Feeling love and attachment to someone who has abused you is difficult for some people to understand – especially people who’ve never been in that situation. However, developing a trauma bond relationship is a frequent and understandable reaction to the cycle of abuse.

The term “trauma bond” is credited to Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., CAS. He coined the phrase in 1997. As a trauma specialist, he described trauma bonding as dysfunctional attachments that can occur when shame, danger, or exploitation occur. From his research on trauma, Carnes surmised that trauma bonding is one way the brain seeks to cope with a toxic relationship.

Trauma bond does not refer to bonding with another person over shared trauma. Instead, it describes the bond an abuse survivor has with their abuser. For example, if you have an abusive parent, you may still feel love and concern for them even after you move away. Continuing to care for someone who victimized you is natural.

Signs of a Trauma Bond Relationship

Not all abusive relationships look the same, and not all victims of abuse form a trauma bond with their abuser. Because these unhealthy relationships look and feel different to each person, it can be difficult to recognize when you have a trauma bond.

Trauma bonds form over time and in stages. This can make it even harder to identify toxic relationship patterns. Abusers may begin a new relationship by showing grand displays of affection, known as “love bombing,” to gain trust. Once the couple is bonded, the abuser begins to criticize, control, gaslight, and manipulate.

Eventually, the victim begins to believe “small” abuses are normal behaviors or even signs of love. They may become resigned to the abuse cycle. Victims of abuse may feel lost or hopeless. They might withdraw from the people and activities they love or experience suicidal ideation.

The following signs may indicate you were in a trauma bond relationship:

  • You think the problems in your relationship were all your fault
  • You continued to trust your partner despite obvious lies and emotional, verbal, or physical abuse
  • The abusive behavior followed a cycle
  • The abuser promised to change their behaviors, but they didn’t
  • You felt controlled, manipulated, or gaslighted
  • You felt unsafe with your partner and thought it could be unsafe to leave them
  • Your partner found ways to isolate you from friends and family

If you made excuses for an abusive partner or often heard yourself saying things like, “But I love them,” you were in a toxic relationship. Fortunately, healing from a trauma bond is possible with the right support.

Trauma Bond vs. Codependency

Codependency and trauma bonding can both exist in the same relationship, but they are not the same thing. Trauma bonding is rooted in a sense of desperation. The main component of codependency is the need to put another person’s needs above your own, even if it hurts you emotionally, mentally, physically, or financially.

The “co” in codependent is an important consideration. One person in a codependent relationship receives some type of emotional payoff by supporting their partner, adult child, or parent at all costs. The other person gets to continue their destructive, addictive, or abusive behavior thanks to the unending support they receive.

Forming a trauma bond without the existence of codependency may be virtually impossible, but many people have codependent relationships that don’t include trauma bonding.

Breaking the Bond: Healing From a Trauma Bond

The first step in recovering from an abusive relationship is to remember that having a trauma bond with someone who’s been cruel to you is nothing to be ashamed of.

Trauma bonds are survival methods. You may have been financially and emotionally dependent on your abuser. There may have been a family or marriage bond to consider as well.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t been in the situation to understand, but the human need for attachment is deeply ingrained. In addition, some people are at higher risk of creating trauma bonds due to maltreatment in childhood, low self-esteem, or a lack of social support.

Healing from trauma is a process. It takes time, patience, and the support of therapists who specialize in trauma-informed care. No single form of therapy can fully address your trauma responses and help you heal from trauma bonding, but a comprehensive approach that is specifically developed for your individual needs can.

A combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and other focused interventions can help you improve your self-esteem and learn new behavioral patterns that will support loving, healthy relationships in the future.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term form of therapy that focuses on the way your thoughts and feelings influence your behaviors. The theory behind CBT is that negative thoughts lead to negative behaviors. If you can change your thoughts, you can change the way you behave.

Trauma-focused CBT is an especially effective variation of CBT that specifically addresses the effects of trauma and your trauma responses.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is similar to CBT but goes even further to help people change behavioral patterns. DBT strategies, such as emotional regulation, communication, mindfulness, and distress tolerance, teach clients how to manage their emotional responses in ways that support healthy decision-making.

Trauma-Bond Interventions

Healing from a trauma bond requires a change in the way you communicate, behave, and care for yourself. Some of the things you can do in addition to receiving professional support include:

  • Educate yourself about the signs of a toxic relationship
  • Learn what a healthy relationship looks like
  • Stay focused on the present
  • Get distance from the situation to see it more clearly
  • Join a support group or talk to a trusted friend about what you are going through
  • Practice good self-care with habits like exercise, doing hobbies, and journaling
  • Create goals for the future and map out the steps needed to achieve them
  • Connect with people who are physically and emotionally safe to practice healthy relationship skills
  • Give yourself permission to heal
  • Be loving to yourself

Addressing the issues that contribute to forming trauma bonds is challenging and can be emotionally taxing. During the healing process, remember to focus on your positive qualities. Treat yourself with the same gentle kindness you would treat a loved one who is in the same situation.

Barriers to Expect and How Ketamine Treatment May Help

The road to change is often winding. Learning a new way of being in relationships, and a new way of viewing yourself, takes time and persistence. Accepting that there will be obstacles to overcome is a big step toward recovery.

The Extended Transformation Model suggests there are five stages to recovery. They are:

  1. Pre-trauma characteristics (traits and viewpoints)
  2. Rumination (overthinking)
  3. Event centrality (a turning point)
  4. Control (taking steps to change)
  5. Mastery (adjusting to post-trauma life)

Your own recovery may not follow these steps in order but understanding that there are stages and setbacks to healing from a trauma bond will help keep you motivated to make more positive changes.

Other obstacles you may face include:

  • Competition, feeling that you aren’t healing as well or as quickly as someone else
  • Facing emotional pain
  • Self-limiting beliefs
  • Trusting yourself
  • Stigma
  • Feeling you aren’t worth the work

These obstacles and more are an expected part of the process and one more reason why support from a mental health professional is so important. A therapist can help guide you through difficult times and help you practice the skills needed to break through the barriers.

Ketamine Therapy and Trauma Healing

In conjunction with therapy, ketamine-assisted healing can be a helpful method for healing from all types of trauma. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug that has been found effective for treating various types of mental health conditions, including trauma.1 It is administered by a trained provider in a clinical environment in the presence of a psychotherapist.

Ketamine has been used off-label for the treatment of depression, anxiety, trauma, and more. During a ketamine-assisted healing session, clients receive a predetermined dose of ketamine and begin feeling the effects in about 20 minutes. A deep sense of relaxation is typical, but difficult emotions, memories, or experiences may surface during the treatment session.

Your therapist will help you navigate through any discomfort during the session and will also help you process the experience once the effects of the drug wear off. Some people report feeling a release of trauma and stress after just one session. The number of sessions needed to resolve emotional issues varies for each person.

Ketamine-assisted healing is most effective when used as part of a comprehensive mental health treatment program. It is not a shortcut to healing, but it can be an effective tool for addressing and processing past trauma.

Heal From Trauma Bonds

If you or someone you know needs help healing from a trauma bond, a combination of therapies that include ketamine-assisted healing can help. For more information about trauma-focused treatments, call Plus By APN at 424.644.6486 or fill out our confidential online contact form.


  • Ketamine Therapy and Its Benefits | Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-shameless-psychiatrist/202207/ketamine-therapy-and-its-benefits. Accessed 7 Jan. 2024.