Anything intimate, personal or powerful brands itself into our nervous systems. We usually associate this with romantic love, or becoming a parent and feeling the connection to someone we love with our whole heart. We can also have that same intensity—intimate, personal or powerful—with abuse and violation and that’s where trauma comes in.
Trauma simply defined is an experience
where you were rendered utterly powerless
to act on your own behalf.
For some of us, that take-over occurred so early in our lives that we didn’t have a baseline to know we ever had it to begin with. Such foundations make it all the more probable that I would be drawn to people who would throw me off kilter, out of control, and hence, I am engineered from early life experience to get them stable, secure, happy, whole. Enter marriage #1 in my early 20’s and other subsequent boyfriends, who just wanted to use me.
Trauma bonds are a term originated by Patrick Carnes in his book, The Betrayal Bond. In this seminal work, he says, “Fear deepens bonding. Traumatic violence in relationships [especially if positive episodes intermittently present] greatly increases the intensity of the attachment bond” (88).
Neuroscience, as well as countless investigations, show that fear intensifies all human attachment, even in all forms of vertebrate species studied, including birds, dogs and primates. A growing body of evidence indicates a neurochemical scarring can occur throughout the body. This means that severe trauma can leave a mark that can be discerned in every system of the body. That is how pervasive the impact of terror can be. (Robert M. Post, M.D., “Transduction of Psychological Stress into the Neurobiology of Recurrent Affective Disorder,” American Journal of Psychiatry 149, no. 8 (1992): 999-1010, as cited in P. Carnes, The Betrayal Bond, 89).
This is a validation/relationship coaching blog entry. “How so?” you might ask. Because of the following reasons:
1. If you are suffering…
from flashbacks, triggers, nightmares, panic attacks and weird compulsions, it’s just your sweet, hard-working nervous system trying to figure out the difference between then (dangerous bonding that used you) and now (bonding that you determine cares about your long term best interests).
2. You may have to look at relationships differently.
You may need to consider going after intimacy, friendships, and work environments that might be a bit on the predictable side. Maybe a bit boring.
Personal side note:
If your nervous system is anything like mine, I remembered talking myself into marrying my uber safe fiancé. I had to talk myself into bonding with someone who didn’t bring crisis into my life. He never freaked me out, you see. He never questioned my judgement or took power from me so I hardly found him interesting. He was comforting, regular, and had no ulterior motive. He’d be where he said he was, give what he said he was going to give, take care of what he said he’d do and so on. When I was crispy-fried from something that triggered me while in our early stages of marriage, he’d check in and clarify his intent. The man was built for my recovery, and the “me” I still continue to become.
3. Mentally strengthening exercise
Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 1 count, exhale for 8 counts. As you exhale remember, “I am Nervous System Special Forces. I will not let the bastards get me down. I will get the help I need and the reinforcement I need. Even the Special Forces work as a team. I have the right to have a team—bonded by respect, understanding, skills and faithfulness. I made it out of the worst part. I can do this, too.”
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.