Adult Child

Love or Trauma Bond w/ Alan Kaufman

July 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 17
Adult Child
Love or Trauma Bond w/ Alan Kaufman
Show Notes Transcript

In today's episode, we're diving deep into trauma bonding - what it is, what it looks like, and why growing up in a dysfunctional family puts you at greater risk for trauma bonded relationship in adulthood. Then Andrea is joined by acclaimed writer Alan Kaufman, who shares about his experienced of being raised by a mother who was a Holocaust survive and their trauma bonded relationship.
Alan Kaufman's Books
Alan's Mother's Letters

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Resources -
The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick Carnes PhD
Trauma Bonding: Understanding and Overcoming the Trauma Bond in a Narcissistic Relationship: Narcissistic Relationship Recovery by Lauren Kozlowski

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Welcome back to Adult Child, where we take a deep dive into the impact of growing up in a dysfunctional family. And today we are diving deep into trauma bonding – which is . Not the most uplifting topic, but psychological response to abuse, in which a victim develops an unhealthy connecting with their abuser. Yes, I know super uplifting, but I think it’s a fascinating topic and a lot to unpack. Today I just want to cover the basics and talk about why growing up in a dysfunctional family puts us a greater risk for finding ourselves in trauma bonds in adulthood. Yes, just another wonderful perk of having a fucked up childhood – lucky us. And then I am talking to writer, poet, memoirist Alan Kaufman. Now while I love all of interviews, this is one I am extremely excited for y’all to hear this. Alan’s mother is a Holocaust and his relationship with her during his childhood is truly a textbook example of a trauma bond between a parent and child – so stay tuned for that. 

-        So here are some red flags that you are in a trauma bonded relationship –

-        You want to leave someone, perhaps you don’t even like them, but can’t seem to get away.

-        You justify their mistreatment towards you, even their abuse – oh he just had a bad day, or he didn’t mean it

-        You keep the reality the relationship, i.e. the bad shit, a secret from your friends and family – yea been there done that

-        You fantasize about the good ol’ days, the days of yore when they treated you well, when they made special and loved, and you have this delusional hope that things will go back to the way they once were. Or they promise that they’ve changed, or that won’t hurt anymore or stop what the problematic behavior is, but it’s a matter of time before its business as usual. 

-        And lastly – and think this is probably the best indicator of a trauma bond - you’re in a relationship that you would never want anyone that you care about to be in – uh, yea basically every relationship I’ve been in.

So where does this term come from – trauma bond. The term trauma bond was coined by Dr. Patrick Carnes, in his book The Betrayal Bond. Check it out, you’ll find it in a show notes, and is definitely a must read for adult children. 

So he coined this phrase to describe how the misuse of fear, excitement, and sexual feelings can be used to basically trap or entangle another person. 

And he defines a trauma bond as dysfunctional attachment that occur in the presence of danger, shame, and exploitation. In other words, a trauma bond is an unhealthy emotional attachment a victim develops with their abuser, in which they mistake abuse for love. 

Trauma bonds come in all shapes and sizes, but tend to have 2 main characteristics –

A cyclical nature –

Trauma bonds are typically perpetrated by inconsistent positive reinforcement – meaning the relationship isn’t all bad. sometimes they treat you well, sometimes they treat you like shit. 

It’s generally easier to leave a situation that’s entirely bad, although I wouldn’t put it past an adult child to stay in a completely bad relationship. But if occasionally they treat us well, we justify, we tolerate, we minimize the bad. Even if the good is just mere crumbs. And boy do I have an extensive history with crumbs that – 99% bad, 1% crumbs, I’ll take that shit, sounds like a perfectly loving and healthy relationship to me.

So relationships that are trauma bonds go through periods of highs and lows – cycles of love and abuse. Now this could be someone physically abusing you, followed by them showering you with love and affection. Or someone being verbally abusive, but then taking you on a shopping spree. But it could also be a lot more subtle, and I’ll use my childhood as an example. Having a parent vacillate between being available and unavailable, whether that be physically or emotionally – or a child having to switch between playing the role of parents and child. When my mother was intoxicated, she was no longer emotionally or physically available to me, and I had to step into the role of caretaker. And my dad was basically only emotionally present for me when my mom drunk, and these were also the times that I stepped into the role of being his emotional and confidant. Shocking that I then found myself in relationships with emotionally unavailable alcoholics. 

The other main characteristic of a trauma bond is a power imbalance, and this is why children growing up in dysfunctional families are at great risk of developing traumatic bonds with our parents. Trauma bonds are often perpetuated when the person who is our main source of support is also our abuser, when the person we rely upon to fulfill our emotional and physical needs is also the source of our pain. Affection is one of the basic human needs, and especially so in childhood. Children seek attention from their caregivers, even if they are violent or abusive. Because we don’t know any better. 

So we learn to conflate love and abuse – and the repercussions of this are dire. This relationship pattern then becomes internalized, affecting all future relationships and modeling how the person will relate to others and form relationships in adult life. And it’s really fucking hard to break of a trauma bond because our brains literally become addicted to it. The highs and lows of trauma bonds create this cocktail of neuropeptides – cortisol, adrenaline, oxytocin that actually strengthen the bond of the relationship within our brain. And learning this I think did provide me with a little relief that it wasn’t me just making bad decisions and choosing to stay in these toxic relationships – I literally became addicted to the highs and the lows of the relationship. And this is also meant that this was something that was fixable, that through rewiring, reprogramming, therapy, trauma therapy, all that shit, that this was something that I could work through and learn to do things differently in subsequent relationships. 

Well I think that’s enough out for me now. As always, 5-star rating on Apple podcasts If you’d be so kind. And now for Alan.