Calvin in Hell. Egbert II van Heemskerck.

Traumatic Bonding. One of the Reasons so Many Friendships Fall Apart.

And how we can shift our experiences.

Joshua Burkhart
9 min readDec 28, 2018


I was talking to a friend today when I heard words I used only a few years ago.

“I just don’t get it. It seems like I’m the one who invests the most in these friendships and no one else seems to care so I have to pull away but then I wonder, is this me? Am I the one fucking it all up?”

In my case, I was “fucking” up certain friendships due to codependency and that codependency was based on traumatic bonding.

Trauma is the difficulty in my friend’s relationships as well and I’ve seen it with many clients.

Trauma causes a different sort of bonding.

Traumatic bonding*

There are various levels of friendships.

We have our social friends, people you grab a meal with, have over for game night, enjoy talking with, swap stories.

These may not be the same friends you tell your darkest secrets to. Over the course of a few years bits and pieces may leak here or there but for the most part your relationship is based on the interactions you create and general knowledge of each other.

I used to hate relationships like these. I thought they were shallow and fake.

I wanted the ride or die friends; people who knew me at the core.

I wanted deep bonding but the only way I knew how to get it was through sharing trauma stories. Exposing the most painful parts of myself and seeing who stuck around.

As a former smoker, I was the one on the back deck swapping stories and making friends I thought would last a lifetime. Nothing bonds you faster than a buzz, a cigarette, and stories of abuse and attempted suicide.

It was a game of show and tell. We’d compare scars. I’d show my pain, they’d show theirs, no one ran away and so everyone felt accepted.

From that foundation of acceptance, we could then share our oddball visions of the world

Trauma causes us to adapt.

It can make you catatonic or hypervigilant, it can cause you to notice things no…



Joshua Burkhart

Transformation coach specializing in mental health, spirituality & relationships — the way we connect to self, society & cosmos.