“Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.” 

Bessel Van Der Kolk, ‘The Body Keeps The Score’

Trauma Bonding: when love and pain become the glue that binds us together.

Bonding can be defined as a biological and emotional development that can create a very significant and powerful connection between two (or more) people, becoming stronger and stronger over periods of time. It has an accumulative effect and contrary to lust, love or faith, its not something that can ever be destroyed or lost.

In terms of spending long periods of time together this  includes anything from a domestic nature such as sharing meals, living together, or having children together or even being children together.. Over time we will no doubt experience many different emotional landscapes - times of joy and perhaps extended times of stress or difficulty together.

This is where “trauma” bonding can occur,  when there are periods of stress or trauma interjected with the care or love with those people that we have spent a lot of time with.  When we experience intense feelings with people it bonds us together. Sometimes even more than positive times.

As children, we have all had the experience of our parents, siblings or caregivers perhaps for some reason, subjecting us to trauma- be it consciously or not. “Trauma” can be anything as simple as your parents having a hard day, going through their own struggle, and perhaps not being so great at emotional regulation (Yes, even I am guilty of this sometimes as a parent!) but the longer this goes on and becomes unresolved or dysfunctional the deeper the trauma bonding can become.

For some of us, this spectrum of trauma can extend to involving more serious mental, emotional, neglect or physical or sexual abuse- coming from those we have bonded with- this where trauma bonding can become very deep and very deeply enmeshed. We might have love for and from our abusers, and can become a sort of Stockholm syndrome situation later on. 

Obviously the spectrum of abuse in this case doesn't only apply to those who had more severe cases. If you grew up in a home where your parents regularly used manipulation, degradation, guilt, shame or criticism against you or as a parenting tool- unfortunately, that's actually pretty normal these days! That's how our parents would have grown up as well! Nowadays, there is a lot more evidence showing the importance of conscious parenting to make for a happier healthier adult thank goodness. Having the awareness as to the roots of some very uncomfortable emotions that you display on the regular and base all of your decisions, thoughts and actions from can help explain why we do what we do and allow us a moment of consciously breaking the pattern.

These children as adults will be attracted to dysfunctional relationships with narcissists or abuse- that in some way “reincarnate” the love that we are familiar with, or the way that we were made to feel growing up especially on a deep subconscious level. The deeper the depth of trauma bonding usually the more abuse we tend to subject ourselves to in our adult relationships. It's really hard for us to have healthy boundaries in this case, so we end up staying in these relationships for too long which multiplies the trauma bonding even more so.

How to know if this applies to you?

  • you find yourself making excuses or over-identifying with your ‘abuser’. (whether that happens to be your partner or a parent who is still treating you badly on some level and keeping you “hostage”)

  • you find yourself matching their energy- If you are sad and they are happy, you will cover your sadness, or vice versa to keep the peace.

  • you might feel indebted to this person, even though you can absolutely feel in your body that this situation is not good for you, you feel a sense of loyalty that keeps you stuck.

  • you tiptoe on eggshells when you're around them and are generally unauthentic in their presence.

The reason it is important to identify whether this relates to you is only to help you have awareness and compassion to your life choices. There might be a reason you don't put yourself first or constantly prioritise others above your own needs. When we have this we can understand that it's exactly because of this that we need to start being the parent of our own heart and make the boundaries that are needed. DO the work necessary to process the emotions that might be still trapped within your psyche and with this resolution and the awareness you should be able to live a healthy, functional and optimal life where only YOU are responsible for your happiness!

Written by: Deniz Okutgen, Therapist and Healer at The Centre for Healing.