Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Trauma Bonds or betrayal bonds, Stockholm Syndrome

[n.b., I have a new post on betrayal bonds here that has more information]

reallynotimportant said:
I can understand your desire to want to try and understand everything and why people did what they did. It is natural. I have been there myself.
Ultimately, I think it is pointless and self-destructive.
For me, I decided in the end that some people did some bad stuff and deliberately tried to fuck up my (not personal though) life. Why they did it - well I really don't care. They did what they did. I have no desire left to 'understand' them.
There was something different about our experiences of trauma and ptsd here. You may be right about it being pointless and self-destructive to try and understand a perpetrator's motives. It is a long path to there for me. My last perpetrators were people I trusted and cared about a lot. What they did ultimately may have not been personal -- it is about their sick and twisted minds and the consequent actions--but they personalized it, putting a major head trip on me, which I bought into fully because I trusted and cared for them and was basically naive about how twisted people could be.

This sort of betrayal creates something called a trauma bond or betrayal bond. A trauma bond is where an intense, traumatic experience or betrayal of trust takes place, forming an equally intense relationship/bond with the perpetrator. It is related to Stockholm Syndrome, after the hostages of Stockholm bankrobbers who waited for them to get out of jail a decade later and defended them -- and one even got engaged to one of them. Its not a real simple thing to just detach from such a bond. I had no frame for understanding it. It cost me my whole community, and I ended up starting over in a new place, which in the long run was a blessing, but in the short run was overwhelming, just having gone through a series of really intense betrayals and having nowhere or no one to go with them and just vent, much less try to make sense of them.

Ultimately you are right, trying to understand stuff like this is like Nietzsche says, "if you stare long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss stares also into you." It literally made me insane. I had to learn that I was not how other people constructed me...I was and am in charge of my own identity, who I am, and why I do things. This is basic for most people I guess, but it has been a real task for me. I had to come to an understanding that what had been done was abusive, because in the manner of good psychopaths, they made everything look normal on the outside, that it was me with the problem. And so it was: their lives weren't being torn up, mine was.

I guess what makes things hard for me is that I really cared about and trusted these people, and it was so personalized, being meant to basically destroy me. I'll write more about this later maybe. I'll try and get some some sleep now.


  1. I can understand some of what you talk about. If someone puts a head-fuck on you it can take a long time for you to work out that this is what has gone on and even longer to work out to what degree if any you were a contributor to it.

    It is a journey. You start with "My head has been fucked with", through "What is reality?" onto "I think this is reality" until at some point you reach "This is reality".

    How long it takes, who knows.

    It has taken me years to undo one or two major head-fucks unrelated to PTSD. I'll know when I've dealt with them because the evidence will be there. In some very real senses the PTSD has put some of these things on hold. One thing at a time...

  2. The parallels here are uncanny ... I suffered tremendous betrayal and lost my whole community too, about 7 years ago, and it was like a repeat-pattern of a similar trauma from way back in 1983 in many ways, though in reverse. I call the two of them together my "jumping in" and "jumping out" (borrowed from street-gang terminology). Your blog is informative ... very cool.

  3. You are insightful with the way you put things. Yes, it is hard to grasp how twisted some people are...that they like to be cruel, and that your honest expressions of love trigger rage in them...and they set out to cruelly hurt you, but in such a way that they can convince you it is all your fault. And the weirdest part is they are so devoid of empathy, they never realize just how MUCH they have hurt you, but they get off on what they CAN see of your suffering. For me, it helped to learn that I was dealing with a person with narcissistic personality disorder. At last I could put a label on the evil, and some abuse which I hadn't even recognized as such (see Carnes book) became clear as I read through the discriptions of narcisstic personality disorder and the light bulbs went on. Thanks for your blog. "Betrayal bonds" has not yet become a buzz word and there are few sites for this kind of release and feeling not so alone.

  4. I too suffer from trauma/betrayal bonding and I wish I could stop the insanity. I don't have the ability to not try to understand the "Why" of his behavior and that is keeping me stuck. It's difficult to believe that there are people who are simply dark and mean (though unconsciously). I uncannily found a description of this is Sylvia Brown's Phenomenon in the chapter called "Dark Entities". The jist of it implies that there are people who are wired to keep other's unbalanced. Their purpose is to drain your light or dim it. It is how they gain power or feel powerful. The more off-balanced we are--the more powerful they feel. Another friend calls it "crazy-making" which is when an abuser intentionally makes you question your own sanity. That's all part of this bonding thing, I don't trust myself and my own thinking and he feeds my own distrust to make me trust him more. But I don't understand how I can know this intellectually but not be able to break away from it. Thanks for the blog.

  5. Thanks so much for the blog. Only people who have lived it can understand it. I keep rereading and rereading Carnes' book, trying to get better. I "get it" , I get angry at my narcissist/psycho, and then something brings the hurt back (like music), and I find myself once again wanting to be with him, even though the pain almost killed me and he has dumped me four times and has no idea really of the pain, cause he just can't empathize to an extent most people just can't understand. But I agree with the other poster, some pain he did understand and HE ENJOYED the power of causing it, AND love DOES draw forth cruelty from him....I think he experiences it as manipulation, because that is what his "love" is. He SO didn't want me to be happy that at first I thought he was oppositional defiant. As soon as he knew I enjoyed something or wanted something, boom, it was gone. I just have to manage the intrusive thoughts (as soon as I wake up) and the reactivity and the feeling of being on guard constantly. I am starting a new job and have a husband who truly loves me and I'm trying to finally let go of the shame which belongs to him not me, and enjoy all the good flooding my life. It is hard.

  6. I can really relate to a lot of what you're saying here. It gives me hope to see that someone in similar shoes appears to be very strong and rational in a long journey towards feeling healthy. I am dealing with PTSD myself and am *very* familiar with the trauma bond. I am wondering... what can someone do to "get over" that bond? It makes me so sick inside, trying to understand why I am feeling this guilt and confusion (etc.) when these things happened TO me. I believe that by feeling them, I'm allowing them to keep control of my life in a way -- because the thoughts are pulling me out of the present, SAFE moment and back into reliving something traumatic. Yet I have no clue how to start moving in the right direction in correcting this. I will follow your link and see if that helps at all.

    In the meantime, my only hope in commenting was to let you know that you've helped a fellow victim out here, and that yet another person understands. One of the people who really, deeply hurt me was someone very close to me too... and I understand it being FAR more complicated than just not caring to understand. It's impossible not to try to understand, and it is maddening.

    While I'm at it, you're a really talented writer! Anyway hope you got that sleep you needed. Cheers.

  7. there are no reasons, this is the hardest truth to bear

  8. I am a survivor of traumatic parenting and incest.Today,I find myself in a romantic relationship with a prisoner. My friends tell me it is crazy to love this man. My therapist has just introduced me to the triangle of a trauma bond - victim - savior - perpetrator. She says we are both playing all three roles at diferent times. When i pretend I don't have doubts I am the P. When I let him talk me into spending more money on him than I can afford I make myself the V. And when I try and teach him about generosity, gratitude and empathy I am the S. Does this sound right to you? Does anyone else have experience with prisoners?

  9. Thank you for addressing the issue of trauma bonding and sharing your experience. You know, it's easy for someone else to claim that they don't care why their abuser acted the way they did, but that person is most likely still in the avoidance phase of PTSD, and that's assuming they suffered abuse at all, which wasn't clear from their post. You should just keep talking about it though, and keep trying to figure it out. We need more people like you so that we don't feel alone in our struggle. Bless you for all you do.

  10. And by the way, it's odd (and great) that you mentioned the quote about "staring into the abyss". I started my own blog and named it after that quote.

  11. Thanks for posting this. I am bonded to my abusive ex-therapist. He was spectacular at helping me deal with being raped, and then turned around and emotionally abused and financially exploited me in a failed "friendship". If I think of it in stages of grief I am just getting out of the bargaining phase and into the reflection phase. Looking forward to the upswing phase.

    Thank you for posting this. I don't feel so alone.

  12. Robin I understand. I had a therapist help me a lot. She then wanted to be physical with me. She was almost 30 years older. She later betrayed me because of this. I had lost a lot of supports and of course she knew this. She stopped being sincere and started saying messed up comments her and there. I ask for a treatment referral to a group therapy and she stalled and messed up the referral on purpose. I was losing my ability to take care of myself. I don't even know how to explain the things I feel.

  13. This blog has found me when I really needed it! Uncanny! I honour and respect all the previous comments here - I have copied down some of the relevant parts so I can reflect on them later - I too have been in one of those "traumatic triangle duos", though I had no clue at the time (17 years). I am now 2+ years past it, and yet still get anxious if the other person makes contact in an angry way. Duh! So frustrating to still find myself there, but I guess it takes all the time it takes. I have mostly avoided contact with this person for this time, because I still get twitchy - and now I am learning more and trying, once again, to get to the bottom of what happened to me. Definitely with my consent, at the time, and yet in hindsight, what an idiot I was. Seeing what I wanted to see. And who I wanted to see. AWAY better out of it. And still vulnerable.
    Thanks for letting me rant. Best to all of you who read this.

  14. Thank you so much. I too suffer with PTSD and recently a trauna bond. I am picking up the pieces. Some days are hard, I have a flashback and then I'm done for the day. Exhausted. Other days are good. Its comforting to know others share the same difficulties. We are not alone. Thank you.

  15. I just got out of a relationship with a sociopath who falls under antisocial personality/narcissistic personality disorder, and I totally understand what you're going through.

    I think most sociopaths abuse others because they grew up in abusive homes, and they don't know any other way to treat people. They are also extremely lacking in self-esteem and so need others to see them as "savior" to feel good about themselves.

    I've read a lot about them on the internet, and it helped me understand the person I was abused by.
    Also check out http://www.dailystrength.org/groups/victims-of-psychopaths-sociopaths
    for support and others who have similar experiences.

    hope we can all recover and heal and learn to love ourselves :)

  16. I'm with a narcissist 17/18 years now, up until 2 years ago I always knew something was wrong, something wasn't right but I couldn't put it into words. I kept thinking how can I leave him if I can't even explain why it is that I'm leaving. Then one day when his brother & sister inlaw was over for a barbecue, we were all in the kitchen helping to make dinner. My husband messed something up & then started yelling & was making it my fault something about me being in his way I looked at my brother & sister inlaw they looked at me like WTF u were no where near him & that's when I realized what it was that he had been doing to me all these years...... EVERYTHING WAS ALWAYS MY FAULT he was so good at twisting things around to make it look like it was always my fault. He knew by the reactions on everyones face that he blew himself out of the water. That is just 1 of the many many mean, nasty, devious things he used to do to me. Twice I tried killing myself to be soooo unhappy & not have words to explain why was to much for me at times. Everything that I've read on Narcissism that is very common for people to know something is wrong but yet n9t be able to explain it....That's all I have for now! I hope ur doing well I've noticed u haven't been on in a couple of years. Well God Bless You & like I said I hope ur doing well. Bye for now.