How many of us have failed friendships? I am in the process of writing some thoughts about this and a friend sent me this – it makes sense…grab a cuppa and take a read if you feel you are always to blame…
Traumatic Bonding; One of the Reasons so Many Friendships Fall Apart.
And how we can shift our experiences.
I was talking to a friend today when I heard words I used only a few years ago.
“I just don’t get it. It seems like I’m the one who invests the most in these friendships and no one else seems to care so I have to pull away but then I wonder, is this me? Am I the one fucking it all up?”
In my case, I was “fucking” up certain friendships due to codependency and that codependency was based on traumatic bonding.
When we got down to it trauma was the difficulty in my friend’s relationships too and I’ve seen it with many clients.
Trauma causes a different sort of bonding.
There are various levels of friendships. We have our social friends, people you grab a meal with, have over game night, enjoy talking and swapping stories.
These may not be the same friends you tell your darkest secrets to. Over the course of a few years bits and pieces may leak here or there but for the most part your relationship is based on the interactions you create and general knowledge of each other.
I used to hate relationships like these. I thought they were shallow and fake.
I wanted the ride or die friendships. People who knew me at the core.
I wanted deep bonding but the only way I knew how to get it was through sharing trauma stories. Exposing the most painful parts of myself and seeing who stuck around.
As a former smoker, I was the one on the back deck swapping stories and making friends I thought would last a lifetime.
Nothing bonds you faster than a buzz, a cigarette, and stories of abuse and attempted suicide.
It was a game of show and tell. We’d compare scars. I’d show my pain, they’d show theirs, no one ran away and so everyone felt accepted.
From that foundation of acceptance, we could then share our oddball visions of the world
Trauma causes us to adapt.
It can make you catatonic or hypervigilant, it can cause you to notice things no one else sees. For some people it shuts them down, others, it breaks them open. For many of us, it’s a cycle and each time we clam up or break open we see a different piece of the puzzle.
This makes for unique points of view, insight, and lopsided maturity. It often times leads a callous honesty that‘s hard to find elsewhere.
I felt more connected with the traumatized than anyone else.
In the end, though we were bonding over our wound and those wounds have side effects beyond a unique perspective.
Traumatic bonding vs. depth bonding.
Bonding on a deep level is good for us. We might not do it with everyone but it’s a healthy experience to know that you’re accepted and supported at your most vulnerable times.
It’s also important to the narratives that play through our minds. What if everything goes to shit? “Well, I’ve got Kait and Kelsey.”
In healthy deep bonding we know we’re accepted, supported, understood. This means we can focus on a range of relationships, deep ones, casual ones, romantic ones, the relationship with ourselves.
This level of networking and self-work creates a sensation of personal security, competence, and self-worth.
When we experience trauma, especially at a young age, we’re focused on survival. We’re not taking an inventory of positive traits. We might feel incompetent or believe the trauma itself is a testament to our lack of worth.
The brain itself becomes wired to look for danger, for all the things that can go wrong.
The brain sees potential catastrophe and longs for safety.
Since our experience is of pain and a lack of positive states (joy, security, self-acceptance) we look for these things externally or we stop looking for them all together.
On top of searching in all the wrong places for security and self-worth, our models of relationships are often skewed by our trauma.
Even if someone else could help fulfill these needs within we’re not the best at choosing people nor do we know what to expect from a healthy friendship.
For me, I was looking for a family. I desperately wanted to feel accepted and stable. The trauma turned this need into an obsession.
I felt my stability, security, worth, and acceptance would come from an external relationship.
This belief simply wasn’t healthy but as much as I look at it now and think “how did I ever believe someone else could prove my worth, could be my stability?” I was convinced of it at the time.
I didn’t believe I had worth or the ability to be stable. If it wasn’t in me it must be outside.
I didn’t know what else to do but to seek these things from others. Others who happened to be traumatized themselves.
People with their own triggers. Their own desperate needs whether conscious or unconscious, sought externally or forgotten.
Some of the people I bonded with were desperate for recognition, some remained aloof, reserved, forgot how or consciously avoided creating deep bonds.
This was their way of trying to survive, trying not to be hurt again.
With booze and cigarettes these friends could open up but their survival mechanisms kicked in with sobriety.
The friendships that hurt the most were the ones where we used different coping mechanism.
I wanted to reach out, to have someone else there. They wanted to withdraw, to be alone, to recuperate.
We each had different expectations.
Me holding off on a text or spacing out times to hang out was a miraculous victory. I desperately wanted to be whole and I thought these others were my answer. I wanted to be around them all the time.
They, however, thought it was a herculean feat to hang out with anybody once a week much less responds to a text within a few days.
Needless to say there was tension and to make things more difficult my desire for stability made me think their reserved nature was emotional mastery. My need for acceptance saw in their aloofness the discernment that would guarantee I have value if they would just declare it.
The brain can jump to a host of wrong conclusions and stake our lives on them.
Healthy relationships know their boundaries. They are formed between people who have done their own self-care.
No one is perfect but a healthy relationship acknowledges this and accepts it. It recognizes when someone’s having a bad day; that people have different perspectives and needs.
In a healthy relationship, both sides recognize their hurdles and own them. If someones having a bad day a healthy friend gives them space and doesn’t hold it against them.
At the same time, the person having the bad day manages it, works to make sure it’s not a perpetual experience, and owns it, lets their friend now “sorry, it wasn’t you. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”
In relationships built around traumatic bonding there is often a lack of understanding about balance, boundaries, and the ways we cope.
We may not have seen healthy examples of these.
Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own experience of trauma we don’t recognize how its affecting others. When you have two trauma blind people there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding.
Healthy relationships can only occur when people are self-reflective enough to understand where they’re at and communicate this to another person while hearing where the other person is at.
That’s a hard thing to do and it takes work.
What I did to change.
First I accidentally detonated my traumatically bonded relationships.
It took a long time. I was incredibly wrapped up in the bonding.
I thought a particular person was the only one who could bring me back if I went manic again or got too depressed.
I invested all my energy into the friendship.
Eventually, it blew up in my face. I knew this was my Achilles heel the drain on all my energy and the thing holding me back. Not the relationship itself, but rather the obsession with it.
I spent years working trying to work on the obsession and I learned a lot about myself in the process.
In the end, I wrote an exorcism for my obsession at the same time my obsession crossed the final line and my friendship dissolved.
Since then I make note of when my mind and body is trying to bond with someone because I hear the same story of pain and trauma in them.
I don’t avoid these people but I stay mindful of what is occurring inside. My brain is trying to find a pack to run with but I have a pack now.
I have plenty of friends for dinners and brunches, game nights, and hiking trips and I relish these times. I’m no longer desperate for acceptance, stability, worth. I’ve worked on these things.
So I meet people where they’re at. I have quite a few friends who are self-aware and have plenty of social skills. We easily make plans to get brunch and we both know the other person is going to show up.
It’s functional. Some of them know my history, others don’t and that’s ok. I have a good time with them and I enjoy their company.
For the friends I deeply bonded to who are still dealing with their traumas I’ve learned to make space.
One of my best friends disappears for months at a time. Then out of the blue he’s calling every other day to talk for a few hours.
It’s what he does, how he functions. He’s aware of it, apologizes for the silence but hasn’t figured out yet how to do things differently and that’s ok.
It took me decades to figure out how to do things differently. How to go from seeking approval of others to approving of myself and simply being with others.
When my friend calls I talk because he puts a smile on my face. If I’m busy I let him know and when he vanishes I know he’ll come back and work to remember that this isn’t about me.
When I’m able to recognize it has nothing to do with me and I don’t exert all of my energy to try to “help” or make things different then I’m able to hold space for people as they are.
This frees up my energy for self-care and for the friends who do respond consistently. I can maintain these friendships which nurture me and in so doing I have the energy to be there for the friends still figuring themselves out.
What about you?
How do you bond with people? What are you seeking from your interactions? How do you direct your energy in your relationships?