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Trauma Bonding, Codependency, and Narcissistic Abuse

Sherry Gaba, LCSW Addiction and Recovery Psychology Today originally Posted May 29, 2019

The Trauma Bond

Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which people held captive come to have feelings of trust or even affection for the very people who captured and held them against their will. This type of survival strategy can also occur in a relationship. It is called trauma bonding, and it can occur when a person is in a relationship with a narcissist.

Within a trauma bond, the narcissist's partner—who often has codependency issues—first feels loved and cared for. However, this begins to erode over time, and the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical abuse takes over the relationship. The codependent understands the change, but not why it is occurring. They believe they just need to understand what they are doing wrong in order to bring back the loving part of the relationship.

If they do manage to break free, all the narcissist has to do is go back to that courtship phase to win them back. The more the codependent reaches out to the narcissist for love, recognition, and approval, the more the trauma bond is strengthened. This also means the codependent will stay in the relationship when the abuse escalates, creating a destructive cycle. 


Breaking Free

Professional help in the form of psychotherapy and life coaching is always highly recommended. Not only is he or she a trusted, safe person to talk to, but a professional can also help the individual develop effective strategies, such as: 

  • Separation. Separating from the narcissistic abuser is key. This means physical and emotional separation, although the physical side of the separation is much easier. 

  • Acknowledging one's own choice. Exploring the relationship through coaching or therapy to see the gaslighting, emotional abuse, criticism, control, and the addictive aspects of the relationship is hard work, but it also provides the opportunity for the codependent to recognize, acknowledge, and affirm his or her own positive choices to get away and avoid being held as an emotional prisoner in the relationship.

  • Developing a support network. Just as the codependent is working to get away and become emotionally free from trauma bonding and abuse, the narcissist is working to bring the codependent back under their control. It is important for the codependent to develop a network of professionals, friends, and trusted family members who understand their goals and are actively, positively, and compassionately there to support them in their journey forward. 

In addition to this work, learning to identify narcissistic and abusive behavior patterns is a critical part of not just healing, but avoiding these type of relationships in the future. Visit our website to schedule a time to start healing.

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