traumatic bonding: shattering the fantasy, grieving



One of the most difficult things you have to grapple with when trying to break free from a trauma bond is the realization that you may have attributed a “cosmic” quality to something that had very little substance other than raw attachment. This is a perfectly reasonable response since we need to believe that we suffered the abuse for a reason—in my case, “love” is what gave my endurance meaning. After coming to terms with the abuse I would sometimes ask myself, How was she able to convince me to adopt her worldview? But in traumatic bonding, the victim doesn’t have to be convinced. They’re eager to believe the fantasy because the fantasy is a way of coping with the abuse. After a while, I needed to believe the promises, even though she would never follow through on them, because I was so deep in it that shattering the fantasy would put my psyche at risk of unraveling. Identifying with her became an immediate form of survival.

Grieving is a very complicated process when you are trying to overcome a trauma bond—you have to grieve the loss of that person, you have to grieve the loss of yourself with that person, and you have to grieve the loss of that person without you (part of my continued loyalty was motivated by a feeling that all of the “progress” she made in our relationship would be lost if I didn’t maintain my loyalty). But perhaps the most difficult part of the process is grieving the stories, fantasies, promises, and social narratives that you clung to in order to make sense of situationthe utterly desperate hopes and dreams that you cultivated in the face of your suffering.

When you start to shatter the fantasies, the pain will be absolutely overwhelming. You will want to go back to the fantasies because it seems less painful than breaking free of them. In that moment, returning to the fantasy will alleviate the pain but it will just create more pain in the long run. As you deconstruct the stories and fantasies you will feel like a total idiot. You will doubt your intelligence. Your world will seem profoundly unstable because everything you thought to be true will no longer be true. You will feel like you cannot trust yourself or anyone around you. You will feel paranoid about being used by people. You will compulsively scan your memories trying to locate a “true” moment. You will use moments that seem like they could be examples of real “love” or ANYTHING real to confuse yourself and go back to the fantasy.

As you try to dismantle the trauma bond, LITERALLY EVERYTHING IN YOUR BODY will push against letting go. Your nervous system and psyche have been pushed passed their limits and have been reorganized in order to adjust to the abuse. You have been re-wired down to the biological—some even say cellular—level (physiologically, it is an actual chemical addiction because your body releases certain chemicals during moments of crisis). Over time, the coping strategies that you developed while experiencing trauma solidify.

In all vertebrate animals, fear and intensity increase attachment. You can imagine situations where this response would have a survival function—even before reading about trauma bonds I would always say that I felt “bound” to my family because of certain traumatic things that have happened to us, which ended up making us closer. This was necessary for our survival during tragic situations, such as when my older brother was going to prison. But when you are in an abusive relationship you become psychologically and physiologically addicted to the abuse—which is not to say that as survivors of abuse we are bringing the abuse upon ourselves, but that our systems are overloaded when we experience abuse and fear pushes us into a reactive state. Our bodies have to adjust to living in this state of fear in order to survive. As our reactions and coping mechanisms are codified over time, they have the paradoxical function of deepening the trauma bond. Abuse becomes normalized—we may even become so desensitized that the abusive behavior stops registering as abuse.

The most intense bonds are ones that involve intermittent abuse mixed with promises, hopes, kindness, and tenderness. The abuse creates the intensity; the tenderness allows the fantasy to flourish. Attachment is also intensified by the false feeling of intimacy that occurs when you are abused by someone you love—there is the “high” of the crisis, the euphoria of reconciliation, and the amnesia that follows. If the fantasy starts to unravel or wane, another crisis situation will occur to reinvigorate the fantasy, stories, and promises. After each cycle the trauma bond deepens.

Friends of survivors: understanding traumatic bonding

If you have not been traumatically bonded to someone, you cannot understand how desperately the abused person longs to be loved by the person abusing them. You may not be able to understand why a person who has been abused acts the way they act, why they would go to great lengths to protect their abuser and maintain their relationship with them. You may feel like the person who has been abused is “unreasonable” and you may offer your “rational” assessment of the relationship. But of course, many people who are stuck in abusive relationships have a perfectly “rational” view of what is taking place. The problem is that they cannot “reason” their way out of the relationship, even if they are perfectly clear about what is going on. People who are stuck in abusive relationships are often internally split, and these two sides of themselves do not communicate with each other. They can hold contradictory views in their body at the same time—they may know they are being abused while also maintaining a belief in the fantasy that keeps them attached to their abuser. But like I said earlier—the abused person’s attachment to their abuser is not unreasonable—it has its own internal logic, and this logic is incomprehensible to people who have not been traumatically bonded to someone. What looks to outsiders like an irrational attachment actually emerged from coping mechanisms that the abused person developed to survive the abuse. 

his voice was a church


i didn’t know him, i only met him briefly a few times (the first time at purchase, the second time hanging out with nesey and he gave me a beer!) . i’d see him around though sometimes and be afraid to say hello or anything. i didn’t want to be one of those weirdo fan-freaks that annoy local-celebrities and make them not want to leave the house. one time he came into transmet when i was working there though, and i yelled hello at him very excitedly, because i felt like i really knew him. then i said sorry, and he just looked confused. it had been a long time since i had last met him and i was sure he didn’t remember who i was.

regardless of knowing him or not he is a hero to me and i doubt i would be living in athens or playing music today if he didn’t exist. i could always tell that he was an amazingly special soul and to be anywhere within his presence always felt so bizarre. i can feel athens heartbreak and shock, i can feel how much his friends and family are hurting, it’s all too much. i can’t stop thinking about it all and to be honest i don’t want to. i kept waking up in the middle of the night last night with him on my mind.

garrett said it best

“finally able to listen to some bill stuff. the man was unjustly underrecognized, in my opinion. he had qualities of observation and passion that could make simple sentiments become modified with more specific, adaptable proverbs. which is what him and will did in their music. i never knew him; my heart goes out to those who did and were touched by his existence in a more tangibly interpersonal way. still, i’ve always felt his mere voice was somewhat of a church… i’ve heard his personality matched his music and cannot imagine the magnitude this has.”

after their show on thursday night i had the lyrics to no growing stuck in my head.

what do you do when the magic’s gone?

I don’t know what to say about this and I never know what is appropriate to say, especially having only said hello to him a couple times, and thinking of how I’ve facetiously tagged photos of his band with “these boys” and “inappropriate crushes” and “this band is my hero,” and thinking about the way we talk about grief using I-statements and wondering if that’s selfish or if that’s just the easiest way to relate stories and feel closer among the living, and/or if that’s even a way to express empathy at all — since feeling the loss of a distant-acquaintence musician is different than those who are feeling the loss of a friend, so what room do I have to even talk?

I’m old enough now to cry just on principle that 43 is very young, it’s too young, and I’m still stubbornly immature to think things like it’s not fair, and people aren’t supposed to die in the middle of a Southern summer, and, “but I just saw him the other day and he looked so happy!” Some friends are talking about how this serves as an impetus to remember about your mortality and stop putting things off — stop procrastinating on your work, stop avoiding getting to know people. I have a family history of sudden deaths, aneurysms and heart attacks, and I always worry about how much time I’m wasting, like when I say, I haven’t published a zine in five years, I recorded an album but I don’t play shows, I don’t know if I will ever have a child, later, maybe later — "there will be time, there will be time…"

But there, see, I’m making it all about me. Is that what inspiration means, though? Is that what it is to have a legacy? When your life and your loss, however distant, is so far-reaching and moves others to action rather than apathy? When I started listening to E6 bands I was already old enough to not want to put these artists on a pedestal because I had decided that creative expression is a means of communication and not a reason to worship. When people talk about these artists being magical and special I would interject, but remember, they are just dudes. They are people with friends and family and jobs and they write and practice and record and just play songs. Anyone can do this. & that was not to be derogatory, but to be inspiring — that was the motivating part to me. They’re just dudes, we’re just dudes, it’s possible we can all do this, therefore I won’t hear any talk about the magic going away.

I forget how Athens is so insulated at the same time its influence is far-reaching. Empathy is in+feeling, like walking around town yesterday and sensing the weight as the town heaves grief, tearing up for the loss of a musician you may have known only peripherally, and hurting even more then to imagine the hurt his closer friends & family are feeling, like Dena said above.

I’ve talked a lot of shit about Athens and how transitory and unstable it is, and how drunk and apathetic it can be, and how it’s difficult to feel a sense of community when hardly anyone is even sure of where they’re going to be living in a year, and how it’s difficult to be happy or even okay because I watch my friends making the same dumb mistakes again & again, and of course, I myself make the same dumb mistakes again & again. For me, the thing about remembering that musicians and artists are just these dudes is about this recognition of humanity & humility, about how most everyone has probably gone through some shit and how you have to take personal responsibility for how you are going to deal & react to the shit you’ve been dealt. It’s so easy to sink into sadness and insist that the world is out to get you; it takes a conscious effort to make something beautiful & give it back instead.

& every once in a while there are moments that remind you that another world is possible, maybe on a rooftop or in a swimming hole or a buzzed bike ride home — that’s what I loved most about seeing Olivia Tremor Control perform. I critique the hell out of performance and authenticity and I’m sarcastic and doubtful even as I want/try to fight burnout, but I would go to these shows and feel expressions of sincerity and genuine happiness and I would feel like everyone in the room has just gotta be sharing that sentiment, and maybe for an hour, everything else falls away.

(Source: crocodilegena)