Trauma Bonding and The Drama Triangle
There is a saying that my mom used to say growing up "what goes on in this house stays in this house." A similar saying followed me right into med school and residency called "leave your feelings at the door." And while it seemed like at some point in my life, I was great at compartmentalizing my feelings, what I later discovered is that I wasn't compartmentalizing at all. The effects of the traumas I had experienced as a child growing up as well as in medical school and residency were very present and affecting my life and my relationships. I just couldn't see it at the time. Looking back, I can now see multiple very specific instances where, not just my, but all of our traumas (however big or small) impacted our actions and interactions with each other.
While on the surface, most leaders strive to keep workplace culture workable and pleasant, unfortunately, not all workplace relationships are healthy, and one concerning phenomenon that can emerge is the formation of "trauma bonds." Trauma bonds are emotional connections forged through shared negative experiences (simultaneous or historical), that can have a deeply detrimental impact on individuals and the workplace as a whole.
Understanding Trauma Bonds and How they can show up in the Workplace
Trauma bonds are known historically to develop when individuals share stressful or traumatic experiences in the workplace. However, a trauma bond can also form unconsciously between people based on shared trauma in their past. This shared adversity creates powerful emotional connections that can be challenging to break, even if the relationship is toxic or harmful. In fact, one of the consequences that can develop out of relationships based on shared trauma is becoming stuck in the "drama triangle".
The problem is that most people in the workplace are unaware of this phenomenon, and when breakdowns happen in communication, people assume their roles as the rescuer, persecutor or victim if unaware (The Drama Triangle).
In such scenarios, the Drama Triangle can perpetuate unhealthy dynamics within trauma-bonded relationships, as the roles within the Drama Triangle can reinforce the emotional connections formed through shared trauma, making it challenging for individuals to break free from these patterns. Furthermore, these dynamics can hinder healthy communication and problem-solving, making it difficult to address the underlying issues and move towards healing and recovery.
Imagine two colleagues, Grace and Sheri, have formed a "closeness" which unbeknownst to them is actually a trauma bond based on shared experience of childhood trauma. As they grow closer, Grace confides in Sheri constantly talking about how overwhelmed and unappreciated she feels. She seeks validation from Sheri, who in turn gives her that validation because she has had similar work experiences in the past and wants to avoid Grace having a similar unpleasant experience. Sheri, begins to adopt a "Rescuer" role, often stepping in and speaking up on her behalf in meetings, and assisting her with tasks, even when Grace hasn't asked for the help. She feels compelled and responsible for Grace's emotional satisfaction.
Grace begins to resent Sheri's overbearing attempts to rescue her, and Grace becomes resentful of always having to step in. She soon becomes critical of Sheri stepping into the role of the "persecutor". This creates a toxic atmosphere in the workplace and begins to affect other colleagues in the office. Productivity declines, team dynamics are affected, and this leads to division and dysfunction in the group.
The Impact of Trauma Bonding & the Drama Triangle in the Workplace is Clear
Trauma bonds lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression among employees, ultimately resulting in burnout and reduced job satisfaction. Trauma bonds can lead to toxic work culture. Workplaces characterized by trauma bonds and drama triangles can foster an atmosphere of gossip, mistrust, and conflict, hindering teamwork and productivity. The unhealthy emotional connections hinder individuals' ability to make objective and rational decisions and can lead to poor choices and ethical dilemmas.
Recognizing The Signs Early, Dismantling Unhealthy Dynamics & Minimizing the Impact is Key
While it may seem farfetched, one can recognize the signs and prevent these types of unhealthy interactions early on or even before they start. Learning about and understanding how trauma impacts each and every one of us can help leaders, team members, and staff look and listen through different lenses that allow them to recognize in themselves and others when unhealthy attachments and dynamics are forming. Expanding that learning to trauma informed communication helps employees and leaders to listen, communicate, and set boundaries in a healthy and compassionate way. Finally, expanding emotional intelligence expands self-awareness and contributes to the growth and development of each team member allowing them to take personal responsibility for their emotional experiences and responses.
Trauma Informed Organizations Create Psychologically Safe Cultures Which Leads to Increased Employee Satisfaction, Reduced Burnout, and Increased Employee Retention
Research by Harvard Business Review (2019) showed that psychologically safe workplaces lead to reduced stress levels and improved mental health among employees. For instance, Google's Project Aristotle found that teams with high psychological safety scores reported higher job satisfaction and overall well-being. This translates to fewer sick days and lower healthcare costs for the organization.
Gallup's research consistently shows that engaged employees are more likely to stay with their current employers. Psychological safety plays a critical role in employee engagement. When employees feel safe, respected, and valued, they are more likely to be engaged in their work, leading to higher retention rates.
Trauma bonds in the workplace can have a detrimental impact on individuals and the organization as a whole. By cultivating emotional intelligence, trauma informed communication, and psychological safety, individuals can prevent the formation of trauma bonds or break free from existing ones. These invaluable skills not only promote healthier workplace relationships but also contribute to personal growth and well-being, creating a more positive and productive work environment for everyone involved.
Learn more about Dr. Maiysha's consulting and training. Bring the tools of trauma informed listening and speaking into your organization and create psychological safety for your leaders and staff. Increase productivity, employee satisfaction and retention. Contact us today and schedule a call with Dr. Maiysha to learn how we can improve your workplace culture. https://mindremappingacademy.com/corporate-programs
Expand your listening capacity. Take our trauma informed communication course. Click here to learn more and register: https://mindremappingacademy.com/courses/ticc/
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.