Trauma changes the bonding mechanism of relationships. It changes how we are wired and it changes our ability to attach to other people. When the primary source of relationships is rooted in abuse, a core wound is created. In my case, both parents were perpetrators of manipulation, intimidation, and domination. Abusers use these techniques to gain power over their victims imprinting all kinds of destructive beliefs on a person’s heart.
Bessel Van der Kolk notes: “Trauma is not the story of something that happened back then. It’s the current imprint of that pain, horror, and fear living inside people.”
Until we understand how our ability to have relationships has been altered by trauma, we will be at an increased risk of further abuse and neglect. And we will pass these devastating patterns on to our children, partners, and friends. Perhaps the worst effect of all? We will never know what it truly means to love and be loved—to know and be known by another person. This is one of life’s greatest gifts and one of the things trauma destroys.
Abusers use the innate desire to connect against us. Narcissists see bonding as a way to have power. All children need love, but a narcissist sees this as an opportunity for manipulation and control. The desire for a loving figure from which a child can view the world is so strong, that a trauma bond is often the result.
Trauma bonding develops out of a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement. A trauma bond describes the connection an abused person feels towards their abuser. It is the reason people stay bonded and in a relationship with their abusive parents, family systems, partners, and sometimes their own children.
Growing up, Leslea Harris was the most wonderful person I ever knew. We met in the sixth grade and had two glorious years together. She was the new girl at school and as much of a misfit as I was. An army brat, she moved so much, that she had given up on having any friends. We didn’t understand it at the time, but the real bond was our dysfunctional families. Worlds apart in some ways, they were cut from exactly the same pattern.
I spent many weekends at her house, but whenever she stayed with me, my parent’s disapproving silence made things too uncomfortable. At least when I was at Leslea’s house, her parents left us alone. Together, we created a secret world outside the purview of the suffering we had to endure within our families.
Imagine my shock one day, when Leslea’s mother called and invited our family to dinner at their house. Leslea’s parents were not the type of people our family associated with. This was going to be interesting.
I was nervous and excited all at the same time. Maybe now my parents would see why I liked Leslea so much. She accepted me for who I was, and the teasing and meanness of middle school didn’t hurt so much when you had such a reliable friend by your side.
My mother had always made me ashamed to be a girl. She didn’t want me to be a boy, she wanted me to be neuter. That was how my mother dressed, that was how she looked, that was how she wanted me to be.
Leslea had big chocolate brown eyes, creamy skin, and a button nose. We spent hours in front of her bedroom mirror playing with make-up. Her mother was gorgeous and wore a sky-high beehive hairdo. Smelling of expensive perfume, her dresses were always stunning. Compared to the Harris family, my family was like the Beverley Hillbillies.
I felt confident as we pulled into the Harris’ driveway. At least my mother had put on a dress and my father a tie. It started immediately.
“Look at that house!” My mother screeched. “That is the ugliest most obnoxious monstrosity I’ve ever seen!” It was a mansion. My father didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. I knew they were intimidated.
As the front door opened, there were the Harrises in all their glory. Beehive and perfume married to relaxed confidence and polyester pants. Leslea’s step-father was a high-ranking military officer. He smiled and shook my father’s hand. The charming version of my father appeared. I bit my lip and followed my parents into the foyer.
The rest of the evening was a blur. Mrs. Harris had gone to all sorts of trouble making the food we never heard of. My mother looked like a frightened rabbit while my father carried on the conversation. It was obvious we had nothing in common.
Leslea and I peered across the table at one another. I could tell she thought the whole thing was hilarious. I felt confused and ashamed as I pushed the food around on my plate and waited for the evening to end.
The entire drive home, my mother and father launched into all the faults of the Harris family.
“Can you believe that awful food? What was that?”
“Lamb with mint jelly,” I whispered from the backseat.
“Well, it was the awfullest thing I ever tasted,” my mother yelled.
My father agreed. “People like that think they know it all. Did you see all that alcohol sitting around? I don’t want you going over to that girl’s house anymore.”
And there it was. I should have known better. They were always intent on taking anything that mattered away. Especially anything that brought me joy.
Leslea stayed immeshed in her family system until the combination of drugs and juvenile diabetes took her life at the age of 32. I made it out alive at age 50—just barely. I always thought Leslea didn’t die from drugs or her health condition. She died of a broken heart.
Healing from trauma requires a change of affection. Sometimes the people you want to love the most are the ones who are doing the most harm.
Change of Affection part II—Estrangement.
Contact me through my website:https://authorrebekahbrown.com/
Rebekah Brown, a native of the south, now resides in the Great American West. Surviving a complicated and abusive family system makes her unique writing style insightful as well as uplifting. Rebekah is the proud mother of two and grandmother of four. Her very first novel, The Raspberry House, dealing with narcissistic abuse and every person’s desire to find their heart’s true home will be released in 2021.