Traumatic bonding

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Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.[1][2]


Patrick Carnes developed the term to describe "the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person."[3] A simpler and more encompassing definition is that traumatic bonding is: "a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and his or her abuser, formed as a result of the cycle of violence."[4]

Healthy bonding

Bonding is a normal and natural occurrence between people in an interpersonal relationship that grows over time, strengthened by doing things together, participating in major life events together and experiencing good and bad times together.[3]

Bonding in abusive relationships

Although the victim may disclose the abuse, the trauma bond means that the victim may wish to receive comfort from the very person who abused them.


Unhealthy, or traumatic bonding, occurs between people in an abusive relationship. The bond is stronger for people who have grown up in abusive households because it seems to be a normal part of relationships.[3]

Initially the person that had become an abuser was inconsistent in approach, which developed into an intensity perhaps not matched in other relationships of the victim. The longer a relationship continues, the more difficult it is for people to leave the abusers with whom they have bonded.[3]

See also


  1. Dutton; Painter (1981). "Traumatic Bonding: The development of emotional attachments in battered women and other relationships of intermittent abuse". Victimology: An International Journal (7).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Chrissie Sanderson. Counselling Survivors of Domestic Abuse. Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 15 June 2008. ISBN 978-1-84642-811-1. p. 84.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Trauma bonding. Abuse and relationships. Retrieved April 20, 2014.
  4. Wendy Austin; Mary Ann Boyd. Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing for Canadian Practice. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1 January 2010. ISBN 978-0-7817-9593-7. p. 67.
  5. Why does my child keep returning to the abusers?. PACE UK. Retrieved April 20, 2014.

Further reading