Trauma can sometimes get us in our heads about our attachments— to people, families, organizations, and institutions.
We very often feel “crazy”— or worse— for feeling the way we feel about people or organizations that caused us pain.
It seems we hear the term “trauma bonding” thrown around a lot in online discourse. Just today I saw a thread with credentialed mental health practitioners disagreeing about whether it was “real.”
Trauma bonding is a phenomenon where we feel attached to people or organizations that abused us or otherwise caused us pain.
The term “trauma bond” is—like many terms in psychology— more of a description than an explanation of anything. That is, we see this thing happen, and this is what we call it when trauma is involved.
The reason the concept of “trauma bonding” CAN be useful is because we often come through traumatic experiences with scrambled expectations and experiences of how we “should” feel and behave.
On the surface, it may SEEM to make no sense that we’d feel attached, let alone in some ways positively, toward a person or organization that hurt us.
The fact that we often DO have mixed feelings about those people or organizations can lead us to believe that maybe the abuse, neglect, or other trauma wasn’t that bad.
After all, if it WAS that bad, wouldn’t I just want to get the hell out of there and never look back?
If the “trauma” WAS that bad, wouldn’t I just reject that person or that church or whatever, and feel nothing but hate and contempt toward them?
But we know that’s often not survivors’ experience.
When we are in relationship with a person or organization for a prolonged period of time, we very often developed layered, nuanced, stable relationships with them.
This is especially true if we are dependent upon that person or organization for physical survival, or if an organization or group is our main (or only!) source of connection or social support.
As we recover from trauma, it’s important that we avoid the minefield that some people REALLY want to drag us into— of feeling responsible for our own trauma.
Some people would LOVE for us to believe that we played a part in it— and that to assert otherwise is to affirm “victim mentality” that will only keep us stuck.
They’ll tell us, well, if you didn’t or don’t HATE your abuser, if you kind of MISS aspects of your abuser, if you didn’t LEAVE that supposedly abusive situation over the course of years…you must not have found it TOO painful, huh?
It’s important we not fall into that trap, because one of the most common struggles trauma survivors face is blaming ourselves for what we went through (a tendency that the culture is only too happy to reinforce).
That’s why it’s important to understand that trauma bonding IS a thing.
OF COURSE we’re going to have mixed feelings about people and organizations we were involved with and/or dependent upon for decades.
But experiencing a trauma bond doesn’t mean you LIKED it.
It doesn’t mean you ASKED for it.
Critics of the concept of “trauma bonding” assert that there’s nothing particularly special about the bonds trauma survivors form with their abusers— that it’s sufficiently explained by attachment theory.
That discounts the stigma survivors experience about having mixed feelings about their abusers.
There’s no question influencers often co-opt psychological and/or trauma concepts and publicize them in ways that make them easy to misunderstand or misapply.
But it’s overwhelmingly important that we— survivors in trauma recovery— are VERY clear on the fact our responses to what we experienced are going to be a mixed bag.
You are GOING to have responses that don’t seem to make any sense.
That’s okay. That’s normal.
You just focus on you. Just focus on today.
Your needs; your challenges; the skills, tools, and resources YOU need to make it through TODAY— and move forward in your recovery .001%.