A trauma bond is a disturbing emotional connection between an abuser and their victim. The abuser uses manipulation tactics and cycles of abuse to make the victim feel dependent on them for care and validation.
It’s a confusing mix of love, fear, and dependency that can feel impossible to escape from.
Trauma bonds often happen in narcissistic relationships, whether romantically, in families, or in friendships or work settings.
Breaking free starts with recognizing and accepting how it has trapped you in the relationship. Frankly, the realization process is painful, but it is the first step toward healing.
Let’s explore how to break a trauma bond after a breakup with an abuser, and take back control over your life.
How To Break A Trauma Bond After A Breakup: 7 Practical Strategies
The main problem with breakups in trauma-bonded relationships is that you have strong urges to go back into the abusive relationship.
Many victims simply refuse to accept that they had been trauma bonded, even when shown the clear signs. You can’t heal if you don’t accept you’re hurting.
So, first, write it down somewhere:
“I accept they have trauma bonded me and have been holding me captive in the relationship. Because of that, I will have cravings to go back to them even after breaking up, like a helpless dog. But I won’t give in to those urges.”
Here are 7 ways to break your trauma bonds after a breakup with the abuser in your life:
1. Recognize The Trauma Bond & Educate Yourself
Breaking free from a trauma bond begins with the painful but necessary step of recognizing its existence in your life.
It becomes somewhat easier to deal with once you accept that you have been trauma bonded, and will have strong urges to go back to them after the breakup.
Realize the Presence of a Trauma Bond:
This is the moment when you see the pattern of abuse and control that’s been hidden in plain sight.
You might feel a mix of emotions, from anger to sadness, but this realization is the first step toward freedom.
It’s acknowledging that the relationship isn’t healthy and that you deserve better.
Trauma bonding involves power rather than love.– Heidi Christensen, Trauma Bonding In Intimate Partner Violence
Heidi Christensen explains:
Trauma bonding consists of strong, relation-based emotional ties between an abuser and victim, which are reinforced through powerful paradoxical attachments, where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.
This abuse reinforces the attachments, which manifest themselves in positive feelings and attitudes by the subjugated party for the intermittently maltreating or abusive party.
Understand the Need to Break Free:
Knowing that something needs to change is different from wanting to change it.
You must feel a deep, inner urge to break free from the bond. It’s a commitment to yourself that you won’t allow this pattern to continue. It’s a promise that you’ll take steps to heal.
Educate Yourself About Its Harms:
Understanding the trauma bond means digging into what it is and how it affects you.
It’s a complex mix of emotional manipulation, dependency, and fear.
Read books, watch videos, or talk to professionals who can help you see the full picture. The more you know, the more empowered you’ll feel to break the bond.
Recognizing a trauma bond is like turning on a light in a dark room.
Suddenly, you can see what’s been hidden, and you have the power to change it. It’s a tough step, but it’s the foundation of everything that comes next.
2. Create A Safety Plan To Change Your Situation
Creating a safety plan is the next vital step.
Prepare yourself for the journey ahead, ensuring that you have the support and resources to protect both your physical and emotional well-being.
Ensure Your Physical Safety:
Breaking a trauma bond can be a turbulent process, especially if the abuser is someone close to you. Think first about your physical safety.
Find a safe place to stay, have a friend or family member on call, or even consider involving law enforcement if necessary. Consider possible worst-case scenarios and have a plan for each.
Protect Your Emotional Well-Being:
Emotional safety (psychological safety) is just as crucial.
Know what triggers you and have strategies to cope. Consult support groups (online or offline) and therapists to find coping strategies.
Create a list of activities that make you feel good and keep them handy for tough moments.
Build a Support Network:
Don’t go through this alone. You do not have to face it alone, even though you made the choice to enter the abusive relationship on your own.
Reach out to friends, family, or support groups who can be there for you. Surround yourself with supportive people who understand what you’re going through.
Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can make a world of difference.
If possible, consider professional counseling or therapy.
Have a Plan for Communication:
If you must communicate with the abuser, have a plan for how to handle it.
This might include having someone else present, communicating only in writing, or setting specific boundaries for when and how communication can occur.
Consider Legal Assistance:
Depending on your situation, legal assistance might be necessary.
Know your rights and consider consulting with a legal professional to understand your options.
Creating a safety plan is like building a safety net. It gives you the confidence to move forward, knowing that you’ve thought through the challenges and have strategies to handle them.
It’s not just about avoiding harm; it’s about creating a supportive environment where you can heal.
3. Distance Yourself From The Abuser
Distancing yourself, both physically and emotionally, from the abuser is critical to help break a trauma bond.
It creates physical and emotional safe spaces that allow you to “look at your wounds” and heal, without the constant presence of the person who has caused you harm.
Create Physical Distance:
This might mean moving to a different location, changing your routine to avoid accidental encounters, or even obtaining a restraining order if necessary.
Physical distance is about putting barriers between you and the abuser, so you have the room to breathe and rebuild.
Establish Emotional Boundaries:
Emotional distance is just as vital. It means cutting off communication or limiting it to only what’s absolutely necessary.
Block their phone numbers, social media, and other channels.
Make a firm decision not to engage in arguments or be pulled back into the toxic dynamic.
Share Your Safety Concerns With Others:
Let friends and family know what’s happening and ask for their support in maintaining this distance.
Sometimes, having others who understand and support your decision can make it easier to stick to your boundaries.
Understand It’s a Process:
Distancing yourself from an abuser isn’t always a one-time action. It’s a process that might require ongoing effort and vigilance.
Be patient with yourself and recognize that it’s normal to feel a range of emotions, from relief to guilt or even grief.
Prepare for Possible Resistance:
The abuser might not accept your decision to distance yourself easily.
Be prepared for attempts to manipulate, guilt-trip, or even threaten you. Stick to your decision and seek professional help if needed.
Distancing yourself from the abuser is like cutting off a toxic limb that’s been holding you back.
It’s painful and challenging, but it’s necessary for growth and healing. It’s a declaration of self-respect and a commitment to a future where you are in control.
4. Focus On The Present Moment and Self-Care
Healing from a trauma bond is a journey that requires attention to the present moment and a commitment to self-care.
It’s about finding joy and peace in the here and now, and nurturing yourself in ways that promote healing and growth.
Engage in Activities That Make You Feel Good:
Whether it’s exercise, hobbies, art, or spending time with loved ones, find activities that bring you joy and make you feel alive.
These activities aren’t just distractions; they’re pathways to healing, helping you reconnect with yourself and what you love.
Stop Overthinking and Focus on What’s Real:
Stop overthinking what you went through and imagining what worse could have happened, and instead, focus on what’s real and what you can control.
This shift in focus can free you from the grip of fear and anxiety, allowing you to move forward with clarity and purpose.
Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, without judgment. It can be a powerful tool in healing, helping you to observe your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
Consider mindfulness practices like this 15-minute mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or simply paying attention to your senses.
Take Care of Your Body:
Eat well, sleep enough, and move your body in ways that feel good.
Your physical well-being is closely connected to your emotional well-being, so treat your body with kindness and respect.
Create a Self-Care Routine:
Build a daily or weekly routine that includes time for yourself. It might be as simple as reading a book, taking a bath, or going for a walk.
Consistency in self-care can create a sense of stability and comfort.
Avoid Unnecessary Stress:
Recognize what stresses you and try to minimize or eliminate it.
This might include cutting back on work, avoiding certain people, or saying no to obligations that don’t serve you.
Celebrate Small Wins:
Healing is a process, and it’s essential to recognize and celebrate progress, even if it’s small. Acknowledge your efforts and be proud of every step you take towards healing.
Focusing on the present moment and self-care is like planting a garden in your soul.
It’s about nurturing yourself, and giving yourself the time, space, and love to grow. It’s a gentle, ongoing process that can transform pain into strength, resilience, and joy.
5. Keep a Journal and Consider Your Future
Keeping a journal and considering your future are powerful tools in breaking a trauma bond. They allow you to reflect, plan, and envision a life free from the constraints of the past.
Write Down Your Feelings and Thoughts:
Keeping a journal is more than just writing; it’s a way to connect with yourself.
Put pen to paper and let your thoughts and feelings flow.
Write about your fears, your hopes, your struggles, and your triumphs. Don’t censor yourself; let it all out.
This practice can be therapeutic. It is a proven method to provide insights into your healing process and reduce the stress of past trauma, and it’s called expressive writing therapy.
Reflect on Your Past:
Sometimes, looking back can help you move forward.
Reflect on what you’ve been through, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown.
Recognize the patterns that led to the trauma bond and how you can avoid them in the future.
Think About What You Want Moving Forward:
- What does a life free from the trauma bond look like?
- What do you want to achieve?
- What makes you happy?
Consider your future and set goals that align with your values and desires.
It’s not just about moving away from something; it’s about moving towards something better and growing stronger with each passing day. It’s called post-traumatic growth and resilience.
Create a Vision Board or Future Map:
If writing isn’t your thing, consider creating a visual representation of your future.
Cut out images, words, or symbols that resonate with you and arrange them in a way that inspires you. This can be a powerful reminder of where you’re headed.
Use Your Journal as a Tool for Growth:
Your journal isn’t just a place to vent; it’s a tool for growth.
Review it regularly to see how far you’ve come, what patterns emerge, and what you still need to work on. It’s a tangible record of your journey that can provide encouragement and direction.
Keeping a journal and considering your future is like having a conversation with yourself.
It’s a chance to get to know yourself better, to dream, to plan, and to take control of your destiny. It’s a practice that can bring clarity, hope, and empowerment to your journey of healing.
6. Focus On Your Healing and Recovery From A Trauma Bond
Old traumas have a habit of showing up unexpectedly.
Staying committed to healing and freeing yourself from a trauma bond is a continuous process.
It’s about giving yourself permission to heal, embracing self-compassion, and concentrating on rebuilding a life that reflects who you truly are.
Work Through Emotional Healing:
Emotional healing involves working through the pain and trauma with the support of therapy and self-care practices.
You may start meditation, journaling, mindfulness exercises, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in hobbies that bring joy.
These practices are not just soothing; they’re proven to help you understand and heal your emotions.
Take Care of Your Physical Well-being:
Your physical health matters too. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep can aid in recovery, supporting both your body and mind.
Permit Yourself to Get Well:
Healing takes time, and it’s not always a linear process. Give yourself permission to heal at your own pace.
Understand that there will be ups and downs, and that’s okay. What matters is your commitment to getting well and moving forward.
Be gentle with yourself. Breaking a trauma bond is hard work, and you’ve come a long way.
Treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
Reconnecting with friends and family and building new, healthy relationships is a vital part of healing. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Find New Hobbies and Interests:
Engage in hobbies and interests that bring joy and fulfillment. This can help in rebuilding a positive self-image and aligning your life with what brings you joy.
Embrace Positivity: Focus on positive thoughts and affirmations.
A positive mindset can help in healing and moving forward, empowering you to tflorish rather than going through the motions.
Consider Ongoing Support:
Think about what ongoing support looks like for you. Whether it’s therapy, support groups, or continued self-care practices, this support is essential.
Celebrate Your Progress:
Acknowledge and celebrate how far you’ve come. You’ve broken a trauma bond, and that’s a significant achievement. Honor yourself and your journey.
Focusing on your healing and recovery from a trauma bond is like rising from the ashes.
It’s a rebirth, a chance to redefine who you are and what you want from life. It’s a journey filled with challenges, but also immense growth, joy, and fulfillment.
You’ve got the tools, the knowledge, and the strength to create a life that’s authentically yours.
Trauma bonding occurs in a dating or marital relationship.– Dutton & Painter, 1981
7. Talk To A Professional
Consider professional guidance if your journey to break a trauma bond stirs up intense emotions or memories.
A therapist or counselor isn’t just an expert; they’re a supportive guide who can help you navigate these feelings safely.
Whether it’s through journaling or other means, professional help can be a vital part of your healing process, providing insights and strategies tailored to your unique situation.
How are trauma bonds formed?
Trauma bonds often form in abusive relationships when long episodes of violence and manipulation are intercepted by brief periods of kindness and affection by the same abuser.
The victim, conditioned to receive intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment, craves the gestures of kindness or love from the abuser, and therefore, tries to please them and go back to them.
How does it feel when a trauma bond is broken?
Initially, when a trauma bond is broken, it can feel like losing your best friend, your lover, or even your family. You may experience a range of emotions, including:
- Sadness: You may grieve the loss of the relationship, even though you know it was unhealthy.
- Anger: You may be angry at the abuser for what they did to you, and you may also be angry at yourself for staying in the relationship for so long.
- Guilt: You may feel guilty for leaving the abuser, even though you know it was the right thing to do.
- Fear: You may be afraid of what the abuser will do to you now that you have left them.
- Anxiety: You may feel anxious about the future and how you will cope on your own.
How does it feel when a trauma bond is healed?
A person who has been healed from a broken trauma bond will feel a range of emotions, including:
- Peace: They will feel a sense of peace and relief that they are no longer in that abusive relationship.
- Hope: They will feel hopeful about the future and their ability to build healthy relationships.
- Strength: They will feel strong and empowered for having survived the trauma and broken the cycle of abuse.
- Confidence: They will feel confident in their ability to make decisions and trust their own judgment.
- Empowerment: They will feel empowered to set boundaries and protect themselves from future abuse.
Here are some signs that a person has been completely healed from a broken trauma bond:
- They are able to talk about the relationship without feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions.
- They have developed healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of painful memories.
- They are able to trust themselves and make decisions without feeling afraid.
- They have built healthy relationships with friends and family.
- They can enjoy life and feel positive about the future.
What is a trauma bond?
A trauma bond is an emotional connection between a victim and their abuser, often formed through a cycle of abuse and kindness, where the victim receives intermittent reinforcements of reward and punishment. This cycle creates a powerful emotional connection that can be challenging to break. To break a trauma bond, the victim must recognize its presence and influence on their life.
What are the 3 signs of a trauma bond?
Here are three signs of trauma bonding:
1. Inability to breakup: The trauma-bonded victim is unable to end the relationship or comes back after a temporary breakup, even though they feel unhappy about the relationship and their partner.
2. Making of excuses: They make excuses to defend their abuser’s behavior, and their own decision to tolerate abuse, when others express concern.
3. Fantasies of being loved: The victim constantly thinks about their abuser, and fantasizes about being missed, appreciated, and loved by the person who hurt her.
What effects do trauma bonds have?
– Emotional Consequences: Trauma bonds can lead to a range of emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The victim may feel trapped and helpless, unable to break free from the bond.
– Physical Health Effects: The stress and anxiety associated with trauma bonds can also have physical health consequences, including headaches, digestive issues, and sleep disturbances.
– Impact on Relationships: Trauma bonds can negatively affect relationships with friends and family, leading to isolation and loneliness.
How can you recognize a trauma bond?
Recognizing a trauma bond involves identifying specific signs and patterns that indicate an unhealthy emotional connection to an abuser:
– Emotional Dependence: Feeling a strong attachment to the abuser despite the harm they cause, often leading to a cycle of abuse and forgiveness.
– Confusion and Denial: Struggling to accept the reality of the abusive relationship, minimizing the abuse, or making excuses for the abuser’s behavior.
– Fear and Anxiety: Living in constant worry about pleasing the abuser or avoiding their anger, which leads to a persistent state of stress or anxiety.
– Inconsistent Rewards and Punishments: Experiencing a confusing mix of kindness and cruelty from the abuser, creates a push-pull dynamic that strengthens the trauma bond.
– Isolation from Support: Feeling isolated from friends and family, either by your choice or the abuser’s manipulation, making it harder to seek help or perspective.
– Low Self-Esteem: A decline in self-confidence and self-worth, often feeling trapped or believing that you deserve the abuse.
These signs can be subtle and may develop gradually over time, making them challenging to recognize.
Can you break a trauma bond on your own?
Breaking a trauma bond on your own is possible, but it can be a challenging and complex process. While many find success through self-help methods, such as reading self-help books, journaling, engaging in self-care practices, and building a supportive network of friends and family, others may find the process too overwhelming to handle alone.
Trauma bonds often involve deeply ingrained patterns and emotional wounds that may require professional guidance to fully understand and overcome. Therapists or counselors specializing in trauma can provide personalized strategies and support tailored to your unique situation.
How long does it take to break a trauma bond?
Breaking a trauma bond varies from person to person, with some needing months and others years to heal. It’s a complex process that often depends on the nature of the bond and the support available. Of course, cutting off contact with the abuser and seeking therapy facilitates faster recovery. Also, healing is not a linear process, but more like a “roller-coater” requiring patience, self-compassion, and professional guidance. It’s not about speed but progress and growth.
Is healing possible after breaking a trauma bond?
Yes, healing is possible with the right support, therapy, and self-care practices. it may need seeking professional help, building a support system, and staying focused on continuous improvement to recovery.
Breaking a trauma bond can be a very difficult and painful process, but with understanding, effort, and support, healing and recovery are achievable.
You have to move past the anger, guilt, and fear of abandonment. With time, these negative emotions will eventually subside.
Therapists and counselors specializing in relationship trauma can help you with support and guidance on how to break a trauma bond successfully.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.
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