Traumatic Bonding: When You Love Your Abuser

Last Memorial Day weekend, as I was picking out flowers for my mom and dad’s graves, my dad kept coming to my mind:  What flowers would he like?……..Red was always his favorite color, I’ll get some red flowers……I should put a little American flag with his flowers, he would like that…….

There were a lot of scary, unsettling times in my life with my parents, but one thing that stayed pretty consistent was the soft spot I had for my dad.  It sounds odd, because I was terrified of him.

Letting your guard down was never an option.  The smallest thing would trigger a violent rampage.  Yet, I’ve always had an inexplicable fondness for my dad.  There were many times during my childhood when I defended him.

Reality is:  he was not only a conscienceless sociopath, he was also a child molester.  I know this.  I should say my brain knows this, because it never quite reached my heart.

How can two totally incompatible feelings exist about the same person?  This confused me a lot until I learned about traumatic bonding (also referred to in some cases as Stockholm Syndrome).

Human children are biologically designed to attach to parental figures.  Since both my parents were sociopaths and I didn’t have any other adults in my life, I subconsciously picked my dad as the lesser of two evils.

There were rare moments when I’d tell a joke and my dad would laugh, or I’d say something that would make him smile.  Or, he occasionally fixed air conditioners for extra money and he’d let me tag along.  I lived and breathed for those moments. I still remember how good it made me feel to see signs of acceptance from him!

That was the reason I never spoke a word to anyone about our abuse growing up.  Not only was I terrified of my dad, but if I “ratted” on him, I would lose his “acceptance” forever.   In my eyes, that was the equivalent of being left completely and utterly alone in the world.

According to many psychiatrists, abuse interspersed with kindness deepens the attachment to an abuser.  This is not only the case with parents/children, but in romantic relationships as well.  And sociopaths have a keen sense of how much positive reinforcement to dispense to stay in control of their targets.

It is also why sociopaths want to isolate their targets from other people:  the more time you are alone with the abuser, the stronger the attachment.  Not only does it deter outside influence, but if the sociopath’s target feels resistance is futile,  they will begin to succumb to the abuser’s authority.

This was something else my dad was keenly aware of, which is why my interaction with the outside world was kept severely limited.

My dad passed away many years ago, yet there is still that feeling of “attachment” lurking on the surface.  People sometimes wonder what they would say/do if they saw their departed loved ones again.  I’ve thought of this, too.  If I saw my mom, I would probably run away out of fear of her hurting me again.  But, if I saw my dad, I would hug him and say “dad, I’m so glad to see you.”

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56 Comments on "Traumatic Bonding: When You Love Your Abuser"

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Here is something else that may really be of help to you.

When I wrote the final letter (in email form) to my mother, I think I told you that I listed her behaviors from the past and how I had suffered as a result long into adulthood. I wanted her to acknowledge my suffering, and I wanted her to make amens – on MY TERMS, not on hers. For her, amends meant sending me gifts and trying to mother me as an adult, though I didn’t need her mothering then. MY TERMS meant that she paid me back for the dental work from the tooth she broke (which she didn’t even remember doing) and help me with the cost of therapy.

This letter was different from the others in that I began to see cause and effect – that when a certain event happened, this is how I interpreted it, and how I responded to it. I realized that this might be different for different people. For instance, my sister reacted to other forms of abuse that didn’t bother me at all. I had felt a certain way, interpreted the events a certain way, and lived my life a certain way because of these events. A lightbulb went on in my head when I realize that the way I responded to these events – and was STILL responding to the past events – was MY CHOICE. If I could choose to be hurt about something, couldn’t I just as easily unchoose it? So that is what I did. I decided not to let these things define and control my life any more. In reality, my mother had no more effect on what I feel in the present moment then anyone else did – except for me. The things she did were in the past. But this is not the past – this is the present. And I could choose to just start over in the present and not continue to feel victimized by the past. It was a mental shift I made after I wrote her that last letter. The letter was clear, non-attacking, and really not even angry. It was just simply my way of holding her accountable. But she refused to take responsibility. So then what?

Here’s what. There are MANY many injustices in the world. There are people who are going to step on your toes. There are people who will put you down, steal from you, criticize you, and belittle you. So what? Are you going to let these people define your level of happiness? Life is unfair in many ways. As an adult, you can CHOOSE to rise about it and not let your life be defined by these things. You can choose to let them go. It would have been nice if my mother had acknowledged my pain, but she could not. She had never processed the pain from her own childhood. She tried, but she could not fathom the extent of my suffering. Neither can a lot of people. So what? Is this going to determine whether I’m happy or not? When I realized I was in control of my own destiny – and I didn’t have to wait for my mother to acknowledge me – it was more freeing than I could ever describe to you. I learned that my happiness is NOT dependent on what others do.

More later – have to go to Zumba class. Peace and love….Star

Thanks Stargazer for taking the time to write all the advice. I agree we have choice of how to respond. However, what I don’t feel I’m able to control is my reaction to the triggers set off by mum. It is like someone else is possessing me when it happens. And this is not like me. And it only happens with mum.

I feel better for not speaking to her – must be nearly a month now. It has helped me wind down.

When I’m ready I will see if I can control my response to triggers and remind myself I choose my response. But at the moment I want some distance.

Your last posting in particular was very helpful. Thank you.

You may want to work with a trauma specialist who can help you with the PTSD. My take on it is that you need to let the anger come out and process it (away from your mum). But maybe there is some other kind of help that will be more beneficial to you – a way to release it without triggering it. I used to get triggered into rage pretty easily by my mom and a few select others who reminded me of my mom, particularly if they were manipulative. I didn’t stop having these reactions until I actually let the rage come out later on.

I will write later about choosing how you think about your life and your past, because it’s extremely important. I’m running around today and likely busy for the next several days. Please take care. 🙂

Thanks Stargazer, much appreciated.

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