It is essential to know what lurks in your conscious and unconscious minds if you’re involved in a relationship (and who isn’t?). Our perception of who we are, specifically who we are attracted to and feel comfortable interacting with, results from our earliest experiences. From birth to about two years old, accompanied by traumas endured later in life, our ability to bond is either reinforced or left unresolved. Early childhood development directly impacts the enjoyment of adult partnering; it also determines the mental health of individuals and whether their brain function is complete or subject to serious personality disorders.
There are four identifiable attachment styles: Secure, Avoidant, Anxious/Insecure, and Disorganized; we possess at least one of them, but may also rely on others in our interpersonal relationships. Intertwined with trauma bonding, they are the pathways leading individuals to fall in love and determine the level of personal satisfaction and outcomes.
Each style is a predictor of how close and satisfying our personal and loving relationships will be during our lifetimes; they also indicate possible devastation and long-lasting pain because one or both partners are emotionally unavailable to connect.
Research indicates that a mere 60 percent of adults fall under the Secure Attachment Style, while the remainder fit within the three other categories.
Attachments develop just after birth and continue to around 24 months. During this time, a child experiences four stages of development: Pre-Attachment, Attachment in the Making, Clear-Cut Attachment, and the Formation of Reciprocal Relationships. The relationship between a child and caregiver is vital to establish intimate connections and feelings of needs being met. When fear, neglect, or uncertainty are felt during the formative years, the child turns inward for security.
This desirable attachment develops when a child’s most basic needs are met; they are responded to when they require emotional and physical contact. When uncomfortable, they are soothed, their cries are attended to, with a sense of safety instilled.
This form of attachment translates to adulthood; it is found in those who easily connect with partners and friends. Their interactions are viewed as normal and balanced. When conflict arises, these individuals can discover resolution without blaming a partner; they rely on providing love and a safe environment.
Those with this personality were likely neglected; caregivers were unavailable or rejected their child. Numerous reasons may have played a role in why a parent may have been distant; some include work, illness (mental or physical), or they possessed the same attachment style. As a result, feelings of closeness are underdeveloped.
Individuals with this injury are likely to be viewed as highly independent and have trouble requesting help or assistance with tasks. They have not been able to rely on others and find it more comfortable to be alone; they also prefer to isolate themselves and have difficulty sharing emotions and feelings with others.
There is a tendency to use physical interaction (sex) as a means for attachment because they are emotionally and verbally disadvantaged.
The consistent care of a child during the early years is crucial; when faced with inconsistency, they become aware that attention to love is conditional. Because of this, individuals focus on the “good” and ignore the “bad.” However, it can lead to compulsive behaviors later in life. Unable to predict when satisfaction will be provided, adults with this unfinished business are the most demanding and preoccupied with their needs. In some cases, because these individuals are afraid of abandonment, they often will leave a relationship first to avoid the hurt they might feel if it were the other way around.
As an infant, it should be about feeling safe, comfortable, and secure, but if a child views its caregivers as a threat, is surrounded by anger or resentment, and must fend for themselves, feelings of fear and uncertainty ultimately take hold, are locked in through adulthood.
Often parents treat offspring in this manner due to their own unresolved experiences and are unable to provide consistent care for their child. It is a serious problem that results in avoidance, insecurity, and high anxiety levels as an adult. This same person may likely have been abused with elevated incidents of trauma, resulting in problems with intimacy.
In its simplest terms, bonding means to feel close to someone and provide a mutually positive experience through affection and empathy. Conversely, traumatic bonding is when a person connects with an abuser and confuses harsh or bad behavior with love.
Trauma Bonding during infancy is highly detrimental to the young, leaving them to face dysfunction in all future relationships. As a result of abusive treatment during the formative years, they associate fear, neglect, hurt, and shame with caring; this leaves them extremely vulnerable and unable to leave a toxic relationship.
Through repetitive abuse, a child begins to associate abandonment and insignificance with love and will forever be burdened by falling prey to those with personalities that prey on partners with high levels of empathy who are in search of security. At the same time, the erosion of self-confidence leads to a list of mental health issues such as anorexia, substance abuse, narcissism, or other clinically diagnosed personality disorders founded in feelings of self-loathing and hate.
In an adult relationship, it is often seen that those with narcissistic tendencies target those engulfed by Trauma Bonding; in fact, it is common for the narcissist to refer to a person they are pursuing as being a “magnet” to them and speak about their coupling as destiny. This attraction quickly develops into a co-dependency relationship, leading to emotional abuse, manipulation, and control.
With intermittent love followed by fear or disdain from a partner, the victim will face countless incidents of abuse, often taking the blame for the partner’s anger and acting out. Fearing rejection, the abused partner walks on eggshells to not offend or upset the abuser. And, while they don’t trust the partner, they are powerless to defend themselves and allow the hurt/love cycle to continue.
The manipulation process is easily noticed; although it can be difficult to back away from, the appeal of being wanted only to be rejected is masked during the process.
Here are the steps used to create dependency; it is important to watch for them in new relationships.
It begins with what is known as Love Bombing, where a target is mirrored; the controller will see the needs of their victim and provide—for a short time—feelings and behaviors that disarm them. They will speak of a future without knowing the new partner, often telling them they are meant to be together, even to the point of talking about marriage within only weeks of first meeting. The abuser will be viewed as perfect by the new partner and their promises.
The next step is building Trust and Dependency; the perpetrator will instill reliability and show it through thoughtful communication and actions. They will offer support and relate their commitment to providing comfort and safety for their target. Also, dates will be extravagantly expensive during this phase, combined with unlimited adoration and attention.
This stage quickly turns to Devaluation, where the new partner will be slowly mocked or criticized for their personality, tastes, and behaviors. The offending partner slowly slips from flooding interactions with compliments and replaces them with hurtful observations that they have secretly kept track of during the Trust and Dependency phase.
Next is Manipulation. The controller will provide varying degrees of love and hate to push buttons at will and exert control over their victim. They have learned the weakness of their new partner and lack of ability to back away. At the same time, they confirmed the strength of the attachment, and from this, they will solidify an effective communication style that allows abject control.
At the same time, the abused is losing all self-identity, self-esteem, and any boundaries they may have left. Control of the relationship is now in the disturbed partner’s hands and mind, which leads to the final stage: Addiction.
When we feel loved in a healthy relationship, chemicals within the body are released and create a feeling of euphoria; these agents are potent and cause an unusual connection between our need for acceptance and love and the abuse rendered. For example, suppose a person has been treated harshly for whatever reason, only to be later idolized and told they are exceptional and perhaps be invited for a sexual encounter. In that case, the mixed messages will be misinterpreted and confusing. By the act of presenting acceptance, causing the release of intoxicating neurochemicals, or providing sexual pleasure after an emotional assault, is a sure-fire method for controlling a partner’s addiction, making it almost impossible for them to leave the relationship.
The seriousness of the topic cannot be understated; considering the statistic of dysfunctional relationships, most people are aware of their problematic relationship but have become powerless to act.
To begin the journey on the path of resistance, a few simple actions need to be taken. While the outcome is to cut off all communication from the abuser and end the relationship, it will require the support of friends, family, and a trained therapist.
Prevent The Madness From Beginning
• When entering a relationship, watch for the red flags of control, pressure, Love Bombing, unrealistic expectations, or just moving too fast.
• Establish personal boundaries and adhere to them. Learn to say no and not feel guilty.
• Be keen on your partner’s behavior towards you; do you feel like you are rewarded after a fight?
• Are they giving you backhanded compliments that seem to be degrading you?
• Stop idolizing your partner, and see them for who they are, not the image you create in your mind.
• Pay close attention to the switching of acceptance and disdain and watch for a pattern.
• Talk to those you trust and seek support early on.
• Seek professional help; it could be in person, online, or you could research any of the terms used here. You’ll find volumes of information on each subject.
Learning about Attachment Styles and Trauma Bonding is the first step in getting out of a toxic relationship; it will also be a valuable guide for finding a good match for the future.
Stay healthy, and stay safe.