6 Signs Its Betrayal Bonding, Not Love

Have you ever heard of the term “betrayal bonding”? 

A specific kind of traumatic bonding, this unhealthy attachment is born out of betrayal trauma. The first person to study betrayal trauma was psychologist Dr. Jennifer Freyd in 1996, and in 1997, Dr. Patrick Carnes (and later Dr. Bonnie Philips) published a book elaborating on it and how to break free of the exploitative relationships that bind us. 

Exploitativve relationships can create trauma bonds that link us to the people who hurt us in ways that are destructive to our mental health, self-esteem, personal boundaries, and overall well-being. But arguably the scariest thing about it is that experts say you can easily mistake it for love.

With that said, here are 6 tell-tale signs that it’s betrayal bonding, not love:

Past/Present Abuse

In her research with children who had been abused by their parents, Dr. Freyd observed that instead of processing the betrayal in the usual and expected manner, the children became even more bonded with their parents. She theorized that this was because the betrayal was in conflict with their need for survival and desire for parental love and care, and that the children didn’t want to alienate their parents and provoke more abuse and less love (e.g., “I won’t fight back when I can’t leave them yet”). 

According to Carnes and Philips, these findings have since then been generalized to many different contexts and types of relationships. So if you feel a strong attachment to a person who has ever abused you — be it physically, verbally, emotionally or psychologically — then there’s a good chance that a betrayal bond has been formed. 


Another warning sign of a toxic and explotiative relationship is codependency. Psychotherapist Sharon Martin defines codependency as an unhealthy relationship dynamic wherein one person derives their happiness and sense of self-worth solely from another. Common in parental and romantic relationships, this can happen when a significant person in your life constantly neglects and criticizes you, only to then love-bomb you and guilt you into taking care of them. They send you mized signals so that the more they degrade you, the more you will want to please them and crave their validation. Which brings us to our next point…


When someone manipulates us psychologically and emotionally, it can be easy to mistake their manipulation for love. According to mental health coach Kim Saeed, these tactics are how abusers form and maintain the betrayal bonds of their victims, so it’s important to be aware of them. Some examples include love-bombing and gaslighting. 

Love-bombing is when they shower you with love and attention to make up for the abuse they’ve inflicted. They will likely gaslight you as well to minimize the seriousness of what they’ve done, invalidate others’ criticisms about their actions, and make it seem like they’re the victim in all of this because you wrongly and harshly accused them. 

Power Imbalance

According to Carnes and Philips, in a relationship that’s bonded by betrayal, the person exploiting the other holds all the power. This power often comes from the victim’s emotional investment in their relationship, but can also include the betrayer’s financial control and social influcencce over them. As such, the betrayer will prioritize their needs all the time without any consideration for their victim and use their relationship solely for their personal gain and satisfaction.

Irrational Loyalty

In spite of all these things, however, you may still feel an irrational loyalty to the person you’ve formed a betrayal bond with. You may find yourself constantly defending them to your friends and family, justifying or rationalizing their abusive actions, and even distancing yourself from your loved ones for this very reason, says Carnes and Philips.

Repeated Cycle

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you know it’s not love but betrayal bonding when you find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of abuse, manipulation, loyalty, and codependency. This is because, according to Carnes and Philips, betrayal intensifies pathologically the human trait of bonding and deep attachment in the presence of danger or fear. Simply put, when you experience betrayal and abuse from someone you love, but feel you have nowhere else to turn to, it can be easy to mistake your betrayal bond for love. 

It’s important to understand that, if you continued to stay with someone who betrayed you, it’s not your fault. You were most likely the victim of their abuse and manipulation. Regardless, don’t hesitate to seek help if you suspect that you are in an exploitative or harmful relationship. Building a support system for yourself and talking to a mental healthcare professional about your struggles can help you safely extricate yourself from the relationship and begin the recovery process.

Let us know your thoughts on this video in the comments down below. And remember, Psych2Goers: you matter!


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