Why it's NOT as hard to break the trauma bond as you might think... and what do coloured doors have to do with it?
‘How can I possibly be pining for a person who has put me though absolute hell? I know it’s a trauma bond but wow, this is so frickin’ HARD!!! I am in agonising pain and on the verge of admitting myself to hospital because I just can’t cope. How can I stop this?’
That’s a message I received from one of my support group members recently and it’s not an uncommon one. I know of many others who dread bumping into the NEX (narcissist ex) because if they do, the longing for that ‘golden period’ when everything was oh-so rosy in the garden awash with love-bombing blooms becomes more overwhelming than ever, even though they KNOW how poisonous this person really was. They are terrified of being hoovered back in again and going right back into the lion’s den.
Or they get a text out of the blue – after months, or even years, of no contact – and it sends them into a tailspin of angst and emotional turmoil.
When you think of the NEX, with intense longing and desire to have them back, you are responding to a set of previously encoded images, thoughts and experiences that you keep reliving, over and over again in your mind. Even though one part of you KNOWS how damaging the NEX is for you, the other part just craves them back. If you’re feeling this way, you’re trauma bonded.
Trauma bonding is a recognized condition, one that keeps the victim going back to their abuser over and over. The term was first used by Patrick J Carnes, PH.D, founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, and he outlined how traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are difficult to change. Trauma Bonding is also often referred to as Stockholm Syndrome… named after a very famous botched bank heist in Stockholm, where the hostages formed bonds with their captors and refused to testify against them in court.
If you think about how many times you’ve heard that a person refused to press charges against their abuser, whilst fear (often for women who are being abused) and ridicule/shame (often by men who are being abused) do have parts to play, trauma bonding is often a more valid reason, because research has shown that your brain establishes an intense bond to the narcissist. This means that leaving (or reporting them for abuse) is not solely a cognitive decision (based on thinking), but one that is tied to neurochemical, psychological and emotional anchors. Your brain is firing up on dopamine and oxytocin, leading you to crave the ‘fix’ you get (or got), from the narcissist. What this means in reality is that you are addicted to the narcissist and it’s extremely painful to be without them.
It's the real deal, and the person suffering can’t usually break it alone. They need professional help, as the ‘addiction’ to their abuser is akin to alcohol or drug addiction. Just like the alcoholic falling off the wagon, or the drug addict leaving rehab and heading straight for his/her dealer, unless – and until - the addiction is truly broken, the victim will keep going back. You can be trauma bonded for years, or even decades. Think of the alcoholic who has been sober for 20 years, but who still cannot hold a glass of alcohol in their hand, because they know that if they take just one sip, they will reawaken the beast within. Being trauma bonded can have a similar effect.
The intermittent reinforcement Carnes talks about will be familiar to you as the ‘push pull’ situation you experience with a narcissist – the love bombing, devaluing, discarding, love-bombing, devaluing, discarding – ie, they pull you in, then push you away - rinse and repeat, with possible multiple discards included in the familiar trifecta, followed by hoovering you back in. It’s a yo-yo cycle that keeps you on an emotional rollercoaster, one that doesn’t stop, even when you get off and out of the relationship.
What this means is that you keep yourself locked in an emotional prison, long after you’ve left the narcissist, or they have discarded you. You will hear and read that it’s incredibly difficult to break the bond, even when you try all kinds of healing methods – willpower, keeping busy, meditation, even therapy. Most of the clients I’ve worked with have tried all these methods, and more, but it hasn’t changed a thing. They were still stuck with this gnawing desire that wouldn’t go away.
But, is it really so hard to break a trauma bond?
The answer is, it can be, but it doesn’t HAVE to be. But firstly, before we look at healing ANY aspect of narcissistic abuse (and there are many), how much do you have to understand about the neurological and emotional complexity of trauma bonding to heal?
Do you need to fully understand the intricacies of love bombing, gaslighting, co-dependence, coercive control, loss of self-esteem, and accept that you are addicted?
Do you need to understand the basics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and all that entails?
The truth is that yes, you do, because understanding all of these will help you process what’s happened to you intellectually, and that is important. It will also help you to understand that it was NOT your fault - no matter how hard the narcissist tried to convince you it was, or even brainwashed you into believing that you’re the narcissist – something I hear with shocking regularity.
But, and here’s the kicker... understanding all that won’t help you to heal at an emotional level. It won’t help you to stop the images flashing in your head, it won’t help to shift the blocks of pain that you feel in your body every time you think about that person who has left you emotionally battered and imprisoned. And it won’t leave you feeling in control of yourself, your emotions and your life.
So how do you break the bond and heal?
Breaking the bond requires a radical shift in how you remember and recall the images and memories that are causing the emotional pain. Your brain is a fascinating machine and it stores a vast amount of knowledge within your pre-forged neural pathways. Everything that you’ve ever experienced is stored in there, collected and processed via your five senses. It’s why, if I ask you now, to think of the front door of your house, in a split second you can have an image of that in your mind. (Try it!)
Now, if I ask you to recall the front door of your home when you were a child, it might take a second longer, but that data is still stored in your mind and you can retrieve it. (Try it!)
Now if I asked you to change the colour of the door of your childhood home, even though it was, let’s say, brown – to bright pink – you’d be able to do that (try it!.)
Then think of your current door again for a moment or two… and now recall the front door of the home you lived in as a child. What colour is it? The chances are that you’ll now see it as pink! (Go on, try it!).
Why does that happen? It’s because you have given your brain a new image to focus on, and it will over-ride the older one. As I was writing this, I tried it with my front door where I grew up. I turned it cerise pink. Now when I recall it (a week after first trying it), I can’t tell you the hilarious conversations I’m having with my sisters about the colour of this door! Yet, it only exists in my imagination.
But what do pink doors have to do with healing? Good question!
Breaking the bond can be done in two simple steps, When you work with a painful memory, you can do something very similar to what we’ve just done with the door!
Those two simple processes are what I have used on many occasion to help clients break the trauma bond in one session. So it absolutely does not need to take months and months of therapy to break and heal a trauma bond.
Of course, there is almost always more healing to do when you’ve been dealing with a narcissist. Low self-worth, anxiety, patterns of abuse, to name just a few, are often also present and need more complex healing processes. So we also examine those and work some more healing magic by incorporating inner child healing, spiritual connection and redefining your self-worth.
But often, breaking that trauma bond is the first step to take which then allows you the freedom to open up to deeper levels of healing.
If you are really struggling with breaking your trauma bond, I can help.
At the moment I have two options to work with me, one-on-one. Click here to find out more.
If you’re trauma bonded (or indeed, dealing with any traumatic memory that you cannot free yourself from) and want to have a chat about whether my method might work for you, I invite you to DM me and let’s talk!