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How to Recognize the Signs of Trauma Bonding

When you are trauma bonding it is easy to mistake abuse as love and not let go.

Emotional abuse is often mistaken for love by those who are trapped in a cycle of abuse in their relationship. Trauma is surprisingly easy to overlook when the abuse masquerades as someone “caring” for you.

Trauma bonding is a problem that many people trapped in abusive relationships don’t realize they’re experiencing because mental abuse often beats you down into ignoring various types of trauma as love.

When you’re holding out to be loved, you can easily become drawn to an abusive relationship and misread the signs as love instead of abuse. So, how do you know if you are truly in love or caught in a blinding fantasy due to trauma bonding?

Is it real love or abuse due to an emotional trauma bond?

Have you ever fell in love hard and fast, but then it all came crashing down with abusive behavior? Did you feel surprised that it was hard to break away from toxic love?

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Real love doesn’t always hit so hard, nor so fast. Real love is steady and grows slowly when you get to know the real person. Whereas, being attached through a trauma bond can feel magnetic and captivating, when you are feeling lost love for someone. But, this is not real love, its attachment through the wound.

What Is Trauma Bonding? The Scientific Reason So Many Women Stay Stuck in Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Trauma bonding refers to the attachment bond that is created through repeated abusive or traumatic childhood experiences with the caregiver, whereby this relationship pattern becomes internalized as a learned pattern of behavior for attachment.

If you experienced abuse from a caregiver who also loved you, then you learned to associate love with abuse. This became the template for how you learned to relate to others and form relationships. So, you expect that in order to feel loved you get abused. Abuse feels like love, and often many become attached to their abusers to feel loved in this way. This is how it works.

Imagine you were abused for being noncompliant as a child, so you are left feeling abandoned and unworthy. In order to attach to the abuser, you learned to meet their needs and make them happy and you received love and approval. This became your equation for love. So, you learned to please your abuser in order to receive the love you wanted.

If you were abused as child, you protected your relationship with the parent by preserving the notion of the ‘good parent’, pushing down feelings of anger or hurt towards your parent in order to feel loved or attached. You protected yourself by burying these feelings, and internalizing that there was something wrong with you for upsetting your parent. So, you came to believe that it was all your fault, you are bad, naughty and must make it up to them in order to feel loved and good enough. Well, this template is now how you see yourself in relationships with others.

You see yourself as ‘bad’ and deserving of punishment, so you must be ‘good’ to get the love you want. You end up attracting abusive partners, with the wish to be good enough for them, so you get the love and approval you’re looking for.

In essence, you are still longing for your abusive father or mother to give you the lost love you wanted, yet, you bury this fantasy, and replicate this pattern by attracting abusive partners, so you can get them to love you.

Often, when feeling not good enough, the desire for love can be the perfect bait that an abusive narcissist hooks into. When you’re meeting all their needs, you feel loved and good enough, which allows the abuse to be justified. When you blame yourself or think something is fundamentally wrong with you, you believe the abuser and allow yourself to be put down, because it is what you’ve already internalized about yourself. You repeat the pattern of putting up with abuse because it’s the internal bond that keeps you attached to the parental abuser, so you do not feel abandoned or not good enough.

When you justify the abuse or minimize it and blame yourself for it, you become unaware that you are being abused. Just as the child, you deny the abuse is happening in order to feel loved and wanted.

You may not see the real person as abusive but still hold onto the fantasy of being loved which you project onto that person.

Acknowledging the abuse creates the fear of abandonment from the lost love object and awakens the original pain, that becomes further defended against with denial and self-blame.

Letting go of this fantasy of being loved brings up feelings of abandonment, with associated feelings of not being good enough, causing you to reenact the same attachment pattern with the abusive parent. So, you cannot let go of the abuser and must be good to get them back.

So, the victim of abuse will go back to the abuser and justify it. This is the actual truth about why it is so hard to cut the ties and let go. It’s a deep wound, a trauma wound that binds them together.

So, how do you detect the signs of a trauma bond?

Signs of trauma bonding in an abusive relationship — what you say to yourself to justify the abuse:

  • He didn’t mean to get angry, it was my fault.
  • He puts up with me and still loves me.
  • He had a terrible childhood, I feel sorry for him.
  • I can help him to change with love and support.
  • He deserves a fair go, he doesn’t mean to hurt me.

Notice how the abuser’s behavior is justified and the victim blames herself as if the abuse is her fault.

This is how the victim of trauma bonding minimise and denies the abuse in order to uphold the positive image of the perpetrator, while distorting the reality and being misguided by fantasy love, not real love.

How to stop trauma bonding:

  • Always take your time to get to know someone, find out their past.
  • Never jump straight in because it feels good.
  • Look out for the red flags of abusive behaviour, such as feeling pressured or controlled.
  • Ensure you can be respected for your boundaries (say no).
  • Make sure what you see is what you really get, no hidden truths that come out later.
  • Be careful that you are not being sold a charming person to reel you in and hook you.
  • Be careful when all the ex-partners are crazy, nothing is their fault, or they’re the victim.
  • Be aware if you feel they’re too good to be true or make you feel amazing.

Don’t confuse trauma bonding as real love; it will blind you.

True love is not abusive, nor do you distort the way they see yourself and your partner in order to fit the fantasy of being loved.

Real love means you feel loved while expressing yourself, and you do not need to search for love to feel good about yourself. Real love is not conditional upon pleasing someone, but being true to yourself.

Why Trauma Bonding Stops You From Leaving Your Abusive Partner

Real love is not romanticized love, but how you deal with the ups and downs of living in reality and seeing each other for who you really are.

In true love, you feel good about yourself and attract those who treat you well. Obtaining self-love means letting go of the ties to the abusive parental object, in order to free yourself from the attachment patterns of seeking love and approval in order to feel good enough. Truly loving yourself means you engage in self-care and protect yourself from abuse, so you can be yourself and feel loved for the real person that you are.

This guest article was originally published at Life Care Wellness and appeared on How To Recognize The Signs Of Trauma Bonding (So You Stop Confusing Emotional Abuse With ‘Love’).

How to Recognize the Signs of Trauma Bonding

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2019). How to Recognize the Signs of Trauma Bonding. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2019 (Originally: 9 Aug 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.