What is Traumatic Bonding?
Traumatic Bonding may be defined as the development of strong emotional ties between two persons, with one person intermittently harassing, beating, threatening, abusing or intimidating the other.
There are two common features in the structure of trauma bonded relationships:
(1) The existence of a power imbalance, wherein the maltreated person perceives himself/herself to be dominated by the other person.
(2) The intermittent nature of the abuse.
Social psychologists have found that unequal power relationships can become increasingly unbalanced over time. As the power imbalance magnifies, the victim feels more negative in her self-appraisal, more incapable of fending for herself, and more dependent on the abuser. This cycle of dependency and lowered self-esteem repeats itself over and over and eventually creates a strong affective (emotional) bond to the abuser.
At the same time, the abuser will develop an over generalized sense of his own power which masks the extent to which he is dependent on the victim to maintain his self image. This sense of power rests on his ability to maintain absolute control in the relationship. If the roles that maintain this sense of power are disturbed, the masked dependency of the abuser on the victim is suddenly made obvious.
One example of this sudden reversal of power is the desperate control attempts made by the abandoned battering husband to bring his wife back to the relationship through threats and/or intimidation.
When physical abuse is administered at intermittent (random times) and when it is interspersed with permissive and friendly contact, the phenomenon of traumatic bonding seems most powerful.
The three phases involved in the cycle of violence (tension building, battering and “honeymoon”) provide a prime example of intermittent reinforcement. The unpredictable duration and severity of each phase serve to keep the victim off balance and in hopes of change. The “honeymoon” phase is an integral part of traumatic bonding. It is this phase that allows the victim to experience calm and loving feelings from the abuser and therefore strengthens her emotional attachment.