Trauma Bonding is in simple terms a neurochemical addiction. When an individual is in a relationship, they seek out physical connection and comfort. With this connection comes a lovely buzz of oxytocin – the ‘love/cuddle/bonding hormone’.
Oxytocin is nature’s way of getting us to stick about ‘through thick and thin’ with a partner. It gives us a nice pleasurable feeling and once we experience it, we tend to seek it out repeatedly from the same source.
Now, that’s brilliant if the source we have access to is an emotionally stable individual who treats us with respect and compassion, the problem is when we end up with someone who is quite frankly horrible to us.
So, let’s take a fictious client called Jodie. She contacts me and says something like, ‘Jake has been really horrible to me. He called me lazy and fat. He says I’m useless and that no-one is ever going to want me every again. I’ve told him I’m leaving him.’
Now, I’m sitting in my outside-the-action role, thinking, ‘Wow. Jake continues to be a total charmer. Please follow through this time and get rid of him.’ But no, I don’t say that as I can only guide and reflect back to my client what is happening. Plus, I know what is coming in a couple of days…
‘Hey Dr. Anne it’s all ok. Jake and I talked for hours, and he says he loves me. And you know he was so sweet, he looked into my eyes and says he can’t help it, but I just drive him so crazy sometimes, he just can’t help it.’ (Oh, good God! He’s actually blaming you for his awful behaviour and you can’t see that?’)
But before reader you conclude that Jodie is somehow deficient or weak, let’s consider what is really happening here.
If you have a quick read in the literature, you will hear about Love Bombing. That is when an abusive party strategically turns on the charm and begins to say all those sweet nothings that someone wants to hear. That is, they tap into the oxytocin; they literally bomb the senses with love hormone.
This then makes the abused individual re-attach and once everything is safe again for the abuser (i.e. they aren’t going to lose their source of attention and servitude), its back to business as usual. Back to the name calling, put downs, whining and general nastiness.
And so, it goes on, with an individual having extreme highs (increased oxytocin) followed by extreme stress (increased cortisol).
This roundabout is exactly like the gambling addict, putting all their money in a slot machine hoping for a pay-out. The addiction (in this case chasing affection) becomes all-encompassing and the person is unable to see outside of their ‘trauma bond’ to evaluate rationally the devastation it is creating in their life.
Jodie will return repeatedly to my clinic oscillating between telling me, ‘he is awful’ then followed by ‘he didn’t mean it’ whilst I patiently chip away at her lack of understanding of healthy communication and respect within a loving relationship. It may take months, it may take years, but my overall therapeutic aim is to help her reach a place where she can truly see reality without the biochemical buzz which is clouding her judgment.