What Trauma Bonding Is And Why It’s Not A Good Thing

Toxic relationships: no one tries to be in them, but sometimes we miss the warning signs and end up in one. One of the most unhealthy kinds of toxic relationships are trauma bonds, where people are connected through a cycle of abuse, insecurity, and fear. Trauma bonding occurs when you stay loyal to a destructive lover, believing that leaving them would be far worse than staying. Before you get swept up in the addictive nature of trauma bonds, here are 10 reasons why you deserve better.

  1. There will always be a power imbalance. When healthy relationships hit a snag, both people play a role in repairing it. But in trauma bonds, there will always be a power imbalance. You may think you have power to change things, or you may even believe that everything wrong with the relationship is your fault. But if you’re a victim of a trauma bond, you’re being taken advantage of, often without even realizing it.
  2. The relationship is predictably unpredictable. Trauma bonds are always hot-and-cold, up-and-down, push-and-pull. There’s never any stability or predictability. Instead, the relationship feels like a constant emotional rollercoaster, and you’re being dragged along for the ride.
  3. You lose all independence and sense of self. Trauma bonds are usually built on abuse and manipulation. And to cope, you learn to depend on the same person who hurt you to fix you. In reality, they never will, and you lose your independence and self-worth in the process. And to make matters worse, you might start censoring yourself in order to keep the relationship going and avoid triggering the other person.
  4. Trauma bonds are isolating. If you’re in a trauma bond, it can feel like no one truly understands. Maybe they don’t agree with your relationship, or they encourage you to leave your partner. And they may also notice that you’re not the best version of yourself in this relationship, which might only drive them away more. For a lot of people bonded by trauma, it can be hard to let go of attachment to the other person, even if that means losing other people as a result.
  5. You start associating pain with love. A trauma bond will have you believing that pain is love and mood swings are passion. Then, it can become hard to differentiate between love and abuse. But they are very different. However, it takes having healthy relationships to recognize the distinctions. By staying stuck in a trauma bond, you don’t have an opportunity to see what else is out there and how much better real love feels.
  6. You’ll feel more insecure. While it’s no one’s fault that they end up in an abusive or toxic relationship, having unhealed insecurities can make it more likely. And if you’re in a trauma bonded relationship, your insecurities will likely only grow larger over time. That’s because trauma bonds usually make us feel indebted to the other person, like we’re never good enough. Every time the other person is upset or cold, you might start to believe that you’re to blame and that there’s something “wrong” with you, not them.
  7. Trauma bonds keep you stuck in the past. Whether you realize it or not, trauma bonding might be a reflection of past trauma and unhealthy relationships. If you had a tough time with a parent or ex, you may have picked up some bad habits and coping strategies that you’re now using in your current toxic relationship. But this only keeps you stuck in your old problems, never having a chance to learn and grow beyond them. A relationship should reflect the type of future and person you want to become, not who you were or what you suffered in the past. And that means never settling for a rocky and insecure partnership.
  8. Trust will always be an issue. Trauma bonds are deeply committed, attached relationships, but that doesn’t mean there’s any trust. Trauma bonding is driven by insecurity, which only fuels trust issues more. The other person may promise that things will improve, and you may feel tempted to invest trust in them. But in the end, actions always speak louder than words.
  9. You’ll start settling for breadcrumbs. It’s common to sacrifice yourself to keep a trauma bond going, and that means sacrificing your needs. Even though you may need trust, consistency, and respect, you’ll start settling for less. And part of what makes trauma bonds addictive is the occasional breadcrumbs: when you’re finally not fighting or playing mind games with each other, and your partner shows a little affection, it can feel like a massive reward. But more rewarding than breadcrumbs is reliable love and genuine affection—which trauma bonds typically lack.
  10. Emotional abuse can become physical. If you think you have a handle on things now, realize that they can become more dangerous with time. All abuse is abuse, meaning that even verbal assaults and manipulative behavior is enough reason to leave—before things get worse.
Relationship educator, writer, host of the Relationship Reminders podcast, and mental health advocate hailing from the US and currently based in Tokyo