Domestic Violence and Bonding Patterns

Domestic Violence and Bonding Patterns

Domestic violence regularly makes front page news in many countries. We hear about the most horrific cases but statistics and demand for places in women’s shelters show it’s more prevalent than is reported. So I thought I’d write a post specifically on relationship bonding patterns when violence is involved in the hope that more women – who are the majority of victims – and also those men who are victims will start to see how these patterns operate in their relationships. Because when you become aware of a bonding pattern and can create space in your psyche to see other options, you can then take steps to change the pattern and make new choices going forward.

If you know anyone who is suffering in their relationship AND they are psychologically-minded and open to exploring what might be going on unconsciously, please share this with them.

Unconscious bonding patterns are normal and occur in all relationships. When they are negative, that means you feel negative feelings toward your partner. When they are positive it means you feel positive feelings toward your partner. But neither are good for you or for the relationship when they remain unexamined and you stay stuck in them long term.

Bonding patterns occur because disowned parts of yourself are projected onto your partner, and their disowned parts/selves are projected onto you. And disowned vulnerability in each person triggers them.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the idea that there are many selves/parts that make up who we are, read the section How Your Personality Works on this page.)

So if you have disowned your power, self-worth and sense of entitlement, you’re likely to be in a relationship with a person who owns those attributes.

Being the person who feels less powerful in a relationship is more common for women because we’re all socialised in patriarchal societies, which bestow power and greater value onto males and masculinity. (If you doubt that, then consider how men who express their feminine side more than their masculine side are often treated and regarded by other men.) Plus men are usually physically stronger than women and that in itself creates an uneven power dynamic whenever conflict arises in a relationship. This dynamic also occurs in same-sex relationships, with one person (usually the more masculine person) having more power and entitlement than the other.

If you get into a relationship with someone who is not aware that they own that power, and you’re not conscious that you’ve disowned your power, then your partner may at first use that power in a positive way, such as to care for you. They may in fact enjoy the (powerful) feeling of being protective and caring for someone who is unable to care for themselves.

And while that’s happening, you, the cared-for, would feel safe. Like a child being cared for by a strong and competent parent.

What I’ve described is a ‘positive bonding pattern’ because the feelings experienced are positive.

For example, if you are naive/childlike (that is, not powerful) about something your partner holds power about – taking care of car maintenance for instance, because when you got together he promised to be responsible for the car so you didn’t have to worry about it because you weren’t keen on learning what to do anyway, but then one day you slide in the rain and crash because the tyres are worn, then the bonding pattern turns to a negative one.

Suddenly, after your initial fear after the crash (when your Frightened Child makes an appearance) you become angry at your partner for not playing his part in the bonding pattern properly and not making sure the car was maintained (and you become the Angry Mother self).

He at first feels guilty and sorry (the Guilty Son to your Angry Mother), and his Inner Critic tells him he’s incompetent and irresponsible. He then switches to the Angry/Critical Father and lashes out at you for always expecting him to check everything about the car and not being responsible for any of it yourself. From that Critical Father he accuses you of being incompetent and all the other things he has felt frustrated about for the duration of the now gone positive bonding pattern.

Then you switch to either Apologetic Daughter or Rebellious Daughter, depending on the make up of your personality and past patterns with this type of situation. All your frustrations about the ‘agreement’ come out, such as when you could see the tyres were worn but didn’t want to say anything because you thought he’d feel like you didn’t trust him.

And you both continue to move through the selves that become activated in the conflict.

Bonding patterns are like blueprints for how we give and receive love and for how we express negative emotions. They are based on the parent/child interactions we learnt as children. You can map your bonding patterns on the diagram below.

Diagram of bonding patterns

What makes a situation a bonding pattern and not simply an agreement to divide up tasks/chores is this: When you feel a negative emotion about the ‘agreement’ you suppress it and continue to go along with your ‘role’ in the pattern.

Another way you can tell is that a positive bonding pattern can – and usually does – turn negative.

In real time this change of selves in the pattern happens quickly.

What eventuates in the negative bonding pattern will depend on which selves are activated in each person and the automatic reactions of those selves.

The reactions of the parental selves might be to silently judge, or withdraw, or criticise, or ridicule, or profusely apologise and accept all blame, or be openly angry – or be violent.

The extent of a reaction will depend on the level of emotional regulation each person has developed. And the level of emotional regulation will have been influenced by how their childhood conflicts were handled by their parents, and by what they witnessed with their parents and other carers handling conflict.

Disowned Vulnerability

In addition to each person being the disowned self of their partner (for example, competence with cars self vs nurturing and organised with children self, or adventurous self vs cautious self, or selfish self vs generous self), which is what enables bonding patterns to form, the thing that keeps them going strong and triggers a shift from a positive to a negative pattern is disowned vulnerability.

There are two aspects to this vulnerability:

First, there’s the vulnerability of your Inner Child, whose care you have entrusted to your partner.

Giving up to someone else the responsibility for your own Inner Child is what keeps bonding patterns going. This feels as if you expect or need your partner to take care of you (either completely or in some aspect of life such as the car example).

Second, there’s the vulnerability of your primary self (the main part of your personality, who you relate to others with).

When your primary self feels vulnerable it’s when you feel you aren’t doing your thing (whatever that may be) as well as you would like (your Inner Critic is responsible for that unpleasant and all-too-common feeling).

Whenever your primary self is criticised by another person (such as your partner, boss, colleague, parent, or even your child), you feel attacked and automatically become defensive, and further bury your vulnerability. You try to defend/protect yourself by arguing or justifying or lashing out with the more powerful parts of yourself.

Or, if you’ve completely disowned your power, which happens in unequal relationships, you could fall apart and become a victim.

In regular bonding patterns, where couples see themselves as equals, you each take turns caring for each other and being cared for (positive bonding pattern).

And then when you’ve suppressed your negative feelings and reactions for long enough – normal feelings such as irritation, annoyance and frustration, which have to be suppressed when a positive bonding pattern is active in order for it to continue – you eventually let out those negative feelings, either in a discussion or an argument or going for a walk and processing the feelings or whatever brings negative feelings into the picture (a negative bonding pattern).

In such a ‘regular’ (non-violent) relationship, you would then (hopefully) work out what happened, such as which parts of yourself have been triggered because of past patterns and wounds, which parts you’ve been disowning and need to integrate, what you’ve been feeling vulnerable about, and how you can both grow in order to help yourselves and each other – and the relationship – continue to thrive.

But when inequality is part of the picture, when one or both person’s inner rule system (that is, the rules of your primary self) includes the idea that men are superior to women, that they own them and are entitled to control them, then violence and control become part of the picture.

Further Reading

Learn more about positive bonding patterns here.

Learn about negative bonding patterns and what to do if you’re in one here.

This post explains how women internalise patriarchy and therefore unconsciously devalue ourselves and the feminine aspects of life.

This post is on how the Inner Critic works and how to use it to become aware of your unconscious rules and values.

Please Share!

Recommended by relationship counsellors and psychologists worldwide, The Perfect Relationship gives you the essential steps for making a relationship work over the long term.

Available from ScribdAmazon (both paperback and kindle version)Apple Books, Google Play, Barnes & NobleKoboSmashwords, Gumroad

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.