In this article we’ll explore the 7-stages of trauma bonding you experience when you are in a relationship with a narcissist, what trauma bonding feels like, how long it will take to heal from trauma bonding, how to break the trauma bond, and you can take a test to see if you are trauma bonded to someone.
A trauma bond is an emotional connection to another individual that creates a chemical addiction in your body to that person. This happens as a result of the release of stress hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol to name a few and pleasure hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine that are discharged in the body when a narcissist or manipulative person vacillates back and forth between love bombing and devaluing you. These are the first two phases of the 7-stages of trauma bonding a narcissist will employ to bond you to them. And, it is important to know that long-term narcissistic abuse can lead to auto-immune diseases and brain damage.
This chemical addiction is part of the reason it can be so difficult to leave a toxic relationship, dysfunctional job, or unhealthy group that you may be engaged with. Narcissistic trauma bonding can happen in any connection you have, it is not just limited to intimate relationships. Given the challenges with disconnecting and healing from a connection in which you are or have been trauma bonded, you might find incredible value in seeking trauma healing services. Another technique for healing after an emotionally abusive relationship is to explore energy work or EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique.
7 Stages of Narcissistic Trauma Bonding
Stage 1: The Love Bombing Stage
In the first stage of a connection with a narcissist will be the love bombing phase. You must understand that a narcissist is a product of their childhood from a combination of their “environment, genetics, and neurobiology.”
They have learned to lovebomb as a coping mechanism to get their needs met as a child. They learned this technique from modeling one of their parents.
You will find that you are flooded with love, affection, and attention. You’ll find that you can do no wrong and this person will put you on a pedestal as if you were perfect. You will never feel more loved by this person than in this love-bombing phase. The love bombing phase is critically important because a narcissist wants to bond you to them as quickly as possible, because the charade they will be putting on will only last for a short time before you begin to see through it.
Stage 2: The Building Trust Phase
The second stage of the 7-stages of trauma bonding is for them to establish trust so that you let down your guard and they can then ‘hook you in.’ They may use enticing comments about a beautiful future together and discuss moving in together or getting married down the line. You’ll find that once they have you hooked though, they will stop all talk of that. They never had any intention of following through on any of that. It was simply a baiting tactic for you to believe they had serious feelings about you.
What will soon become clear is that the more you move towards them and become dependent on them, the more they will be stepping back and putting distance between yourself and them.
A telltale sign of trauma bonding is that you will have tremendous feelings of craving to be with them. Like a drug addict craving their next hit of their drug of choice.
Healthy relationships are balanced and do not have this drug-like craving or addiction for another person. Yes, you’ll love spending time with them, but you’ll enjoy your time alone, and time spent with friends and family without them.
Stage 3: The Devaluation Stage
The devaluation phase can be quite disturbing. You will find that suddenly you have gone from being on a pedestal where everything you did was perfect, now you can’t do anything right. Now, you’ll find that they criticize everything you do. You’ll be hurt when they start making deriding and belittling comments about your attractiveness, intelligence, unworthiness, or overall incompetence.
The devaluing phase can be deeply destructive to your sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and sense of self. Your self-doubt will explode and your confidence in your abilities will wane. They’ll blame you for anything and everything that is unfolding in the relationship as they refuse to take any accountability for any challenges in the relationship.
Stage 4: The Gaslighting Stage
The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight which explores a relationship that is riddled with emotional manipulation and psychological abuse. During this fourth stage of the 7 stages of trauma bonding you’ll begin to see that your partner, boss, friend, or family member is a liar. The narcissist will start denying things they said or did and they will try to make it seem like you are going crazy.
If you express your wants, needs, or desires they will belittle them and say that they don’t matter, or your concerns ‘are no big deal.’ It’s important to retain your objectivity and remember that your wants, needs, and desires matter and are worthy of consideration. If someone is unconcerned that their behavior causes you pain, and they refuse to change their behavior this is a clear sign that you are dealing with a toxic individual and that you would best limit your time with this individual and to embrace no-contact if that is possible. You are a person of high worth and value and anyone who refuses to acknowledge that your wants, needs, desires, and feelings matter, doesn’t deserve a place in your life.
One of the major challenges with long-term gaslighting is that over time your subconscious mind develops cognitive dissonance to protect you, which means that you lose the ability to acknowledge that this behavior is toxic and harmful to you. You will, without realizing it, start to come up with justifications for their toxic traits.
Stage 5: The Acceptance, Resignation & Submission Stage
In the fifth stage you will unfortunately reach a place of acceptance and helpless resigned submission. You lose the desire and/or ability to fight with this person. You realize there is no reasoning with this person. They refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and how they are hurting you. You accept the fact that they are not going to change.
This phase is incredibly exhausting emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. It can trigger incredible feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and victim mentality. You may embarrass yourself by overgiving, and practically begging your partner to give you affection and attention as they did in the love-bombing phase. The delusional dream is that if you just ‘love them enough’ they’ll return to the love-bombing phase again and they will love and respect you again. It is this HOPE that drives you to keep trying over and over and over again to get them to move closer to you once again.
This can become toxic and demeaning and can further destroy your self-worth and self esteem.
Stage 6: The Loss of Self Stage
By stage six you will find that you are a shadow of the person you once were. Having been demoralized, cut-down, insulted, belittled, degraded, embarrassed, and humiliated your sense of self is but a fragment of your memory. You can’t remember what it was like to feel joyful, happy, confident, and sure of yourself. You question and scrutinize every decision you need to make. You find you need to get consensus from other people on core decisions about your life because your sense of self-doubt is all consuming.
Trying to establish healthy boundaries with the people in your life can cause friction as you worry with feelings of abandonment. Your friends and family are concerned about you and don’t understand why you stay with that toxic partner or stay at an unhealthy dead-end job.
Your feelings of powerlessness explode off the charts and you may find that you are constantly irritable as you wrestle with the anger, rage, and resentment feeling as though you have no power or control over your own life.
Stage 7: The Emotional Addiction Stage
The 7th stage of the 7-stages of trauma bonding is the emotional addiction phase. In this stage you will be on an extreme roller-coaster of emotions as they keep you walking on eggshells 24/7. You will struggle with feelings of anxiousness as you worry if they are ready to abandon, break-up, or divroce you, at any moment. You find you’re perpetually in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode which is incredibly toxic to your adrenals and your immune system. (You may want to consider a physical detox protocol).
You will find that you feel emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted in this stage. Depression may soar and you may find that you have little desire to go out and connect with friends and family. You may start engaging in toxic vices to distract yourself from your unhappiness such as; overeating, over-drinking, shopping and spending too much money, binge watching tv, porn, and avoiding your responsibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does trauma bonding feel like?
Trauma bonding feels like you are in the midst of a psychological war because you never know what is going to be coming at you next. You live in a constant state of hypervigilance. Always on the lookout for the next attack, while you subconsciously crave a bit of love, affection, attention, or validation from your abuser.
Victims of narcissistic abuse are usually targeted because of their kind, loving, and empathetic nature. The narcissist sees a strong source of narcissistic supply that they would like to tap. Their intention from the outset is to take advantage of your giving nature.
Some of the key factors or variables that may make someone more susceptible to narcissistic abuse are;
- Children of narcissistic or abusive parents who never met their emotional wants, physical needs, and desires
- Individuals who struggle with unhealthy attachment styles
- Insecure people who are overly sensitive to rejection, blaming, or guilting
- People with over-giving and co-dependent natures
- Empathetic and sensitive individuals prone to let misunderstands slide again and again to their own detriment
- Individuals who struggle with abandonment wounds
- Individuals who struggle with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety
What can be most distressing for many is that they realize on an intellectual level that what they are experiencing is unhealthy and destructive to their emotional and physical wellbeing, yet feel as if they are helpless to leave the abuser.
How Long Does it Take to Get Over Trauma Bonding?
While there are no hard and fast rules on how long it can take to heal and recover from trauma bonding it has been acknowledged that 18-24 months could be a solid timeframe from which to heal. That said, every individual is different. Depending upon the length and severity of the trauma bonding it could take much longer than that. Coupled with the potential that you have been in multiple narcissistic relationships, the healing process can be quite a long and drawn out process, but with the help of loving, compassionate, skilled practitioners, healing is possible.
How to Break the Trauma Bond With a Narcissist?
The greatest challenge in breaking the trauma bonding is breaking past your cognitive dissonance that tries to tell you there is nothing the matter, it’s all in your head, or it’ll get better if you just pour more love into the relationship.
The most important move you can make to heal from narcissistic trauma bonding is to create physical distance and engage no-contact. No contact is the safest bet to help you heal from your chemical addiction to the narcissist. Slowly, over time your body will recover from the chemical addiction as you learn to reset your parasympathetic nervous system.
You’ll need to take 100% accountability for the part you played in this relationship and commit to healing the thoughts, beliefs, and patterns you have that attracted you to that narcissist in the first place. Healing and recovering after narcissistic abuse is a complex journey. Remember to have love and compassion for yourself as you learn to forgive yourself for the mistake you made and for staying in the relationship longer than was healthy for you. You’ll need to explore your childhood wounds that helped to contribute to your mindset that allowed this to go on for so long.
Trauma Bonding Test
Take this short quiz to assess your potential of suffering from narcissistic trauma bonding.
Rate yourself on a scale of 1 -10, 1 = not at all and 10 = absolutely 100%
- Do you express your personal boundaries with respect to your emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and financial needs in the relationship? _____
- Do you feel a deep, obsessive craving for this individual when you are apart _____
- Are you unable to see any negative traits about your partner or challenges in the relationship? _____
- Do you walk around on eggshells afraid that you might trigger your partner in some way that would result in a fight or conflict? _____
- Do you allow this person to violate your boundaries and not speak up to defend your wants, needs, desires, or feelings?_____
- Do you trust that your partner has your back emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, or financially? _____
- Does your partner triangulate you in relationships pitting people against you?
- Are you deeply afraid your partner or spouse will break-up or divorce you? _____
- Do you defend your partners and make excuses for their bad behavior towards yourself or others? _____
- Do you believe that if you love your partner enough they will eventually change and give you what you truly want and need from the relationship? _____
When do you need Trauma Therapy?
Each person needs to decide for themselves when and if they need therapy. It’s important to understand there is no shame in seeking help from a supportive counselor or healer who can guide you through the healing process. Gifting yourself the time to heal is a sacred gift and something that can not be taken lightly. Healing can be a painful process as we explore the depths of our feelings of anger, rage, resentment, depression, and despair as we heal from a destructive relationship with a narcissist who had pathological traits of grandiosity, a propensity for antagonizing and fighting  which caused emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or financial abuse.
Yet, the dividends you will experience from making that investment will be well worth it, as you begin to live a life that is authentic, joyful, and deeply fulfilling where you can ask for what you want in a relationship and love yourself to allow yourself to receive it.
 Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Paroma Mitra; Dimy Fluyau.
Narcissistic personality disorder – Mayo Clinic Staff
The Narcissistic Personality Disorder DSM-5 Criteria by Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC