Trauma Bonding and Intimacy

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    Trauma Bonding

    Trauma bonding refers to the attachment victims of abuse or neglect form with their abuser. Sometimes that attachment takes the form of obsessive thoughts of hatred or revenge. More commonly though it refers to a fear of, and loyalty towards the perpetrator. Because of that loyalty the victim may sometimes confuse this fear with respect.

    This is usually when the perpetrator performs acts of kindness and positive regard towards the victim. This can lead them to believe any ill will or feeling is their fault. For example cases where the perpetrator can justify harsh discipline and attitudes through perhaps a strong sense of religion or duty, or claims high standards which the victim almost certainly never meets.

    Trauma bonding can happen in any relationship where there is abuse or neglect. Imagine a child loved conditionally, shunned or punished for not reaching a particular standard or a behaving a particular way. If that child had to rely on a controlling or emotionally distant parent for shelter and safety, as an adult they may still submit their autonomy to that parent just to avoid feeling hurt by a negative reaction.

    When someone is raised in such an environment it can be difficult to recognize the parent as being neglectful or abusive as they aren’t always so. The same parent could buy great presents, is fun, be protective and generous.

    Fear of Intimacy

    In later years as the child grows and enters into adult relationships the bond with their parent may still be strong. Sometimes it’s stronger than the bond between them and their partner and this can lead to a fear of intimacy.

    The fear of intimacy isn’t just the fear of sex. It can be a fear connecting with someone else other than the person they have trauma bonded with. It isn’t necessarily the intimacy that causes the fear but rather the worry of how the controlling parent or ex-partner might react.

    Inevitably the lack of intimacy causes problems in the relationship. The victim may not admit there is a problem in the relationship. They may feel if they acknowledge any difficulties it will reflect badly on the part of the abuser if they do.

    To the new partner in the relationship who is continually shut out or rejected this can be frustrating and devaluing. They may never feel heard, respected and always second place to the perpetrator. When that happens they may feel unloved or unworthy of love. The relationship cannot be sustained healthily.


    It takes courage to acknowledge your part in whether a relationship is working or not. It also takes courage to recognize the influence others have on your day to day choices and actions. Counselling can help both parties explore and understand their families of origin and previous relationships safely. Together you can begin to understand how that impacts on the current relationship. It can help develop a healthier sense of self and in turn a healthier and nurturing relationship.

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    This article was written by sentientcounselling