Trauma Bonding Withdrawal Symptoms and How to Manage Them

It’s important to understand the nature of trauma bond relationships, learn how to break a trauma bond and recognize and manage withdrawal symptoms.

Trauma bonds are powerful emotional attachments that can keep someone in a toxic relationship. These relationships are cyclic and addictive, and when an individual does break free, they will likely experience difficult trauma bond withdrawal symptoms, sometimes necessitating therapy or professional help to navigate through and heal from the experience.

To overcome these unhealthy connections, it’s important to understand the nature of trauma bond relationships, learn how to break a trauma bond and recognize and manage withdrawal symptoms. 

What Is a Trauma Bond Relationship?

Trauma bond relationships are complex and unhealthy attachments that develop between a victim and their abuser. These relationships are characterized by a cyclical pattern of abuse followed by acts of love. There are passionate highs and devastating lows, and the victim is never sure when their partner will be loving or cruel. Victims often feel dependent on their partner and responsible for their partner’s behaviour. 

While trauma bonds are most common in romantic relationships, they can also happen between friends, children and caregivers, or hostages and kidnappers. Trauma bond relationships can happen to anyone, though some people may be more susceptible. This includes people who have insecure attachment styles, a history of abusive relationships, existing mental health conditions, childhood trauma, and/or low self-esteem.

The Stages of a Trauma Bond

The beginning of a trauma bond relationship seems ideal: it is filled with love, affection, and passion. At some point, emotional, physical, or psychological abuse occurs. The abuser often apologizes, proclaims their love, and makes false promises— only for the cycle to continue. 

These are the seven stages of trauma bonding:

 

Love bombing: The abuser showers their partner with love, flattery, and affection. They try to win them over with grand gestures, such as gifts or declaring their love early in the relationship.

Trust and dependency: The abuser tries to quickly advance the relationship and ensure the other person is dependent on them, especially for love and validation. 

Criticism: The abuser starts to make their partner feel negatively about themselves. They place blame on them during arguments, so the victim feels they are doing something wrong. 

Manipulation: In this stage, the abuser gaslights the victim and makes them question their reality. If the victim tries to speak out about the abuser’s behaviour, the abuser will shift the blame.

Resignation: The victim starts giving in more and more to avoid conflict. They drop disagreements and their boundaries are eroded. They no longer know what to believe.

Loss of self: The victim’s confidence is broken down, and they become isolated from their friends and family. Feelings of shame build as their self-esteem plummets. 

Addiction: After abuse, there is typically a period where everything feels normal. The abuser may apologize and draw the victim back in through love bombing. Eventually, the abuse starts again. The victim can begin to feel addicted to this cycle, terrified of the lows but craving the highs. 

The Signs of a Trauma Bond

Healthy relationships are built on respect, safety, trust, and accountability. Trauma bonds are built on control. These are a few signs that someone may be in a trauma bond relationship:

  • They justify/defend their partner’s behaviour.
  • They isolate themselves from their support network.
  • They do not want to leave their relationship, even if they are unhappy.
  • They fixate on the good times in their relationship.
  • They continue to trust their partner after abusive behaviour and hope they will change.
  • They keep their partner’s abusive behaviour a secret from their friends and family.
  • They think their abuse is their fault.
  • They worry about doing things that will set their partner off.

How to Break a Trauma Bond

Figuring out how to break a trauma bond relationship can be exceptionally difficult, but it is possible through acknowledging and understanding your situation, seeking support, and practicing self-compassion. 

Educate yourself and recognize the bond 

Learning about the dynamics of toxic relationships can help you recognize the signs of a trauma bond and see your relationship for what it is. The first step towards breaking the cycle is acknowledging your relationship is harming your well-being.

Seek outside help

Talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member, or trauma counsellor. A support network can provide you with a safe space to work through your emotions and encouragement as you break free.

Challenge negative thoughts

Trauma bonds can ruin your self-esteem. By challenging negative beliefs about yourself and recognizing that you are worthy of safety, security, and love, you can begin to break the powerful bond of a toxic relationship.

Set boundaries

Establish clear boundaries to protect yourself, which may include limiting or cutting off contact with your abuser and distancing yourself from mutual friends. There are many services and resources that offer support, as well as provincial/territorial crisis lines that can help you prepare a safety plan.

Trauma Bond Withdrawal Symptoms

Trauma bond withdrawal symptoms are emotional and physical responses following the break of a trauma bond. Trauma bonds are complex and addictive—so withdrawal symptoms can be different for every person. Withdrawal symptoms are an important step towards recovery, and they will not last forever.

Physical symptoms

Trauma bond withdrawal can manifest in somatic symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, or nightmares.

Desire for the person

You may feel an overwhelming craving to reconnect with your abuser and chase the highs of your relationship. You may feel tempted to stay in touch because of the emotional dependency that was created during the relationship.

Emotional instability

Withdrawal can feel like an emotional roller coaster, with feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, and depression. You may alternate between feelings of love and hate towards your abuser.

Low self-esteem

You may blame yourself for the relationship and believe you caused or deserved your abuse. These feelings can make you question your self-worth.

Isolation

Feelings of shame and guilt can make you want to isolate yourself from friends and family. You may struggle to build or rebuild healthy connections and feel you are unworthy of love and support.

Managing Trauma Bond Withdrawal Symptoms

Managing trauma bond withdrawal symptoms requires support as well as self-compassion. As you go on your healing journey, remember to prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Self-care

Healing begins when you treat yourself with kindness—not blame. Engaging in physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and getting plenty of rest can all help improve your mood and energy. Try to also reconnect with activities or hobbies that you used to love, or find new ones that bring you joy. 

Therapy

A mental health professional with experience in trauma-informed therapy can help you process your trauma bond relationship, rebuild your self-esteem, and develop coping strategies. Common therapies for trauma bonds include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).

Support network/groups

Talking to people who have gone through similar experiences can help you relate to others and feel less alone. If you’re not ready to attend a support group, try talking to a friend or family member you trust. Resist the urge to isolate. Surround yourself with people who understand your situation and can offer you understanding and encouragement.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation help you stay present and grounded by reducing anxiety and regulating your nervous system. Activities like mindful journaling can help you release your emotions and make sense of your experience.

Finding a Trauma Counsellor

Understanding what a trauma bond relationship is and talking to a mental health professional can help you work through the emotions and experiences of a trauma bond. At Phare Counselling, our trauma counsellors can guide you towards a path of recovery and help you develop healthy connections in the future. With patience, self-compassion, and support, trauma bond withdrawal symptoms will fade as you progress in your healing journey. Find a counsellor that is right for you today!

Author Bio

Wendy Chan is a writer and editor who is passionate about health, wellness, and self-care. She has worked in marketing and communications for nearly a decade, creating educational content for brands and companies across Canada. Since 2020, she has been a writer and researcher for Phare Counselling.

Wendy specializes in authoring informative and accessible content on mental health, wellbeing, higher education, and technology. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. You can find her in Vancouver or Toronto, depending on the weather.

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