by Christine Rhodes
October 23, 2009
Part 3 of 3
Women are particularly susceptible to bonding with those who traumatize them due to a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin is referred to as the bonding hormone and is the chemical that starts the birthing process. It is the reason why a woman has a second child, as it prevents memory consolidation. If women were to fully remember the pain of childbirth, it is unlikely they would repeat the experience, hence it is nature’s way of ensuring the continuation of our species.
Oxytocin peaks for about 20 minutes after birth and is critical in the process of bonding to the newborn child. While oxytocin is essential for childbirth, it is a liability for any abuse victim. When a woman experiences extreme violence, oxytocin is released, and she is destined to bond with her abuser at some level. There is no consolidated memory of the abuse and it becomes difficult to think and act rationally about the event. Hence a woman’s response to danger switches from fight or flight to ‘tend and befriend’.
Another theory used to explain why victims remain in abusive relationships proposes that violence occurs in a cycle.
This theory presents three main phases: (1) tension-building, (2) acute battering incident, and (3) calm, loving respite. The first phase includes minor incidents of abuse such as verbal attacks. During this stage the victim submits to the wishes of the violent individual in order to appease the attacker. The second phase contains more severe abuse and is followed by the third phase or the “honeymoon period.”
In the third phase, the abuser becomes loving and attentive and apologizes profusely for the attack. The victim believes that the violent behavior will stop and remains in the relationship. The tension building occurs again, however, and the cycle repeats itself, leaving the victim to feel trapped and helpless.