Christine Regan Lake

All You Need to Know about Trauma Bonding in Narcissistic Abuse

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Christine Regan Lake

In this article, I’ll be discussing what trauma bonding in narcissistic abuse is, what the 10 signs you might have experienced trauma bonding are, what physical symptoms that can manifest as a result of trauma bonding, what gaslighting is, and the 7-stages of trauma bonding. 

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is the process by which one individual becomes emotionally and physically bonded to another person that they perceive to be one of their caretakers. The first time this happens is when you are a child and you are emotionally bonded to your parents who are your primary caretaker. The process of receiving love, affection, attention, and care from another person releases oxytocin (known as the love hormone) in the brain.

This chemical release creates a feeling of comfort and attachment to the person who created that loving feeling for you. As you mature and enter into an intimate partnership your new partner becomes the person whom you will develop this bond with. When the person that you are emotionally bonded with who created this chemical release of oxytocin in you now turns on you and you feel a threat to your survival (it doesn’t have to be life or death it can be the threat of the loss of their love and their abandonment of you) it creates a traumatic experience.

The narcissist will create a scenario in which they alternate between being loving and being hurtful to you. They will do this over and over and over again strengthening that trauma bond. The longer you are subjected to this cycle the stronger the trauma bond is and the harder it is to leave this person. As you are confronted with the reality of your partner’s unkind behavior, or the harsh way that they discarded you when they were bored with you, your survival mechanisms kick in and you begin to experience cognitive dissonance as you try to distance yourself from your core knowledge that this is unhealthy for you and that you probably need to get out of the relationship.

As per The Hotline, 15% of women and 4% of men[1] have been on the receiving end of intimate partner violence. Trauma bonding is one of the key variables that keep people in unhealthy and toxic relationships.

Why do we make a Trauma Bond?

National Domestic Violence Hotline, sites that trauma bonds are the direct result of unhealthy attachments which is why abuse victims stay in violent relationships for so long. This emotional addiction also known as lymbic bonding coupled with financial dependence can create a scenario that seems impossible to escape from. Financial dependence is a key issue in people remaining in toxic relationships.

It is basic human survival that has created these chemical addictions to our caregivers as children, and unless and until you heal your childhood trauma and come to understand your negative patterns in relationships, you will continue this unhealthy cycle over and over again, recreating it in every new relationship you start when you have experienced trauma bonding in 

10 Signs of Trauma Bonding

  • Being an overgiver to the point of self-sabotaging your emotional and physical needs to someone who has proven to you that they are not trustworthy
  • Experiencing cognitive dissonance with respect to someone who is abusive to you [2]
  • An obsession with someone from the past that you are incapable of letting go of, even in the face of facts that this person betrayed and abused you
  • Remaining in contact with people from the past whom you know hurt you and did not have your back
  • Betraying your values to hold a relationship together even though it violates your boundaries
  • Remaining loyal to an intimate partner who has lied, cheated, or stole from you
  • Trying to explain your wants, needs, and feelings to someone who has clearly demonstrated that they don’t care about them 
  • Allowing people to use you for love, affection, sex, or money 
  • An inability to walk away from unhealthy relationships or toxic situations for fear of being abandoned and ending up alone
  • Choosing to engage in chaos and drama with a manipulative person when you could simply walk away or not react (go grey rock).
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Trauma Bonding Scenarios

Trauma bonding can occur in a variety of situations that involve one person abusing or exploiting another individual for their own personal gain emotionally, physically, or financially. Scenarios can include; 

  • Emotionally abusive relationships
  • Toxic marriages 
  • Physically abusive relationship
  • Toxic employers and managers

Parents Against Child Exploitation, a non-profit dedicated to protecting children from abusive and narcissistic parents say that a trauma bond can develop under a variety of conditions;

  • The victim perceives a serious and dangerous threat of danger from their abuser
  • Periods of vascinallting between love, affection, and kindness with yelling, insults, and emotional and physical intimidation
  • The abuser isolates the victim from other people  
  • The victim feels and believes that they have no way to escape this abuser

Trauma Bonding Addiction

So why is the trauma bond so strong? How does it create an obsessive addiction to this person that has clearly been emotionally and or physically abusive to you? It comes down to chemistry. The love bombing which releases oxytocin and the devaluing which triggers your fight, flight, freeze, or fawn reaction releases cortisol. This chemical bombardment on your body creates a chemical addiction and bond to this person who is emotionally abusing you.

Tragically, not only does the release of all these chemicals in your body make your life hell emotionally leading to feelings of despair and depression, it is also deeply destructive to your physical health. It can cause brain damage, weakens your adrenals, liver, lymph system, chronic diseases, fibromyalgia, and digestive problems. Being on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse where you are on the receiving end of contemptuous communication and behavior long-term will cause autoimmune diseases. 

Trauma Bonding Withdrawal Symptoms

Once a narcissistic relationship is over whether you ended it, or you were on the receiving end of the typical ‘narcissistic discard’ you will experience withdrawal symptoms. It will take some time for your body to physically detox from the chemicals that have been bombarding your body while you also need to focus on healing emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially from trauma bonding in a narcissistic relationship.

Some of the expected symptoms you’ll experience as you detox from an abusive relationship will include; 

  • Stomach pain, nausea, or digestive challenges
  • Migraines, headaches, and tension headaches
  • Insomnia 
  • weakness or fatigue
  • Anxiety, depression, and or feelings of despair
  • Panic attacks and shortness of breath
  • Tachycardia
  • Bouts of rumination and flashbacks
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Lower back pain, or tension in your neck
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Trauma Bond Gaslighting

What does the term gaslighting mean? Essentially, it’s when someone uses psychological manipulation to make you question yourself and your sanit. They’ll do or say something and then later at a future time when you call them on this behavior they’ll deny it and say it never happened. Or, they will refuse to acknowledge your wants, needs or desires saying that the issue doesn’t exist or you’re just making it up. You might be sick and suffering with incredible pain and they’ll tell you that you are just a hypochondriac. You will be made to feel that your wants, needs, and desires are not worthy of consideration.  

When this happens over a long period of time it wears down your resistance and your intrinsic belief in yourself. Psychologists have termed this phenomenon as the “illusory truth effect.”  

This constant barrage of negating your wants, needs, desires, and your truth is incredibly damaging to your sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and sense of self causing you to have excessive self-doubt, an inability to make decisions and take action for yourself and accept less than what you are worth in your love relationships, and in your work, career, and finances. Long-term narcissistic abuse is known to cause both CPTSD and PTSD in its victims.

Recent research that appeared in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology found that: 

“CPTSD was associated with heightened symptom burden and more comorbid diagnoses. More importantly, CPTSD was associated with a significantly lowered qualitative and quantitative working capacity compared to PTSD and no-PTSD.”[3]

Trauma Bonding Test

Check off All the Signs of Trauma Bonding You Have Experienced:

  1. Rationalize and justify your partner’s abusive ways                                     ___
  2. Lie to yourself about the red flags you are seeing                                           ___ 
  3. Remaining loyal to those who have betrayed you                                           ___
  4. Craving the person who betrayed and abused you                                          ___
  5. Overgive to the point of self-sabotage                                                                 ___
  6. Allow people to use you for love, attention, sex, or money                         ___
  7. Remain in toxic connections to friends, family, lovers                                 ___
  8. Ruminate over the love bombing phase will forgetting the abuse           ___
  9. Return to people who have already proven themselves disloyal              ___
  10. You move from one narcissistic relationship to another                             ___

7 Stages of Trauma Bonding

  1. Love Bombing – an overwhelming display of love and affection make you feel as though no one has ever loved you this much before
  2. Trust & Dependency – A period to induce you into trusting the narcissist and becomdependentding on them emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, or financially
  3. Criticism -This is the start of the devaluation phase where they will slowly start to destroy the foundation of your self-worth and self-esteem.
  4. Manipulation & Gaslighting – The use of manipulative tactics to make you feel as though you are losing your mind seeding you with deep feelings of self-doubt and feeling of being inept.
  5. Resignation & Giving Up – The phase you enter where you feel resigned to your fate and have feelings of giving up hope about the relationship and yourself.
  6. Loss of Self – A distinct loss of your identity and sense of self after a long period of being on the receiving end of manipulation, devaluation, disrespect, and gasligting.
  7. Addiction to the Cycle – Where you are completely emotionally, physically, and mentally addicted to the narcissist. 

How can we help?

If you are looking to leave a toxic relationship or trying to heal after narcissistic abuse you may want to seek online therapy for narcissistic trauma

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How do you break a trauma bond from a narcissist?

  • Learn to turn off your sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) so that you can relax the body
  • Have energy healing work done to release the trauma from your body
  • Embrace daily self-care rituals of self-compassion, love, kindness
  • Reflect back upon the relationship and what it taught you
  • Re-embrace your spiritual connection to God/Creator
  • Forgive yourself for your past mistakes
  • Embrace a new hobby that brings you joy
  • Spend time with friends and family that love you
  • Start listen to what your intuition / gut instincts are saying

2. What are the signs of trauma bonding?

  • Being an overgiver / codependent who has no boundaries 
  • Experiencing cognitive dissonance with respect to people who hurt you
  • A relentless obsession with someone from the past
  • To stay connected with people who you know hurt you  
  • Betraying your boundaries to hold a relationship together  
  • Remaining loyal to people who lie, cheat, or steal from you
  • Being vulnerable with people who don’t value you
  • Allowing people to use you for love, affection, sex, or money 
  • An unwillingness or inability  to walk away from unhealthy relationships or toxic situations 
  • Being addicted to chaos and drama  

3. What are the 7 stages of trauma bonding?

1. Love Bombing
2. Trust & Dependency
3. Criticism
4. Manipulation & Gaslighting
5. Resignation & Giving Up
6. Loss of Self
7. Addiction to the Cycle   

4. Does the NARC feel the trauma bond?

The trauma bond for the narcissists is a way for them to meet their emotional needs to help them regulate their emotions and deal with the unprocessed traume from their past.  

Let it Go
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

5. How do you emotionally detach from a narcissist?

You should go no contact if you are able to. If this person is someone in your family you want to create physical distance and learn to use the grey rock technique whenever you have to be in communication with this person. 

6. What happens when an empath leaves a narcissist?

Whether the empath leaves of his or her own accord, or if they were discarded by the narcissist the healing process will be very similar. It’s important to take the path of healing after narcissistic abuse with love, kindness, self-compassion, and patience. And, be prepared for the eventual ‘hoover’ where they will come back and try to suck you back into their web of manipulation. 

7. Empathy may go back to the relationship

Some empaths do get hoovered back up by the narcissist and return to the dysfunctional relationship. What they may not realize is that the same exact cycle will start over again from love bombing, devaluating, and discarding. They are just a pawn to be used by the narcissist to meet their needs for narcissistic supply (love, affection, attention, and energy). 


[1] Traumatic Bonding By Sarah Fader

[2] The Science of Trauma Bonding

{3} Symptom burden and work-related impairment among patients with PTSD and complex PTSD, Lorena Brenner, Volker Köllner, and Rahel Bachem

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