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Trauma Bond

Why does a person stay in an abusive relationship?

Why don't they just leave?

It is likely that these same questions have already been asked by hearing stories of relationships where there is violence (more or less visible), or news of victims who took years and years to leave the abusive relationship or where, worse, it was a more tragic end that put the end point in the relationship.

It can be very difficult to understand why someone stays in an abusive relationship with someone who hurts them psychologically or physically.

The answer to that is here: the establishment of a bond (which, despite being traumatic, is still a bond).

Trauma bond is an emotional bond that develops from a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement.

The trauma of abuse can create very strong and contradictory emotions that are very confusing and difficult to make sense of, especially when abuse is alternated with phases of affection, attention and intimacy.


We form bonds due to the basic human need for connection as a means of survival. And it's natural to develop a bond with someone who treats us with affection.

Many abusive relationships start with a lot of affection and certainty of love. The first moments of abuse can come with a lot of surprise for the victim and, the apology and the certainty that it will not happen again is believed, waiting for the person that the abuser returns to be the person he knew. It becomes easier to understand how a victim can become dependent on an abuser in this situation and how it can affect ANYONE, even people seen as emotionally "strong".

Traumatic attachment can occur in any abusive situation, regardless of whether the relationship lasts for a long or short time and in any type of relationship (love, professional, family).

Let's analyze the most typical cycle:

The relationship started with a beautiful honeymoon phase: with love and without problems. But soon after:


These can be “little things” that the victim dismisses as unimportant. As the abuser tries to control him/her, there is a feeling in the victim that he/she can prevent the abuser from getting really angry if he/she does what he/she wants him/her to do. After a while, however, it doesn't matter what the victim does and the next phase begins.


An outburst can include yelling, threats of separation, threats to hurt, throwing objects, pushing, kicking, and many other forms of violence. The explosion breaks the tension that built up in the previous phase and does not last long. Violence tends to get worse over time. Even if it is “only” verbal or emotional, there is a possibility that it could eventually become physical.

BUT, ATTENTION: some relationships do not necessarily have a very evident explosion phase with very obvious physical or verbal aggression. Abuse can be expressed through neglectful attitudes, denial of the other's feelings, denial of the other's perspective, direct or veiled criticism through comments aimed at changing the other.


After each episode of abuse, the abuser may express love, regret, or try to make the other person feel safe in the relationship or need it. Positive reinforcement maintains the cycle and constitutes the honeymoon phase. At this point, the connection is nourished, everything is wonderful, it seems that nothing has ever gone wrong and it is even difficult for the victim to remember what bothered her before, leaving the doubt: "Was it just me seeing things?" or thinking, "It shouldn't be that bad."

As time goes on, it becomes even more difficult to get out of the relationship because the tension and explosions and repetition of the cycle wears you down and depletes your self-esteem. And the victim is increasingly likely to believe that the abusive behavior is their fault.

That's why it's so important to learn to recognize the cycle!