Tuesday, December 06, 2005

betrayal bonds: trauma abstinence

Trauma abstinence: The underlying problem causing this aspect of betrayal bonds is a core belief in one's unworthiness. Self denial is followed by out-of-control sprees. There is an aversion to good, healthy, or nurturing things for the self. Bulimia and anorexia would fall into this category. Often the trauma at the heart of this behavior is family neglect. Children become comfortable with it and become self-neglectful as adults. Coupled with "high arousal events such as domestic violence and sexual abuse and you have a neurochemical cocktail that is hard to beat. . . . the only way to control survival becomes to freeze...Ask nothing. Do nothing. Attract no attention. Yet fear mobilizes the body...In a constant state it can become addictive." Trauma abstinence "occurs especially around memories of success, high stress, shame, or anxiety. . . deprivation is driven by terror and fear" which have powerful effects on the brain.

Carnes talks about trauma abstinence in conjunction with addiction, saying the two go hand in hand. I experienced this as getting one area of my life under control only to see another part go out of control. To me its like that game in the amusement park where you swat at gophers as they pop up out of holes. A soon as you get one, two more pop up and they are never under control...which of course is the "rush" of the game.

What are some of the behaviors associated with trauma abstinence? Carnes says (and I'm mostly quoting him with my own thoughts thrown in): Compulsive debtors, people who deny basic needs like groceries, avoid any sexual pleasure or feel extreme remorse over sexual activity, hoard money and avoid spending it on legitimate needs, work in under-achieving jobs and make unwarranted sacrifices at them, spoil success opportunities (this is the one I relate to most), have periods of no interest in eating (for a while when things were bad I didn't eat hardly at all. I'd eat a little because my partner would make me. Lost 40 pounds. Meds put it all back on...drat.) attempt diets repeatedly, see comfort, luxuries, and play activities as frivolous, skip vacations to work on unrewarding tasks, avoid normal activities because of fears (hmmm...I might still do this some...I tend to hide out when left to my own devices), have difficulty with play (I don't have a problem with this:), be underemployed, vomit food or use diuretics to avoid weight gain.

I think where it shows up in my life is in everyday neglect...not wanting to shower (but I do...so don't worry about the blog smelling bad:), not bothering to eat or eating badly when my partner isn't around, that type of thing. I may have it around some sexual stuff, but its hard to sort all that out. Sex is a real trigger for my ptsd. My partner is also a survivor, and since my ptsd messed up our sex life, we tend to avoid having sex on any regular basis. I don't know if its abstinence or just that freaking out isn't really fun or pleasurable for either of us. I'll talk more about that some other time.

All the quotations and information not otherwise attributed above comes from Patrick J. Carnes, The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships (Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications Inc., 1997), 17-21.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'm out of line, please ignore me.

  3. Hi gettingbetter,
    This post betrayal bonds: trauma abstinence is true. It is just unfortuate that we have to suffer such a high price from being survivors of abuse. We do neglect very important parts of our everyday life. I only hope as we join in the healing that our personal futures holds balance,joy,peace and harmony for the pain we had lived with in learning to deal with the abuse. My wish is for serveral years of a future that will be filled with joy, all the wonderful parts of life we may have missed during our journey in healing. Take care

  4. Boy, another great post. I most relate to the sexual anorexia, about which Carnes wrote a whole book, but also to the "frugalness carried to extremes."

    Money is security to me, because ppl rarely have been.