Steps to healthy relationships © Martyn Carruthers

Abuse can cause identity issues,
difficult emotions and self-sabotage.
Forgiving or forgetting abuse is not enough,
and being forced to forgive is another form of abuse.

Are you Bonded to People who Abused You?

Bonding is normal human behavior. Are you bonded to your occupation and country? Are you bonded to your family members? You can bond to almost anybody or anything, and your bonds will affect your behavior, thoughts and emotions.

Students are expected to bond to their schools. Residents are expected to bond to their communities. Some people may provoke your psychotic bonding – if they want you to believe things that you know are not true.

The people you bond to will seem more important than other people, and your bonds will feel more permanent than attraction or even trust. It may be hard to stay away from people with whom you are still bonded – even if you dislike or hate them.

You can also bond to ideas (e.g. “I cannot be successful“), places (e.g. “My old school feels very special“), decisions (e.g. “I am now his wife“) and things (e.g. “I treasure my childhood toys“). Some real-life examples are:

“My wife doesn’t like my old army buddies,
but I really want to spend time with them”

“Whenever I drive by my old house I feel bad.
Some of the neighbor kids used to beat me up”

“I promised her that I would always wait for her and
I won’t allow another woman to take her place in my life”

“My husband bought a new car and was so proud of it.
When he found the first little scratch, he put his hand on
his stomach and groaned like someone had punched him.”

If you grew up in an abusive family, abuse may seem normal and you may expect more. If you bonded to people who abused you, or to people whom you abused, you may remain bonded to them for decades … not just remembering them but sometimes expressing emotions and behaviors that would be more appropriate for them.

Many marketers, politicians and cults are skilled in making you bond to their products. Although bonds limit your freedom, you will probably live and die justifying your choices … defending your bonds.

I joined the military for the education, but the training was designed to break me –
and it did. I became an obedient zombie, willing to kill for them.
I am learning again who I am!
 West Virginia

Are you bonded by Abuse?

I define abuse as deliberate acts that cause people to fragment or “split off” part of their minds. Those “split-off parts” don’t grow up – they stay at the age when the abuse took place. Most people have some immature or childish “parts”. Sigmund Freud called them complexes, although they are quite simple once you understand them.

During our couple coaching, we meet many couples who are bonded by abuse – even by abuse that happened before they met! Many couples seem bonded by anger and guilt – rather than by love and respect. Without those bonds, those couples might separate. However, unless they change their bonds, they often attract other people to abuse – or be abused by – or both.

If you are bonded by abuse, you may feel like you live in an endless trance. Your core identity seems lost or hidden. You often think or behave in ways that would be more appropriate for your abusers or your victims. You may feel guilt and anger and not know why; or perhaps you call it “original sin”. You may abuse yourself, perhaps with self-hatred, self-criticism, self-sabotage or suicidal thoughts.

I was raped when I was 12 and since then I felt that part of me was frozen in ice.
Twenty years later, I was still angry and obsessed about revenge, so I came to you.
You helped the “frozen” me warm up and grow up, and we set my “inner rapist” free. Croatia

Some people can only relate by abuse. Some people hurt others, one at a time, and call it pleasure, while others only know how to be victims. Addicted to the intensity of abusive relationships, both abusers and victims may be seeking their next abuse. Few people may treat you as badly as abusers and masochists who pretend to be your friends or lovers. Few people may punish you as much as you punish yourself.

Since I was a teenager I wanted girls – any girls.
But as soon as I slept with one, I dumped her and
looked for a another one.

Abusive emotional bonds may seem to absorb your energy, leaving you feeling empty, yet you may feel attracted to your abusers and victims. Abusive relationships often include an intensity that ordinary relationships do not provide.

My father was horrible to my mother and to me since I can remember,
but I have looked after him since my mother died. I am single and I
don’t have much of a life except being his nurse. I was shocked when
you asked me why I do this – I never thought that I had a choice.

Other Bonds

Abusive bonds can cross generations as obsessions, compulsions, fixations etc. Betrayal and abandonment, for example when parents separate, are often repeated by their children and grandchildren. Some common examples are:

Guilt can haunt both abusers and victims. They often repress their guilt, i.e. they do not feel it, but later they may feel overwhelmed by guilt – which they often call depression. Then they may take anti-depressants to continue to not-feel their guilt.

Following abuse, especially as children, some people cannot enjoy trusting, secure and stable relationships unless they can change their emotional bonds. They may be told that they have attachment disorders.

What can you do?

Dissolving bonds is not trivial work. Most people cling to their bonds and it can be hard to help people dissolve or change them, unless you have a lot of experience. I suggest that we, you and I, resolve your bonds together. Here is a brief overview:

  1. Identify one problematic bond behavior – e.g. criticizing yourself or others
  2. Define what you want (instead of that) as specifically as possible.
  3. Identify who abused you – e.g. a bully at school when you were 7
  4. Identify your underlying emotions – e.g. anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt
  5. Determine which emotions are your own and which are the abuser’s
  6. Imagine confronting the abuser and explore how he or she was abused
  7. Explore the abuse chain and resolve the first event of that chain
  8. Find the part of you that did not grow up because of that abuse
  9. Assimilate that younger part of yourself
  10. Notice if and how your emotions and motivations have changed

Changing a first bond may require 1 – 4 hours (longer if you want to chat about philosophy etc), while changing subsequent bonds is usually much faster. The hard question is, “How do you want to bond to an abuser … or to a victim?

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