court certified batterer intervention and anger management ​programs for Santa Barbara County 


TEXT 805-242-2502 

A trauma bond is when a person forms a deep emotional attachment with someone that causes them harm. It often develops from a repeated cycle of abuse and positive reinforcement. When this occurs between partners, this is a trauma-bonded relationship.

A trauma bond in a relationship involves a foundation of abuse, which has tactics such as threats of harm, manipulation, control, shaming, gaslighting, and sabotage, mixed with intermittent moments of calm and displays of affection. This pattern of highs and lows increases a victim’s unhealthy attachment to the abuser, which helps maintain the relationship.

The signs of being trauma-bonded include:

  • You realize you don't like the person. For example, you may feel angry toward them but know it's unsafe to express your feelings. You may have physical reactions to being near the person or having them touch you.
  • Your relationship is built around guilt and shame. Abusive people leverage fear, obligation, and guilt. If you speak up for your needs, you are told you are selfish and demanding.
  • You're not sure you'd leave if the abuse increased. The longer you’re with an abusive person, the more abusive behavior is normalized.
  • You are love bombed and then devalued. There may be an extreme push-pull cycle. You go from being someone who can "do no wrong" to someone who can "do no right."
  • You are hypervigilant. You have the feeling of “walking on eggshells.”

Trauma bonding is thought to occur in seven stages.
1. Love bombing  2. Gaining trust  3. Criticism  4. Manipulation  5. Resignation  6. Distress  7. Repetition

Why do people stay in a trauma bond?
People in a trauma bond may find themselves unable to leave the relationship, and some may realize they choose abusive partners again and again. One reason why it can be so difficult for people to leave involves intermittent reinforcement. The cycle of trauma bonding includes repeated abuse with occasional moments of being “loved” or “saved.” The brain may latch onto the positive experience of relief and safety and aim to achieve it again during the next cycle of abuse.

Research has long demonstrated that intermittent reinforcement is a powerful force. For example, slot machines and other forms of gambling leverage this psychological concept to make people spend more money.​​

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). Available for both women and men