Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Raluca Simons


What could lead individuals to become attached to people who cause them harm? Traumatic bonding, a construct similar to, yet distinct from, Stockholm syndrome, offers one possible psychological explanation as to why many people with abusive romantic partners do not break off these relationships. But the question remains: when comparing individuals with abusive romantic partners, what individual-level factors make some of these people more likely than others to develop traumatic bonding toward their current partners? A path model tested the associations among childhood maltreatment, attachment insecurity, traumatic bonding, and PTSD symptoms in a sample of 354 participants in abusive relationships. Childhood maltreatment and adulthood attachment insecurity were hypothesized to predict the extent to which an individual would develop traumatic bonding toward their abusive partner. Traumatic bonding, in turn, was expected to be inversely associated with PTSD symptoms. Childhood maltreatment was also expected to positively predict PTSD symptoms. Finally, we hypothesized that the interaction between childhood maltreatment and attachment insecurity would significantly predict traumatic bonding. Consistent with hypotheses, childhood maltreatment, attachment insecurity, and traumatic bonding significantly predicted PTSD symptoms, as did romantic love. However, contrary to hypotheses, traumatic bonding was positively, rather than inversely, associated with PTSD symptoms. Consistent with hypotheses, the childhood maltreatment x attachment insecurity interaction, childhood maltreatment, and attachment insecurity significantly predicted traumatic bonding, as did age and gender. Specifically, attachment insecurity moderated the association between childhood maltreatment and traumatic bonding, such that the association between childhood maltreatment and traumatic bonding was stronger at higher levels of attachment insecurity than at mean or lower levels of attachment insecurity. Consistent with hypotheses, childhood maltreatment significantly positively predicted attachment insecurity. Thus, the hypothesized partial mediation model of childhood maltreatment and PTSD symptoms via attachment insecurity and traumatic bonding was supported by the results, except that traumatic bonding was positively associated with PTSD symptoms. This was the first study to examine a complex model of risk factors for traumatic bonding.

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology


Traumatic bonding

Number of Pages



University of South Dakota