Traumatic Bonding


Traumatic bonding is the development of strong emotional ties between two persons, with one person intermittently harassing, beating, threatening, abusing or intimidating the other. Traumatic bonding includes two common features:

1) the existence of a power imbalance where the victim perceives him/herself as dominated by the other person
2) the intermittent nature of the abuse.

Unequal power relationships become increasingly imbalanced over time. As power imbalance magnifies, the victims feels more negative about themselves, more incapable of protecting themselves and increasingly dependent on the abuser. The cycle of dependency results in a strong emotional bond to the abuser.

In abusive relationships of any nature, physical abuse is random and often occurs between periods of nonviolent and affectionate contact which reinforces the traumatic bonding. The Cycle of Violence used in educating individuals about domestic violence provide an example of the intermittent abuse – the phases are unpredictable in terms of length of each phase which keeps the victim off balance in hopes of change. The “false honeymoon phase” where affection and promises of change are common create a temporary calm and reinforce the bond.