We have thirty years of experience in family and relationship therapy. We teach healthy parenting skills especially with difficult adolescents and young adults. We help families deal with addiction as well as depression and anxiety that affect the family system
THE CO-DEPENDENT TRAUMA BOND
An important part of Dr. Paul Standal’s counseling program in helping couples, where emotionally or physically abusive behaviors are present, is in resolving the unhealthy cycle of abuse that has created a co-dependent bond reinforced by trauma.
Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of rewards and punishments in an abusive relationship creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change. The bond is stronger for people who have grown up in abusive households because it seems to be a normal part of relationships. Initially the person that had become an abuser was inconsistent in approach, which developed into an intensity perhaps not matched in other relationships of the victim. The longer a relationship continues, the more difficult it is for people to leave the abusers with whom they have bonded.
There is an old song by Kenny Roger, which has the line, “You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Knowing when to continue to invest in a relationship and when to let go becomes a complex decision under any circumstances. From the outside, observing a controlling, abusive or violent relationship, it seems quite clear what decision should be made by any partner in such a situation.
However, it is also clear that many partners continue in a compulsive relationship and feel that they have no choice to leave. In spite of a threat to physical and mental health and sharply limited ability to participate in healthy outside social and educational activities, they stay. Dr. Standal sees examples of partners who remain in abusive relationships in spite of escalating involvement with someone who is violent and untrustworthy. A partner may even make persistent, unsuccessful attempts to leave the relationship, but experience severe anxiety when separated from the abusive partner. Helping to break the trauma bonding is an important part of helping couples experiencing domestic violence.
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