Abuse Effects

12 Signs of Trauma Bonding with Abusive Parents

Signs of Trauma Bonding with Abusive Parents | Hopeful Panda

Trauma bonding can occur in any abusive situation. And when it comes to your parents, trauma bonding seems even more likely to happen. You were born defenseless to your parents who you were meant to bond with. So it’s no surprise if you still feel attached to your parents despite how they’ve hurt you.

I’ve gone no contact with my mother for almost a year. But the other day, I broke that. It was just a few short texts. But I felt instant regret and shame once she started attacking me. Of course, I thought, I’m so stupid. But I reminded myself – it’s not my fault. Like my husband keeps telling me, she’s my mother and I still feel attached to her; it’s normal.

Do you have trouble leaving or letting go because a part of you still loves your parent? Or do you feel tempted to or did break no contact because a part of you misses them?

Other people might not understand. They wonder, how can you still feel attached to someone who’s repeatedly hurt you? How can you feel any affection for your abuser?

In this post, I’ll discuss what trauma bonding is and the signs of trauma bonding with abusive parents.

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is the unhealthy emotional attachment an abused person feels for their abuser. This attachment is defined by dependence, sympathy, loyalty, trust, or affection the victim may feel toward the abuser.

In relation to the parent-child relationship, trauma bonding is an attachment abused children form for their abusive parents. Trauma bonding is especially common among children with narcissistic parents.

The trauma bond is usually formed due to a cycle of abuse and positive reinforcement. For example, after instances of abuse, many abusers would do something kind or loving or make promises to “change” or be better.

This pattern of behavior often makes the victim confused yet hopeful that maybe things will get better. So they stay, they tolerate it, or they continue to love the very person who’s hurting them.

People on the outside often tell victims of abuse to “just leave”. Trauma bonding is oftentimes the very explanation for why it isn’t that simple.

How Does a Trauma Bond Form?

In general, trauma bonding usually starts when the victim begins to rationalize the actions of the abuser. It can develop over days, weeks, or months. But when it comes to the parent-child relationship, forming a bond is natural and pretty much immediate.

Humans form attachments to survive. Not everyone who experiences abuse will develop a trauma bond. But when it comes to parents whom we, as children, are basically programmed to attach ourselves to, trauma bonding becomes more common.

It’s natural for babies to become attached to their parents or caregivers, even if they might not treat them well or might even hurt them.

Our parents are our first introduction to the world. They are our first-ever relationship with any other person. As a child, we have no choice but to rely on and depend on them.

When your abusive parents are your only form of support, trauma bonding can develop. And oftentimes, this attachment remains even when the child grows up.

12 Signs of Trauma Bonding with Abusive Parents

When you’re raised by an abusive parent, your sense of what’s “normal” is skewed. You may not realize that your childhood and your relationship with your parent is “different” until adulthood or even later in life. So unsurprisingly, that creates a trauma bond.

If you notice any of these signs, that may mean you have a trauma bond with your parent.

Not seeing their abusive actions as “bad”

While abuse victims may feel like something’s not quite right, they may have trouble pinpointing exactly what’s wrong. That’s because abusers can be really good at keeping their victims off-balance and confused.

Your abusive parent may abuse you just enough to tear you down and keep you compliant, but not enough to drive you away. They show you an adequate amount of kindness to make you overlook the abuse, justify it away, or think it’s enough to stay.

You may have trouble seeing your parents as “bad” because you somehow lumped in the good with the bad or confused them altogether. Or you found a way to convince yourself that it’s just love or that they love you so their bad actions don’t matter.

Defending and making excuses for them

You’re not allowed to question your parent. They won’t tolerate being wrong about anything. They defend, justify, and make excuses for their behavior so it makes sense that you learned to do the same.

  • I was being bad.
  • If I was better, they would treat me better.
  • It wasn’t that bad. Other people have it worse.
  • Maybe I deserved it. I am always talking back.
  • They’re right. I am a troublemaker.
  • If they were abusive, I wouldn’t have clothes, food, and toys.

It’s also common for other people to defend parents, especially mothers. People who haven’t experienced abusive or toxic parents often glorify parenthood.

Comments like “I’m sure that’s just their way of showing love” or “They didn’t mean it” not only excuses some parents’ abusive behaviors, but it reinforces the message to abused children that they aren’t being abused and that their parents love them.

So the child starts to doubt their own feelings and experiences and joins in on defending and making excuses for their parent’s behavior.

Related: Why Child Abuse Victims Normalize Their Abuse

Blaming yourself for the abuse

Many victims blame themselves for the abuse as a way to make sense of what happened to them. Sometimes, it’s easier to say “it’s my fault” rather than believe that your parents can be intentionally hurtful to you for no good reason.

Accepting the blame also often feels easier than defending yourself, especially when your parents or anyone who sides with them knocks down any of your defenses.

It’s also a way to keep your parent “good” in your eyes because it can be painful to accept that they’re not. This reinforces the bond you think you have with them.

Associating or confusing the abuse with love

When your first relationship is with abusive parents, you never learn what love is. So you could confuse their behavior with love. Thus, you associate their abuse with love, which is a common sign of trauma bonding with your parents.

“It’s just tough love” or “That’s just their way of showing they love me”. Even as an adult, you may have trouble differentiating what’s unhealthy or healthy in a relationship.

You may confuse abusive behavior such as codependency, control, or jealousy as love. “She’s only forbidding me to go out because she’s worried about me”. Or “he calls me fat because he wants to motivate me to be healthier”.

Turning to them when you’re hurt, even if they caused it

Children depend on their parents for love and support. So even if they’re abusing you, you might not have any other choice but to turn to them for comfort or guidance. They’re supposed to be our protectors and role models, right?

Time and time again, I hoped that explaining or showing my mother the pain I’m going through would garner some compassion or understanding. I thought, maybe, just maybe, she’ll care or at least stop hurting me more. But again and again, I was disappointed. Not only does she show me that she couldn’t care less, but she’ll use the chance to make it about her or hurt me even more.

Trouble trusting your own instincts or reality

Gaslighting is a common abuse and manipulation tactic. The abuser slowly chips away at your reality until you no longer see things for what they really are. That’s how they can distort your perception of their abuse into something “good”, “reasonable”, or “normal”.

Abuse victims tend to give their abuser the benefit of the doubt. So in the end, they end up depending on the abuser’s judgment of what reality is rather than themselves. “If dad said that didn’t happen, then it didn’t happen. Why would he purposely lie to me?”

The victim also ends up blaming themselves for whatever issue that arises. Or they fail to notice the problem at all because the abuser keeps brushing it off or claiming it’s all in their head.

Thinking you won’t be able to survive or make it without them

As much as I’d like to think I stayed behind to protect my younger siblings, a huge part of it was also because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it out in the “real” world. My mother made it clear that I was a loser who was never going to amount to anything. So of course that’s how I saw myself.

Normal, loving parents prepare their children for the outside world while offering support, guidance, and encouragement. But abusive parents teach you that the world is a scary place and that no one’s on your side.

When it feels like you’re alone, it only makes sense to cling to your parents, your only source of comfort, even if they hurt you.

People with normal, loving parents can go out into the scary world with years of preparation and their parents’ support and encouragement. They also have the option to return whenever it gets too scary out there.

But people with abusive or unloving parents don’t have that privilege. Once they leave, they’re all alone with no knowledge of how to survive on their own and nowhere to return to if they don’t make it out there.

Hoping and waiting for them to get better

Oftentimes, victims stay in abusive relationships because of the hope that their abuser will somehow change for the better. That may be true for a very few. But for a majority, abusers rarely, if ever, change for the better.

I always thought I’d given up hope on my mother ever changing. But I guess I was lying to myself. A part of me still had hope so I broke no contact. I thought she would care to hear about how my sister was doing. I thought losing everyone important in her life would make her reflect on her wrongdoings and maybe, just maybe, change her a little.

But boy, was I wrong and stupid… Not only could she not care less about how her daughter is doing, but she also took the opportunity to call me names and, once again, accuse me of stealing her daughter from her.

I hope I learned my lesson this time. But I know, deep down, the hope is still there. And I don’t know if it’s something I can ever completely erase. That’s how strong the bond can be.

Staying and tolerating the abuse because of a small sign of affection or attention

Most abusive parents aren’t all bad. Many of them have moments of “goodness” in them, which makes it much harder to accept that they’re abusive. However, many of these moments are just acts to keep you in their grasp.

Leaving them or going no contact may feel too extreme. But in a way, they probably trained you to be this way. You’ve become so used to their mistreatment that even a tiny sign of affection or attention from them makes you feel like it’s enough to stay. Those little love kernels they occasionally throw your way make you tolerate or even accept their abuse.

You spent so much time and effort trying to earn their love that when you finally feel like you did, you’re so excited you forget about their abuse.

But try to remember that you’re their child – you didn’t have to earn their love. They were the ones who were supposed to earn yours.

Giving your best, but it still isn’t enough

You might have constantly put your parents’ needs above your own. And time and time again, it doesn’t pay off.

Giving is good. But you might’ve put all their needs above your own. At that point, it’s not good. It’s codependent and it’s toxic. Relationships are supposed to be a two-way street. If anything, the parent is supposed to be the one giving more, not the child.

Even as an adult, you might’ve given and done everything you can to make the relationship work. But it just doesn’t.

I’ve tried to make peace with my mother on way too many occasions. But she somehow twists my kindness into insidiousness, saying I’m only nice because I have a hidden agenda. Even when I’ve literally only agreed and obeyed her, it still wasn’t enough. That’s when I told myself – it will never be enough. And that isn’t on me.

If you’ve done all you can, then it isn’t on you either. You’ve tried. You’ve done all you can.

Isolating or distancing yourself from people trying to help

Some victims end up isolating or distancing themselves from family or friends trying to help them get out of the abusive situation. This can be due in part to the abuser isolating them. But sometimes, it’s the victim themselves breaking it off with others.

They might not like hearing that their parent is abusive because it’s a hard truth to swallow. Sometimes, it’s easier for them just to live in denial. Or they’d rather be in that situation than a worse alternative – whatever it may be. And at some point, people will stop trying to help because you can’t help someone who doesn’t want it.

On an extreme, victims may become defensive or even hostile if someone intervenes or tries to stop the abuse. They may defend their parent, claiming the abusive actions are out of love. And it can be how the victim genuinely feels.

This is common with golden children of narcissistic parents. They’re usually showered with privileges and compliments despite also being emotionally abused. But they don’t see the harm it’s causing them. They only see the positive attention and validation they’re getting from it.

So when someone tries to step in or help them notice how unhealthy the relationship actually is, they defend their parents and double down on how great the relationship is.

Reluctance, unwillingness, or lack of motivation to leave

Abusive parents tend to keep their children trapped under their roof well into adulthood so they can continue to abuse or parentify them. They might abuse you to the point you’re so confused, exhausted, and broken that you don’t have any energy to even try to leave. They may also use fear or guilt to keep you from leaving.

When you’re constantly beaten down, it gets harder and harder to pull yourself back up. Victims are generally worn down over time and they end up feeling helpless. They lose all motivation or energy to even fight or try to leave. So they just don’t. They tolerate it because that’s all they feel like they can do.

People who’ve never been stuck in an abusive situation don’t realize that it takes an insane amount of energy, effort, courage, and strength to leave, especially if it’s something you’ve known your entire life.

However, sometimes, it isn’t even that we lack the motivation or energy to leave. It can simply be because we don’t want to. And that makes sense. Why would you want to leave someone you feel attached to?

All of this isn’t as simple as “just leave”. It isn’t just one simple action. It’s a multitude of internal and external battles you’ve got to fight past to even make it out the door. And even after that, you’re faced with other issues.

Related: How to Escape Abusive Parents: A Guide for Adults

Signs of Trauma Bonding with Parents | Hopeful Panda


Unfortunately, trauma bonding doesn’t necessarily end even when you leave your parents or abusive situation and/or go no contact. You will likely still have an attachment to them. You may feel tempted to reach out again, break no contact, or even return to them.

If you have an abusive parent you feel attached to despite how they’ve hurt you, that’s okay. That’s normal. And that is not your fault. However, it is important to try to break the trauma bond by detaching emotionally as much as you can and begin healing for your health and well-being.

Learn how to break the trauma bond and begin healing in this post.

About Author

Hi there, I’m Estee.

Having been raised by an abusive mother, I developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on me. My experiences inspired me to create Hopeful Panda.

In my free time, you’ll find me cooking, organizing, playing video games, writing, or spending time with my family. You can read more about me and my blog here.

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