Off The Couch #11 Trauma Bonding Maps

This clinical interview with Dr. Daniel P. Brown discusses trauma bonding maps (pathological bonds) and covers topics like Stockholm syndrome, domestic violence, toxic parenting, family incest, terrorism and cult behavior. Treatment for trauma bonding requires making a new map. Dr. Brown discusses the Ideal Parent Figure (IPF) for treatment.

Read the Full Transcript:

Caroline Baltzer: So, Dan, you were talking about the three relational maps, and I was wondering about the trauma bonding map.

Dan Brown: Well, the attachment map develops slowly over the second year of life and is fully in place between 18 and 24 months. The CCRT map develops in the third year of life and is fully in place by the fourth or fifth year of life. Those develop slowly, and they’re relatively stable maps, however dysfunctional they may be. But under conditions of high fear-arousal, we can rapidly form a new map, and that’s the exception, namely that it has to be under conditions of very high fear arousal, like when one’s life is threatened. The discovery of what are called “trauma bonding maps” in children and adults is based on conditions of high fear-arousal.

So, it started with a thing called the Stockholm syndrome, which was a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where there were a number of hostages in the bank, and a stand-off with the SWAT teams lasted for several days. The hostages gave the wrong information to the SWAT team in a way that was risky for people’s lives, because they had identified, over time, with the hostage-takers, and they became sympathetic to their cause. That became known as Stockholm syndrome. It’s usually something that one sees in conditions of high fear-arousal, where there’s a huge power differential. The assailant has total, absolute power over the victims and determines whether they live or die, or whether they go to the bathroom or not, and what they eat or don’t eat, or what they’re going to do, sitting down and standing up. And that absolute domination in terms of power is interspersed with infrequent episodic caring behaviors, where they’ll give them food for a while. A distortion develops so that the hostages become more sympathetic to the little bit or tidbits of caretaking that they get, so they begin to sympathize more with the causes of the hostage-takers. So, in the Stockholm syndrome, one of the things that are not known about that case, is that one of the victims in the bank robbery went to the jail to visit the assailant after they were caught and, over the years of visits, actually married him. So, that shows the intense pathological bond that developed.

Another example of that would be the famous Patty Hearst case, where she identified with the kidnappers of her, the Symbionese Army, and helped rob a bank with them. So, there is a crude saying in the field that “a faithful dog is a beaten dog.” So, when the source of attachment becomes the source of terror, there’s a potential to develop a new, rapidly-forming pathological map for intense bonding. You see that in hostage-taking situations. It’s also the model that explains domestic violence, where the husband typically has absolute control over the wife, and isolates her from having any friends, and controls all the finances. This becomes what Judy Hermann called, “a relationship of captivity,” where the woman has no sense of self and no life outside of what the husband controls, and it’s hard for her to leave that situation because her whole definition of self depends on the pathological bond in the relationship. That’s a relationship that’s high-risk for repeated violence and inappropriate assertion of power by the male. It is also the same kind of relationship that happens in family incest, with sexual abuse by fathers against daughters. So, all of these share a common factor of relationships, of absolute domination and power control over the victim, with intermittent care; and that forms a new pathological map.

You also see that in cult behavior. When a cult leader will get the members to be dependent on them, so their whole identity comes from the cult, so they can’t leave. And they get intermittent tidbits of care, every now and then, and they form a new pathological bond to the cult leader. They get, of course, exploited financially, or sexually, or in terms of domination and power.

Caroline Baltzer: What about going just for a second over to the attachment map and thinking about the caregiver who is also, in some cases, very frightening so that the person who is the provider of care can also be a very frightening individual, and that produces often disorganized attachment. How do you compare that to this trauma bonding?

Dan Brown: Well, Mary Main discovered that, with children and adults who had disorganized attachment, the source of attachment was also the source of fear. So, it’s an impossible dilemma for the child because the child would typically look to the parents for soothing and safety when they’re upset; but in such cases, the source of soothing is also the source of terror. So, parents who were physically or sexually abusive to the child, who were in the child’s face too much, over-stimulating the child physically or sexually – all these things are aberrations of healthy attachment, so the child is faced with the impossible dilemma that the source of attachment is also the source of terror. So, they can’t go anywhere for getting comfort, soothing, and safety. They live in a constant state of fear, and that fear disturbs and interrupts almost every normal line of development, such as relational development, self-development, and emotional development.

Caroline Baltzer: In other forms of toxic parenting that don’t necessarily involve physical or sexual abuse, I have seen some cases where it looks like trauma bonding: even though it’s dealing with a parent and a child, it has some of the same hallmarks that you’re describing. Even though the patient is aware that the parent has been incredibly abusive, they are loyal to that parent in a way that is hard to explain.

Dan Brown: A faithful dog is a beaten dog. You see that with parents of what Denise Gelinas called “children of malevolent intent.” The parent will pick out a child and be enormously hostile, see the child as malevolent, and project all their own stuff onto the child. That child is going to end up with a strong trauma bonding map.

Caroline Baltzer: Who is that author?

Dan Brown: Denise Gelinas. She wrote the first papers on incest, in the early 1980s.

Caroline Baltzer: And what predisposes that child to getting picked by that parent, would you say?

Dan Brown: It goes down in generations.

Caroline Baltzer: That out of several children, you’re saying that maybe one child would be picked?

Dan Brown: Something about the child reminds the parent about unfinished emotional business – where they were abused. So, the child is selected to replicate the abuse.

Caroline Baltzer: And for trauma bonding, what is the best treatment course?

Dan Brown: You have to change the map. You have to use ideal parent figures, and the main theme is to do positive remapping so that the source of attachment is now the source of safety and some comfort, rather than the source of terror. Make a new map. Otherwise, they’re compulsively going to get re-abused and repeat the abuse. I would add one more thing to that, and that is that we’re beginning to see that, in terms of cult involvement, which is a trauma bonding map, that’s a way of describing cult behavior in general – of charismatic individuals who abuse and exploit the power over the cult members. But it’s also a way of understanding international terrorism because ISIS is basically a cult and requires a trauma bonding map. So, we need to come to understand international terrorism and radicalism in the way we’ve come to understand trauma bonding maps and treat it in the same way.

Caroline Baltzer: So, what would you advise politicians about how they should more clearly see that, and how they should handle it?

Dan Brown: Well, one of my colleagues is an international expert on cults, and he is now working with Homeland Security to help educate them, looking at ISIS in terms of cult behavior. One of my students in London has a private non-profit, where she takes former terrorists and rehabilitates them and sends them back into their original community to send anti-terrorist messages as a way of preventing the spread of terrorism organizations across the planet. It’s a good idea, and we should be doing more of that.

Interviewer: So, we’re saying that relational maps can have a positive impact on society so that the treatment of relational maps has an impact not only for the individual but for the health of the society.

Dan Brown: So, in this case, trauma bonding maps, specifically in relational maps in general, have profound implications for the stability of societies. So, being sensitive to treating trauma bonding maps has implications for stabilizing society and containing violence.

Caroline Baltzer: I wonder if there is another way of having psychologists influence society positively by developing programs in schools or in families, young families, and working with governments.

Dan Brown: That’s being done. I have a friend colleague, Steve Killelea, out of Australia. He has done the algorithms on what he calls “positive peace.” He has identified eight dimensions of positive peace, and he finds that countries that support the development of positive peace factors contribute to global stability far more than all the money wasted on violence containment. So, the development of positivity in the area of peace is far more important than all the wasted money on violence containment that doesn’t do anything but destabilize economies and countries.

Caroline Baltzer: The message needs to get out there.

Dan Brown: The message needs to get out there. He’s written his book, and I thought it was very valuable, so I helped him edit this book, so we could get it out there.

Caroline Baltzer: What’s the name of the book?

Dan Brown: I think it’s called Positive Peace; I don’t know the exact title of it. He gives a conference every year, at Stanford, on positive peace, and I kicked off the conference with a talk about positive peace and, through positive psychology, set the context for his positive peace initiative. Because I think it’s worth it, it needs to be heard down generations.

Watch the full clinical interview series:
1. Meet Dr. Daniel P. Brown
2. Overview of Trauma Treatment
3. Attachment Disturbances 
4. CCRT (Core Conflictual Relationship Themes)
5. Three Pillars Approach (Treatment for Attachment)
6. Teaching Psychology
7. Conversion Disorders
8. Factitious & Dissociative Disorder
9. Psychological Assessments
10. Bipolar Disorder Treatment
11. Trauma Bonding Maps
12. Conclusion

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