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It takes two humble people to work at the relationship, not one that’s always blaming the other.

When one person is always blaming and pointing the finger at the other, and the other person tries to do the right thing, there may be a deeper issue that is unfolding that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

Transcript follows

I want to talk about something that is a little disturbing about our brains, it’s the way we respond in certain relationships with certain people. That disturbing element I keep seeing over and over again is something I mentioned in an earlier episode called traumatic bonding or a “trauma bond”.

A real quick definition of a trauma bond as I know it is this: When you are in a relationship with someone who mistreats you, abuses you, hurts you, but you are still loving and kind toward them, and you want to stay with them.

It’s a level of bonding that includes love and abuse, just like the title of this blog and associated podcast. That’s exactly why used the name “Love and Abuse”, because we can be in a relationship where we love someone even though they’re being hurtful to us. They may not always be abusive, but they can be hurtful often.

What I’ve noticed with traumatic bonding is that when people get into deeply hurtful relationships, because there was an initial love, intimacy, bonding, and connection, that’s what got imprinted first. And because of that, that’s the foundation on which they always fall back to.

When there are bad moments in a relationship, some people will fall back on that imprinting and start to feel better because they believe that the “imprinted” feelings and memories represent the real relationship.

The beginning of an emotionally abusive relationship can imprint into your brain. From that point forward, the imprint becomes the story you believe about the relationship while the abuse continues to happen in the present.

When you cling on to the origin of the relationship instead of acknowledging and acting on bad behavior in the present, you enable more bad behavior.

The origin is how “we” began. And because the relationship began that way, you will say to yourself, “I know we will go right back to that place, or at least I hope it will.”

Traumatic bonding works by repeating a cycle. The emotionally abusive person will repeat this behavior:

I’ve hurt you, now I love you.
I’ve hurt you, now I love you.

But some of us will have a tendency to compare today with the origin (the fun, exciting, and wonderful past) and think, “You hurt me, yes. It really hurts and I hate it. I hope you change.” Which we often do, but only temporarily.

But since they love and support you again, it causes us to remember the good times all over again. We remember what it was like when it started and think “Maybe this is the way it’s going to be from this point on!” This is how victims of emotional abuse think. This is why the cycle continues and repeats.

This is also why a lot of people stay in abusive, hurtful, toxic relationships. They don’t see the cycle; they only see the origin. They only see the foundational story on which the relationship started, and when there’s a foundational story that’s really strong, it’s hard to let it go. It’s like you want to feel that same old feeling again; You want to feel that story, those emotions, that intimacy that you experienced in the beginning, but then the bad times happen.

And because you know that the person is going to come back around, where they’ll be kind and supportive again, and maybe even apologize, you go right back into that original imprinting.

My point is, if we first grow attached to how someone fulfills what we need, like self-worth, self-esteem, feeling important and loved, feeling secure, or even more material things such as having food and shelter and clothing, then those attachments also are part of our imprinting.

We hear about imprinting regarding children. The events we go through in our childhood create an imprinting process. I’m not an expert on that, so I’m not going to comment too much on it. Imprinting, in general, creates a psychological pattern that we take with us. If we become imprinted early on in any relationship with how things will be, then we are sort of falling back on that when things aren’t that way.

This is where the abused mind starts to form. We get exposed to some sort of toxic or bad behavior, and then we fall back on that imprint that we have in us, knowing or hoping it will get better. Then when things start to turn around and the person starts to show up with a little bit better behavior, we come right back to reinforcing that belief system, which is very likely what was imprinted on us at the beginning.

This is important because we tend to remember how good it was, and often minimize how bad it’s getting (or can get). We might look at a trend line in a business meeting and see profit and loss. The trend line can go up and to the right, or straight to the right, or down and to the right. But do we look at our relationships in the same way?

My number 1 suggestion is to look at relationships the exact same way as if you were in an emotional board meeting. This is a meeting with yourself where you can look at that chart on the wall and see the trend line of your relationship.

At the beginning, the line started rising and going to the right. And eventually, maybe it leveled out. Then maybe it went up and right again. But when did it go down? Did it continue going down? Did it rise and fall from that point on?

Then when you look back after months or years, does the trend line continue to fall? If it continues to fall, then you have a pattern. And you have to stop comparing it to what was so that you understand the pattern.

You have to stop having so much faith that it will rise back up to what was that original story, the origin story, so that you don’t get lost in false hope.

I know this sounds depressing. I don’t necessarily mean you can just never have hope. I’m asking that you don’t allow the trend to continue without intervention. A downward trend requires intervention!

That means you look at the trend and if you notice that every week or every month, your relationship just doesn’t seem to improve, whether it’s with a romantic partner, friend, or family member, then you have to acknowledge that something is off and it needs to be addressed and discussed. You need to explore some deeper or harder truths, and you need to bring it out in the open. Don’t hide this, bring it to be discussed.

You should be able to talk your closest friend, or your partner, or your sister or brother. You should be able to express yourself to them. And you should be able to figure out what’s going on because you both want the same thing.

You should both want a better relationship.

Or do you? That’s a good question to ask the other person:

“Do you want a better relationship?”

When you hear, “Yes, I do. Let’s work on it,” then you have someone that believes you are equals in making it better and improving it.

If instead you hear, “I don’t have a problem with the relationship, you do,” then you have someone that has already made up their mind that they are not part of the problem.

When you have someone that doesn’t see themselves as part of the problem, you no longer have a relationship. I hate to break it to you, but when one person says, “I’m not the problem, you are. Everything is fine on my side. It’s all you.” then you don’t have a relationship.

That’s not how a relationship is defined. A relationship is defined as two people working at it, and creating something new and better between them. A relationship isn’t about one person doing all the work while the other person soaks up the sun and watches you do everything. That’s not how a relationship works.

A relationship works when both people are humble enough to look at this thing that you want to create together. They ask themselves, “What am I doing to contribute to improving this relationship?” They also ask themselves, “What am I doing to harm this relationship?” I’m not even talking about, “What am I doing to love my partner/friend/family member more?” I’m not talking about, “How do I help them? What am I doing to hurt them?”

I’m talking about looking at the relationship as if it’s your life and emotional project that you want to complete together, and that you’re both involved. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a business partner who decided not to do any work, and you did all the work. It’s not fun. It’s irritating. And it can make you very angry because you both went in on it together, but your business partner is doing nothing and you’re doing everything. You’re doing all the work. Suddenly you feel like this is a very unfair situation because you’re both collecting the profits.

In order for both people to collect the emotional profits in a relationship, you both have to put in the work. That means that you both have to understand that everything you contribute, the good, bad and the ugly is both of your responsibilities.

Without both of you working at it, the relationship fails.

During your emotional board meetings, you can think about what’s failing. If the finger is still pointing at you and they’re saying you’re the one that’s failing, then you’re not in a relationship.

This is the new imprinting I want you to have:

When you’re not both working on the relationship, and only one of you thinks there’s a problem, then there’s a problem with the relationship.

This is like adding a negative in mathematics. When you add 1+1 you get 2, but if you add a +1 and a -1 together, you get 0. The positive number nullifies the negative number and the negative number nullifies the positive number. They both nullify each other even when one person is right and the other person is wrong.

When one of you is not working at it, the relationships is a big goose egg.
It’s a zero, which means it doesn’t exist. It’s null.

I want you to remember that anytime you’re in a relationship, it always takes two to create it, two to maintain it, and two to build it. It continues to take two indefinitely. This has to be your new imprinting.

Don’t let the old origin story of “Everything is wonderful and can be wonderful again,” to be your imprinting when it comes to being in a relationship where it’s very one-sided. If everything seems to be blamed on one person, and the fault for all the problems with the relationship lies on them, that is an example of one-sidedness.

You’re either going to work at the relationship and fix it together, or if you can’t fix it, and you can’t heal the problems, you need to grow apart. Of course, you can seek therapy together or apart and work on yourselves too. That’s certainly not off the table.

I’m just talking about when there’s an inequality where one person is being more hurtful and more toxic than the other. It could be that one toxic person is blaming the other person for all the problems.

In traumatic bonding, there could be a person doing all the blaming who says it’s the other person’s fault. And the other person is trying everything they can to work on the relationship. That can be very indicative of an emotionally abusive relationship. You just have to be aware. If it’s very one-sided it’s likely a toxic situation.

The idea that it’s always the other person’s fault – if that never stops and that trend line continues to go down and to the right, there needs to be a discussion about what happens next.

The good times become imprinted, especially in emotionally abusive relationships. There might have been a lot of love bombing and gift bombing at first. They might have given you so much love, and many gifts, and lots of attention, but it all disappeared after a while. And then they became hurtful.

They might tell you stories about how they are the real victim. They could even become martyr-like because they are trying to gain your sympathy and compassion. At that point, you might become caring, kind and generous again. It’s like you get rebooted, restarting that old imprinting which they will soak up for a little while, but they soon return to toxic and abusive behavior.

When you see that behavior, you might keep looking at them as the victim instead of the toxic person they are. Don’t let it fly under your radar. Don’t only see the good when you need to see everything so that you can discuss it with them. If you feel like you can’t discuss it, because every time you do it always ends up back on your lap, and you believe that it’s your responsibility and your fault and that you need to fix everything, there’s a good chance you might be traumatically bonded to the person.

The traumatic bond is so strong because after any type of toxic behavior, you’re going to feel low in your self-worth and your self-esteem. You’re going to feel very vulnerable, and you’re going to look for security and love. And you’re going to want for them to just to hold your hand or put their arms around you. Usually, the person you find to do that for you is the same person being toxic toward you.

Unfortunately, they can go back and forth and become the person you need, so you look for that love, security and intimacy in the one person that shows up in the exact opposite way, which creates confusion in you. It causes you to seek more of it and try harder to please them. You’ll do whatever you can to fix anything wrong in the relationship because you are trying to see that they really are good inside – because you were originally imprinted with that notion.

I know this sounds like sort of a downer. Just remember that when you see the trend line going down to acknowledge there are issues and that you are discovering all these things about your relationship from everything you read about on this site or listen to on the podcast. Decide to commit to the philosophy that it still takes two to work at the relationship and to be humble as you work on it.

Being humble means there are probably things that you’re doing that you need to work on. That’s all you need to know. When you follow that guideline, that the other person takes action to work on those things, then you’re going forward. If they’re not taking any action, or they can’t even admit that there’s something they need to work on, then you’re not in a relationship. It’s not much of a relationship if you’re not both willing to work at it 100%.

That doesn’t mean it can’t turn around. If both of you aren’t working on the relationship, then you definitely have something to address. Otherwise, you carry what you’re not working on forward week after week. And you never get past the negative feelings that you’re holding on to.

We don’t want to do that. We want to try to eliminate those negative feelings by working on things together.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Paul Colaianni is a Behavior and Relationship Coach, and the host of The Overwhelmed Brain and Love and Abuse podcasts.

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