Healing

How to Break a Trauma Bond and Begin Healing

How to Break a Trauma Bond | Hopeful Panda

My previous post discussed what trauma bonding is and the signs of it with parents. This post will go into how to break that trauma bond and begin healing. While this post focuses on abusive parents, the information here can apply to other types of trauma bonds as well.

As mentioned before, I still very much feel an attachment to my abusive mother. And that’s almost normal and expected. However, it’s not healthy because I still have false hope that she might treat me better one day or become a better person. (Chances are, she won’t)

And while hope is what I usually strive for, the hope of having better relationships with abusive and toxic people only ends up hurting you.

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Why It’s Important to Break the Trauma Bond

When we feel emotionally attached to someone who will never reciprocate the feelings, it drains us. It hurts us and continues to reinforce the idea in our heads that we’re unlovable or worthless.

While it can be argued that feeling love or loyalty towards our parents or anyone that means a lot to us is normal and okay, it isn’t if we get nothing out of it.

Healthy relationships based on mutual support and respect help us heal and thrive. Relationships can be extremely beneficial for our well-being. But one-sided relationships where one keeps giving and the other only takes, well, that’s not healthy; that’s codependent and harmful for everyone involved.

While you can still feel fondness for your parent, try to be realistic about it. Recognize if you have a trauma bond. And if you do, try to understand why it’s important to break that bond. Then, go through the process you need to break it and begin healing.

How to Break A Trauma Bond

I never thought much about my attachment to my mother. I thought she has hurt me so many times, there was no way I can still be bonded to her. But I was wrong. A trauma bond is actually very hard to break… much harder than I expected.

You were likely in your parent’s shadow for most, if not all, of your life. Establishing yourself as an independent and separate person can be really difficult to do after years of programming to be otherwise.

It’s even more difficult if you happen to have a parent who continues to do all they can to keep you within their grasp regardless of how old you are. In their mind, they are still in control of you no matter what because they’re your parent. And you might see it that way, too.

The following steps on how to break a trauma bond are provided by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and other professionals in the field. I’ve made adjustments so it can apply to the parent-child relationship as well.

1. Recognize the bond

Of course, the first step on how to break a trauma bond is to recognize that there is one.

Many trauma bond victims are unaware they’re being abused. If you’re here, then you probably suspect you have a trauma bond with your parent.

First, try to recognize the signs of a trauma bond. Once you realize that have a trauma bond, hopefully, you’ll want to break it. Just “wanting” to break the trauma bond in itself will be difficult. If it’s easy to break, there wouldn’t be a bond in the first place.

But remind yourself why you need to break that bond. Remind yourself how that bond is hurting you.

2. Recognize the abusive behavior

Learning to recognize abusive behavior allows you better guard yourself against abuse and learn about how the behavior affected and still is affecting you. It also lets you see how it contributed to the development of the trauma bond you might have with your abusive parent.

If you can’t see their abusive behavior or keep confusing or associating it with love, you’ll stay stuck in that trauma bond.

Try to recognize the gaslighting, emotional abuse, criticism, manipulation, and control your parent might do to you. Try to see how it made you feel and how it affected you.

Learning to identify the signs, patterns, and behaviors can also help you avoid these types of relationships in the future.

3. Remind yourself that they’re not trying to get better

If your parent continues to abuse you and/or takes no steps to try to get better, then that’s a pretty telling sign that they have no intention of getting better.

A lot of the time, trauma bonds remain because victims keep telling themselves the abuser will change. Maybe your parent promised, apologized, or did a few nice things. And maybe you tell yourself that’s enough.

However, if they are still abusive after these promises, apologies, or acts of kindness, then those “good” things are all meaningless. It’s easy to say things or even do good tiny things here and there. That’s how they keep you stuck.

But if they keep abusing you AFTER those “good” things, then they have no intention of changing. The “good” things, at that point, are just a manipulation tactic to get you to stay or oblige.

If they intend to improve, they will ACTUALLY try to improve. They will seek counseling, actually STOP hurting you, do things for you to make up for their actions (not to manipulate), and feel genuine remorse. Unfortunately, it’s way more likely for their “good” acts to be fake than sincere.

So whenever you tell yourself “this time will be different” or “oh, they will change”, recall the countless other times you thought the same only to be disappointed. If it helps, write down all instances you can think of when you fell for it.

When you think you’ll fall for it again, pull out that list to jog your memory.

4. Create boundaries that you’re willing and able to maintain

If your parent is still in your life, you will need to create some boundaries – not just as a way to break the trauma bond, but for your own well-being. Healthy boundaries are essential for ALL relationships, including the one with your parents.

Show them that you have your limits and that you will set and enforce your consequences if they try to push or cross them.

Be clear with what you’re not okay. And if they violate any boundaries you set with them, enforce the consequences you have.

However, it isn’t easy to set boundaries in general. Thus, it’s even harder to set them with abusive parents who are used to having authority over you. Learn more about how to set boundaries with abusive or narcissistic parents.

5. Consider low or no contact

If it’s a choice, consider limited contact where you only see your parents on certain occasions. And if any contact still feels like too much, consider going low or even no contact. Whether or not you think that’s the right decision depends on you.

Going no contact can seem extreme or unthinkable for some people. But others think it’s necessary for their mental health and well-being. How much contact you want to establish is completely up to you.

Learn more: How to Go No Contact with Abusive Parents

6. Learn how to deal with them

If low or no contact is not possible, learn how to best deal with them to shield yourself from their abuse.

Try your best not to engage with your parents emotionally. Revealing any of your emotions to them gives them something to attack you with. And if they throw tantrums or make threats to get what they want, don’t give in. Treat them like a child if you have to.

Learn more ways on how to deal with a narcissistic parent.

7. Build a support network

As you try to break the trauma bond with your parent, it’s important to also form bonds with other people who can support you.

Try building healthy and meaningful relationships. They can serve as a reminder of how relationships are supposed to be – a connection of mutual trust, respect, value, and support.

A support network can also help remind you why you need to let go of your abusive parent. They can also be there for you as you continue on your healing journey.

While these relationships can’t truly replace the parent-child one, they can still be very nurturing and beneficial for your well-being and inner child.

Begin Healing

Unraveling yourself from a trauma bond with your parent will be difficult. So it’s important to begin healing in the process as well.

Feel your feelings

As McBride said in her book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, you need to feel in order to heal.

Don’t pretend you aren’t hurt by your parents. It’s okay to feel your feelings. Find ways to deal with the hurt and let yourself grieve for what you lost.

Grieve for the parent you never had, the childhood you didn’t get, or the potential you never met because of the trauma. This is normal. Your feelings and experiences are completely valid.

Realize that it wasn’t your fault

Lots of abuse victims blame themselves for the abuse. But please realize that none of it was your fault. You were just a child. You didn’t deserve abuse no matter what reasons your parents or other people give.

Don’t let yourself believe it’s your problem or your fault. They were the adult who made their choices and acted the way they did. You were just a child trying to survive.

However, although what happened to you then was not your fault, what you choose to do now is on you.

Don’t beat yourself up if you still feel the bond

If you still have fond feelings for your abusive parent after trying to break the bond, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Sometimes, I also feel stupid for hoping my mother would change. These negative feelings towards myself are also brought up when my siblings – who aren’t attached to her (at least it seems) – would kind of make fun of me for feeling anything positive about her.

But I try to remind myself that it isn’t my fault. For the first few years of my life, I was with her 24/7. My siblings had other loving adults present; I didn’t. So of course, I feel that connection to her that they might not understand. They only see how abusive she is. I recognize the abuse. But I saw the “good” parts, too.

I remember her hitting and stepping on me and all the harsh things she’s said to me over the years. I remember how she tries to put me down time and time again. But I also remember her compliments. I remember having fun with her. I remember the times when she seemed like she cares about me.

Sadly, the good doesn’t outweigh the bad. So it’s up to me to try to let go of the hope that things will get better.

Noticing the bad doesn’t negate the good specifically. But it’s important to notice that there were just too many bad for my well-being. She’s also shown no signs of remorse or wanting to change. So it’s better that I try to detach emotionally and let go.

I can still hold onto the fond memories I have of her. However, that doesn’t mean I have to put up with her or have a relationship with her if it hurts me.

It’s all easier said than done. So try to be patient with yourself as you slowly try to break that trauma bond.

Practice positive yet realistic self-talk

Abuse lowers your self-esteem and makes you feel less than. Your inner voice likely reflects your abusive parent’s voice, telling you you’re worthless, useless, or stupid. But you are NOT those things.

Try to practice positive yet realistic self-talk. You don’t have to tell yourself that you’re the most awesome thing ever. But try to notice the things that make you awesome. And for the things you’re not too fond of, work on them if possible, or learn to accept that you’re only human and you’re doing the best you can.

Try to recognize the beauty in your imperfections.

Learn how to reparent yourself

When you’ve been through some form of abuse or neglect in your childhood, a part of you is still trapped in the past as that child. Learning how to reparent yourself can be healing.

Meet the needs of your childhood self. Give yourself what you didn’t receive from your parents.

Learning to become your own parent allows you to heal the bad parenting you might’ve received in the past.

Practice self-care

I sound like a stuck record. But self-care is SO beneficial for healing.

When we’re trauma bonded to an abuser, we abandon our self-care because we justify it away. We accept the treatment we get because we think it’s what we deserve.

But try to take care of yourself. You don’t need to depend on your parent for that. Besides, it’s not like they’re properly taking care of you anyway. Give yourself the kindness, patience, compassion, and affection you deserve.

Learn the different types of self-care and how you can start implementing various self-care practices into your life.

Seek therapy

If you can, consider seeking therapy with someone specialized in abuse recovery. Your therapist can help you slowly let go of your bond with your parent and develop a deeper bond with yourself.

They can teach you to identify abusive patterns, separate yourself physically and emotionally from your abuser, and develop a support network. You can connect with a certified therapist here.

Conclusion

As you go through the process to break the trauma bond, you may yearn for the loss of the positive aspects of the relationship with your parent.

You may think the good experiences are worth putting up with the bad ones. But abuse is never justified. Even IF the good times are more frequent, your health and well-being are what matters.

If an abusive person refuses to get help or stop abusing, then it doesn’t matter how “good” they seem otherwise. It will always be toxic and unhealthy.

Breaking a trauma bond, especially with a parent, will be difficult. Take all the time you need for this process. And most importantly, as always, remember to be kind and patient with yourself.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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