conflict resolution, and voicing each party’s thoughts and concerns.

Can a trauma bond heal itself?

No, a trauma bond cannot heal itself. It does not simply heal with time, simply because this deep, unhealthy bond does not have a concept of time and may continue to linger for years.

This is where the importance of seeking professional help comes in. A trauma-informed therapist can help explore your past and examine the factors that may have contributed to the development of the emotional attachment with your abuser, while not bringing judgment and criticism along for the ride.