The Shocking Position of Empathy in Traumatic Bonding


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A latest research by Effiong et al. suggests empathy intensifies traumatic bonding—the formation of a robust bond between the sufferer and his/her abuser. Printed in Journal of Social and Private Relationships, the research is mentioned beneath.

However first, a number of definitions.

What’s empathy?

Empathy is outlined in quite a few methods. Relying on the definition chosen, its which means could overlap with related ideas, resembling empathic concern, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, sympathy, care, and compassion.

In response to a generally used definition, empathy is composed of affective and cognitive empathy:

  • Affective/emotional empathy refers back to the potential to generate an applicable emotional response to a different individual’s feelings. Affective empathy overlaps with sympathy and compassion.
  • Cognitive/mental empathy refers back to the potential to perceive one other individual’s psychological state and standpoint (to place oneself in one other’s footwear). Cognitive empathy is expounded to theory of mind.

Within the research by Effiong and colleagues, empathy was assessed utilizing the Primary Empathy Scale, which measures each affective and cognitive empathy.

What’s traumatic bonding?

Traumatic bonding refers back to the formation of a robust emotional attachment, as a consequence of repeated cycles of violence, between the sufferer and the abuser (whether or not a boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, or full stranger).

The truth that the abuse typically is available in cycles—which means that the violence is interspersed with optimistic reinforcement—additionally explains, partially, why victims discover it troublesome to go away their abusers.

As an illustration, after harming the sufferer, the abuser could (in an obvious reversal of energy) apologize profusely, beg for forgiveness, or behave with nice love and shocking tenderness.

However, eventually, the following cycle of violence happens, complicated the sufferer.

One more reason victims of abuse don’t go away has to do with their low self-worth. Because the maltreatment continues, the victims—with their vanity eroded—discover themselves in an more and more powerless and dependent place.

The truth is, they might now not even consider that they deserve to be handled with kindness, dignity, and respect. This makes it a lot tougher to face as much as the abuser and danger extra rejection and humiliation.

The three dimensions of traumatic bonding

Traumatic bonding has three dimensions:

  1. Core Stockholm syndrome: Related to interpersonal trauma, cognitive distortions (e.g., rationalization, self-blame, seeing the abuser as a sufferer), unrealistic hope for issues getting higher on their very own, believing love will stop the abuser’s aggression, and so on. Many of those behaviors are primarily (dysfunctional) coping mechanisms.
  2. Psychological injury: Related to melancholy, interpersonal difficulties, low vanity, the lack of sense of self, and lots of signs generally seen in borderline persona dysfunction, like concern of abandonment or by no means discovering a loving accomplice after leaving the abusive relationship.
  3. Love dependency: Related to assuming that one’s survival depends on the abusive accomplice’s love and safety, considering the abuser’s love could be value any ache, experiencing a lack of id when alone, and believing that one would don’t have anything to stay for with out the accomplice.

Allow us to now flip to the brand new analysis on the hyperlink between empathy and traumatic bonding.

Investigating traumatic bonding in victims of intimate accomplice violence

Pattern: 345 girls from the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (n = 145) and the Lagos State Home and Sexual Violence Response Crew (n = 200) in Nigeria; common age of 36 years previous (18-61 vary); married a median of 10 years.


  • Intimate accomplice violence: Measured with the brief model of the Composite Abuse Scale (30 objects). Contributors have been requested concerning the frequency of emotionally or bodily abusive habits by an intimate accomplice. Pattern objects: “Slapped me”; “Advised me that I wasn’t adequate”; “Harassed me at work”; or “Tried to rape me.”
  • Empathy: Measured with the Primary Empathy Scale (20 objects). For instance: “After being with a buddy who is unhappy about one thing, I normally really feel unhappy,” and “I can typically perceive how persons are feeling even earlier than they inform me.”
  • Traumatic bonding: Assessed with the Stockholm Syndrome Scale (49 objects). As an illustration: “With out my accomplice, I’ve nothing to stay for”; “I can’t make selections”; “When others ask me how I really feel about one thing, I have no idea”; “I each love and concern my accomplice”; and “If I give my accomplice sufficient love, he’ll cease getting so indignant at me.”


Evaluation of the information confirmed empathy was a mediator of the connection between intimate accomplice violence and traumatic bonding, together with core Stockholm syndrome, psychological injury, and love dependency.

So, for all three facets of traumatic bonding, empathy seems to be a path via which intimate accomplice violence is “translated and intensified” into traumatic bonding.


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Empathy, notably cognitive empathy—which means the flexibility to know one other individual’s psychological state—seems to be a pathway via which intimate accomplice violence intensifies traumatic bonding.

A method of explaining this discovering is that victims use their empathic potential to rationalize the mistreatment they endure.

As an illustration, they might view the perpetrator as a sufferer, a sufferer who wants their assist or one who can’t be held accountable for the aggression or abuse.

Such rationalizations are usually not shocking. In any case, with their vanity and sense of self eroded by abuse, these girls discover it troublesome to generate self-compassion and are as a substitute vulnerable to guilt, self-blame, and self-sacrifice.

Not solely do victims of intimate accomplice violence are inclined to really feel unworthy of respect, kindness, and love, however many additionally really feel they may by no means discover somebody who treats them nicely.

Since victims moreover consider they can not survive on their very own (as a consequence of impaired autonomy), they discover it extraordinarily troublesome to go away the poisonous relationship, and because of this proceed to endure terribly. Except, in fact, they search remedy and attempt to break this vicious cycle.

To discover a therapist close to you, go to the Psychology At present Remedy Listing.