Friday, December 09, 2005

betrayal bonds: trauma repitition

trauma repitition: This aspect of betrayal bonds involves reenactment or re-creation of prior traumas. Carnes calls it "living in the unremembered past." This can take several forms. Some get in abusive relationships that re-enact the original trauma. Sometimes it manifests itself in a compulsive behavior. Compulsive masturbation, for example, is usually a reenactment of a childhood trauma. Combined with shame, the person often becomes suicidal.

The key to understanding trauma repetition is that "in part, trauma repetition is an effort by the victim [or insome cases, the victim/perpetrator] to bring resolution to a traumatic memory. " It is a way of coping with old traumas, but instead of resolving the past, it creates new wounds, compounding and multiplying the problem. This is where complex ptsd comes from -- the continued repetition and compounding of some earlier trauma. For me that was childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in a a family run by a raging alcoholic father and a classically co-dependent mother. It was a large family, and traumas inflicted on older siblings would then be reenacted on the younger ones.

Unfortunately, one form of trauma reenactment is "to victimize people in the same way they victimized you." While not all trauma repetition is perpetration (unless you want to count self-perpetration, which is sort of a contradiction of terms), all -- or nearly all -- perpetration is a repetition of some kind of trauma that the perpetrator also lived through. One perpetrator often victimizes many people, so the effects get spread widely. I reenacted things by somehow managing to always find relationships with abusive people, allowing both them and me to re-create traumatic experiences in a sick relationship.

According to Carnes (and I'm mostly but not exactly quoting), trauma repetition is characterized by repeated self-destructive (or destructive) behavior, usually of a repetition of some childhood trauma; reliving a story from the past, engaging in abusive relationships repeatedly (this was my pattern -- I thought abuse was normal, and couldn't even recognize it as such until I got in a non-abusive relationship and got help); repeating painful experiences, including specific behaviors, scenes, persons, and feelings; doing something to others that you experienced as an early life trauma.

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), 24-26.


  1. My husband was diagnosed last Feb. with multiple personality disorder. He has worked through the tough job of reclaiming his memories of his childhood. He lived a nightmare of constant very serious abuse. Now we are dealing with his teenage years when he was a more severely abused runaway. His alter personality that he formed to handle the trauma needs to relive some of the worst of it. Now that he has trusted me enough to tell me about some of it, he tries to engage me in acting out his flashbacks. I am terrified. I don't know how to bring him to reality when on of these flashbacks starts. I cannot talk to him about it, because he thinks I am judging him if I don't find it arousing. Any suggestions?

    1. I hope you realize you have no obligation to your husband to act out his flashbacks. It is not therapeutic for him, and if you're uncomfortable can be abusive to you. Your aren't his therapist, you're his partner. He needs professional help.

  2. When you have an abreaction during a hypnotic session, these words help bring someone back to the present: "The scene fades to black and you tend to your breathing." Encourage them to focus on their breathing and let them know you're putting the trauma in a safe place where it won't bother them till they're ready to deal with it. Good luck.