Recently I have been learning about the five love languages. If you are not familiar, it’s a book written by Gary Chapman of the same title. In the book he breaks down the five ways people like to be loved or receive love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. As I learned about these and identified the ones that make me feel loved, I started to wonder why? Why does receiving gifts and words of affirmation make me feel worthy and loved? With research, I have learned that a lot of it comes from my childhood. And then I went down the rabbit hole and discovered trauma bonding. Though I don’t think receiving gifts or words of affirmation are necessarily bad, I do think when I dig a little deeper, that the desperate need for them was unhealthy in my situation.
So what exactly does the five love languages and trauma bonding have to do with each other? And more importantly, what is trauma bonding? According to an article on Psych Central, “Trauma bonding refers to the attachment bond that is created through repeated abusive or traumatic childhood experiences with the caregiver, whereby this relationship pattern becomes internalized as a learned pattern of behavior for attachment. If you experienced abuse from a caregiver who also loved you, then you learned to associate love with abuse. This became the template for how you learned to relate to others and form relationships. So, you expect that in order to feel loved you get abused. Abuse feels like love, and often many become attached to their abusers to feel loved in this way. This is how it works.”
When I was a child, my relationship with my mother wasn’t perfect. In a lot of ways it was traumatic. My mother was in control of our household, the breadwinner, and always seemed to have all the power. When things didn’t go her way, I’d often feel shut out. She’d give me the silent treatment and would only speak to me when she was ready. I felt helpless because I depended on her for everything. She never apologized or talked to me about issues in our relationship. Sometimes the silent treatment would last days or weeks. The older I got, the longer these bouts of silence would last, one lasted about two years and we were living under the same roof. She’d also shower me with gifts and shopping sprees when she decided to make up with me or when things were going well and take away these privileges when she was angry. Which is probably the reason why I associated love with gifts. I was used to being rewarded after a fight or disagreement and I thought that putting up with someone’s bad behavior and habits showed them how much I cared. After lashing out at me my mother always rewarded me with gifts. Which is why it’s one of my love languages. And since I was often not told I was loved or valued (we never got too emotion about how we felt about each other) I was constantly looking for reassurance through words of affirmation from everyone else. But since I didn’t get that during my childhood, I often felt undeserving when I received it anyway.
I may not have known it at the time but I know now that I was in a trauma bond with my mother and found myself in similar relationships with others because of it. So, how can you tell if you are in an abusive relationship where trauma bonding is happening? The victim often excuses the behavior of the abuser. The victim will say things like: It’s my fault that he gets so angry. The victim will think they are the problem and that everything bad that happens is their fault. The abuser will often shower the victim with love or reel them back in with temporary affection. The victim will expect love as a positive reinforcement. This behavior and pattern usually stems from our childhood experiences. It’s important to note that you can form a trauma bond with anyone, not just in romantic relationships.
What can you do if you are in a trauma bond? According to Your Tango, “You can overcome trauma bonding and leave your abusive relationship if you break the denial that prevents you seeing the abuse, overcome the patterns of attachment to an abuser, stop meeting their needs to feel loved and let go of the false hope that you’re loved. Letting go of toxic abuse starts with loving yourself and protecting yourself from abuse.”
My mother is not a part of my life. It wasn’t until we stopped talking to each other when I was about 23, that I really started to look at love differently. I actually started to love myself once I ended my relationship with my mother, as crazy as that may sound. Sometimes we can’t see things the way they really are until we take a step back. Do I still like receiving gifts and words of affirmation? Of course, but only as part of a healthy relationship not as a reward system or as a tool to distract me from issues that need to be solved. Which is probably the reason why I hate receiving gifts of any sort after an argument with my husband.
As always, please speak to a professional if you feel you are in an abusive relationship. For more information please visit: https://www.thehotline.org