Stop Mistaking Shared Trauma for Compatibility
You can’t build a healthy relationship on an unstable foundation
Two hopeless romantics meet at a bar. After a week of sharing flirty memes and sending early-morning text messages, the two agree to exchange judgments and pass opinions over a pair of pomegranate martinis. In true millennial fashion, their first face-to-face is ripe with sarcasm, slanted jokes, and side-eyes. Neither wants to show or say too much at the risk of appearing too interested, God forbid. Eventually, the topic of family comes up, and the date takes a serious turn as they discover a common theme in both of their upbringings: alcoholism in the family.
Over another round of drinks, they take turns diving into the deepest corners of their childhoods, unsure if the warm fuzzy feelings are the result of the martinis or the memories. About four hours into their expedited engagement, it becomes apparent that this courtship is nothing short of a divine calling. It’s not often they come across people who can relate to their pain and understand their perspectives. This must be meant to be, right? Before they know it, they’ll be fully entrenched in a bond that’s based on their shared trauma, and they won’t be the only ones.
Shared pain brings people together. Known to sociologists as “social glue,” trauma behaves like a binding agent in social settings, forging connections between survivors known as trauma bonds.
Stockholm syndrome, a term used to describe the distorted relationship between kidnappers and their victims turned defenders, demonstrates one form these bonds can take over time. While confusing to us on the outside, Stockholm syndrome creates a mental escape for victims by reconfiguring the brain to find comfort in its captivity. Another common bond is the kind we see among people in military service. This trauma bond, known as unit cohesion, highlights the effectiveness of shared trauma in high-stress situations.
In a study conducted by The Society of Occupational Medicine, participants reported higher levels of cooperation and group morale, increased communication skills, and improved operational performance, especially following a traumatic event. Researchers found that while unit cohesion improved soldier mental wellness and…