Posted on January 11, 2011 by Toni

One of my fondest memories of my son Daniel is watching him lay on the carpet playing with his Matchbox cars. He loves cars! He'd line them all up and race them from one point to another, following the cars with his ocean blue eyes.

trauma bondsOften, after awhile, he'd grab one car in each hand, race them towards each other, and CRASH! BANG! EXPLOSION!

He'd invite his biological brother to play with him. Soon, they were both crashing, and banging, and exploding. Then Dan would smile a devilish smile at his brother and one of them would shove the other. A small one at first, then a harder one. In no time at all, they were wound up in a full-on brawl.

We questioned the therapists about this scenario that played out absolutely every time they played together, whether it was Matchbox cars, or football, or a board game. It was worse during visits with their biological sister. It was worse when other children were around. The therapists scratched their heads in confusion. They didn't know what we were talking about.

It wasn't until Dan entered the residential center that it finally stopped. Chip was able to interact with others normally, except when Dan was around. Dan was less able to interact appropriately with peers. Why?

Because they share a "trauma bond." Often we think of trauma bonds that are created during unhealthy relationships such as divorce, incest, kidnapping, rape, and other crisis relationships. An emotional attraction develops between the victim and the perpetrator, creating the trauma bond.

For our sons, this bond was created during a crucial part of their emotional development. In infancy and early childhood, they lived with neglect and chaos. The unrest bound them together. Even after joining a family with healthy relationships, when they were together, they tried to re-create the chaos and unrest because it was what they always did when they were together. Re-creating it felt familiar and gave then comfort.

Caseworkers always try to keep siblings together. In speaking with other parents whose children also share a trauma bond, I conclude that some children are better off maintaining relationships with one another, while living in separate households. Educated and dedicated foster/adopt parents can successfully break the bonds of trauma with a therapist who understands this concept.

So, why is one boy capable of interacting with peers and the other isn't? Because of each boy's developmental stage at the time of the trauma. Chip suffers a milder degree of PTSD, while Dan suffers from it severely. Dan was an infant during the worst of the trauma, while Chip was a toddler.

The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes explains these relationships, why they form, and how they become so powerful. A checklist offers relationship examination. Most importantly, he provides steps to safely break sibling trauma bonds. This book is next on my 2011 reading list!