Attachment and Trauma Bond

“I argue that attachment theory is a central part of the history of psychoanalysis, although in a form not easily recognizable partly because of Bowlby’s unique formulation of the centrality of relationships in terms of attachment for understanding the dynamics of the human inner world and partly because of certain defensive features of psychoanalysis that makes changes in thinking difficult and results in the marginalization of dissident voices. Bowlby’s unrecognized antecedents extend back to Bleuler in Switzerland and include White, Sullivan and Thompson in the United States and Fairbairn and Winnicott in the UK. A dangerous clinical consequence of the lack of acknowledgement of Bowlby’s contribution to psychoanalysis has been a widespread ignorance of the difference between an attachment bond and a trauma bond. An attachment bond provides safety and a trauma bond provides harm. Victims of abuse can mistakenly be encouraged to remain in abusive relationships in the name of attachment because trauma bonds can be strong even though they are harmful. This is a dangerous misreading of attachment theory stemming from the marginalization and ignorance of Bowlby’s work.”


Trauma bonds (also referred to as traumatic bonds) are emotional bonds with an individual (and sometimes, with a group) that arise from a recurring, cyclical pattern of abuse perpetuated by intermittent reinforcement through rewards and punishments. The process of forming trauma bonds is referred to as trauma bonding or traumatic bonding. A trauma bond usually involves a victim and a perpetrator in a uni-directional relationship wherein the victim forms an emotional bond with the perpetrator. This can also be conceptualized as a dominated-dominator or an abused-abuser dynamic. Two main factors are involved in the establishment of a trauma bond: a power imbalance and intermittent reinforcement of good and bad treatment, or reward and punishment. Trauma bonding can occur in the realms of romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, incestuous relationshipscultshostage situations, sex trafficking (especially that of minors), or tours of duty among military personnel.

Trauma bonds are based on terror, domination, and unpredictability. As a trauma bond between an abuser and a victim strengthens and deepens, it leads to conflicting feelings of alarm, numbness, and grief, that show up in a cyclical pattern. More often than not, victims in trauma bonds do not have agency and autonomy, and don’t have an individual sense of self either. Their self-image is a derivative and an internalization of the abuser’s conceptualization of them.

Trauma bonds have severe detrimental effects on the victim not only while the relationship persists, but beyond that as well. Some long-term impacts of trauma bonding include but are not limited to remaining in abusive relationships, having adverse mental health outcomes like low self-esteem, negative self image, and increased likelihood of depression and bipolar disorder, and perpetuating a generational cycle of abuse. Victims who traumatically bond with their victimizers are often unable to leave these relationships or are only able to do so with significant duress and difficulty. Even among those who do manage to leave, many go back to the abusive relationship due to the pervasiveness of the learned trauma bond.”


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Kocaeli Üniversitesi Psikolojik Danışmanlık ve Rehberlik

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