August 2022 Newsletter

The “After a Break-up” issue – The relationship may be over, but there can be lingering effects. This issue opens with Are You Trauma Bonded to Your Abuser?, followed by Why Haven’t You Remarried, and concludes with Life After Divorce for Men: 7 Things to Expect.

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Are You Trauma Bonded To Your Abuser?

Posted on,

July 18, 2022 by Darlene Lancer, marriage and family therapist

A trauma bond is an attachment to an abuser in a relationship with a cyclical pattern of abuse. Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., coined the term in 1997. He defined it as an adaptive, dysfunctional attachment occurring in the presence of danger, shame, or exploitation in order to survive.

Trauma Bonded

It is a trauma reaction created due to a power imbalance and recurring abuse mixed with intermittent positive reinforcement; in other words, good and bad treatment. The abuser is the dominant partner who controls the victim with fear, unpredictability, belittling, and control.

Behavioral psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement” conditioning (or “training”) behavior through the use of giving intermittent rewards. Positive reinforcement is when the abuser acts friendly, romantic, or vulnerable following abuse. It’s easy to go into denial about the abuse to maintain a positive connection with the perpetrator and cling to the hope that the relationship will improve. Looking for rewards can become addictive, like constantly checking your phone or email.

This is how gamblers keep chasing an elusive win to get back their losses, even as they go into debt. Slot machines are programmed to encourage addictive gambling based on this phenomenon. This repeated pattern leads to a cycle of abuse. There may be expressions of remorse or false promises that the abuse will stop. This is similar to the “merry-go-round” of denial that accompanies addiction, where the addict promises to quit.

Surprisingly, research confirmed that the reward-seeking behavior continued even after the rewards stop coming! In studies, rats neglected their grooming and other self-care habits but kept pushing the reward lever like a slot machine.

You can become addicted to emotionally unavailable partners because they may want closeness periodically. You become dependent on and addicted to your partner’s attention and validation. You can become addicted to any sign of approval or bits of kindness or closeness that feel all the more poignant (like make-up sex) because you’ve been starved and are relieved to feel loved.

Similarly, the mix of positive and negative feelings toward a Jekyll and Hyde abuser creates confusion and makes it hard to leave. Narcissists might intentionally withhold communication and affection to manipulate and control you with rejection or withholding, only to randomly fulfill your needs later. You become anxious and try even harder to decipher the narcissist and how to please him or her to get what you previously had but to no avail. Like the experimental rats, you get accustomed to long periods of not getting your needs met.

This is how you become increasingly childlike and dependent on the narcissist — watching and accommodating to avoid abuse and to receive the occasional reward.

Trauma Bonds and Stockholm Syndrome

The term “Stockholm syndrome” originated from a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in the summer of 1973 when bank robbers held four people hostage, for six days. This syndrome describes captives who sympathize with their abuser in life-threatening situations where they are isolated and can’t escape. Prisoners align with their captors. Any act of kindness or even the absence of abuse feels like a sign of friendship and being cared for.

The abuser seems less threatening. Prisoners imagine that they’re friends and share common values and goals, believing they’re in it together and may view helpers or the police as the enemy. The prisoners sided with their captors in the Stockholm robbery against the police who rescued them.

Because of the emotional and psychological bonding, Stockholm syndrome terminology has been expanded to cover intimate relationships that are less perilous than hostage situations. However, this application is controversial. Some people also argue that it’s not even abnormal behavior because it’s normal in the prisoner situation and adaptive. In fact, statistics show that friendliness and empathy for the abuser reduce violence against prisoners.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

Codependents are loyal to a fault. They are often preyed upon by and attracted to narcissists and abusers and feel trapped and hard to leave any relationship. This tendency is exaggerated in trauma bonds. You want to protect the abuser rather than yourself. You make excuses for the abuser or hide or lie about the abuse to other people.

You feel guilty when you talk to outsiders, think about leaving the relationship, or call the police. Outsiders who try to help feel threatening. For example, you might see counselors and twelve-step programs as interlopers who want to brainwash and separate you and your partner. This reinforces the toxic bond and isolates you from help, which is exactly what the abuser wants!

Some conditions and signs are:

  • You cover up or conceal the abuser’s behavior to other people.
  • A cycle of behavior that’s hurtful to you, despite your complaints.
  • You feel protective of your partner and feel guilty talking about the abuse.
  • You rationalize the abuse or make excuses for your partner.
  • You don’t want to leave or don’t like the relationship but feel unable to leave. Logic is distorted or is no help.
  • You obsess about the relationship or the abuser.
  • You doubt your feelings and perceptions.
  • You blame yourself and accept blame for the abuser’s behavior.
  • You continue to hope that things will improve, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • You cling to any sign of positive attention from the abuser.

Effects of Trauma Bonding

Over time, trauma bonding increases dependency. You attempt to avoid conflict and become more deferential. Meanwhile, your self-esteem and independence are frequently undermined by emotional abuse. When you object, you’re attacked, intimidated, or confused by manipulation. Consideration from your partner may become rare.

Nevertheless, you’re hopeful and accommodating and keep trying to win back crumbs of loving attention. This behavior is common for victims of abuse who become attached to their abuser. You may have been gaslighted and have begun to doubt your perceptions due to blame and lies.

You might give up hobbies, interests, and friends and completely lose yourself trying to please and not displease your partner. This pattern may have developed in childhood and is now activated and exacerbated in your current relationship. Trauma bonding is resistant to change. Our brains are wired to attach; before recovery, these bonds aren’t within our conscious control. So don’t judge yourself.

As denial and cognitive dissonance between reality and your beliefs and perceptions grow, you do and allow things you wouldn’t have imagined when you first met. You develop “learned helplessness.” Your shame increases as your self-esteem declines. You feel guilty or responsible for the abuse. You wonder what happened to the happy, self-respecting, confident person you once were.

Trauma bonds can harm your mental and physical health and create an increased likelihood of depression. This worsening trend parallels the chronic progression of codependency and makes it harder to leave.

You’re especially susceptible to becoming dependent on an abuser if you have codependency and/or the relationship dynamics are similar to what you experienced with a distant, abusive, or withholding parent.

The trauma bond with your partner outweighs the negative aspects of the relationship. You fear not only retaliation but also the loss of the emotional connection with your partner, which seems worse than the abuse.

Some common symptoms are:

  • Shame and low self-esteem
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Distrust in yourself and other people
  • Difficulty concentrating and functioning at work
  • Prolonged irrational feelings of guilt, even for leaving the abuser
  • Intimacy issues in new relationships due to shame and fears of abuse and abandonment
  • PTSD or CPTSD as a reaction to abuse even after leaving
  • If you don’t leave the relationship, you may suffer loss of self, depression, health conditions, and possible addiction.

A trauma bond is an attachment to an abuser in a relationship with a cyclical pattern of abuse. Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., coined the term in 1997. He defined it as an adaptive, dysfunctional attachment occurring in the presence of danger, shame, or exploitation in order to survive.

Why Haven’t You Remarried?

Posted on JULY 12, 2022


There is no way to count over the past twenty years how many times that question has been asked of me. But, for the first time in these past two decades, I am starting to ask that question myself now.

Why haven’t I remarried?

Many people in my circle have told me that I am stuck. When I became a divorced woman I had an infant and a toddler and a full-time sales and marketing career in the hospitality industry. A career I am still working in.

There was simply no time to really think about that. For a long time now I have been a one-woman band keeping all of the balls in the air and firing on all cylinders as I raised two kids alone in one of the most expensive cities in the State and in one of the most expensive states in the Union; aka Los Angeles, California.

I guess I just have never really prioritized that part of my life.

Am I “stuck?”

What spare energy I had was applied to working and raising a family alone. But maybe the friends and relatives who were of this opinion were right. I don’t think I ever consciously meant to make myself “stuck” but over the years, being stuck started to feel comfortable and safe. After all, if I am emotionally stuck then I don’t have to move because… well, I’m stuck! And if I’m stuck there is no risk of being hurt again. It sounded good anyway.

Am I wounded?

People have also assumed in the past that I have somehow been scarred by my experiences. It doesn’t take anyone with a Ph.D. to recognize that going through a tough divorce can cause one to be wounded. Especially if it was infidelity that led to the divorce and ultimate implosion of a family.

But I honestly don’t think that I fall into that word. Scarred is a heavy word and sounds so permanent. Though I would admit to having been wounded, I am not permanently scarred. I love myself too much to allow that kind of access into my psyche.

Am I lazy?

In the past, I have also been categorized as being lazy and just expecting someone to show up on my doorstep. The assumed unwillingness to actually put the work into finding someone who really had “Rock my World” potential. And with this, I would agree to a certain extent. I don’t think it is wrong to want the next man in my life to be all that!

Am I asking for too much?

I’m not saying that he has to be Clark Kent, a.k.a. “Superman” or Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock”. I am just saying that he has to check the boxes. And so far I just haven’t found that guy. I did date. And at one time I thought I had come close to finding this guy. But I found out that he just wasn’t the one and I feared it would lead to the same kind of relationship I had in my marriage.

An apparent unconscious union between two people. I knew I still had some inner work to do, and I wasn’t willing to put any more effort into a relationship that I knew was not going to lead to my happily ever after.

Why has it taken you so long? That’s the other question frequently asked. The only answer I have to that question is that it just did…and it just has. There should never be any timetable set for your recovery post-divorce. For some, it can take a year. For me, it has taken twenty of them! When I became engaged to my first husband I remember distinctly feeling pressure from my friends telling us we should get married.

We had dated 5 years, why aren’t you engaged yet? And one by one my high school and college girlfriends were all getting engaged. It seemed the perfect reason to put a gun to my boyfriend’s head! Hmmm.

How did that work out for you Karen?

So after cataloging that experience I have no intention of rushing into a second marriage just because I am somehow supposed to be remarried by now.

Here’s what I know.

So here is what I know after sitting in my thoughts, experiencing myself for twenty years after a divorce, and having made the decision not to remarry….yet anyway. I loved my husband very much. And even more, I loved my beautiful little family.

We were married 8 years before even having our first child. We had a lot of adventures together and were each other’s favorite friends for many years. But, when one day your favorite person in the world unfavorites you, it does sting. And perhaps for me, it hurt for longer than I wanted.

But I think I needed to step back and allow myself to feel the full three-dimensionality of it. I am better for giving myself that. I won’t say it has all been rosy. It has not. I have felt every lonely, cold night alone.

But even in the toughest of times, I found out how really amazing a woman I am. I don’t say that with assumed sarcasm either. I say it with certainty. I had to wait. I had to heal. I had to catch my breath.

I had to find myself again. I have indeed made my way back home. And though I refuse to let the heart that didn’t love me, keep me from one that will, it just took a little time to get here. And maybe I will never remarry. Maybe I am destined to ride this life solo and be peaceful with that too. Either way, I know I will be just fine.

So, if someone is asking you that same annoying question, “why haven’t you remarried?”, what will your answer be? I’ll give you a clue.

There are no right or wrong answers. And there is no set time for the buzzer to ring. You have all the time you need.

You can remarry whenever you darn well, please!

Or you won’t remarry, realizing that you can fly solo.

The choices are all yours! Give yourself what you need, whatever that is, and you too will be just fine.

Life After Divorce for Men: 7 Things to Expect

Posted on by Karen Belz.

Last updated on May 31, 2021

 “We should get a divorce.” A set of words so overused in television drama that we want to laugh, until they blindside us. Divorce is something you never quite plan for, but sometimes the separation is for the best. The most important thing moving forward is the happiness of both you and your ex. Even if the marriage wasn’t ended amicably, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Changes are coming, some easier than others. Just keep your chin up and take things as they come.

Here are some insights about life after divorce for men that will help you know what to expect moving forward.

1. Rise above and move forward.

No matter what happens there will always be talk about what happened and what went down. Don’t let it drag you down and don’t participate. It’s important to keep your head up and deal with the important things at hand: your job, your relationship with your children (if you have them), and settling the legal element of the divorce. The end of a marriage is hard. It’s the ending of a partnership. Other people’s opinions about the relationship aren’t important. Be courteous to your ex and just take it one step at a time.

2. Starting from scratch might be hard, but that’s okay.

In many ways, a divorce means that you’re essentially starting over. No matter the relationship, when people live together for a long time they take on patterns together, and these will no doubt be unrooted by a formal split. Your workload of chores or income responsibility will increase, which will be hard for a bit, but you’ll get used to it. Remaining stable and reliable during this time is important for both your own resilience and as a good example if you have children.

3. Give yourself permission to take time before getting back out there.

Some guys can ease right back into dating and new relationships, but for others it’s a bit harder. If you’re suffering a heartbreak, it may not be as easy as just getting right back out there into the field. So take your time. Give yourself permission to get your bearings about being single again. Your life wasn’t built in a day, and it won’t be rebuilt in a day either.

4. Let your kids know that you’re still around.

Every situation is different, but there’s a good chance that if you have kids they’re living with their mom. Coming home not to find them there will be difficult. Remember that no matter the arrangement with them that you’re an important figure in their lives. Maximize the time you do have with them. Plan out fun activities and keep making memories. This will keep your relationship with them moving forward and will help through the process of moving on too.

5. Prepare to work with your ex in a new way as a co-parent.

Parenting post-divorce can be a whole new territory, especially where emotions are running high, but it’s important for you and your ex to be on your best behavior for the kids. Don’t talk negatively to the kids about your ex. And never fault them for the divorce. No matter what happened between you and your ex, she is still their mother and a human being deserving of respect.

6. Loneliness can be tough.

It’s okay that you and your ex decided to move on. It’s okay to let yourself feel pain. Part of that may come with the loneliness of an empty home. It’s important that you fill your heart with love from family and friends to get past this. Share your burden with those you care about. For some, this will be easier but there is no shame in acknowledging a rough patch following a split. It’s okay to take time for yourself—that’s a perfectly normal part of the recovery process—but be in communication with those who need to hear from you. You’ll be happier for it.

7. Consider therapy as a viable option.

There are likely a lot of emotions running through your head and changes happening. Maybe you just feel alone. Your mental health is just as important as the physical. Seeing a therapist is a great way to get outside of your own head. They are trained professionals that can offer advice that goes beyond the insight of friends and family. There are therapists who specialize in divorce and breakup, who may have skills to help you cope and move on.

Divorces can be taxing both emotionally and financially. Remember: this isn’t an end, it’s a beginning. There is no shame in seeking help from family, friends, counselors, or support groups. It’s natural to feel a little wary after a big life change, but things will get better. It happened. Begin to let go, but do it at your own pace. You’ll feel good again and you’ll love again, too.

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