Why narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding is so powerful for codependents

8 minute read

Are you codependent and struggling to leave an abusive relationship with a narcissist? I bet you are in one almighty hell and that leaving the narcissist feels impossible. Are you aware why you feel this way? The answer lies in the power of trauma bonding for codependents.

It is a Narc Wise philosophy that with knowledge translated into action, change takes place. To help you begin to detach from the abusive narcissist and ultimately claim your freedom, understanding what is happening for you is imperative.

The first thing to understand is that you have been brainwashed through the cycle of narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding. As a result you may feel at the mercy of the narc. This is caused through the emotional attachment and psychological dependence created through trauma bonding.

trauma bonding feeling flightlessIf you are also codependent, you have ingrained patterns of thought and behaviour that are strengthening those trauma bonds even further. These patterns, established from earlier experiences of abuse, are not helping your sense of empowerment to break free.

This is tough stuff to tackle. But we must address regardless.

Detachment won’t happen as swiftly now, if codependency is left unaddressed. Additionally, working on these patterns are critical in inoculating you from future narcissistic predators.

So buckle in. Some of this will be confronting, but you can do this. You must, your gorgeous self needs this courage from you now.

Challenging your codependency will do nothing but help you step out of survival mode and the repeated abusive relationships that have caused you so many wounds.

It’s a win-win in reclaiming your power, freedom & joy.

Cycle of narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding

In Why is it so hard to leave an abusive relationship with a narcissist?, the disabling effects of the cycle of narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding were explained. I recommend you check this out before reading this article. A brief summary follows.

The cycle of narcissistic abuse relates to the three phases of narc relationships: idealisation, devaluation, and discard. Of key relevance as to why it’s so hard to leave are the tactics used by the narcissist during idealisation and devaluation, employed precisely to keep you trapped in the relationship.

Love bombing saturates the idealisation phase, creating an addictive quality to the relationship. You become reliant on the narc for delivering the adoration that causes the highs you experience.

Shifting into devaluation, the need to dominate and control you comes to the fore. The narc begins the abuse replete with the strategies designed to disempower you completely (e.g.: gaslighting, denial, triangulation, smear campaigns, isolation etc.).

Trauma bonding begins during devaluation. In breaking you down through the abuse, the narc is careful to also include occasional tastes of love bombing.

Intermittent reinforcement ensures you keep chasing the high you now believe you need to survive, which is their love & attention (albeit false versions of these).  Occasionally scoring these gives you hope. This is the hook that makes you stay, believing things can return to the how they were when you first met.

The trauma bonds are continuously strengthened in this cycle of hurt, and comfort, fortifying  your addiction to the narcissist.

What is codependency

Narcissist and codependent couplings are extremely common. It therefore stands to reason to consider how trauma bonding for codependents plays out.

Codependency is a pattern of enabling and controlling traits and behaviours. These result from self-esteem being dependent on the behaviours and needs of others. It is developed through significant relationships where the other party has compulsive or addictive behaviours, is otherwise ill; or from dysfunction and/or abuse in families-of-origin.

As a codependent, you feel at the mercy of others. You perceive your experience of pain or happiness is entirely driven by the significant other in your life. This is completely understandable in that if that person is being abusive, you are in pain. If they are in love bombing mode, you are happy.

Unfortunately, this correlation internalises to the point where you take responsibility for the actions and behaviours of the other. This leads to the belief that what you do or say causes their behaviour and actions. Consequently, your enabling and controlling behaviours are really about trying to navigate the world based on these beliefs.

People pleasing, inability to say no, enabling dysfunctional behaviour of a significant other, sacrificing own needs for those of others etc., are all hallmarks of codependency (for more on codependency read Conceptualising codependency:  The real meaning & What the hell are boundaries: Overcoming legacy of abuse and narcissism*). And all of these, make sense when you understand that driving this, is the belief that if you can get it right, they will be happy, hence you will be too.

The flaw is, of course, that you are not responsible for the behaviours and actions of anyone other than yourself. Indeed, you cannot control anyone other than yourself. As a codependent who hasn’t yet begun recovery work, this may sound like crazy talk.

Codependents & narcissists

As a codependent, an insatiable giver, you are the ideal target for the narcissist, the insatiable taker. From the outset of the relationship, your beliefs about yourself and the world are already programmed from previous experiences of abuse and trauma bonding.

Ordinarily part of the function of trauma bonding for the narcissist is to secure the power and control supply they crave. As a codependent, however, you are primed to meet these needs from the get go.

Not sure about that? Check out these characteristics that arise from narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding:

  • your self-worth feels entirely dependent on the narc
  • you deny your own needs & focus exclusively on meeting those of the narc
  • boundaries are either non-existent or very weak
  • communicating your own needs is nearly impossible because you don’t even know what they are anymore
  • you take responsibility and blame for the narc’s actions and behaviours
  • your fear of abandonment is disabling
  • you have an intense need for approval from the narcissist

Here’s the thing…these are also traits of codependency.

power of trauma bonding for codependents

So, from the very beginning, you are perfectly designed for the narcissist. Supplying their ego needs is a given for you. Meeting the needs of others is how you operate in the world, it is likely all you know and reflects all you’ve ever experienced of love.

Effect of trauma bonding for codependents

So why is trauma bonding for codependents different? Here’s why.

When trauma bonding kicks in with the narcissist, you are likely to recognise it as ‘this is what love is, this is what happens in relationships’. This makes recognition of abuse even more difficult for you than it is for non-codependents. With no comparative way of being or experiencing significant relationships, to you, the abuse is normal. This clearly makes leaving the narcissist more complex.

Additionally, trauma bonding for codependents reinforces all you have ever known of yourself and the world. This arguably strengthens the ties to the narcissist, and unquestionably fuels your codependent belief systems.

How? Your internal dialogue has always told you that to be ‘good enough’, approval must be sought externally from others and achieved through giving, giving, giving. You now have a narcissist verbalising this as well, and demanding their needs be met upon threat of abuse. Of course, with narcissists, expectations of perfection and shifting goal posts mean you never can actually meet the needs they articulate.

Stating that trauma bonding reinforces codependent belief systems is really, a bit of an understatement. What would not be a stretch is to say that trauma bonding for codependents is like flicking the switch on the self-destruct mode of a bomb.

The other added challenge facing the codependent is the belief that it is your job to fix others. Your very self-value is bound to this view and drives almost all you do. Fixing broken people for you, is like securing supply is for the narcissist. You need to believe you are helping and fixing others to feel worthwhile. And what more broken people around are there than narcissists?

This is how trauma bonding for codependents is different. You must break your addiction to the narcissist specifically, as well as face your addiction to giving every single ounce of yourself to others in order to feel worthy.

Is it possible to break free from the trauma bonds?

Absolutely! I won’t lie, it takes hard work. But YOU CAN DO IT! Thousands upon thousands have, why not you? That’s right, no reason whatsoever.

Whilst I’ve highlighted how trauma bonds for codependents differ, I don’t believe it is harder for you to break free than it is for non-codependents. Narcissistic abuse and trauma bonding is hugely damaging from any angle.

It simply means that tackling your recovery journey must take into account codependent traits and behaviours. Your recovery will include mindfulness practices such as:

  • Learning about and recognising in yourself traits of codependency
  • Catching yourself when in these patterns of thought and challenging their truth
  • Connecting with your emotions to uncover the reality and your authentic truth that lies beyond programmed thought patterns

These practices, and more on breaking free from trauma bonds is on its way. Keep your eyes peeled.

breaking free - trauma bonding for codependents

On a parting note…the deep down soul work you do as a codependent in breaking free from the narcissist will be nothing short of transformational. Imagine living life where you swap out the mantra of ‘must be good enough, must make others happy’ for ‘awwww yeah, I’m more than good enough and I am happy’!

For more tools & knowledge building pieces on the issues in this article read:

As always, please share your thoughts, experiences, and insights on the issues in this article in the comments below. The more we share, the more we teach & help one another in reclaiming our freedom.

With gratitude,

Maggie x

*Recommended reading note

In my view, the seminal work by Melody Beattie, Codependent No More (to buy, please use this link which will take you to the Book Depository and free shipping 🙂 – thank you!), is a must to be read if you are tackling your own codependency.

In fact, for me, it was her work (I ended up buying every title I could find once I read the one recommended!) that woke me up. Not just from codependency, but it wasn’t until I read this that I realised that I was in an abusive relationship. Given all I went through, this now is mortifying for me to admit because I was a punching bag, and I really believed that this was just how love rolled. Turns out that ain’t love!

Beattie’s stories never fail to inspire me with her honesty, wisdom, and kindness. Start your personal revolution and get yourself a copy now!

(Note – if using link/s provided to purchase, you’ll receive free shipping and title heavily discounted. You’ll also be supporting my work in providing you free resources on this site, by earning a very small commission, at no extra cost to you – thank you 😊)


  • Beattie, M. (1992). Codependent no more. Minnesota, US: Hazelden.
  • Beattie, M. (2009). The new codependency: Help and guidance for today’s generation. New York, US: Simon & Schuster.
  • Lindley, N.R, Giordano, P.J., & Hammer, E.D. (1999). Codependency: Predictors and psychometric issues. Journal of clinical psychology, 55(1), pp.59-64.
  • McBryde, K. (2008). Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers. New York, US: Atria.
  • Irwin, H.J. (1995). Codependence, narcissism, and childhood trauma. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51(5), pp.658-665.
  • Pollack, D. L. (1992). A study of developmental precursors to codependency and cross-generational correlations of psychological functioning in mothers and adult daughters (Doctoral dissertation). California School of Professional Psychology – San Diego. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order no. 9224773)
  • Vandervoort, D., & Rokach, A. (2006). Posttraumatic Relationship Syndrome: A case illustration. Clinical Case Studies, 5(3), 231-247.

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