How to tell if you’re in a toxic trauma bond relationship

A traumatic bond is a bond a person forms with someone who has caused physical, emotional and/or sexual harm in a relationship. These types of relationships often develop subtly and slowly over time. This connection creates a toxic and highly dangerous situation that continues to fester and becomes increasingly difficult to break.

This article will define trauma connections, present signs that relationships are harmful, and provide information on breaking harmful connections, seeking help, and recovering.

What is wound bonding?

Traumatic bonding occurs when someone involved in a toxic or abusive relationship forms a strong and often idealized bond with the abuser. This emotional connection with the abuser is an unconscious way of coping with trauma or abuse.

Relatedly, Stockholm Syndrome refers to those who develop an attachment to their captors in a hostage situation. The name was given after the 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden, where gunmen held four people hostage for five days. After they were rescued, it became clear that the hostages developed bonds with their captors, developed romantic feelings for them, and even legally defended them.

These types of relationships can develop traumatic connections when there is an imbalance of power, persistent abuse, and a swing between warmth and violence.

How common is Stockholm Syndrome?

Despite getting a lot of attention, Stockholm Syndrome is very rare and only occurs in a very small number of people who are taken hostage. Traumatic bonding is more common in domestic violence situations.

Signs you’re in a toxic relationship

A relationship may be considered toxic when any of the following conditions exist:

  • There is no mutual support between the two
  • There is ongoing or recurring conflict
  • One person tries to destroy another person constantly
  • Disrespect, such as being abusive, careless, and insulting other people’s property, etc.
  • There is unhealthy competition
  • Lack of cohesion, such as not being able to depend on each other

Toxic relationships can be subtle and difficult to identify. It may not be obvious if a relationship is toxic if no apparent violence occurs. Examples might include throwing things, letting go of a person, trying to control a person’s relationship and behavior, using vulnerability and apologizing as manipulation, and making a person think negative aspects of a relationship are their fault.

Emotional Abuse: Signs of Emotional Abuse and What to Do

There is no specific look or type to describe someone who has been a victim or caused a toxic or traumatic relationship. Those who create abusive relationships vary in age and social status and do not fit into a particular profile.

It is often not obvious to a person that they are in a toxic relationship. If you realize you are in a traumatic or dangerous situation, it is not your fault. Professional help will help you understand your options and plan the safest way to leave the relationship.

One of the more obvious signs of being in a toxic or unhealthy relationship is the presence of intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV doesn’t always mean bodily harm. It also includes sexual and psychological harm.

This type of violence usually isn’t obvious until the relationship is firmly established. The abuser initially uses charm and skilled manipulation to “win” the person and create a strong bond. Once a connection is established, the abuser displays controlling behaviors that may translate into physical, sexual or psychological violence and continues to manipulate by showing remorse, warmth, and kindness in order to keep the person in the relationship middle.

signs of domestic abuse

How to break free and seek help

It is normal to leave a relationship that involves a traumatic connection. Violence can lead to good times, and it is common to feel love for the person who perpetuated the violence.

When deciding how to leave a toxic or violent relationship, it is important to consider the safety of any vulnerable people (including children) that will be involved, as attempts and threats to leave can sometimes trigger more and more serious violence.

Domestic Violence Hotline

Resources can help you plan for a successful relationship breakup, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

How to Identify and Prevent Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)


Recovery from the psychological effects of a traumatic relationship can take a long time. The bond with the abuser creates a deep and complex bond that is hard to break, even after the relationship ends. The complexities of a traumatic union can create feelings of love and longing even in the presence of physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse.

Seeking help from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, is recommended to address traumatic experiences, break bonds, and prevent mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recovery from a toxic relationship can take years, and the psychological effects can spill over into other relationships, leading to low life satisfaction and long-term physical and mental health issues.

The recovery process requires patience and often means working to regain a sense of control, developing social skills, building social support, and implementing safety plans. With continued support, most people can build resilience and find post-traumatic growth.

Effects of Toxic and Violent Relationships

Toxic and violent relationships can take a toll on the body, leading to high blood pressure, diabetes and higher rates of HIV infection. They also have an impact on psychosocial development and can lead to behavioral and mental health problems such as sleep problems, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts.


Traumatic bonding is a complex form of psychological connection with someone who has caused psychological, physical and/or sexual harm. This bond develops subtly over time and is often done at the hands of a highly manipulative and controlling abuser.

People in traumatic relationships often don’t know they’re one until the bond becomes so strong that it’s hard to break.

Ending a toxic or violent relationship alone can be very challenging, even dangerous. Those seeking to leave an insecure relationship should do so with professional help and the support of loved ones whenever possible.

VigorTip words

It can be hard to recognize and acknowledge that you are in a toxic or traumatic relationship, and even harder to decide to leave. After leaving a painful relationship, most said they did so only because things had gotten to the point where they feared for their own or their children’s lives.

It may feel impossible to leave, or things will get better over time. There may even be embarrassment, or as if it was your fault that you got into this situation in the first place.

If you think you are in an unsafe situation or know someone who may be in a dangerous situation, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. If you think your internet usage may be tracked, use internet search resources with caution. Consider using a search engine like DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track your search history or IP address.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does trauma affect the brain?

    When we encounter real or perceived threats, our brains and bodies automatically respond to keep us safe.

    The brain responds without taking the time to understand and adequately process a situation to save time and allow us to react faster to stay alive. Once a threat is over, the brain can often process and store the experience as a memory, which allows us to learn and grow and respond better the next time. Sometimes this doesn’t happen in a healthy way, which can lead to PTSD and other mental health problems.

  • What’s the best way to deal with trauma?

    Traumatic experiences can affect our thinking, behavior, and physical and mental health. For some, traumatic experiences can be dealt with by connecting support systems, adjusting responses, and finding meaning and growth from the experience. For others, especially those who have experienced complex or ongoing traumatic situations, mental health treatment is the best way to overcome the effects of trauma.

  • What is childhood trauma?

    Childhood trauma is any experience that is unbearable for a child. This can include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, loss of a significant loved one, difficult divorce between carers, car accidents and violence.

  • How does childhood trauma affect adulthood?

    Untreated trauma affects our brain, body, behavior and overall health. Left untreated, childhood trauma can lead to many different types of problems in adulthood, from the inability to maintain meaningful relationships to ongoing physical and mental health issues.

    understand more:

    Childhood Trauma: Signs You’re Repressing Traumatic Memories