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Trapped: The Reality of Traumatic Bonding

Traumatic bonding is a psychological phenomenon where victims feel paradoxically tied to their abusers, making it a challenging understanding for outsiders. 

The cycle of abuse and reprieve leads to powerful emotional bonds that tether the victim to their abuser, leaving them feeling trapped. This article shines a light on the realities of traumatic bonding and the complex emotions that it entails.

Foundations of Traumatic Bonding: Disturbing Parallels

When someone is entangled in a traumatic bond, their emotional and psychological well-being is held hostage. The captive’s sense of self becomes intertwined and shackled with the abuser, making escape seem nearly impossible.


  • Cycle of abuse and kindness: Traumatic bonding is a product of inconsistent positive reinforcement. When an abuser intersperses moments of kindness amid a sea of torment, the victim becomes conditioned to seek and hold onto these fleeting moments of compassion.
  • Trauma-induced bonding: Feelings of terror and trauma release can give birth to an intense bond between the abuser and the abused.
  • Comparison with addictions: In the same way that a person becomes hooked on the intermittent highs and lows of online gambling addiction, a victim of traumatic bonding becomes ‘addicted’ to the unpredictable ‘kind’ behaviors of their abuser amid their abusive actions.
  • Psychological response to captivity: Traumatic bonding shares common ground with “Stockholm Syndrome.” Victims empathize and form bonds with their abusers as a psychic defense mechanism to survive.

The relationship between a traumatic bond and online gambling dependence forms an uncanny parallel that lends valuable insight into how the bond forms.

The Intersection of Traumatic Bonding and Online Gambling Habit

The comparison with the online gambling habit illustrates the manipulative mechanics by which traumatic bonding entraps its victims.


  • Intermittent rewards: Gambling addiction and traumatic bonding based on the negative reinforcement principle. The sporadic acts of kindness represent the few wins in the betting game; they make the losses bearable and keep the victim playing – or, in this case, staying.
  • The illusion of control: Gamblers often believe they can predict or influence the outcomes, although this is merely an illusion. Similarly, victims of traumatic bonding may think that they can alter the abuser’s behavior through their actions.


By understanding these parallels, one could grapple more effectively with the ensnaring nature of traumatic bonding.

Consequences of Traumatic Bonds

The adverse effects of being ensnared in a traumatic bond are manifold and can persist long after leaving the abusive environment.

  • Deteriorating mental health: It’s common for victims to experience lasting anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Impaired relationships: The victims might struggle to maintain healthy relationships, as their skewed perception of love and trust might impair their interaction with others.
  • Self-alienation: Victims often face a diminished sense of self-worth and independence, which render them more susceptible to further abusive relationships.

The Parallels with Addiction

Unsettlingly, the dynamics of a traumatic bond frighteningly mirror the progression of addiction. For example, in each cycle of the power dynamic, when the abuser follows abusive behavior with acts of love and kindness, it is akin to the temporary high an addict experiences, followed by the inevitable crash. 

This unpredictable pattern keeps the victim tethered, always hoping for another moment of respite, similar to an addict chasing their next high.

Navigating the Path to Recovery

Recovery from traumatic bonding is a daunting yet achievable journey. Here are some steps that can assist victims in regaining control of their lives:

  • Acknowledgement: The first step is recognizing the existence of a traumatic bond, despite the painful emotions this realization is bound to stir.
  • Seek professional help: Trauma-informed care, such as counseling or psychotherapy, can be instrumental in understanding the trauma and developing coping mechanisms.
  • Establish boundaries: As recovery progresses, victims must set firm boundaries to ensure they don’t fall back into the vicious cycle.
  • Support system: Surrounding themselves with a network of family, friends, and support groups can provide emotional and moral strength.

The Many Faces of Traumatic Bonds

Traumatic bonds can emerge in various relationships, transcending age, nationality, and social status. They often extend beyond the confines of romantic partnerships, affecting friendships, parent-child relationships, and interactions with authority figures or institutions. The following are examples of diverse scenarios where traumatic bonding may manifest:

  • Domestic abuse: In intimate relationships, partners can be trapped in a powerful emotional bond with the individual who inflicts physical or psychological abuse.
  • Parent-child relationships: When a parent oscillates between abusive behavior and kindness, the child may form an unhealthy connection to their caregiver.
  • Toxic friendships: In certain friendships, one individual may control and belittle the other, who nonetheless remains loyal due to the bond formed from intermittent affection.
  • Hostage situations: Victims of captivity might develop strong attachments to their captors to ensure their survival, as exemplified by the “Stockholm Syndrome”.
  • Cults and extremist organizations: Manipulative leaders can establish psychological control over their members by alternating between punishment and reward.

No one is immune to traumatic bonding, and it can ensnare people of all genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Final Words

Traumatic bonding, while invisible and insidious, isn’t inescapable. Understandably, the journey to freedom is challenging and often painful – akin to the recovery from online gambling addiction. 

But with the proper support, strategies, and perseverance, the cycle can be broken. A brighter, healthier life lies beyond the shackles of traumatic bonds, awaiting those who dare to sever them.


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