The 5 Painful Elements of an Abusive Traumatic Bond

Karen Landmann, Licensed Clinical Counselor in New York City, Certified Social Worker, Professional Therapist

When Home becomes Prison

You are placed in a decrepit prison cell in a foreign country without any cause. You are tortured in unpredicted ways: sometimes more, sometimes less, and sometimes even earlier than usual. Sometimes the head torturer visits you and offers support. He brings you fresh, delicious food. It’s confusing. It’s confusing. Is he your friend or enemy?

You’re out now but you miss your torturer. Although he hurt you, he was good…sometimes.

Is this something you are familiar with? Do you feel similar feelings in your own relationships? You could be a victim of an Abusive Traumatic Bind (ATB).

The Cycle of the Abusive Traumatic Bind

Most abusive relationships follow a pattern that is almost like a screenplay. Domestic violence (DV), affects mainly women. COVID-19, which was introduced in 1999, has significantly increased the number and intensity of DV cases.

The following is the sequence of events:

  • Honeymoon Period He is “Mr. Right.” He flatters her, compliments her, and wants a relationship quickly. She quickly becomes deeply attached. The Abusive Traumatic Binding (ATB), has been established. The ATB is attractive for both the parties, but especially for the woman.
  • EscalationSlowly, but steadily, violence starts to build. It could start with an argument where he berates his wife. She says to herself: “It’s nothing. He didn’t really mean to hurt my feelings”. The violence escalates unpredictably.
  • PlateauThe abuse eventually stops. The victim feels more at home. This can last for quite a while.
  • Climactic EventAt one point during the plateau period, suddenly. The tension builds up and an eruption occurs, often with a violent attack.
  • Revisited: Honeymoon PeriodThe abuser makes a profuse apology immediately or very shortly after the incident. He seduces the victim into believing that he will never repeat it. The victim does not leave, and the ATB is reinforced.
  • Abusive Traumatic BondingIt is a key component in domestic violence relationships. It is important, even though it is not well understood. Many victims of domestic violence suffered from trauma in childhood. They may have witnessed violence between their parents. The abuser may have witnessed DV in his own family.

How the Cycle is Perpetuated

Their respective histories confirm the violence between the victim of abuse and her abuser. Both have been victims of violence, though from different perspectives, so they easily fall into an ATB.

The ATB will only get stronger as the cycle of violence intensifies.

Trapped in the unending cycle, the victim’s constraining ropes cannot be broken. The ATB is unbreakable. She is gone.

Breaking the Bond

Do you recognize the screams and violence in you or someone close to you? IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. There are many paths to freedom and the victim can most definitely break free.

Resources such as The National Domestic Violence Support Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE-7233)These organizations can provide initial support, as well as referrals for counseling and other services in America. Shelters are available for victims and their families. Similar support systems exist in other countries. Many women have left abusive relationships. It is possible.

The road to safety is often long and difficult. After the victim has separated from her partner, it is possible to begin the painful process of cutting off the ATB and grieving the lost partnership. These difficulties lead to many women returning to their abusers. On average, it takes nine attempts for a woman to leave an abusive relationship.

Long-Term Healing

There are two identities: the past of abuse and the survival for the now. The desire for the ATB is less compelling when one can work through the past to distance himself from the past. As she lets go of the chains that held her back, the pain begins to ease. Recovery can be achieved with the help of psychotherapy, EMDR(Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and support groups.

Neither abuse nor ATB last forever. The chains will come und go, and the scars will fade.

You or someone you care for may be suffering from emotional, physical, sexual, and other types of abuse. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TTY 1-800-787-3224) for immediate support. They provide confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also reach an advocate using their private chat services 7 a.m.–2 p.m. (CST) at www.thehotline.org.

Reach out to a therapist who specializes in working alongside abuse survivors for long-term support and healing.




© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Karen Landmann, Licensed Clinical Soci Worker, Professional Counselor in New York City (New York), granted permission to publish

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