Trauma bonding is a term commonly used to describe a close relationship rooted in shared or common traumatic experience(s).
It is often used to label close friendships or instant connections (platonic and romantic) with someone you’d identify as a stranger or acquaintance in any other circumstance (i.e., “After the incident we became inseparable, we trauma bonded”).
Trauma bonding with someone often provides the comfort of feeling understood and a sense of security. However, a clinical perspective recognizes that trauma bonds are often rooted in abuse, neglect, and/or relational violence resulting in a psychological misinterpretation of safety and control.
It is essential to acknowledge the “bonding” hormone of oxytocin. Oxytocin is highly impacted by social interaction and intended to be released during pleasant contact such as having sex, physical touch, good conversation, petting animals, and even social media posting.
However, if this system becomes dysregulated, it results in dysfunctional social bonding and stress responses (i.e., releasing oxytocin in socially threatening rather than soothing situations).
A lack of social support during previous traumatic experiences primes individuals to latch on to others who seemingly understand/support their experiences, even if these relationships are also unsafe. As such, trauma bonds tend to result in initiating and maintaining relationships that are unhealthy and lead towards codependency.
Everyone is susceptible to the negative impacts of trauma regardless of age, race or gender. As such, the prevalence of trauma bonding comes as no surprise. However, it’s never too late to walk away from unhealthy relationships to establish a more uplifting means of connection.
What to do if you’re experiencing a trauma bond:
Understand the risks and danger: Abuse is more than physical violence. If at any point you feel physically/mentally/emotionally manipulated, intimidated, or controlled in a relationship, it’s time to reconsider that connection.
Create a safety plan: In some cases, this is formulating how to walk away from a friendship. In other circumstances, it is a matter of carefully mapping out a way to remove yourself from a situation without harm.
Identify local resources: https://www.thehotline.org provides a national directory of assistance providers.
Get help: It is common to feel like our trauma bonded relationship is all we have, but there is no bond worth sacrificing your safety and well-being over. There is always someone available to listen and provide help for your concerns.
If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship violence please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline - 800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org