Trauma Bonding vs. Healthy Relationships: How to Spot the Difference & How to Get Help

Oklahoma Trauma Bond

It is not uncommon for addiction and substance abuse to contain underlying emotional and psychological factors which contribute to the cycle. One such factor is trauma bonding. Often overlooked, it can hinder recovery efforts and make it challenging to maintain a healthy relationship. Let’s dive into the key differences between trauma bonding and healthy relationships in an effort to identify and seek help within the context of substance abuse treatment. 


What is Trauma Bonding?


Trauma bonding is a psychological phenomenon where individuals develop strong emotional connections with those who have caused them abuse or harm. Although paradoxical, this attachment stems from a survival instinct where victims bond with their abusers as a coping mechanism for the trauma they’ve endured. Stockholm Syndrome is a type of trauma bond. Those have experienced childhood abuse, spousal abuse, domestic violence, or any type of repeated harm are particularly susceptible to trauma bonding. 


Characteristics of Trauma Bonds


Cycles of Abuse and Reconciliation: Distinct patterns of abuse followed up with periods of kindness and reconciliation are indicative of a trauma-bonded relationship. The emotional ups and downs create foster confusion and reinforce dysfunctional emotional connection.

Dependency: The cycle of abuse and reconciliation creates an environment where the abused becomes emotionally dependent on the abuser and believes them to be the only source of love and support in their lives. 

Isolation: Those in a trauma bonded relationship are often isolated from their friends and family by their abuser. This isolation makes it nearly impossible for them to seek outside help or support. 

Loyalty and Defensiveness: When confronted with evidence of abuse, the victim of a trauma bond can become fiercely loyal and defensive to their abusers. 


Healthy Relationships: A Contrasting View


Healthy relationships, in contrast, are characterized by mutual respect, trust, and support. In a healthy relationship, an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being is built up in a positive manner. Healthy relationships, whether romantic or not, are vital to successful recovery. 


Characteristics of Healthy Relationships


Mutual Respect: Both parties in a healthy relationship feel valued and heard. Boundaries, opinions, and autonomy are respected and embraced. 

Effective Communication: Communication is key to a successful and healthy relationship. Addressing issues constructively, openly and honestly while resolving conflicts through dialogue over manipulation is paramount to relationships that foster growth. 

Equality: People in a healthy relationship share responsibilities, make decisions together, and are balanced in their roles. 

Support and Empathy: Growth and healing is imperative to healthy relationships. Providing emotional support and empathy to each other is the role of both partners. 


Identifying Trauma Bonding in Recovery


Being aware of trauma bonding in the recovery process is critical to healthy healing and progress. Some signs to watch out for: 

Overwhelming Attachment: Feelings of intense attachment to someone who triggers negative emotions or mistreats you may be a sign of trauma bonding

Fear of Abandonment: Despite clear indications of a relationship being toxic, experiencing a deep-seated fear of losing the person who is causing you harm is an indication of a trauma bond. 

Isolation from Supportive Networks: If you find yourself feeling cut off from friends and family, especially those who have voiced concerns about your relationship, you may be in the midst of a trauma bond. 

Repeated Cycles of Abuse: Patterns of abuse followed up by periods of appeasement is a red flag. 


Getting Help


Therapy: Therapists or counselors experienced in trauma alongside addiction can provide guidance, support, and therapeutic interventions intended to help break from the abuse of trauma bonds. 

Support Groups: Connecting with others who have experienced the difficulty of trauma bonds and breaking free of them can be empowering and supportive. Support groups and 12-step programs that place an emphasis on healing from both trauma and addiction are a crucial step towards recovery. 

Safety Planning: The risk of violence and physical abuse is a major concern of those caught in a trauma bond relationship. Creating a safety plan with the help of a domestic violence advocate or therapist could mean the difference between suffering and freedom.  


If you or a loved one suspect a trauma bonded relationship, seeking professional help is a must - especially if recovery from addiction is part of the equation. For more information on healing and starting a path towards a new life, call Country Road Recovery today to speak with our experienced clinical staff. Without help, any chance at sobriety is at risk.