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How to break a trauma bond: Support & treatment

How to break a trauma bond: Support & treatment

In unhealthy or abusive relationships, many complex feelings and dynamics can develop over time. These relationships are rarely simple, which can make them difficult to end. 

In the case of trauma-bonded relationships, breaking a trauma bond can be a long and involved process. However, with the right help from a mental health professional, it’s entirely possible to do so.

What Is a Trauma Bond?

A trauma bond is an emotional bond formed between two people — the perpetrator of trauma and the victim — after a shared traumatic experience (enacted by perpetrator).

A trauma bond denotes a negative relationship marked by a cyclical and complex pattern of abusive behavior. It can be a dangerous connection, and may influence a victim of abuse to stay with the perpetrator and expose them to further harm.

Signs of a Trauma Bond

Trauma bonds can present differently based on the individual characteristics of the people involved and of the relationship. A trauma bond can have the following characteristics: 

  • Codependency
  • Feelings of guilt or responsibility for someone within the trauma bond
  • Desire for closeness with the other person
  • Persistent/intrusive thoughts regarding the other person
  • Difficulty establishing and maintaining boundaries with the other person 

Though one person is experiencing abuse and the other is perpetrating it, a trauma bond can be experienced by both the perpetrator and the victim. The perpetrator may regret what they’re doing and feel like they can’t deal with their volatile emotions. It can also develop in any kind of relationship, whether it’s with a partner, friend, or parent

However, this does not mean that the relationship can find a safe and healthy way to go on. Trauma-bonded relationships are abusive and unhealthy, and even with the help of a mental health professional, it may be safest to end things and go separate ways.

Can a Trauma Bond Be Broken?

Yes, a trauma bond can absolutely be broken if someone in the relationship wants it to be broken and has the right support to help them navigate it. 

To break a trauma bond, both parties should speak to a mental health professional and receive counseling. Through counseling, individuals can develop the interpersonal effectiveness skills necessary to gain resilience and self-efficacy, learn to process their emotions, and identify emotional barriers that keep them “stuck” in this cycle. 

Often, “breaking” a trauma bond requires changing both intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. 

How Long Does It Take for a Trauma Bond to Break?

The amount of time it takes for a trauma bond to break is dependent on the individual, and there’s no set timeline for the process. If the trauma is particularly complex and present factors are complicated, for example, then it might take longer to extricate oneself from the relationship than someone who isn’t experiencing as many extraneous factors. 

With proper professional counseling services, the time it takes to break a trauma bond can be significantly reduced. Typically, one can expect to see progress within six months of professional counseling services.

What Is the Most Effective Way to Break a Trauma Bond?

The most effective way to break a trauma bond is to receive professional counseling services. In therapy, you’ll be asked to identify patterns and trends of thoughts and behaviors related to the trauma bond, which may be keeping you “stuck” in the relationship. 

Next, you’ll work to identify any barriers hindering the use of coping and emotion regulation skills. From there, you and your provider will co-create a plan to enact gradual change toward your specific goals. 

How Do You Weaken a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist?

One of the best ways to weaken a trauma bond with a narcissist is to identify, establish, and maintain boundaries that protect and preserve your peace and well-being within your relationship. 

Preserving your sense of autonomy and personal choice takes away power from the narcissist while also insulating you from their attacks. This might look like blocking their number or making more profound changes, such as moving out of a shared living space or ceasing all contact with them. 

In general, it’s best to focus on preserving and protecting your mental health and peace.

Therapeutic Interventions for Breaking Trauma Bonds

In therapy, your provider will work to customize their interventions and therapeutic approach to suit your needs and current situation, considering the specific nature of your trauma bond and your goals for the future. 

Some common therapeutic approaches for trauma involve specific training in mindfulness skills and distress tolerance skills — skills that raise your awareness of stressors and triggers and increase your overall levels of resiliency. 

Interpersonal effectiveness skills are also great tools for breaking trauma bonds and involve training in assertiveness and healthy boundary-setting behaviors. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is another commonly used approach for treating trauma and focuses on processing past experiences to minimize their present-day impact.

In any instance of a trauma-bonded relationship, the most important thing is to prioritize your own needs. To fully heal and ensure a safe future for yourself, it will likely be necessary to put emotional and even physical distance between you and the person you’ve trauma bonded with. Your health and safety come first, and in time, it’s possible to find growth, peace, and comfort again.

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  • Editorial writer
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Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BCBoard-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
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Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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