Jan 15, 2023

Bruno Bettelheim: The Shocking History Of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bond

I wanted to expound more on the history of the blaming label "Trauma Bonding"  (to read why Trauma Bonding is victim blaming, and what the creator, Patrick Carnes, says about it, click HERE ).

Dutton & Painter first mentioned a process called "traumatic bonding" back in the 80's, and Patrick Carnes took it and popularized it into an actual label called "Trauma Bonding". Dutton & Painter were influenced by other researchers like Porter, Walker, Ferenczi, and especially Bruno Bettelheim (I went down a long rabbit hole of reading 😳). 

Bruno Bettelheim was a child psychologist who helped create the "Refrigerator Mother Theory" that believed mothers were to blame for a child's autism, and he also helped perpetuate the "identification with the aggressor" theory, created by Ferenczi, when he wrote a paper in the 1940's about his experience as a holocaust survivor in a nazi concentration camp. He claimed that he saw a pattern where the other prisoners tried to mimic the gestapo by wearing their uniforms in order to avert dominance over other prisoners and because they "loved" looking like gestapo, or that prisoners in gestapo uniforms were even more mean than the gestapo, or that prisoners played cruel games involving slapping each other to see who can withstand the most pain and be the "toughest" , etc

 Bettelheim later wrote tons of research papers, was one of the early writers on autism, treated autistic children, was an author of many books, a professor of Psychology and director of Orthogenic at University of Chicago, and was the director of Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children. 

Bettleheims research papers also laid the foundation for many other blaming labels including Codependency, Learned Helplessness, Stockholm Syndrome, etc., and influenced TONS of professionals, a few of them being:

- Dutton and Painter used Bettelheims research papers to help develop the term "traumatic bonding" and applied it to abuse victims (though D&P didn't use it as a label at that time, they only used it as a way to describe a situation).

- Dr. L. Walker used Bettelheims research to implement Forenczi's "identification with the aggressor" theory in her development of Battered Woman Syndrome.

- Dr. Patrick Carnes quotes Bettelheim as proof why victims are "addicted" to the addict. 

- Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk quotes Bettelheim as proof victims are "addicted" to the trauma/abuser/addict. Etc. (Heads up, Van Der Kolk has a history of abusing others) 


Sounds great right?? 


Bettelheim turned out to be a complete fraud and a liar! He was never a psychologist!  He never went to school for psychology, and only had a PhD in art history. He was just some dude who was obsessed with Sigmund Freud and idolized him (aw, a Freud wannabe), claimed to have worked with Freud personally (he lied 🤥), claimed Eleanor Roosevelt called for him to be removed from the concentration camps, lied about his credentials, and wrote papers that made him popular, including his ridiculous idea that mothers caused a childs autism (though he wasn't the only one. Bowlby who created Attachment Theory originally blamed mothers as well. Blaming women has often been the popular choice for decades). Bettelheim also had a history of sexually assaulting women, and abusing the children he experimented on at the Orthogenic School. 🤯

Furthermore, it turned out that a lot of the stuff Bettelheim said happened in the nazi camp likely didn't happen either. Many of the other prisoners who were in the same camp as Bettelheim were interviewed and their accounts were drastically different from Bettelheims. They said Bettelheim was kind of an outcast among the prisoners. I've read some of their statements, and many of the "concerning" things that Bettelheim claimed happened were easily explained away as something innocent or rational by the other prisoners. For example the "cruel slapping game" to see who can withstand the most pain was actually an innocent boy scout game where one person turns around and people tap his butt (not inflict pain), and the person has to quickly turn around and guess who did it.

Another example is Bettelheim's claim that there was a pattern of prisoners wearing gestapo uniforms in order to avert dominance, because they "loved" to look like gestapo. This is false. This isn't to say there weren't any prisoners who were mean to other prisoners, of course there were. But things just didn't happen in the way Bettelheim was claiming, nor was there a strong pattern. One prisoner explained that in another camp they were given old ratty police uniforms to wear, instead of the classic stripes, which were made far better than the striped uniforms, since the striped uniforms allowed rain to go straight through them. So when the prisoners were sent to the same camp as Bettelheim, many of them tried to continue wearing the police uniforms as long as they could, solely because they were of better quality and provided better protection, NOT because they "loved to look like the gestapo".


Basically, Bettelheim lied to EVERYONE about EVERYTHING!

What's even more shocking is that professionals STILL quote him today, and these philosophies are STILL being taught in colleges. 🤦‍♀️ Which leaves the question, why on earth is society continuing to believe in/teach theories that were rooted and fueled by a guy who was a liar and a fraud?? I don't know. I really don't know...

VICTIMS DESERVE BETTER than to be treated with labels and theories that are about as "real" as Hysteria and Wandering Womb. 

Resources :

Genius or Fraud? https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1997-01-23-9701230196-story.html


Horrible Truth About Bruno Bettelheim 



Paradox of Bruno Bettelheim 



Fleck, C., & Müller, A. (1997). Bruno Bettelheim and the concentration camps   (*Note, this paper gives examples of a few things that contradict Bettelheims statements of the nazi prisoners. However, this paper was written before the author found out Bettelheim was a fraud. I find it interesting he still had doubts of Bettelheims claims though) 






A Self Chosen State 



Who, really, was Bruno Bettelheim? 



Abuses of Enchantment (a very excellent read 🙌) 



The Creation of Doctor B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim


#StopVictimBlaming #traumabonding #codependency #wedonttalkaboutbruno #letstalkaboutbruno