Monday, May 30, 2011

Traumatic Bonding: How does it work?

Posted by Hannah at 6:00 AM

Traumatic BondingI was reading a story about an experiment with little ducks today.  The story was to illustrate how traumatic bonding works.  I don’t know about most, but at times visuals tend to help me truly understand concepts better.
This reference came from the book, "Get Me Out Of Here: My recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder," by Rachel Reiland.
In it, the author was being asked to examine the nature of her relationship with her parents and the closeness of her bonds to them. The therapist shared with her the duck-test story:
"Some scientists were conducting an experiment," he said, "trying to gauge the impact of abuse on children. Ducks, like people, develop bonds between mother and young. They call it imprinting. So the scientists set out to test how that imprint bond would be affected by abuse.

"The control group was a real mother duck and her ducklings. For the experimental group, the scientist used a mechanical duck they had created - feathers, sound, and all - which would, at timed intervals, peck the ducklings with its mechanical beak. A painful peck, one a real duck would not give.
They varied these groups. Each group was pecked with a different level of frequency. And then they watched the ducklings grow and imprint bond with their mother.

"Over time," he went on, "the ducklings in the control group would waddle along behind their mother. But as they grew, there would be more distance between them. They'd wander and explore.
"The ducklings with the pecking mechanical mother, though, followed much more closely. Even the scientists were stunned to discover that the group that bonded and followed most closely was the one that had been pecked repeatedly with the greatest frequency. The more the ducklings were pecked and abused, the more closely they followed. The scientist repeated the experiment and got the same results."
The author then wrote, "It was a compelling story that resonated within me. Even I had to admit the possibility that my fierce loyalty to my parents may not have been because I wasn't abused, but because I had been."
Sanctuary for the Abused has a lot of information on traumatic bonding, if you are looking for a deeper understanding of it.  Barbara had tons of reference material that is definitely worth looking into.
For me this story not only related to me as to why children are so loyal to an abusive parent, but it also shows me how spouses can have traumatic bonding as well.
Susan Anderson has a blog article called, "Can’t Let Go of a Bad Relationship?” In her article she quotes:
A traumatic bond is created when pain is inflicted into the attachment. This bond is stronger (just like epoxy glue is stronger than rubber cement) than a non-traumatic bond. The more traumatic the bond, the harder to get out.
There are examples of this everywhere in nature and science. Researches found that when training a duck to “imprint” them, when they accidentally “stepped on the duck’s toe,” the duck imprinted them more than before. Science has conducted myriad experiments that demonstrate the power of “pain” to strengthen the bond. It’s the principle fraternities use in hazing where they humiliate or hurt their pledges to instill greater loyalty in them.
But there is still another factor which really cements people to the abuser. They get hooked by the “intermittent reinforcement.” The abuser, every once in a while, will give them what they need, i.e. “a pat on the arm” or saying “love you” or “bringing home a paycheck.” It’s intermittent.
If you ever studied classical conditioning (Pavlov’s dog and all of that), you may remember that if you want to “train” a rat to respond a certain way, rather than giving a steady reward (i.e. sugar pellet), give it only intermittently. Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than steady reinforcement.
This explains the paradox of relationships. If your partner mistreats you in all kinds of emotional or physical ways, you run the risk of getting deeply hooked in.
You’d think it would work the other way – that if your partner made you feel secure, safe, and comfortable, you’d have a hard time leaving. But the irony is that many people feel freer to leave someone who has made them feel secure. Ever hear “nice guys finish last?”
But if they are made to feel chronically insecure, heart-sick, anxious, or hurt, they can get caught up in the drama of the abuse and locked into the dynamics of the relationship– especially if every once in a while, their partner gives them a little crumb of love — intermittent reinforcement.
If you are in a traumatic bond, you not only suffer from your partner’s criticism, blame, betrayal, unreliability, or neglect, but you suffer from beating yourself up for allowing it to happen.
The intermittent enforcement was very interesting to me.  How often do we hear victims struggle because of some ‘good’ that was handed to them by the abusive partner, or how they can be 'nice guy’ to coin the term. Out of the Fog gives you good tips on how to handle intermittent Enforcement.
If we look deeper it seems traumatic bonding is something spiritual abusive churches tend to use as well.  Cindy Kunsman of Under Much Grace is an excellent source of information in that realm.

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Anonymous said...

What makes it exceptionally hard for Christian women to leave abusive marriages is that they are not only traumatically bonded to their husbands, they are also traumatically bonded to their church, which may be enabling the abuse and frowning upon her decision to leave. So she has to break two traumatic bonds at the same time. It almost impossible to break one without affecting the other, so if she leaves her husband, she will probably also have to leave her church.

The exception may be if her husband does not attend her church, and is obviously abusive or has committed adultery or abandoned her. Then she only has to struggle with one bond. Which won't be a piece of cake when she is surrounded by people who don't understand traumatic bonding.

Anonymous said...

While the fact that they were hurting baby ducks bothers me, I was actually looking for something like this to use in a study I'm doing. I'll look into this, and I appreciate it being posted. Thank you!

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