“There’s something terribly wrong with me. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in therapy healing from the trauma. But I keep going back for more. It’s like this vacuum that sucks me back, and I can’t seem to stop it.
“I know he’s an alcoholic. I know he lies to me. I know there was verbal abuse. I know there was emotional abuse. Please help me! For God’s sake please help me…”
Those were the last intelligible words before she dissolved into deep sobs coming from her soul. I didn’t have to comprehend the words to understand the cry for help coming from deep within.
There was a knot in my throat, and I could feel the burning of tears starting to form in my eyes. I took a deep breath as I gathered myself from similar memories and similar words I once heard spoken to me.
After taking a deep breath, with calm, assuring words, I repeated back to her what was spoken to me that began a life-changing journey: “I understand totally. And I can help!”
(Before you begin to make assumptions that trauma bonds only occur in women, there are as many men in my office addressing trauma bonds. It’s not only men that can be cold and cruel. Women can be the same way).
And before you stop reading because you think I may be speaking of you, you are not “bad person if you created a trauma bond.” You are wounded. You have likely done your best to stuff your trauma, deny it, minimize it… But ultimately doing so causes anyone to repeat it on those they love (in modified forms).
The trauma bond. I believe it requires more courage to address than most anything else we are faced with in trauma healing.
In order to begin this healing journey, you must come to terms with this foundational truth: aside from a miracle, the person you are trauma bonded to is not likely to change.
When people have trauma, they normally go to opposite sides of the same coin.
The one side is where this delightful young woman was. (The one who is trauma bonded and keeps going back for more).
The other side of the coin is the one I mentioned. The one who stuffs and denies that the trauma had impact upon them. Or perhaps they shut it down for other reasons. But they are the ones more likely to repeat similar modified versions of what happened to them on those they love.
This is not a conscious decision, and quite often, they don’t understand the damage it does … Despite the fact that they leave a trail of destruction.
They have reasons for, excuses for, justifications for what they leave behind. And usually, in the depths of their hearts, they believe it.
The reason they must have the adoration and the adulation of the one they are traumatizing is because it is the only soothing that they get for their trauma buried deep inside.
It becomes a cycle.
Two wonderful people, with varying degrees of trauma, two different reactions to the trauma, and a total nightmare (unless they both seek healing).
Trauma bonds do not just occur in marriages as this example portrays. It could be a relative, it could be a friend, it could be a stranger. Sometimes there’s a trauma bond to people who have passed away.
Regardless of the relationship, there are some very specific steps that you can follow to begin to break free of the trauma bond.
You will resist. You will try to believe you’re different. You will think that surely it will just go away with time. We all do.
But if you will find the courage and determination to work through these five steps, you will find yourself beginning to heal and feel the sun shine on you again. It is the only way to move forward into a wonderful, fulfilling life. The kind of life you deserve.
Buckle your seatbelt, make a decision to raise your standards of what you’re willing to tolerate, and for holding yourself to a higher was, a higher road… Because you deserve this!
1. CHANGE THE FREQUENCY, TONE, AND NATURE OF YOUR COMMUNICATION WITH THEM.
I could write 100 pages of the excuses of why you cannot do this one.
Really, I have heard it all:
- We have kids who are still young
- We have grandkids
- We haven’t done our taxes together yet
- We own a business together
- He/she is in poor health and no one else checks on them
- I could go on and on …
You must change the way you communicate. I will talk about all three points of how it must change. I am aware that having children, their ages, having business conference connections, etc. make the way that you do this variable.
But you can do it!
You must reduce the frequency of your communication. For example, I am aware that when you have young children, you must make arrangements. But make the arrangement and do not communicate reminders and tips like “Sandy likes to go to the Sonic right after she is picked up.“
Make the arrangement, and there is no more communication about that arrangement necessary.
Your tone should be one that you would be using if you were interviewing for a job that you really wanted. Concise, courteous, businesslike.
No “poor pitiful me” tone.
No “I’d like to bite your head off” tone.
No “chitchat” like you’re talking to your best friend.
No “insulting” tone.
I encourage my clients to limit the communication to text and email except in case of emergency. Because you can read that and assess the tone of your language and your inferences.
If it’s not an emergency and it truly merits a phone call, record yourself first, because rarely do we sound like we think we do. You can check your tone before you make the call.
The Nature of Communication
The nature of your communication needs to be about necessary matters, and nothing else.
Not about your struggles.
Not about your anger.
Not about your victories.
Not about what is inspiring you.
Not about what is bugging you.
Yes, I know that for many, this is the last thing you have to hold onto.
To break the trauma bond, you must let it go.
I’ve actually had people tell me that they feel like they’re cutting off the air they breathe when they change the frequency, tone and nature of the communication.
I understand totally, but I promise that you will live and breathe deeper and sweeter once you get this trauma bond broken!
2. ADOPT A ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY FOR YOURSELF ON “HAVING THE TALK ONE MORE TIME…”
You absolutely must set a zero-tolerance policy for yourself on having “the talk” one more time.
We all do it.:
- If I can just share this one article I read…
- If I apologize for one more thing that I did that irritated him…
- If I could just help him see how it is affecting the kids…
- Yes! If, if, if…
You simply cannot allow yourself to do that again if you’ve done it more than twice.
There is very little chance that “the talk” will be effective. Not only is it not effective, but it is also damaging.
Because “the talk” often feeds their need for your adoration and adulation.
You will likely get:
- No answer
- A painful “no”
- Or a non-answer (“Let me think about this…”, or “We’ll talk about this again later” … And the conversation never happens).
Because you are likely meeting their need for adoration and adulation, you reinforce the cycle and actually strengthen the magnetic pull.
And secondly, you take another hit to your self-esteem, self-confidence, and feelings of worth and value.
Please do not do that to yourself any longer.
There are only two exceptions that I am okay with people to entertaining to the zero tolerance:
- If you have not done it more than twice and have reason to believe you have something to say that might get their attention
- If you’ve not done it in the presence of, and help with a coach, therapist, or trained clergy person. That may be worth a try.
When I ask for the zero-tolerance contract on “the talk,” I always get this question: “Where does faith fit into this?”
Great question! And I have a great answer!
I think it’s always in order to pray for a miracle.
But if a miracle happens, you will not need to go to them for “the talk.”
They will come to you for “talk” with a contrite presence.
Secondly, if you draw this zero-tolerance line for yourself, if the miracle ever occurs, your self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth will already be in the process of being repaired.
If that miracle doesn’t occur there, it will occur somewhere else, with someone else! You will be healed enough to move on into something truly wonderful.
3. DO THE OPRAH/DR. PHIL INTERVIEW IN WRITING.
You can still do this even if you are not familiar with Oprah or Dr. Phil.
The point of this exercise is to get you to put in writing what you already know is true.
Before you have a panic attack on me, you are not putting this in writing to post it on Facebook or Instagram! This is simply to keep you focused on truth.
Let’s begin with Dr. Phil.
Sit down with a notebook or journal and imagine that you were on the Dr. Phil show, hooked up to a lie detector monitor.
That’s because Dr. Phil has the unique gift of absolutely knowing when people are not giving honest and straightforward responses.
At this moment, imagine Dr. Phil is asking you for answers to these questions. Knowing a buzzer will go off if you are dishonest or protective.
Imagine that he’s going to intervene on the person who traumatized you after hearing your answers.
Again, this is not a dressed rehearsal for Dr. Phil. This is to call yourself to honesty about what has happened.
You will be tempted to just think about these answers.
But you will not get the power from the exercise just thinking it through in your head. Please, take the time to write your answers down. (I actually encourage my clients to write with pen and paper rather than type it out. It creates a deeper connection to the truth).
Here are the questions (And hear Dr. Phil’s voice asking them as best you can!)
- Tell me very briefly what happened that traumatized you.
- How has it affected your life in a negative way?
- How has it damaged you?
- If I could somehow make you the other person who traumatized you truly listen to you, what would you most want them to hear you say?
- How much real estate do they take up in your brain?
- If you could wave a magic wand and change how much and how often they took up space in your brain what would you want that to be?
- If they heard you saying these things, how would they shift the blame to you? Or make you look and feel crazy?
- If you could make them return everything they have stolen from you, both financial, material, and internal (like self-confidence), what would be the top five things you would ask them to return to you?
Now imagine you are on the Oprah show, and Oprah truly cares about what has happened to you. And hopes that your story will help others.
Just as on Dr. Phil show, you are hooked up to a lie detector monitor that will buzz if your answers are not straight forward and from your heart.
Again, don’t just think this through, write down your responses!
Imagine hearing Oprah‘s voice asking you these questions as you write your responses.
- What would you tell yourself at that moment of the trauma if you could go back and coach yourself?
- Looking back, we always have better insights than we do at the moment… What do you wish you had done to start your healing from trauma earlier?
- What have you done that has helped you to heal?
- What do you wish you had done sooner to help you heal?
- If you had the opportunity to help someone with a trauma bond right now, what is the first thing that you would want to say to them?
- Tell me the truth about the greatness and the wonder in you. It may have been tarnished or damaged, but it’s still there! Give me the 10 words that best describe who that is, even if you are still working to restore parts of it.
Why is it important that this is in writing?
Because when you have those temptations to go back, to regress to old patterns … you will be able to read the facts about what has been done, how much it has affected you, and the truth about who you are.
Again, the reason it’s not effective to just think it through, is because our mind and brain get muddled at the moments that we are tempted to go back “one more time”.
This will help you more than you can imagine!
Be the star on the Oprah and Dr. Phil shows right there in the privacy of your office or home. And see your freedom from the trauma bond begin to accelerate!
4. ADMIT THE MESSAGES THAT WERE DEEPLY PLANTED AND REPLACE THEM WITH EMPOWERING PROCLAMATIONS FOR YOUR FUTURE.
Negative words, moments, insinuations, situations immediately install faulty beliefs about yourself (and the world) deep inside you.
It’s almost like, at the moment of trauma, we become a robot whose programming is set in stone … and seemingly, our self-will, our prayers, our pleas have no impact. It feels as if they fall flat on the ground with no results.
You simply must access these from deep within and get out of robot mode. You can install beliefs that create a rich life!
There are several ways that you can access beliefs and messages that were installed.
Without spending time dwelling on the trauma, begin asking yourself these things:
- What you believed about yourself at that moment
- What you were told about yourself at that moment
- What you felt about yourself at that moment
- What you believed about why it happened
- How you viewed the world from that moment on
Taking a moment to access all of those things gives you a great inside view of how you were programmed.
Once you access those, even if they still seem very real and very true, begin to work on them immediately!
If they are untrue and/or disempowering, rewrite them.
Rewrite them to something that is very empowering and truthful about the situation, and about you.
You may need to seek help and support to find the goodness in you. As long as you continue to believe and do not uproot the thoughts and beliefs placed in you at the moment of trauma, you will live with the heavy weight of, and disappointed life results of, having a trauma bond.
I am aware of how tough this is. For the young woman who came to me and dissolved into sobs, doing this was one of the key aspects of turning things around in her life.
For example, she was told:
- This trauma is your fault.
- It’s because of you that I did these things.
- If you weren’t so sensitive and emotional, everything would be fine.
- You are so needy, no one could make you happy.
- I only drink because of how hard you are to live with.
And like a faithful robot, she would return for more.
When she did this inventory and began to reprogram truth, she was able to resign from being a robot with no control over her life. Things began to turn around dramatically, very quickly.
She was able to finally embrace the truth and replace those programmed beliefs to empowering ones:
- I am worthy of love and respect and did not cause the trauma.
- I am not responsible for other’s choices, but I am responsible for, and excited about making powerful choices for myself!
- I am honored to be sensitive, and fully experience my emotions. I am developing emotional mastery.
- My needs are valid, and I am learning to meet them in healthy ways. A real healing partner will delight in helping meet my needs.
- I am not powerful enough to force you to drink. I am smart and I am strong. I will avoid spending time around those who abuse alcohol and I will help others have been traumatized by alcohol to stand up for their rights!
I helped her do some exercises of ripping up old beliefs and programming, and installing new ones. We played loud, powerful music as we proclaimed her new truths while marching in place.
She chose the song: “Shake Yourself Loose!” (Lyrics: Shake yourself loose! Shout for joy, make some noise, because I’m FREE! Good God almighty I’m free! Those of you out there feelin’ bound, let me tell you can break free … )
What a fun time we had
Unless we do this, the messages installed in us will always lead us back to the one who traumatized us.
We will go back again and again and again … trying to get healing.
Don’t depend on them to change the messages they installed in you. You can change the messages yourself, and set yourself free!
You deserve to be free my friend. Please put great time and effort into this exercises free yourself.
You deserve this and so much more.
5. Give them back their shame and reclaim your worth.
There is no moment of trauma that does not leave us in the swamp of shame.
What was done to you was shameless.
When another person is shameless, they take all of the shame they should have felt for what they did, and dump truckloads of it on you.
It’s why so many people never tell about their trauma, and stuff it as far down as possible. They’ve been made to believe that what happened to them was shameful. When the truth is, they were shamed horribly.
Not only is the shame drowning, but in addition to that, what you believe you deserve is set in stone at the moment of trauma. It lowers the standards dramatically on how we believe we deserve to be treated in life, and what we are willing to tolerate.
Here is what you must do to accomplish to identify the shame, heal it, and reset the levels of what we deserve:
Write a list of all the things you are ashamed of, or ashamed about regarding yourself. And what you have felt you deserved as a result.
Even though they may not all have been caused by the trauma, they certainly stay cemented in because of the trauma.
Once you accomplish that, write a letter to the person, persons, or situation that traumatize you. (Warning: This letter is NOT to be sent. This if for your healing ONLY!)
In the letter say these kinds of things:
- That they made you ashamed of yourself because they dumped their shame on you.
- That you are no longer willing to carry your their shame.
- That you are angry that they not only traumatized you, but dumped shame on you.
- That you are giving it all back.
- That you absolutely refuse to live in the swamp of their shame.
- That you are pulling the plug on their swamp of shame.
- That you will no longer live in their shame, or let it touch or affect your life.
When you have completed the letter, tear it up and stomp on it. Rip it to shreds, burn it. Do something symbolic to show that you mean business.
Then go back to your list of things you’ve been ashamed of about yourself.
Replace those with empowering statements and include what you deserve. Ninety nice percent of those who have been traumatized had the levels of what they deserved reduced to things that create a life of misery.
For example, with the young lady I was working with, her list included things like:
- I feel ashamed of my appearance, so I deserve to be rejected.
- I look old and haggard, so why wouldn’t he find a younger woman?
- I am ashamed of who I am, so I deserve to be disgarded.
- I am ashamed of my reactions when he mocks me and disregards my feelings, so no wonder he says such awful things to me.
- I am ashamed that I keep going back and allowing (actually inviting) him to rip me up again, so I deserve to be ripped up.
We replace those with empowering statements:
- I was fearfully and wonderfully made and I see the beauty in me. I deserve to feel beautiful.
- I am young at heart, and I deserve to be courted and flirted with.
- Who I am is valuable. I have plenty of room to grow, and am committed to that. I deserve that be valued for who I am.
- My reactions are not always the best, and they are getting better. I deserve to be spoken to with kindness and respect.
- I am breaking my trauma bond and I have the strength to look forward and not in the rearview mirror. I deserve a healing partner who will cherish me.
Not only did we rewrite empowering statements, but we also reset what she deserves.
If we do not reset our deserve levels, we will continue to get what we will tolerate. But when we raise the standard of our deserve levels, wonderful things begin to happen.
As we worked through these things together, she said to me, “I had no idea what I was signing up for when I came to you. But I finally feel like my life is back on track, I deserve great things, and I’m even expecting great things.
These exercises were not any easier for her than they will be for you. They were not easy for me when I did them either.
I can assure you of this one thing:
Breaking the trauma bond opens the door to new beginnings, fresh hope, and a fulfilled life!
If you were traumatized, all of that was taken from you. But you can have it back!
There’s an old proverb that says: “If you can identify the thief, they must restore what they stole from you sevenfold.”
This exercise is about identifying “the thief” (the person, the persons, the situation). Now expect a seven-time return on everything that was stolen from you.
I am living in the fullness of that, and I desire the same for you.
Do the work, and watch your life began to become filled with goodness, greatness, and extraordinary things! You so deserve that my friend!