I feel for Alice. She isolates and disconnects. She has had five failed relationships with men – all of them physically and verbally abusive. Growing up as a child with an abusive, neglecting father, she currently continues to choose men who feel familiar, feel like home.
If she’s treated with kindness, compassion, and respect, she feels anxious and guilty. Even in our therapy sessions, Alice expects to be “abused.” She simply has no working model to encompass such benign, calm, or encouraging one-to-one relationship and interaction.
I’d like to call it “bonding to abuse.” Some experts, such as Dr. Jon Allen of the famous Menninger Clinic, labels the phenomenon “trauma bonding.” A classic example of “trauma bonding” or “bonding to abuse” is the concentration camp victim who learns to love or idolize her captor and tries to please him and gain his favor. According to Dr. Allen, “trauma bonding” requires two conditions: there must be an imbalance of power and the victim must be isolated from other forms of support.
Children who grew up in homes with addiction, abuse, emotional deprivation, or psychological illness fulfill the conditions for “trauma bonding.” There is this power imbalance between parent and child and the hurting child is often isolated and disconnected from other forms of support because of family secrecy and shame. This is how “trauma bonding” wounds are formed. Left unhealed, such as in the case of Alice, a victim can be bound to re-traumatize herself in the same way that she was previously traumatized.
Brain science and research also confirms the dynamic behind this “trauma bonding” phenomenon. It discovers that experiences or behaviors we had as a child become a “script” literally imprinted on the brain. We then operate from the contents of that “script” even into adulthood, choosing life circumstances that match up with the information stored in the “brain file.” Thus in relationships, we are likely to choose, albeit unconsciously, what we know because that is what we have stored in our brain’s filing system.
There it is. Knowing this, being aware of it, is the beginning of recovery. We can use the reenactments or repetitions in our lives to understand the location of where our “core wounds” lie, and where we need to heal