Healing a  Relationship

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Negative Bonding - Case Studies

Not all bonding patterns are negative and not all are over in a few hours. Some bonding patterns can continue for months or years

The rescuer and the bird with the broken wing 

 - a long term positive bonding pattern

What also is significant in the bonding pattern below is the presence of two powerful selves each playing positive roles. In both partners, however, the selves playing these roles keep their real motives (protecting the person they belong to) hidden behind a mask that suggests the opposite is the case.

Setting the scene

Jim is a rescuer who gets into positive bonding patterns all too easily when he starts a relationship with a new girl friend who appears to be in need of his help. His selves include an archetypal  ‘rescuer’ or knight in shining armour self who travels the countryside seeking partners who have an equally strong ' damsel in distress' or bird with broken wing selves. When they meet the scene is set.

Note: Age and gender are not relevant in this long term bonding pattern. It can just as easily be a warrior princess who rescues a male wounded bird; often a child plays rescuer to one or both wounded parents. Alternatives to the bird and the rescuer selves include similar bonding patterns where the primary selves in both partners play dual roles as rescuer knight (male or female) in shining armour and the victim or damsel in distress

The rescuer self presents an image of strength, self-confidence and the ability to overcome problems, typical of a one-above self. The wounded damsel in distress or bird with the broken wing self on the other hand characteristically has much to say about how helpless or disadvantaged he or she is. When they meet, this sets the scene for a rapid connection, since the one-below bird is in need of the very things the rescuer is able to provide and is more than willing to express gratitude and abundant appreciation in return.

The relationship typically moves forward very quickly, driven by the obvious neediness of the bird, and the over-eagerness of the rescuer to help. It’s beautiful to watch (at first) but one of the clues to future problems is the absolute absence of any kind of conflict or anger about even the most irritating things either person does, things that would normally create an understandable reaction in a healthy relationship. Not all bonding patterns are negative and not all are over in a few hours. Positive bonding patterns like this one can continue for months or years.

Meanwhile, behind the curtain ...

Things go really well for a start but there is much more going on under the surface. Keep in mind that in its heart no inner self is philanthropic or unselfish enough to make sacrifices on the part of the person it is protecting unless there is a clear and realistic pay-off that makes the effort worthwhile. So what is really going on inside the rescuer? As with all selves its primary mission is to reduce underlying vulnerability.

Let’s say for example that Jim has an underlying vulnerability about not being worthwhile and many unresolved childhood issues about being unable to rescue his parents from their pain and wounding or get things to work in his family.

Like all of us, Jim’s inner child will be looking for opportunities to resolve these old issues and like most of us, his inner selves, particularly his rescuer self, mistakenly to do this is by sorting out other people’s problems so well that they will tell his inner child that he is at last worthwhile and a success as a rescuer.

As your awareness grows you will discover, or may already have discovered, things don’t work out this way, but the rescuer self does not have this awareness.

Underlying vulnerability issues (I forgot to tell you about ...)

Meanwhile the bird with the broken wing also has underlying issues that are far from obvious. Let’s say that the wounded bird whose name is Arial has always been troubled by feelings of being controlled by others and expresses this by depicting herself as weak, helpless and damaged as a result of being controlled in this way. Arial’s wounded bird self also describes her as having lost the power to fly, to the delight of Jim’s rescuer who knows he can restore her flying self again and thereby gain the appreciation he is looking for.

He didn’t mention it to Arial but Jim’s rescuer is also troubled by his underlying fear of being abandoned and has become rather attached to her. The rescuer plans to keep her close to him forever after she has regained her strength so she can fly around him in circles, appreciating him every day for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, this does not fit in with Arial’s long term plans, which her wounded bird self forgot to mention to Jim when they got together. Since her vulnerability issues are about being controlled by others, her primary aim is to break free from that control. Once she can fly again (thanks to Jim’s rescuer) what she really wants to do is to fly faster and further from control than ever before.

At some time these issues have to surface since the they represent the most important reasons behind the positive bonding pattern. (Let’s be honest, it’s not really a ‘relationship’.) For the selves running each side of the bonding, nothing else is as important.

It’s at this moment that all the hidden resentment surfaces. Jim will be triggered into pain and will be hurt if Arial wants to fly away. That will trigger Arial’s anger because she feels he is trying to control her.


Jim's Horizontal  loop


Rescuing super caretaking parent: "I just want to look after you and make you happy again. Just follow my advice and you'll  be OK"

Jim Hurt devastated child:

"How could you do this to me, after all I've done for you? Please don't leave me."


Appreciative child: "Oh Jim, you are so good and kind to me. I will never be able to repay you for all you are doing to help me. Please tell me what to do."

Arial (several years later):

Critical  parent: "I'm tired of you trying to control me all the time. I don't need your help any longer. "

Arial's Horizontal  loop

Trying to 'solve' the bonding pattern by escaping from  it

Jim begins the new loop feeling devastated (child) but will later loop back to resentful   father because Arial is failing to show the appreciation he needs and expected in return for ‘all he has done for her.’ To get away from Jim’s resurfaced controlling selves, Arial may need to call on some of her hidden selves, ones who will ultimately create so much conflict (negative bonding) between them that Jim will be the one to end the relationship and tell her to go. Alternatively, once she stops appreciating him, Jim may become so resentful that he will dump Arial and go looking for a new wounded bird to be rescued so he can start all over again. Escaping a pattern with one person only changes the scenery and the actors in the play. The script, the plot and the ending will be repeated with the next partner. To put a permanent end to our tendency to get in these patterns needs a different approach. See Getting out of Bonding Patterns.


The rescuer and the wounded bird is a characteristic codependent positive bonding. At first each person’s primary self works hard to meet deeply felt needs in the other person. However, it does this conditionally with a strong but hidden expectation that their gift will be repaid in the way the giver wants, not the way the other person would like to repay it. It is not an adult relationship, it is a positive bonding pattern, and because of its nature cannot last. While on the surface each seems ideally suited for the other, there is a deep conflict between the underlying needs of each person.

In this climate there is no room for the essential elements of adult-to-adult linkage to develop. Instead two primary selves who initially danced rather well together and complemented each other’s needs, have managed to get together into a bonding pattern which is doomed to fail. It switches to a negative bonding when one partner stops being appreciative daughter and loops into critical parent, throwing the rescuer into a ‘child’ energy state, as one of his inner selves gets upset about what one of her inner selves is doing to him.

Negative Bonding Case Study B -

Partner A's Horizontal  loop

Partner A:

Angry one above blaming parent: "I thought I could trust you and I find you have gone and stolen the money out of our account hoping I didn't find out"

Fearful compliant child: "I'm sorry. I didn't understand. I shouldn't have said anything. It's OK you can have my share as well if you need it."

Partner B:

Rebel child:" It was an emergency and anyway, I only took my half of the money"

Powerful punishing parent: "If that's how you feel, you can have your money back. You are going to need it to pay for the divorce anyhow!"

Partner B's Horizontal  loop


Watch the non-verbal energies

Because couples dealing with important issues always send their most powerful messages only partly as words (less than twenty percent) and mainly in terms of actions, body language and emotional energies amplifies this problem.

It ain’t what you say ... it’s the way you say it, by sixty to ninety percent.