Originally Recorded 2/4/22
Tony provides new insight on the narcissistic trauma bond. He references the article "What Is Trauma Bonding?" by Ariane Resnick, CNC.
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[00:00:07] Hey, everybody, welcome to episode 22.
[00:00:09] Waking up to narcissism, I am your host, Tony Overbay. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and the host of the Virtual Couch podcast, and also a person with the number one value looking through my my values over the years of authenticity, even in the face of invalidation. So it is with very great joy and curiosity. And check this out that I share with you. I just recorded a 40 minute podcast and there's no sound, so I don't know if that was the universe saying that what I was expressing was pure drivel, or if that was me simply not paying attention to a couple of knobs on my recording software. But regardless, that was a fun, warm up. And what is even more fascinating and I don't know the science behind this, but I desperately want to now do the exact same podcast, but I feel like I will just be trying to remember what I said, and I will have to then edit out dozens of things times where I'm saying, Oh, I think I said this, so I am going to save that topic that I just talked about for another day, and we'll talk about it next week. The topic was four pillars of a connected conversation, which I get so much e-mail about now and why or what that framework looks like when communicating with the emotionally immature or the person with narcissistic tendencies traits. And we talked about it on the group call. So if anyone is still interested in joining the private women's Facebook group, then feel free to reach out to me.
[00:01:40] But we talked about it on the group call last night and I just felt like, Oh, it is time I am ready to start talking about this and in the realm of narcissism, in the realm of emotional immaturity. And apparently I just needed another warm up. So I'm going to take you on train of thought number two, and I would say a solid second of the emails that I receive behind now. Tell me about these four pillars, or how do I communicate with the person, the narcissist in my life? And what happens when I try to show up to communicate and my body takes over? So question number two talks often about the trauma bond, and I know that we did an episode on this about three months ago about the trauma bond. But I just I love learning more. And so I feel like I've had a couple of additional thoughts with regard to trauma, bond and trying to make a little more sense of trauma bonding. And so let's let's tackle another article, and I want to share some new insight that I think I can offer when it comes to talking about the concept of trauma bond. So I'm going to pull from very well mine today, and there's an article there about trauma bonding by Arianne Resnick and medically reviewed by a Kym Marsh. And this is from November 5th twenty twenty one.
[00:02:53] So it's under the tagline that they have on very well mind under relationships and violence and abuse. And so I know that trauma bonding is coming from this place of people that have felt abused. And that's absolutely the case. And I think when I'm working with people that have been in relationships with narcissistic men and women that they often are so puzzled by the fact that they continue to think of the person that emotionally abused them, or they continue to wonder what they're doing or to think what's wrong with me. So I'm going to read from this article and share some new insight. So they say right out of the gate, what is trauma bonding? It's the attachment an abused person feels for their abuser, specifically in a relationship with a cyclical pattern of abuse. So the bond is created due to a cycle of abuse and positive reinforcement. So abuse and reinforcement abuse and reinforcement and that positive reinforcement, I think is is what is so fascinating about the trauma bond. So after each circumstance of abuse, then the abuser professes love, regret or otherwise tries to make the relationship feel safe and and needed for the abuse person. And here's what I'm going to start going off into some nuances when I feel I work dealing with people with narcissistic traits and tendencies and for the sake of the rest of this episode will just say the narcissist. But I really do feel like if you also plug in there, the emotionally immature that that can fit in a lot of circumstances as well.
[00:04:16] So where I see the difference or maybe the nuance or the addition is when in this circumstance of abuse, the abuser professes love, regret and otherwise tries to make the relationship feel safe and needed for the abused person that I feel like it can be a spectrum anywhere from that happening to also just the absence of bad, the absence of negativity. And I think I've mentioned before that I will have people in my office and they'll say, it's been a good week or it's been a good two weeks. And when I say, tell me what good means, does it mean an emotional connection? Does it mean that you still have to walk on eggshells or you just still feel? Does it still mean that you feel like it doesn't really matter what I'm going to say or what's the point? So I will just keep this inside, then I would say that isn't good. It's the absence of bad. And they say trauma bonding is one reason that. Leaving an abusive situation can feel confusing and overwhelming. It involves positive and or loving feelings for an abuser, making the abuse person feel attached to and dependent on their abuser. So let's take you back through a little bit of a history of trauma bonding. Then I really want to get to the meat of this new information that I am starting to really process.
[00:05:23] So the term trauma bonding was coined by Patrick Carnes. He's the founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. Khan has shared the theory of trauma bonding in a presentation called Trauma Bonds Why People Bond to those that hurt them. He defined trauma. Bonding is dysfunctional attachments that occur in the presence of danger, shame or exploitation, and he considered it one of these nine possible reactions to traumatic situations. Carnes said that trauma bonding occurs due to the way our brains handle trauma and that these ways are based on the manners in which we must adapt when we need to survive. He found that the two most important aspects of trauma are how people respond to its severity and then how long it continues. And for those who are in narcissistic, abusive relationships, how long it continues can really be significant. And when people often say, OK, how long is this whole process going to take? I think this starts to make a little bit more sense of it's going to take as long as it's going to take. And it's not this formulaic answer that says if you've been in 10 years, it will take this many years. I've had people tried to put a formula onto it, and the problem I see with that is that let's say that someone's been married 10 years and they read something that says it takes half the time of how long it took to get in the trauma bond to get out of the trauma bond.
[00:06:37] So a couple of things happened. One is the person hears, Oh, that means it's going to be five years, that it's going to take me to get through this. Then that sounds absolutely overwhelming to some people. Now I'm just throwing out hypotheticals. I do not believe it will take that long. But then there's also the concept that if I get through it faster than am I missing something? Or if it takes longer than the five years, what am I doing wrong or what's wrong with me so I can appreciate when people try to put timelines or frameworks onto things? But in this scenario, I think that there is a complex situation of how people respond to the severity of the trauma and how long it continues. I was talking with someone recently and they're a very strong personality, and it was I loved being able to tell them that strong personality is what caused them to begin to stand up to the bully, the narcissist in their life. And that that same trait is difficult as it feels right now is what is going to help them get through this faster because it's how they respond to that severity of the trauma and then how long it continues. In the article, they said this concept continues to hold today, with therapy now often focused, focusing on how the victims can break trauma bonds and not feel shame or guilt over how they react to these potentially life threatening situations is so important.
[00:07:48] And that's where I believe that taking a look at it with curiosity or acceptance that that happened and often not trying to make as much sense at first of why it happened, because trying to make sense of something that is nonsensical is part of what can cause people to feel like they're going crazy. They mentioned that before the term trauma bonding the only term for emotional attachments in abusive situations, and I hear this reference from time to time was Stockholm Syndrome. However, that term did not encompass the different situations where bonding can occur and the many different ways that it can manifest. So trauma bonding situations, they can occur in any situation of abuse. So not even just in relationship abuse, no matter how long or short and amount of time it lasts. So with that said, it's most likely to happen in a situation where the abuser makes a point of expressing love to the person they're abusing and where. Then they act as if the abuse will not happen again every time after it does. And it's that combination of abuse and positive reinforcement that create that trauma, bond or the feeling of the abused, or that the abuser isn't all that bad. So a lot of different types of abusive situations where trauma bonding can occur and emotional attachments are common in these abusive situations. And here's the key they are nothing to be ashamed of. And as this article points out, they result.
[00:09:03] And this is where I start to just really appreciate when the more we can talk about this, the more we can get this information out. But they result from our brains looking for survival, so it can also be referred to as a paradoxical attachment and a paradox. So it doesn't make sense. It seems to be the opposite. The paradoxical attachment is that we are attaching to this person who's creating trauma because we're afraid that if we don't have that attachment, then something is wrong with us or we will die. And so it can occur due to a wide variety of situations. The most common ones, we've got domestic abuse, kidnaping incest, sexual abuse cults, elder abuse, human trafficking. And so it can feel so difficult to understand how somebody in such a situation like that, a terrible situation like that could have feelings of love or dependance or concern for the person or the people of using them. And here's the thing while you might not understand it if you've never been in that situation or that it's involved cyclical abuse, I love that this article says it points out that it's fairly straightforward. And here's why the bond forms out of the basic human need for attachment as a means for survival, and we're going to dig deep on that in just a second. So from there, an abuse victim may become dependent on their abuser. So now you add in that cycle where the abuser promises never to repeat the abuse and gains the victim's trust repeatedly.
[00:10:23] And you have a complex emotional situation that affects people who seem absolutely emotionally strong and they have amazing traits, talents and abilities. And here's where I want to break this down. Let's go back to that sentence. The bond forms out of the basic human need for attachment as a means of survival. And I will repeat this concept every chance I get that start from birth. Go before you exit the womb. The minute, the minute you exit the womb, your brain is a do not get killed device. It will do anything it can to survive. And that is at our core of all cause is to survive because if we do not survive, we no longer exist. So babies are born into this almost like this abyss. They don't even know that they're an entity until they interact with something until there is an attachment to something. Someone, whether that's a physical attachment to a nurse slapping them on the bottom so that then they will cry and breed, or whether that is an attachment to the mother and they are going to, they're breastfeeding. But whatever that attachment is, that signals I exist and I am alive. So now at our core, we are desperately trying to make sure that we have an attachment because without an attachment, we are programed to feel like we don't exist, and that means that we may die. And I know I may sound dramatic about this, but I think it's so key.
[00:11:50] So the bond, the trauma bond, the basic human need for attachment as a means of survival. And so then when someone gets into a relationship, we I believe it's safe to say that we all start in relationships with the hope that this is going to be a an amazing relationship and a relationship where someone hears me, someone understands me. This is my person. Whether we've watched a lot of Disney movies, whether we've had this idealized version from romance novels, whatever that looks like, we want that because that means that we matter, that we exist, that everything is OK in our world. Because if you again think in terms of we don't even have a sense of self as a kid, we just don't we don't know who we are because we're a kid. So we base who we are off of external validation off of what others think or feel. So if someone is angry with us or around us, then we look at that external validation and think, Man, we must be bad or we must have done something wrong. If someone is happy around us, then we think, OK, everything's pretty good. I must be OK. And if everything is OK and everything is pretty good, then I think survival is pretty safe. We're able to say that, OK, if my external world around me seems to be OK, then I'm OK. So we need that external validation, and I'm saying that we need it from the factory.
[00:13:11] But if you've listened to enough of these podcasts where we're heading to this is it is that emotional maturing process where we start to learn how to internally validate ourselves, where we start to realize that as we become more mature, that of course we are going to have our own hopes and dreams and likes and values and goals. And we're trying to get to this place where we can have a relationship with someone else and they can respect and admire and even look at with curiosity our experience, our human experience, not criticize our experience or put our experience down or try to control our experience. Because when you lay it out this way, the reason why someone would be trying to control or your experience or put you down is their own insecurities and need for external validation. Their own desire that if they can make you feel less than than that makes them feel better, then if they can tell you what they feel that you need to do, then that gives them validation that they matter or that they're important. So I hope you can start to see how complex this whole emotional attachment dance becomes. So in this trauma bond, now again, we have this need for attachment as a means of survival. We step into relationships with this idealized version of everything is going to be even to the point where then we're going to do everything we can to make it OK.
[00:14:40] We're not yet going to maybe truly even express our real thoughts or feelings or emotions for fear of invalidation, for fear that if we really say this is how I feel or think that that person may run away, they may get scared and they may abandon us. So we're constantly trying to do this dance of trying to figure out what's the best thing to say. How is the best way to show up so that I can get my needs met so that I can have? This attachment so that someone will care about me and love me, because if they do that, then I exist, and it is that attachment wound that then causes this intensity of the trauma bond we're handing over our am I OK keys to to someone drive in the car with the skills of an eight year old. And so they're going to be pretty reckless with with these keys that we've handed them. And yet we place so much meaning on how they react. So then if they are saying they're telling us, that's ridiculous, I never said that if we are being gaslit, then it's in our nature to feel like what's wrong with me. I thought I knew what I said, but maybe I didn't, because that's a survival skill. So it takes work to get to the point where we can stay. We can drop an anchor in that moment. We can stay differentiated and know, Oh, I didn't say that.
[00:15:57] I appreciate the opinion that you're giving me, but I don't even have to engage in that. But I hope that you can see that it takes a lot of work to be able to get yourself into this place of not needing that external validation. Because if we are trying to survive, then we're going to try to. What can I do to fix when they are being emotionally disregulated, emotionally abusive, manipulative and then when they then apologize and say they'll never do it again? Now that feels right now we know, OK, externally validated. They are now feeling, OK, I must be OK. The relationship must be OK. And so how long does that cycle have to repeat? We go back to that point where now we've got this, the intensity of how you respond and the length of the trauma bond start to really make more sense when you think of it, as it is a process of maturing emotionally to be able to even recognize the trauma bond, to then be able to start to look for the tools to be able to do something about the trauma bond, but also knowing that we all deserve to have someone that is there to listen and be curious, not someone that is there to control and tell us all of the things that we're doing wrong. This actually reminds me of a podcast they did. I think it was two years ago on the virtual couch, and I was referring to a TEDx talk by a psychologist named Guy Winch.
[00:17:21] And I believe I was talking about how to heal a broken heart, and I'm going to read from the transcript of his TEDx talk. A guy talks about a client who had battled through cancer, then experienced a breakup. And he said five months after the breakup, Cathy still couldn't stop thinking about Rich. Her heart was still very much broken. The question is why was this incredibly strong and determined woman unable to marshal the same emotional resources that got her through four years of cancer treatments? And so then he said, why do so many of us flounder when we're trying to recover from heartbreak? So I know this isn't the exact thing that we're talking about, but I think some of the information that he shares is pretty fascinating because he says, why do the same coping mechanisms that get us through all kinds of life challenges fail us so miserably when our heart gets broken? And I think when you think about the pathologically kind person, why is it that that kindness is not helping when we're trying to heal the relationship and when we're trying to heal a relationship or work with a relationship with someone who themselves are emotionally immature, a.k.a. narcissistic, then that kindness actually ends up being something that is preyed upon to make the narcissist feel like they are better or better than so, Guy said. In over 20 years of private practice, he said, I've seen people of every age and background face every manner of heartbreak.
[00:18:37] And he said, what I've learned is this When your heart is broken, the same instincts you ordinarily rely on time and time again lead you down the wrong path. You simply cannot trust what your mind is telling you, which is why I'm so grateful that people are listening to this podcast. Or if you are here, if you are reading books and starting to just take in the data that you are starting down the right path because I can understand that people are trying to figure out, OK, what can I trust? My mind is telling me all kinds of things. And so here's the interesting stuff, he said. For example, we know from studies of heartbroken people, they're having a clear understanding of why the relationship ended is really important for our ability to move on. And I would then add in to hear people that are trying to have a clear understanding of why the narcissist gaslights or why is this happening? When I thought that I was doing something right, I thought that I was doing something that worked last time. Why is it not working this time? And this is where we just continually go back to trying to get back to a certainty trying to figure out I can think my way through this, I can figure this out. And he said, Yet time and time again, when we're offered a simple and honest explanation and he is talking about one that his clients had experience, he said, we reject it and I feel like that's what happens often when people are saying, Hey, I think that you might be in an unhealthy relationship, but that's part of this trauma.
[00:19:53] Bond is my mind. Say, No, no, no, it's it's not bad. He's pretty good or she's pretty good. A lot of times she or she is the one with the emotional immaturity or the narcissistic traits and tendencies. Then we're saying, No, you know what? She's really good. She can be really good at. When we go on trips and organizing, and even if she's becoming emotionally disregulated with the kids, that but no, she's she is, she's OK, so our mind will reject it. And I think that goes back to this piece of because deep down at her core, we feared this rejection ourselves and we fear that we will be abandoned. And even though it is so deep in our subconscious that that abandonment equals death. Guy said heartbreak creates such dramatic emotional pain. Our mind tells us the cause must be equally dramatic and that gut instinct is so powerful. He said it can make the most reasonable people, and many of us come up with mysteries, conspiracy theories where none exist. And we start thinking, especially when people are in a trauma bond, that, oh man, if I would have just done this, if I would have been nicer to his stepdaughter, if I would have been better about cleaning up the house because it's whatever he has latched on to and then used against her.
[00:20:58] So we're trying to still make sense because making sense of things helps in other areas of our life. And in this example of this, Cathy enrich this from his TED talk guy said that Cathy became convinced that something must have happened during her romantic with rich that soured him on the relationship. So then she became obsessed with figuring out what that was. So she spent countless hours going through every minute of that weekend in her mind, searching her memory for clues that weren't there. Cathy's mind tricked her into initiating this wild goose chase, but what compelled her to commit to it for so many months? He said. Heartbreak is far more insidious than we realize. There's another reason we keep going down one rabbit hole after another. Even when we know it is going to make us feel worse. Brain studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same mechanism in our brain that gets activated when addicts are withdrawing from substances like cocaine or opioids. So in guys example, he said, Kathy was going through withdrawal and since she could not have the heroin of actually being with rich, her unconscious mind chose the methadone of her memories with him and trying to make sense of things or instincts, told her that she was trying to solve a mystery. But what actually she was doing was was almost getting her fix.
[00:22:06] And Guy said this is what makes heartbreak so difficult to heal. Addicts know that they're addicted. They know when they're shooting up. But heartbroken people, or I feel like you could also say trauma bonding. People don't, but now you do. So if your heart is broken, you can't ignore that. If you feel like you are in a trauma bond and you are making excuses for the relationship. Then now you're getting some understanding that you have to recognize that as compelling as that urge is, as he says, with every trip down memory lane or we text, you send every second you spend trying to make sense of this, that in you almost have to look at it like I'm beating this addiction, which is deepening my emotional pain. And then it eventually complicates recovery as a guy, Winch says getting over heartbreak is not a journey, he said. It's a fight and your reason is your strongest weapon that there's no and I love this part because I forgot this was in there, and this is what I'm so obsessed with the last few months, he said. There is no breakup explanation that's going to feel satisfying. No rationale is going to take away the pain you feel. So don't search for one. Don't wait for one. Just accept the one that you're offered or make one up, he says for yourself, and then put the question to rest because you, you need this closure, this acceptance to resist the addiction and you need something else as well of understanding or being able to let go of this desire of certainty.
[00:23:21] Our mind craves certainty so much because there are certain things that we do find certainty in. An example is when you learn that two plus two is four, our brain says that there you go. That I'm certain of that. So our brain is searching for that same satisfaction, that same feeling of closure and trying to understand why she gaslights me or why there's this emotional dysregulation and part of escaping the trauma bond part of that journey. That path is once I understand and once I recognize that this is unhealthy and my body still may be keeping me in this fight or flight mode, it is a process. But as I understand that and come to realize that trying to solve it, trying to figure out the best things to say, the narcissistic person in our life, that those are tools that work in other situations, but they don't work in this situation. So we need to notice that we're trying to solve it. We need to notice that we are getting caught up in the gaslighting or watching them break a boundary. And then with that acceptance, then we just drop the rope in the tug of war, of trying to figure it out. And then we turn and take action on things that matter. And we do that and we repeat and we repeat until it starts to feel more empowering.
[00:24:34] And we start to feel like that does truly become our brains path of least resistance that when I see someone becoming more emotionally disregulated, when I start to notice somebody pushing boundaries or starting to gaslight that my brain's already starting to say, Yeah, we don't do this anymore. So I'm going to go do something that feels a lot more productive. I'm going to do something that gives me more of a sense of self or purpose, which is what an emotionally mature person does. And if you are in a relationship with someone that does not encourage that or does not have. Curiosity around that or is trying to put you in a down position. It's time to start really taking a look at what you need to make you the very best version of you. All right. Hey, I appreciate everything that you're doing and sharing the episodes. I appreciate the emails. I appreciate the questions. I really would like more questions. I'm going to be doing a lot more with that in the future. And feel free to send. I've been getting some really nice suggestions for podcasts about co-parenting with people with narcissistic tendencies, dealing with narcissistic parents and grandparents and in so much more. So feel free to jump on the website Tony. Com and shoot me an email through the contact form, and I will see you next week on the podcast Waking Up the nurses. All right, everybody have a great week.