Connected by Loneliness: Traumatic Bonding in Haunted Locations

One of the most terrifying punishments for human beings is isolation from the group, or from a significant other who instills in us a sense of safety and security only to abruptly remove themselves from our lives without explanation. I think of regressive societies casting out women for adultery or “witchcraft”, relegating them to the streets and a life of despair, of “madhouses” and asylums where the suffering were often tortured and abused. In those situations, one’s fear of isolation becomes a matter of life or death; we depend on one another for our survival, and when we are cast out literally or emotionally, materially or spiritually, we believe we will perish. And so, we adapt, conform, “fawn”, and negate our individuality so that the Other will not relegate us to the depths of nothingness. The cycle of acceptance and punishment continues, with the end goal always the same: to wield power and control over someone. This unhealthy relationship we create with individuals, groups, societies, or institutions, or even the so-called “dead” is “traumatic bonding”, defined by Wikipedia as:

Trauma bonds (also referred to as traumatic bonds) is a term developed by Patrick Carnes to describe emotional bonds with an individual (and sometimes, with a group) that arise from a recurring, cyclical pattern of abuse perpetuated by intermittent reinforcement through rewards and punishments.[1][2][3] The process of forming trauma bonds is referred to as trauma bonding or traumatic bonding. A trauma bond usually involves a victim and a perpetrator in a uni-directional relationship wherein the victim forms an emotional bond with the perpetrator.[4] This can also be conceptualized as a dominated-dominator or an abused-abuser dynamic. Two main factors are involved in the establishment of a trauma bond: a power imbalance and intermittent reinforcement of good and bad treatment, or reward and punishment.[1][4][5] Trauma bonding can occur in the realms of romantic relationships, platonic friendships, parent-child relationships, incestuous relationshipscultshostage situations, manager vs their direct reports, sex trafficking (especially that of minors), or tours of duty among military personnel.[1]“[6]

In the realm of the paranormal, much of the reported activity in haunted locations centers on an unhealthy attachment to a place, a way of life, an old routine, past relationships, and cherished objects. The spiritual energy of the deceased continues to attach to what was familiar, especially if what was familiar is imbued with pain, confusion, or a sense of outrage or injustice. This is why the majority of hauntings do not involve “happy” spirits peacefully cohabiting with the current occupants of a building or a home, but rather frightening manifestations of rage and sorrow. Consciousness is bonded traumatically to history and emotions that were never processed nor released when the relationships were current; pain plays out eternally, searching for understanding and release.

When spirits attach to an object, you find “cursed” paintings, jewelry, or dolls, as those items absorb and reflect a tortured relationship to the things that made one feel safe in the world. When spirits feed off the energies of the living, items in the house may move, cupboards fly open, mysterious puddles appear, and all manner of chaotic manifestations torment the living. The poltergeist has formed a trauma bond with the living, looking to express its intense emotions through manipulation of the environment. The repetitive re-enactment of old routines and dramas is trauma playing itself out like a movie that never ends; the physical environment records, amplifies, and plays back the old energies. Intelligent hauntings often seek a traumatic bond with the living; in the worst-case scenario, this is a possession of one’s very personality and soul. In less severe cases, this type of haunting seeks to absorb the attention of the living, creating an obsession with communication at the cost of the living’s vital energies.

I witnessed these traumatic bonds between investigators and spirit phenomena at the old Camarillo State Hospital (now the campus of CSUCI) during the time that it was slowly transitioning from one identity to another. In fact, I fell victim to it. My theory is that those of us with a background of severe trauma were both easy targets and receptive audiences for the restless energies of the State Hospital. Those of us with the most “success” at recording astounding EVP and finding photographic evidence of anomalies were almost always the same ones struggling with psychic pain involving mental health issues, typically major depression and anxiety. The entities or energies at the old Hospital found a resonance with our struggles and emotional chaos. We were, in a sense, patients that had not been formally admitted. We were seeking to understand ourselves through the trauma of others, and when our energy matched theirs, the contact was often astounding. In fact, that contact was the reward for our dogged return to the scene of the crime.

However, what was good for an investigation was often bad for us. We ended up, many of us, dragging the psychic sludge and overpowering depression back home with us. We had insomnia, headaches, exhaustion, and even hallucinations while attempting to fall asleep. Camarillo affected me on a physical, spiritual, and emotional level, and yet it was difficult not to return. In strange ways, we formed relationships with people we could not see; and often, we could not identify what we were perceiving as patients, or staff, or even as people. The conversations that we all heard down dark hallways had an eerie, metallic quality that made them sound like recordings from another dimension. In what sense was that “real”? In fact, Camarillo made investigators question the very notion of reality, of what was a “person”, and what was a feeling. Do you become a collection of feelings and habits after death? Do you replay certain scenes from your life over and over again? What, exactly ARE you after death?

Those were questions we were unable to answer. For me, there was no cohesive personality with whom I interacted. The fundamental question of “what” or “who” we are contacting remains unanswered. More to the point is how we define personal identity in this life or the next: do we know who we are and what we will become? Are we communicating with fragments of consciousness, a dissociated memory track, or an actual personality that remains intact?

There is no doubt that death can be traumatic. The transition creates an intense need to “hold on”, and this explains the bond between a spirit and its old environment. The replay of pain and the fear of punishment certainly contributes to the perceived negative environment, as does the relationship between the traumatized investigator and the confused, overwhelmed spirit. That symbiotic relationship can become dangerous for the living, however, as those kinds of relationships cannot be healthy or progress to a higher level of awareness.

I remember an investigation at Camarillo where our teammate, who had been there countless times, asked if anyone remembered him. The clear voice on the recorder said, “Is that all you want?” Indeed, no, it was not all he wanted, nor any of us. And yet, we did not really know what we wanted. We had proven that something persists of human personality and consciousness, and that “something” was capable of communication via our devices and our emotions. I am even hesitant to say that it was a human personality that spoke to us that day, for that is an assumption.

I think we all wanted a relationship with that place and the people that seemed to still be there. But why? My theory now is that we were engaging in the trauma bond, reinforcing the unhealthy and painful cycle of the ghost trapped in the abandoned building. We were often hurt deeply by our interactions with the spirit world, but we could not stop pursuing those communications and experiences. Perhaps we ourselves felt like ghosts in an abandoned building, lost in this world as they were in theirs.

I realized that I could not help “them”, whoever they were, and they clearly could not help us, since we were not clear on our motivations and attachments. There is no way to evolve and transcend this dynamic without a thorough understanding of our desire for contact with traumatized energies. If we don’t heal ourselves first, then we are as trapped and unhappy as those left behind in the former Camarillo State Hospital, and everywhere else we go seeking darkness.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Published by thupancic

I received my Ph.D. from Yale University in Spanish Literature and Language. I am currently a professor a Southern California college. My current area of research and interest is survival of consciousness research. I live with an eccentric husband and an emotionally deranged green-cheeked conure. I am the founder of the International Society for Paranormal Research (2021), which for now is housed under until we get our own site. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in membership!

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