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A young couple doesn't know if they are in love or if it is a trauma bond.

Are You in Love or Is It a Trauma Bond?

5 min.

There are three main differences to look out for in distinguishing if a relationship is a trauma bond or love.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

March 11, 2024


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Table of Contents

If you or someone you know is experiencing any type of abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for anonymous, confidential help available 24/7.

Many kinds of relationships involve an intense emotional bond, but not all are love. Whereas love is defined by affection, care, and respect, other kinds of intense bonds don’t share these qualities—like trauma bonds. 

Trauma bonding is when a person develops an intense emotional attachment towards someone who has caused them harm or trauma. It usually stems from enduring cycles of abuse or interpersonal trauma, like domestic violence or prolonged manipulation. Unlike love, a trauma bond lacks mutual care and respect. In this piece, we dig into other differences (and possible similarities) between trauma bonds and love and review signs that a relationship may be affected by trauma bonding. 

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How are trauma bonds and love different?

In essence, trauma bonds and love differ because the former is marked by cycles of abuse or trauma, and the latter involves mutual respect, trust, and care. Below, we delve into these differences.

Trauma bond


    • Originates from abusive, manipulative, or traumatic relationships

    • Involves a toxic dynamic

    • Can cause confusion, low self-esteem, and difficulty establishing healthy boundaries

    • Originates in respectful and caring relationships

    • Involves a healthy and supportive dynamic

    • Can cause feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and emotional security


Trauma bonds typically develop in situations where there is abuse, manipulation, or intense interpersonal trauma between people, research shows. These bonds may form as a result of power dynamics or as a survival mechanism in an abusive relationship.

Love, on the other hand, is typically built on mutual respect, understanding, and shared values. It involves an emotional connection that grows through positive experiences, communication, and genuine affection. Love involves mutual trust, support, and a desire for both individuals’ happiness and growth.


Trauma bonds are characterized by a toxic dynamic marked by cycles of abuse, manipulation, and intermittent reinforcement. Despite the harmful nature of the relationship, people may struggle to break free due to the intense emotional attachment formed through the trauma bond. 

Love is characterized by a healthy, supportive dynamic where both people feel valued, respected, and emotionally fulfilled. It involves open communication, empathy, and a willingness to work through challenges together.


According to experts, trauma bonds can have damaging effects on people’s mental and emotional well-being. They can contribute to confusion, low self-esteem, and difficulty establishing healthy boundaries. Breaking free from trauma bonds often requires professional support and a commitment to healing.

When healthy and reciprocal, love can positively affect peoples’ well-being, contributing to feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and emotional security. Love fosters personal growth, resilience, and a sense of belonging.

What are the similarities between a trauma bond and love?

While trauma bonds and love are fundamentally different emotional experiences, there are some similarities between them. Both trauma bonds and love involve strong emotional connections between people, leading to intense feelings and a desire for closeness. Also, in both cases, there’s a fundamental longing for connection and validation from the other person. 

However, it’s important to note that while they share these similarities, trauma bonds and love come from very different circumstances and dynamics (like those outlined above). Understanding these distinctions is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships and emotional well-being.

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What does trauma bonding look like in a relationship?

Knowing the signs of trauma bonding can help people understand what unhealthy relationship dynamics look like and when to seek support from trusted family or professionals. Here are some common signs of trauma bonding within a relationship:

Intense emotional attachments

Despite experiencing abusive or harmful behaviors from their partner, people may feel deeply attached to them. This attachment can be challenging to break, even when it’s clear that the relationship is unhealthy.

Cycles of trauma and affection

Trauma bonds often occur in relationships characterized by cycles of trauma and affection. In this kind of relationship, the abuser alternates between being kind or affectionate and then being cruel or controlling. This inconsistency can create confusion and reinforce the bond between the victim and the abuser.


Victims of trauma bonding may become isolated from friends, family, or support networks. The abuser may manipulate or control the victim’s access to others, making them feel dependent solely on the abuser for emotional support and validation.


It’s crucial to understand that victims of trauma bonding are not to blame for the situation they find themselves in. However, in a trauma-bonded relationship, victims may justify or rationalize their partner’s abusive behavior, minimizing its severity or blaming themselves for the abuse. This internalization of blame can further strengthen the trauma bond and prevent the victim from seeking help or leaving the relationship.

Fear of abandonment

Individuals in trauma bonds may fear abandonment or rejection by their abusive partner, leading them to tolerate or defend the abusive behavior to maintain the relationship.

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Seeking support for a trauma bond

Seeking support for a trauma bond is crucial to healing and ultimately being in a loving relationship. It’s essential for people to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professionals who can offer understanding, validation, and guidance. Therapy or counseling can provide a safe space for individuals to explore their experiences, develop coping strategies, and work towards building healthier relationships. Additionally, supported groups for survivors of abuse can offer a sense of community and solidarity, helping individuals realize that they are not alone in their struggles.

How Charlie Health can help with trauma bonds

If you or a loved one are struggling with trauma bonds, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for dealing with complex mental health conditions, including survivors of abuse. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With treatment, managing the effects of trauma bonding is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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