Friday, November 13, 2009

Trauma Bonds - You Gotta' Keep 'Em Separated

Trauma bonds.

Mmmmm. A phrase which warms the cockles of some of our hearts. *cough* Children who come from traumatic histories share a bond ... a trauma bond. For children who have lived together during that trauma, it can be even more pronounced.

What does this mean - this "trauma bond" thing?

Well, it means that one child can have an emotionally strong day and really be rocking along quite nicely. Then their sibling starts to crash. The sounds, the familiarity, the flashbacks ... it can cause them both to tank. They play off each other. It can be a very, very toxic combination. And if they are BOTH already having a bad day - yowza.

I have watched it in my home, and it still saddens and fascinates me. The trauma bond between two of my kids was so intense that it hindered one of their healing for a very long time. The younger took the bigger sibling role, even though they were three years younger. The eldest was terrified to stand on their own and move forward without the other. They had always had each other, and my older child wasn't sure they wanted to shift the perceived power and control onto themselves. They didn't fully trust their sibling, but it was all they knew.

THEN, when one of them did start to make those emotional moves away from the other - YIKES. The other child was not too happy. That was yet another time of extreme regression. It was u.g.l.y.

How did we balance it and get them to this point? Well, first and foremost, we kept their lives very separated for a very long time. They could not be in the same room together without an adult, or they would be fighting. Period. It was constant. And when I say constant, and you think, "Heck, my kids fight all the time." Um ... please understand that you are probably using the word "constant" as an exaggeration. I am not.

Not even close.

They could not say anything in a kind voice to one another. It was rare, and usually superficial. Yet they craved to be together. They were feeding off the trauma. We had to carefully determine who sat where at meals around the table. They could not be right next to one another or across from one another. They were not allowed to play together without immediate supervision. It was just too much. We had to keep them separated so they could practice interacting with people in an emotionally healthy way. Then, when that was much more routine, we started to widen the boundaries, so they could practice being together.

That was a year and half ago. Now, they can play together unsupervised. Now, they fight in age appropriate ways, although they kick tail when it comes to resolving conflict (that's what all that therapy and therapeutic parenting will do for you!). If one of them has a bad day, we still sometimes will have to come in and make the decision for them that they are being a trigger to each other, and have them play apart. Yet, night and day - NIGHT AND DAY from where they used to be.

The last year of my life has certainly been the most exhausting year of my life. It has taken so much of my time, to provide a safe place for my kids to heal. Yet, I have taken it very seriously. I have taken on very few outside commitments and built in times of rest and relaxation from my kids on a VERY regular basis. I have made myself available to them, so if we need to stop, drop and have an hour of therapeutic intervention on a Tuesday morning, we can do it. It is for a season.

And while they started separate, they have found their way back to each other and can finally share true love and a healthy bond. Totally worth it.

(photo by Michal Zacharzewski)


Brenda said...

NO WAY! I googled this exact topic this afternoon. It is still going on here as Bear has still not attached and is still very defensive. You are exactly right about it being different than any other sibling fighting. We have 5, no other combination in our household is like theirs. We ate at DQ tonight, just the 3 of us. We spent the majority of the time talking about exactly this topic!

Tudu said...

We are still struggling after almost 3.5 yrs. You are exactly right and ours our doing better every year. One of my girls has such severe PTSD that any time her brother (who is close to the edge on a great day) is reprimanded or he acts upset in any way, she loses it. It complicates the rest of her siblings growth. She had been doing better but is currently back to rocking any time there is a scuffle between the kids. It is hard to watch, it controls her home life.

Ursula Schneider said...

We've had this same issue. Our two have been with us 6.5 years now and they can be together without trying to kill each other and can enjoy each other too. It's still hard for Hunter (who's older) to take responsibility for himself though, if Maddie can be used to be responsible for him instead. But progress has been made.