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.

Altered consciousness

Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalisation disorder and dissociative identity disorder.

A lot of people with cptsd/ptsd suffer from some form of dissociation. The definition above spells it out. It can be feeling like you’re not quite in your body all the way to your personality splitting into pieces and becoming seperate individuals. Most people experience this ‘out of body’ experience when they’re in an extremely stressful situation: anything from abuse, a car accident, active war time. However, a lot of people experience dissociation and it’s not a problem. An example is, you’re diving home in your car and you make it home but don’t remember actually driving there. This is a more benign form of dissociation.  You’re not particularly stressed but your body goes on autopilot while your brain takes a little vacation. That’s all fine and normal. Dissociation is also one of the best defenses we as human have of protecting ourselves from really bad stuff. The situation is too stressful so we go outside of ourselves or disconnect from what’s going on around us and don’t feel what’s going on. Children are especially adept at using dissociation to help them cope with stress because of how plastic their brains are.

There main issue that comes up when you’ve used dissociation as a coping skill for a long time is that your brain goes there more automatically and as an adult and when you’re adulting, that can be problematic (especially at work, trying to parent etc). I used to dissociate a lot when I was a kid during some of my worst abuse. I would float above myself and look down to see what was happening but could reassure myself it wasn’t happen to me. I didn’t feel any emotion then and could cope. I would also picture myself swimming in a stain that was on the ceiling where I was brought. There were also times that I took myself into myself and put myself in box inside where I could be safe. I would ‘look up’ and see what was happening but couldn’t feel it. I would also swing on my swingset at home for hours to lull myself into a calmer state where I didn’t feel the emotions and pain.

I continue to dissociate as an adult. When I feel stressed, after a flashback, or when I feel panic (normally at a family function or large social gathering) I step outside of myself, it’s almost like I’m sitting right behind myself. Most of the time people don’t notice because again, the body is on autopilot but it can be uncomfortable, almost like a joint is out of socket. It interferes with daily life because you’re not present and people will be talking to you and you have no idea what they’ve said. My job is 100% listening to people so dissociating is an issue. There are also times when I feel like the floor is falling away from me or I’ll get sucked out of a window (this happens especially at work). This is troublesome and can be tough to cope with. This is what has helped me:

1. Rubber band or hair tie on my wrist that I snap

2. Holding sometime cold like an ice cube. in my office, I bought a small freezer and have ice packs in there. When I start to feel like I’m going to get sucked out of a window or I’m drifting, I take a cold pack and put it right on my diaphram. The body has no choice but to come back to itself

3. Grounding (practice when you feel well so it’s more natural when you’re having an episode)

5: Notice 5 things that you see

4: touch 4 things

3: find 3 things that you hear

2: find 2 things that you smell

1. one thing you can take

4. Aromatherapy

4. Go outside for a walk (I struggle with this but it is helpful)

I also struggle with depersonalization

Depersonalization disorder is marked by periods of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts (depersonalization). The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream

In this case, I have often felt like when I look in the mirror, I’m not seeing myself. I also have times when I don’t feel like a person, I think I’m plastic, or feel different from everyone around me. I feel like everything around me isn’t real and I’m living in a dream. This happens less often then dissociation but when it does, it’s very distressing. I feel very paranoid and that there is something deeply wrong with me. I avoid mirrors whenever possible and rely on my husband and therapist for reality checks that I am indeed a person living a real life. Depersonalization is a very odd feeling. Talk therapy is the main treatment and my therapist has worked very hard with me to help with this.

I did find this book to be really helpful too:

Overcoming Depersonalization Disorder: A Mindfulness and Acceptance Guide to Conquering Feelings of Numbness and Unreality


I’m not as familiar with DID (dissociative identity disorder) but know that it’s the outcome of extreme distress over a prolonged period of time.



They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals. I say only that an abandoned child never forgets (Mario Balotelli)

To say I have abandonment issues is putting it mildly. Since the beginning of my relationship with my husband I clung like a vine and felt incredible despair when I perceived he was leaving. Even though I’m an adult, I still have intense feelings of longing for my parents, of needing to belong to them and be close to them. I’m afraid of the need I have for my parents and will often shove it down and white knuckle through it. There are times though, especially in the middle of the night, that I will wake up in my home and have such a strong urge to drive to my childhood home and be with my parents that I have the keys in my hand before I change my mind. Normally after a bad flashback, I want them very badly. I feel uncertain about this need and longing for them. I’m not sure I feel safe enough to be that vulnerable with them and always keep a careful facade when I’m around them. It’s a pleasant enough relationship but I don’t think I could ever share what’s really going on with me. It makes me sad. I think back to when I was a child and my abuser made himself a very strong paternal figure. As a child I wanted to please him and turned more to him for reassurance. He would sometimes give it and sometimes push me away, refusing me. I felt abandoned and confused. I didn’t understand why he was doing that. What had I done wrong? I tried harder but it never worked. As an adult, I see how he isolated me emotionally from my family and made me feel disconnected from them. They seemed very far away from me then. I had this huge secret that I couldn’t tell and then a secret within a secret that I had to keep. He also set me up for a lifetime of abandonment issues. My relationship with my family has never recovered. My therapist tells me this is the worst form of psychological abuse: where the abuser is nice then not then nice again. It confuses the brain and entrenches the shame-blame cycle more firmly.

My husband is a wonderful man. He stays around me and takes care of me. He is my safety person. He comforts me in the middle of the night and keeps me safe during my flashbacks. He points out when I’m being paranoid and irrational. On the days (and there are many) that I can’t get out of bed, he takes care of the kids and the house and me. When I get stuck at work and literally can’t leave my office because I’m panicking, he comes and gets me. He is patient and never demands anything physical from me. He has to go to a conference in May and I am already freaking out. I know that I’ll be fine. My rational brain tells me that. But the emotional part, the part that quite frankly has been running the show for the past few years is screaming that we’re about to be left behind. I am proud of him. He’s going on this trip because he does such a good job at his job but that doesn’t soothe me. I’ll be without my comfort person, my safety person, for 7 days and will be alone with my symptoms and thoughts. When I try to tip toe towards thinking about it, I feel the panic and anxiety bubble up from my gut. I cry and cry because it feels like I’m powerless and alone and that’s how it felt when I was little. So yes, to say I have abandonment issues is an understatement. It’s something I don’t know how to fix and don’t see a solution to. Complex PTSD sucks.

My trauma is better than yours

And here we go again. In the race of who has the best trauma (I guess meaning the worst) I’m not sure there are any real winners. I was on my forum and a huge debate erupted about which type of abuse was worse (physical versus sexual versus psychological) and how long of a time it lasted for it to count as a long enough time to be considered complex PTSD. Since when did having cPTSD become a prize? It got so bad moderators had to end comment threads and some people were expelled from the group. Is this what we’ve come down to? I wish I had zero trauma and could remove myself from the debate all together. Or maybe be well enough so I can get out of my house and take a walk with my family. I’m frustrated with this line of thinking because it undermines the reality that trauma=bad shit happened and causes a reaction that ripples across a lifetime. It doesn’t matter what type or how long or who did it. I feel for everyone who has suffered. I feel for the person like me who wakes up in a cold sweat screaming from a nightmare or has such severe flashbacks that they are disconnected from reality.  I feel for the person who can’t leave their house or connect with their family or can’t work. That really sucks. Really really sucks but instead of fighting back and forth, I wish we’d get our shit together and stop judging each other and be supportive. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, no one gets a prize for surviving trauma. What you get are a boatload of symptoms and very few people to help you out. Be a helping a person, there aren’t that many of us

My ACES Score is 4, what’s yours?

The ACES test was born from a landmark study in 1998 that tracked a lot of kids over several years and were given a point for each adversity they experiences. It includes abuse, domestic violence, mentally ill family member, etc. The higher your ACES the more likely you are to develop serious medical issues like diabetes and heart disease.

Here’s a link for the quiz and an explanation.

Also, check out The Deepest Well by Naomi Burke Harris who is without a doubt my new favorite advocate for children faced with adversity.

Float On!

Recently, I read an article about a veteran who suffers from PTSD. He wrote how he had trouble managing his symptoms and eventually tried an sensory deprivation tank. He found it so helpful that he built one in his house.  Naturally, I was intrigued. Anything that can help I am willing to try. Here’s an article about what an isolation tank is an how it can help PTSD:

View at

Weirdly enough, there was a place near me that offered sessions in a sensory deprivation tank. You could chose anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes. I eventually decided on 60 minute session because I figured I would need time to get over my anxiety and panic and actually get into the tank. The day of, I was really nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what to wear. When I got there, I was shown around the place and was surprised at what I saw. The room was private and you started out with a shower then you could enter the actual tank itself. But in my mind, I had pictured an actual tank, something made out of steel, almost like a vampires coffin but it was no like that at all. past the shower area, there was a heavy door and the ‘tank’ was actually a room that was walled in black, had a black floor and had several inches of water on the bottom. I did choose a tank that had an optional light and this was on when I peeked in.

They had given me earplugs and suggested I not wear anything so that I could fully experience the sensory deprivation benefits. They did have a small round foam flotation piece in case my neck needed support but that was it. There was  a chair to out your belongings on and I sat for a bit biting my lip. I watched the door like something magical would happen. I could feel my anxiety spiking through the roof and was so afraid to enter that black room. Then I said to myself ‘screw this, I paid money, I’m going to give it a try’. I showered off, got naked and went into the room. The door was heavy and closed behind me with a thud. I panicked and splashed around a bit and then realized, there was no other noise besides my breathing and splashing. Of course, I splashed my face and it stung my eyes so I laid down on my back with my eye closed, put in my ear plugs and started to float. I said I would give it a few minutes and I could leave anytime. I was not trapped like I was as a child. I could leave at any time.

At first, I was so uncomfortable. I felt like my thoughts were getting louder and my anxiety more severe. I just kept breathing. I settled down and realized that I was safe, it was quiet and dark and I didn’t have to use any of my muscles. I floated. Just floated. My brain started to slow down and my anxiety decreased. I turned off the light and floated. Unafraid for the first time in a long time. I actually felt like I was in my body. I spread my finger and toes in the water and felt the water against them. It was amazing. I felt fully aware of my bodies movements and felt completedly in tune with my body for the first time in months or maybe even years. My dissociation is so severe and my numbness is so pervasive that to experience this almost felt miraculous. My thoughts slowed and then kinds stopped, I’m not sure how else to describe it. There was no stimulation, no noise, nothing. I could relax. I floated. I moved my body in the water, my arms and legs and felt the water against them. I started to get tired. Not the exhausted, overstimulated, I would need to take medication to settle down kind of tire. No. This was a honest feeling of being tired. Of feeling relaxed and safe.

Then some music started to signal my time was done. I was sad to be done to be honest. I got out and prepared to leave. I kept waiting for my thoughts and anxiety to start again but I stayed calm. I checked out and left. That calm feeling stayed with me for 2 days. Then the sh*t hit the fan and my symptoms came back but I treasured those 2 days. I was incredibly grateful to feel like my brain was not on fire and I could think more clearly and actually felt like I was in the present.

I’m definitely going back. I can’t believe how effective it was . I know everyone is different but if you have the chance to try it out, I highly recommend it. The hour was a good amount of time and it’s also recommended for people to have chronic pain which a lot of people with PTSD have as well.

Here’s a link to the history of sensory deprivation tanks:

Image result for history of sensory deprivation tank

Image result for history of sensory deprivation tank

The natural world

I think one of the worst symptoms I encounter as a trauma survivor and a mom is being easily overstimulated. I love my children, I truly do but they are loud and intrusive. They want to lay all over me and touch my arms and ask me a million questions. That’s what being a kid is all about right? And as a parent it’s our job to listen to every story and let them roll all over you. But. It is so draining and overstimulating. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time with this and have been feeling guilty about feeling like a bad mom. I talked to my therapist about this and she said something I found helpful ‘If you have the flu, you want to talk to anyone or have anyone touching you. You want to rest and feel better’. It did make me feel better to view it that way because so often, I feel like my brain is running a million trains of thoughts at one time. I feel like my brain is on fire.

I think whether or not you’re a parent, people with PTSD experience this. The world is so LOUD. People are constantly talking and moving around and invading our space. Social media has it’s place but it can also be overwhelming and very negative and always present. It’s hard to get away from the news and I feel like it’s always in my face and it’s rarely positive these days. I read an article recently that talked about depression and how we as humans are not adapted for modern life. Our ancestors were programed to fight for survival and their energy was spent on finding food and shelter. That is very different from today’s society where we worry about Facebook and Instagram and the news being reported on the internet. The article also discussed how we as humans are programed to live in nature and in modern society we are rarely in touch with nature.

I thought about this and realized so much of this was true. I always have my phone on. I’m always checking on social media and AP news and everything else that flashes on my phone. I’m doing this in my house as my children are rolling around and trying to get attention. No wonder we’re overstimulated. I’m rarely out of my house. I am determined to get outside more. I think it will be so helpful to be somewhere quiet and connect with something that’s bigger then myself. So here’s to my nature experience. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Here’s a great article about the benefits of reconnecting with nature:

Safety checks

I’m someone who is suicidal frequently. The pain of what I’ve had to endure is overwhelming and I often think about suicide. I think this is a more common occurrence then is talked about which is why I’m choosing to post about it now. The first time I mentioned wanting to die, I was 7 or 8. I said if unicorns weren’t real I would rather be dead. Most would think this is a harmless statement of a child except children don’t talk about death and wanting to die unless they’re significant stressed. This was passed off as a ‘cute’ story in my family and is mentioned as something funny to this day. But it’s not funny. Not at all. I was being abused, pretty severely, and had no safe place to go. I did want to be dead and those feelings have stayed with me on and off for most of my life.

The first time I tried to kill myself I was 14. The gang rape I had endured was before christmas and I’m not sure I came out of the fog of disassociation until the spring. When I did, all I could think about was death. I finally decided to kill myself. My parents kept their medication in the back cabinet and I searched for the biggest pills thinking they would do the most damage. I took a whole bottle of them and some tylenol and went to bed feeling glad I wouldn’t have to wake up in the morning. Most people see teenage suicide attempts as attention seeking or a call for help. But I was serious. I had not done my homework, I left a note with how I wanted to be buried and the music I wanted played at my funeral. But. I woke  up. I was fine really, just a stomach ache and I went to school. As the day went on I felt worse and worse and was nauseaus and sweaty. I ended up throwing up in gym class and my dad came to get me.

I had two friends who were very concerned about me and figured out what I did. They went to the school counselor and she called my parents. I remember being called from class and wondering what was going on? I saw my parents pacing in the tiny room and thought ‘oh shit’. They had clearly come from work, my mom in her scrubs and my dad in his work clothes. They listened to the counselor who said I needed therapy and my parents agreed. At home, my parents were more concerned about who was more to blame versus getting me help. My mother told me I took old antibiotics which would not kill me (good thing to tell a suicidal teenager, what won’t kill her). They eventually did take me to see a psychologist who assessed me for OCD since it runs rampant in my family, and that was all. It was never mentioned again.

My second attempt was when I was 37. I had just started trauma therapy with a lovely and well meaning but not qualified therapist. She decided to try EMDR and was not certified. It rocketed me into a psychotic break and I heard a voice telling me to kill myself. I was close. the police and EMS were needed and I went for my second hospitalization. I was there for a little over 2 weeks.

Now I have thoughts again and a plan. I try not to make a plan for carrying these thoughts out. I’ve been hospitalized 4 times and I have to say, I always felt safe in the hospital. The staff, the safety checks, the other pts all made me feel more like I’m not alone. I got better after each admission and felt better too. However, I have no desire to go back because there’s a loss of privacy too and loss of freedom too. I miss my family and am often restless during group sessions. I am having a setback for sure but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. If you’re feeling like you’re in a crisis, please reach out, call the national suicide hotline or text 741741 or go to the emergency room. We’re all a work in progress. We can’t stop.