Trauma Bonding

One of the things I remember the most was when my abuse actually ended. It stopped suddenly after my abuser was caught touching another student. You would think that I would be relieved and I was but I was also sad, upset, and lost. I felt untethered without him, it was as if without the chaos and fear, I didn’t know what to do. It felt somehow empty and hollow. I felt different from everyone else; the kids in my class and my family. By this time, I didn’t have many friends and I had to pretend to fit in. I felt isolated and lonely. I had no idea why I felt this was and didn’t until I read The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. It was one of the first time I had read about trauma bonding. All humans strive to bond to other people and usually do it with positive experiences or being able to rely on the other person if there is a bad experience. Patrick Carnes developed the term to describe trauma bonding as “the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person.” In other words an abuser will create a strong emotional attachment to the person they’re abusing due to alternating abusive behavior with loving behavior. This alternating good and bad creates a relationship of fear and chaos and psychologically a stronger bond. People often wonder why people stay with abusive people and I think especially when it comes to children, it comes down to survival. Children are vulnerable and rely on adults to provide food, clothes, shelter etc. When an adult in power creates this trauma bond, kids shut down, become numb and think only of survival. To survive, we don’t do anything to make the abuser angry so they won’t leave us and we’ll be (what we consider) safe. When we experience trauma, we emotionally shut ourselves off, become numb, and don’t allow ourselves to do anything. To make sure we stay in the relationship and aren’t abandoned, we focus on how our abuser is good and not the bad things they’ve done to us.

I didn’t need my abuser to provide food or shelter but I felt like he was a parental figure. I felt cut off from my family and the other adults in my life. They couldn’t understand what I was going though so I was more alone and isolated. I never thought that he did anything wrong. I always thought when he got angry that I did something wrong and deserved to be punished. When we were together I did anything I could to make him happy, I wanted him to be happy. When he was happy, it made me happy. It was a weird positive reinforcement and a terrible cycle that I couldn’t get out of. I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did. I still don’t. When my husband gets angry with my abuser, I get very angry with him and defend my abuser. I know he wasn’t a totally good guy, I know he did some stuff wrong but I don’t think he was as bad as everyone else thinks. I also know the despair I felt when he was gone and the guilt I felt because I was relieved that he was gone. I hated being brought to that room and the things I had to do. I hated him for bringing me but I hated myself for those thoughts. But I can’t still think he’s a bad guy. He was kind to me in the beginning and he always came to get me from the room. I felt like he saved me. That bond, those feelings are still strong. They say that psychologically, the intermittent good and bad psychological abuse is the worst. The say that if a person is consistently abusive, the abused person will be able to anticipate the abuse and it doesn’t cause the same damage. When the abuse is inconsistent, we can’t anticipate when bad things will happen and the damage is way more severe. I don’t know how to weed through the trauma bond I have with abuser. I feel like the right answer is to say that he was bad and abusive but I can’t say that. Not yet. It’s a work in progress.

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