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May 17, 2024

How to Break a Trauma Bond Fast

Kristie Plantinga
white woman with brown hair sips an espresso; how to break a trauma bond fast
May 17, 2024
5 min to read
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One of the best ways to start breaking a trauma bond quickly is to prioritize your emotional and physical safety, then cut contact with the abuser if possible. This is just the start of the process, but it can help you start trending towards a path of healing.

Have you ever felt strangely attached to someone, even though the relationship is clearly unhealthy? You know it's not good for you, yet the thought of leaving feels terrifying. This intense mix of emotions could be a sign of a trauma bond.

We understand the overwhelming desire to break free from this situation fast. Maybe you're constantly pulled back into contact, or the thought of setting boundaries feels paralyzing. It's important to acknowledge this urgency, but also remember that true healing takes time and self-compassion.

This guide will equip you with the knowledge and practical steps to start breaking free from a trauma bond, even if it takes time to fully separate. We'll explore what trauma bonds are, why they're so difficult to break, and most importantly, how to begin the journey towards healthy relationships and a life you deserve. 

Understanding why trauma bonds are difficult to break

Chemical attachment - The rollercoaster ride in your brain

Trauma bonds can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, pulling you back in even when you know they’re not good for you. This intense push and pull has a lot to do with the chemicals in your brain.

During a healthy relationship, feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin are released when you interact with your partner. 

These create feelings of pleasure, bonding, and trust. However, in an abusive relationship, the cycle of abuse (idealization, devaluation, discard, and sometimes hovering) disrupts this normal pattern.

Here's how it plays out:

  • Stress hormones: During abusive episodes, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline surge. This creates a state of hypervigilance and fear, keeping you on edge.
  • Dopamine spikes: Ironically, even during abusive moments, there can be intermittent bursts of dopamine. This is because the abuser might apologize, offer affection, or create moments of normalcy, creating a false sense of hope and a yearning for the "good times."
  • Withdrawal and craving: When the abuser pulls away or the relationship becomes chaotic again, these feel-good chemicals drop, leading to withdrawal symptoms and a craving for the temporary "highs" experienced earlier. This cycle keeps you hooked and reinforces the bond, even though it's ultimately unhealthy.

Remember: Understanding this chemical dance doesn't excuse the abuser's behavior. It simply explains why breaking free can feel so challenging. The good news is that with awareness and the right support, you can rewire these patterns and build healthier connections.

The cycle of abuse - A trap for the heart

Trauma bonds often form within the context of an abusive relationship. This cycle, also known as the power and control cycle, creates a confusing and manipulative dynamic that fuels the bond. Here's a brief breakdown of the phases:

  • Idealization: The abuser showers you with affection, making you feel loved and appreciated. This creates a strong initial bond and sets the stage for future disappointment.
  • Devaluation: The abuser begins to criticize, belittle, or isolate you. This can be subtle at first but gradually chips away at your self-esteem.
  • Discard: The abuser pushes you away, either emotionally or physically. This creates intense feelings of loneliness and longing for the "good times" in the idealization phase. 
  • Hovering (sometimes): In some cases, the abuser attempts to win you back with apologies, gifts, or promises to change. This reignites the dopamine cycle and makes it harder to leave.

Trauma bonding and the cycle

This cycle of highs and lows creates a confusing mix of emotions. The fear and uncertainty during devaluation and discard are coupled with hope and temporary relief during idealization and hovering. This rollercoaster keeps you attached in the hope that things will improve, even though they rarely do.

Self-Blame and confusion - The fog of a trauma bond

Trauma bonds can be incredibly confusing and leave you questioning your own reality. This is due to several factors:

  • Gaslighting: Abusers often manipulate and distort reality, making you doubt your own perceptions and memories. This can lead to self-blame and questioning your judgment.
  • Minimizing the abuse: The cycle of abuse can be so normalized that you might minimize the severity of the abuser's actions or even blame yourself for triggering their behavior.
  • Fear of abandonment: The intense attachment formed during the idealization phase can morph into a fear of being alone. Leaving a relationship, even an abusive one, can feel terrifying.

This combination of self-blame, confusion, and fear can make it incredibly difficult to see the situation clearly and take steps to leave.  Remember, you are not alone in experiencing these emotions.

The quickest way we know to break a trauma bond

As you now know, trauma bonds are a complex situation that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We believe the steps below are one of the most efficient ways to break a trauma bond (even if they take longer than you would like them to).

  • Prioritize safety: Emphasize the importance of ensuring your physical and emotional safety, especially if you're still in contact with the abuser.
  • Going no contact (if possible): Explain the benefits of cutting off contact with the abuser, while acknowledging the difficulty for some situations. An abuser will likely push back on any boundary that you set, so be prepared for push back.
  • Identify and challenge negative thoughts: Provide techniques to recognize and challenge negative self-beliefs formed during the trauma bond.
  • Building a support system: Highlight the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive and understanding friends, family, or a therapist.
  • Self-care practices: Offer practical self-care strategies to manage stress, improve well-being, and promote healing (e.g., mindfulness, exercise, healthy eating).

Reclaiming your strength and building a brighter future

Breaking free from a trauma bond is a courageous journey, and it's important to celebrate each step you take towards healing. 

While it may not happen overnight, with self-compassion, the right support system, and the tools outlined in this guide, you can gradually weaken the trauma bond and build a life filled with healthy, fulfilling relationships.

Remember, you are worthy of love and respect. This experience doesn't define you, and it doesn't have to limit your future happiness.

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Written by
Kristie Plantinga

Kristie Plantinga is the founder of Best Therapists. Along with being on the client-side of therapy, Kristie has had the honor of working directly with therapists in her marketing agency for therapists, TherapieSEO. While working alongside therapists, she learned about the inequities in our mental health system that therapists face on a daily basis, and she wanted to do something about it. That’s why Best Therapists is a platform designed to benefit not only therapy-seekers, but therapy providers. Kristie has a Masters degree in Written Communication and a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Music.

Reviewed by
Katelyn McMahon
Registered Psychotherapist, VT #097.0134200

Katelyn is a therapist-turned-writer with a passion for mental health. She has a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of England and is a Registered Psychotherapist in the state of Vermont. Katelyn has professional experience in aging care, addiction treatment, integrated health care, and private practice settings. She also has lived experience being on the client side of therapy. Currently, Katelyn is a content writer who’s passionate about spreading mental health awareness and helping other therapists and therapy-seekers Do The Work.

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