“Trauma-bonding is an intense emotional attachment formed with an individual who is physically or emotionally abusive,” Simonian tells us. “Traumatic bonds develop as a result of what is called the Cycle of Abuse in relationships, which includes these dynamics: building tension, an incident of abuse, reconciliation, followed by a calm period.” She tells us that examples of abuse might include verbal threats, insults, attempts to control behavior, emotional manipulation or physical violence.
You might be thinking, “How could someone could feel attached to an abuser?” Simonian says it’s actually quite common, and the key factor at play is the victim's vulnerability. “An abuser preys on vulnerability and is likely to create and convey an extreme sense of love, passion or even obsession in their relationships and then switch—engaging in behaviors like berating, insulting or even causing physical harm,” she explains. She adds that the highs and lows of this pattern are not only confusing to the victim, but the rollercoaster of emotions is actually what strengthens the trauma-bond, leaving the person experiencing abuse with a debilitating craving for the abuser's love and affection after an abusive incident. “When the abuser finally provides positive attention, the victim feels an emotional high replete with relief, excitement, confidence and worthiness,” she notes.