As humans, we’ve developed many ways of dealing with difficult circumstances. Some are healthier ways of coping, like therapy starting a journaling practice or opening up to friends. Other methods, like trauma dumping or numbing through substances, can prove to be more harmful than healing.

Defined as an abuser using manipulation tactics to make their victim feel dependent, a trauma bond can also be an overlooked form of coping. Oftentimes, the most difficult part of a trauma bond is not even realizing you’re developing one. If you have a sneaking suspicion that you or someone in your life could potentially be trauma-bonded, here are the 7 stages of trauma bonding to look out for.

The 7 Stages of Trauma Bonding

While it may feel impossible to walk away from this vicious cycle, it is still possible to break a trauma bond as a victim, especially when equipped with the awareness of its stages.

Stage 1: Love Bombing

Through high praise and excessive flattery, love bombing happens when you’re being showered with immediate and over-the-top affection by your abuser before it’s warranted. Love bombing builds the perfect foundation for a trauma bond by getting your guard down, trusting their intention, and subconsciously beginning to believe no one else could love or see you the way they do.

Stage 2: Testing Your Trust

Once the love bombing in stage one creates a sense of closeness, it’s easy to use that as grounds for deflecting any doubt you may impose. Your abuser may purposefully test your trust and dependency, leading you to feel guilty for ever questioning them. They may accuse you of discounting all they’ve done for you, calling back to the love bombing stage.

Stage 3: Criticizing

In a healthy relationship, you shouldn’t be constantly picked apart. However, in this stage of a trauma bond, your abuser will find a particular quality that can pick apart, making you feel insecure and insignificant. While this criticism may feel sudden, especially after experiencing all of their love bombing, abusers will typically wait until a victim’s trust has been tested before they begin to deteriorate their self-worth. Becuase of this, you may find yourself over-apologizing for things that are not your fault.

Stage 4: Gaslighting

Fighting back or challenging your abuser is ultimately a lose-lose situation. They may suddenly seem calm, cool, and collected once they’ve pushed you to your breaking point, never taking responsibility for their behaviors and often shifting blame back onto you. This psychological tactic, known as gaslighting, will slowly make you weary and even have you questioning your line of processing.

Stage 5: Weakening Your Defenses

Once you reach this stage, you’ll find yourself too weak to put up a battle or question your abuser’s intentions. While may be beginning to develop some awareness that you’re being manipulated, it’s ultimately not enough to end the relationship, as you may still be blaming yourself for your abuser’s behavior.

Stage 6: Disconnecting You From Your Identity

Because you may become so wrapped up in this trauma bond, your sense of self outside the relationship can very easily become obsolete during this stage. With no more boundaries and self-resourced validation, as well as built-up emotional torture, shame and guilt, it’s difficult to return to who you were before they became all you knew.

Stage 7: Addiction

Often in trauma bonds, stages one through seven become cyclical; following a significant conflict, there’s a honeymoon period. This is when your abuser may apologize and start the love-bombing process all over again, reinforcing your dependency. In the final stage of a trauma bond, you can become so addicted to the cycle that even with the awareness of the trauma bond, there’s a lack of desire to break out. 

There’s Always Hope

With tools like therapy and turning to a healthy support system, it’s never too late to break free from a trauma bond and get your life back. Knowledge is power, and taking the time to recognize the signs of these seven stages can be the first step towards reclaiming your power.