Friday, December 02, 2005

more on betrayal bonds, aka trauma bonds

OK, back to ptsd and betrayal bonds. I wrote a little about them a few days ago. I have also put up a whole section on other symptoms of ptsd. Here is some more on betrayal bonds.

At the treatment center I went to for ptsd I was introduced to the concept of a trauma bond. They shared portions of a book, Patrick Carnes' The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships, with me. I immediately bought the whole thing, and it remains about the only self-help type book that I have managed to work all the way through. It transformed my understanding of what was going on in my life, why I kept repeatedly getting involved in traumatic relationships even after getting clean and sober, why I was unable to "just get over it," and finally, what made these relationships so powerful in my life.

The place to start is with betrayal. What is it? Carnes starts his book by saying it is "a breach of trust. Fear. What you thought was true -- counted on to be true -- was not." ReallyNotImportant, in his blog on Zen and PTSD, describes it nicely when he says that "the world is suddenly a very strange place. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is clear-cut, everything has nuances. All the certainty is gone." The world becomes unsafe. It may fall away from beneath your feet at any moment. But its not all a lie. According to Carnes, "there was just enough truth to make everything seem right. . . . a little truth with just the right spin." The rest was exploitation and a harsh form of abandonment, which he connects to the core of addictions and shame. It is worse than neglect, being purposeful, in my case even intentionally cruel. And "if severe enough, it is traumatic," he concludes, creating "a mind numbing, highly addictive attachment to the people who have hurt you," leading to self-distrust and self-abandonment.

Because of my history of abuse and trauma, I managed to stack up a series of these betrayal bonds with god-awful results. Carnes notes that "adult survivors of abusive and dysfunctional families struggle with bonds that are rooted in their own betrayal experiences." He concludes that "Loyalty to that which does not work, or worse, to a person who is toxic, exploitive, or destructive to you, is a form of insanity." So I guess I was insane, at least for a while. That is how it felt, too.

He has a test on his website that you might take if you think you are in the grips of a betrayal bond. Some of the signs are "misplaced loyalty, inability to detach, and self-destructive denial." Then comes the punch line, the part that explained why everything could still go crazy even nine years after I had extricated myself from these relationships: " You will never mend the wound without dealing with the betrayal bond." Time won't heal it, compulsive or addictive behaviors won't numb it away, therapy won't cure it, spirituality won't work...none of it will unless you confront the trauma bond itself.

In what sort of contexts do they occur? Carnes gives a list of likely candidates:

  • domestic violence
  • dysfunctional marriages
  • exploitation within the workplace
  • religious abuse
  • litigation
  • kidnapping
  • hostage situations
  • cults
  • addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, high-risk behavior
  • incest and child abuse

Half of those things happened to me in the span of a couple of years, and a couple more had happened earlier. Any of these are complex issues, and Carnes says "an unraveling must occur." There is no simple, quick fix.

He maps out abuse along two axes, from once or seldom to frequent or constant on the one hand, and from low trauma to high trauma on the other. That explains why someone who has a series of moderately traumatic events can have many of the same symptoms as someone who has a single highly traumatic event. While the symptoms are the similar, it seems to me that the unraveling is a little different for everyone.

He then lists eight ways trauma affects people over time, one of which is the betrayal bond. I'll go into those in the next few posts. Most often, a person who has been traumatized will be affected in more than one, perhaps even all of the ways listed.

As usual, if you got this far, let me know in a comment!

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).


  1. Dear Traumarama,
    Thank you for sharing, wonderful insight into your experience, the place of healing, and courage. PURE DETERMINATION!
    Once again your strength is admired. Take care

  2. Very information....I look forward to reading on...

  3. Thank you for knowing exactly what I feel without me having to say a word. Thank you for making me feel okay to feel the way I do. Thank you.

  4. Thanks so much. I've read Carnes' book, done the exercises, and still I gained from reading how you put it all. You did a great job of synthesizing it all in a way that brought new meanings to me. And you are right. It does feel like going insane.

  5. Thank you so much for posting this. I am reading Betrayal Bonds right now and it's providing insights I haven't found anywhere else. You summarize the key points so well and provide valuable discussion of the information in the book.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you, i just read about trauma bonding for the first time last night, then out of the blue my friend mentioned it, then I googled the words, and found your site. i feel as if I have just woken up after a long sleep. Thank you sharing and processing the information so clearly.

  7. You are most welcome. I am glad some good can come out of a bunch of hellaciaous experiences!

  8. Your sharing is so powerful for me and explains the intense bond I feel for some awful people and awful events I had in my childhood. I have been unable to let go of it and move on with my life. I heard the term "trauma bond" before and googled it. what I found in your writings is very inspiring and gives me hope I can overcome this. I plan to get Carnes book. Thank you so much for your sharing.

  9. You are welcome. I am glad something good can come of it so thank you for telling me. Good luck on your journey of healing. Finding out there was such a thing as a trauma bond was key to getting better for me. Up until then I just thought it was a mystery or something congenitally defective about me. Now I have a much better understanding and have been able to put trauma-inducing people out of my life if not always all the way behind me. And things have gotten quite a bit better as a result.

  10. Okay, I should have read this one before commenting on the Trauma Bond post with my question. ;) I had asked what I could do to start moving on, and I think this book will help initiate that process.

    THANK YOU for this info. My story was a string of "moderately traumatic" events that left me feeling constantly on edge, ready for betrayal or chaos at any moment, completely in physical and emotional pain for years. In my head I know these feelings are justified, but it's such a knot of events and emotions that I've felt disconnected, being unable to explain concisely to anyone exactly why I'm feeling the way that I am. It gives me hope to think that maybe I just haven't faced this exact issue yet, and that perhaps once I figure out how to I can possibly move on and regain some control of my life.

    The supportive, loving people I have new relationships with don't deserve to deal with my insecurities from the manipulative, destructive people in my toxic past... I just didn't know what to do about it. I think that perhaps I had tried everything EXCEPT facing this exact issue. You're right about other methods of therapy being ineffective in any amount. So thank you for the info on this book and, like the other people who responded, I really admire your strength.

  11. Yes, I am in trauma every day of my life. I find work really stressful. I get confused and distracted. I came from a very dangerous where they were violent,acting out sexually with external women. I m in touch with my trauma and body automatically hits on visual images. I will go in fantasy,eat choclate or think about nice thinsg to indulge in. It has got worse. My work is getting diorganised and messy and is becomming a huger overhead. I cant cope. Also, I meet twisted people who are always very attractive, sense that I am attarctive to them. I show my love to them. they betray me by shamming me. I obssess about them for years miss them ridiculously.I get over them for a while and the obsession begins. I am in recovery in many fellowships. I just feel really crazy

  12. thanks. I am new commer and will write again. I am having to cut out all contacts with my family. They mess my life up. Everytime I speak to them i act out. I was subject to a dangerous upbringing. I am glad that i am still alive today. I am a surviver of immense violence. My mother and father were out of order and I cannot forgive them. When I do I fell bad for abandoning tehm and I start making ammends to them. They tell me that they are really nice. I live in fatnasy that they have changed. It is betrayal after betrayal. I have been in serveral fellowship including S. I feel carzy around people. I am warpped with confusion and I dont mirror anyone. That is really sad. At times I really felt I was like my Dad. This man hated me and said I was like my mother whom he really hated and treated her like that. My mother wasnt any better. Both were violent towards me. I cant really forgive and have very little willingness. The only ammends is to stay away form them and stay abstinant. I have been acting in alot. I have called people.Thanks for listening

  13. addict_ak, sorry to hear your troubles...Much of what you write in this and your other comment is very familiar to me. I don't know if your work gives you insurance, but if they do, take advantage of it if you can (if you don't already) and find a good therapist who specializes in PTSD...maybe check the How to pick a therapist for people with ptsd post. For me, I had to learn how to pick therapists who were not sick and exploitative themselves. Bad therapists, particularly the quick-fix-it types like NLP practitioners can do way more harm than help and compund your problems. If you can't afford a good therapist, try the Betrayal Bonds book by Carnes. It helped me a lot in understanding that I was not in fact crazy. I hope you can learn to be gentle with yourself so as not to repeat your perpetrators' violence against you on yourself and realize that PTSD is a coping mechanism for dealing with stuff that no one should have to deal with ever. I also needed meds, which I fought tooth and nail because of my misguided advisors from 12 step programs. If you find a good psychiatrist that will listen to you and she or he recommends meds, it can be a big help, but lots of folks in 12 step programs will hassle you about this. I could have saved myself a bit of suffering if I had not been so resistant to meds. I had to get to a point where I simply could not function at all any more. I am still not thrilled about being on meds. But besides my 12 step training, I had managed to find incompetent psychiatrists who made things worse until I got some help picking until I learned how to pick better myself. Anyway, I've gone on here because so much of what you say reminds me of myself a few years ago. Just before that time I was hopeless and had little idea what was going on, and I was starting to figure out what PTSD was and how it was causing a lot of my troubles rather than me being crazy. That set of realizations was the first step on the path to getting well. Since I have been fortunate enough to get help and have gotten rid of the toxic people in my life, my mental health has improved greatly. It took a long time...I reached crisis point with my PTSD in 2000 and didn't really start feeling well again until the past couple of years, but I did get better. I do know from a decade of feeling crazy and suffering though that had I not dealt with the PTSD, I would not have gotten better. I really wish you well and hope you can find some recovery from this bear of a problem too! Thanks for writing.

  14. I just finished the book Betrayal Bonds, it's the best out there on this topic that I've found so far!

    I actually picked it up for reference in "my book" Connecting The Dots: Why we are where we are

    I would love some feedback from others that are in the same boat as I am, someone recovering from a life of Trauma Bonds.

    Do you think a memoir/self help that is written with dark humor and full of vulgarity would be easier for most to pick up and read, than the "typical" self-help books out there.

    I think I'm writing for those in denial and desperately need to heal.


  15. I used to be on a board full of suicidal people that used lots of really dark humor, and do-gooders would regularly come to try and "save" them and get chewed out in what at the time was a really amusing fashion. The dark humor and dealing with people who I knew were just as much at the end of their rope, so to speak, ;^) as I was was actually more therapeutic than the therapy I was receiving at the time. It didn't help anything get any better, but it was a way of making a connection with other people so that I at least didn't feel so completely alone.

    So I am all for black humor, but it is sure to draw the ire of people who are not suffering from ptsd as being cruel, and will probably strike a nerve with some people with ptsd too. The name of this blog used to be Traumarama, which I thought was a facetious, dark, and funny title to take the edge off some really serious stuff, but a bunch of people complained that it was making light of their suffering, so rather than fighting I just switched the title. They were actually surprisded that I listened, I guess they were expecting and maybe even hoping a little tiny bit to nurse a resentment about the cruelty and indifference...So come to think of it, I'd hesitate before writing such a thing now.

    Not sure why it worked for the suicidal but not for the ptsd struck, but it probably has something to do with everything being a trigger, whereas suicidal depression just seemed like a morass with no cause or relief other than the humor of beating up on egotists trying to make themselves feel good by telling us all to cheer up, it'll be ok.

    You know though, since working through and dealing with some of the trauma bonds I have not been suicidal at all for a few years, which is really something cuz I walked around for a decade pretty low and wanting to just cease to exist from having ptsd and not knowing what it was. Now I get angry, but not all the time at myself anymore. Its actually quite a relief.

  16. I have been reading your posts intertwined with Carnes' work and I have to say that I am going to buy this book. I recently went through a failed relationship that I just couldn't shake even though she treated me horribly. Your comments along with Carnes' work have made me see that I can learn about why it has been so hard for me to move on. Ultimately I am saying that I really appreciate finding your blog posts and God bless you for being someone who is reaching out to be congruent with others who need the help that you have gotten. For me this information has been the last piece of the puzzle and exactly what I have been looking for. Thanks again.

  17. oops, sorry I missed this previous comment when you made it last month! (the one starting "I have been reading your posts intertwined with Carnes' work")

  18. This book has literally saved my life, it's amazing. I have struggled with a betrayal bond formed at the age of 16 with an unscrupulous college tutor who used to pay a selection of his teenage female students a little too much attention if you catch my drift... He set us against each other as well which was just horrible. It blighted my early adult life right at that crucial time when I was building my personhood and my self esteem. I barely knew who I was when I met him - there he was waiting for me, just as I left school, praying mantis like in that enrolment room. I was a beautiful, competent popular, straight A-grade young woman when I met him, but ended up a shell of my former self at 18 when I left him and that college, alienated from my friends, and with a handful of Cs. So bad was my depression and low self esteem that I dropped out of university only a few months later, and am only now completing my degree in my early 30s...
    A clue to someone who might be dodgy is when other people comment negatively on them. They can see somehting you cannot. This guy was not exceptionally attractive, and I didn't fancy him at all at first. But he was magnetic and drew me in. Yet many people instinctively didn't like him and would poke fun at him behind his back. You know there is a betrayal bond when you, like I did, find yourself defending him to these people!
    That person is long out of my life (over a decade) and I am in my early 30s but it has taken me this long to begin to break free of it! And to realise just how much of an effect it had on me. Never underestimate the effect these people have on you - the trauma really does cut deep. But it's not impossible to overcome and with the help of many personal development books and positive thinking, and learning how to love myself, and reframing what happened back then, recognising I was a child and not to blame, I am on my way to recovery. Love to all xx

  19. AnonymousJuly 04, 2011

    Thank You so much for this information. I am in a relationship with someone who i suspect has BPD. It has been very abusive and toxic and this site is giving me crucial information. Thanks Again

  20. I found this blog after searching for answers regarding sexual addiction. I had never even heard of betrayal bonds until tonight. I felt like I was reliving all my worst moments at once. My betrayal issues started back when I was in elementary school with my mother. She was extrememly abusive, emotionally and physically. This continued until I finally moved out on my own. The abuse didn't really stop though she followed me to the state I moved to and even would verbally abuse me over the phone. Then I married an abusive man. He always seemed to want sex after an explosive fight. I would leave him only to go back to him. I kept being drawn to those who were destructive. I just thought I was crazy. Until recently when my sexual behavior which has gotten way out of control cost me a friendship I have had for over 20 years. I couldn't control myself. I know alot of people say that but I kept telling myself it was wrong and still kept doing it. I just couldn't stop. My other friends believed I had a sexual addicition which led me to the SAST which in turn led me to test for the betrayal bonds and subsequently found this blog. It is good to know I am not crazy and I am not alone. It does make it easier knowing I am not alone in this.

  21. this is my case!! and i feel terrible!! i wanna break free alreadyyy................i still think i love this kid!!!! and i wwant him back no matter what!!!........i feel empty with out himm i feel weak and i i want is him in my life!!! it hurts not to have him around!! and i dont care if he wants me a sexual object as long as I have him!!!! there is no other guy that makes me happy as he does even thoe he humiliates me and tells me he doesnt love me!!! i sooo sick of feeling like this!! we boke up 7 months ago and i love him more everyday although i know hes not even cute looking and i know all the shit he did to me ...but it all fades away when I see him :(

  22. Thanks! I hadn't yet decided to buy the book, but after this post, I am certainly going to.

  23. Your comments on the book trauma bonds are insightful and cause one not to feel all alone in recovery.

  24. Thank you for sharing this.
    I have known for some time that I have PTSD.
    I also suffer from these betrayal bonds.

    I've been putting off getting treatment.

    Reading this makes the need all the more clear.

  25. Thank You so very much for sharing your experience, strength and hope with those of us who are still trying to find answers to why I do the things I do and why 'others' did the things they is not only helpful, but healing!! In addition, it makes me realize how much I need to seek professional help!! Thank You!! Be safe and take care!! :)

  26. I read the Betrayal Bond book. Best book for me. About ten years ago I had an affair with my boss over a three-year period. It was humiliating and traumatizing and yet I couldn't stop. The bond was very deep. I moved back home. Shame and depression took over, as well as loads of anxiety. Unexplainable I repeated the same dynamic - over a period of 10 years with at least four more people. I always went to the hospital with suicidal Feelings after. They got tired of me. I went through tonnes of therapy and counselors and got the bipolar diagnosis. Later joined a 12-step program for sex addiction. Luckily eventually discovered Patrick Carnes' book which explained a lot.I am in a relationship now which is confusing as I am still trying to heal. I've had lots more therapy but am still crying out the pain and sometimes im angry at my boyfriend. I feel like I have ptsd. I tried working
    but had a breakdown. I think I still need to heal the original trauma bond but still don't know how, even after reading the book.

  27. Sorry to be so slow on the comments. I hope you have been able to find some relief and some help. Recovery is slow going but it does happen! But only if you deal with the trauma issues. As Carnes points out, without knowing about that and coming to grips with it, nothing seems to change. Good therapists are out there if you can afford it, but you have to be picky and watch out for yourself. If you have problems on that score (like I did) you might want to consider having a trusted friend help with the selection process. I did that and it helped a lot since my tendency was to pick awful shrinks on my own. Ultimately even if you have someone help you though, you have to make the decision as to whether you can work with that person.

  28. AnonymousJuly 22, 2014

    After 24 years in 12 step, and what feels like 1 million years in therapy, I still have this outstanding trigger that has caused so much pain and distress in my life, and it's resurfaced again. Thank you for writing about this and so much gratitude for finding it now, in the midst of the crazy...

  29. Hi there, your article has perfectly captured exactly what is my problem - the trauma bonds, and I have learnt even more about these and how they impact us. Thank you! I attended a trauma workshop in London that helps to break these, Not sure if I'm able to use links here but it was at TW London, and it has virtually changed my life. It's very difficult for me now though, as I have so many trauma bonds, and not enough time on the workshop to cover them all. So I just went for the worst ones. I am going to do a second one soon. I am struggling to do my 12 step work without recovery from my PTSD, hopefully I'll work out some better support and a different sponsor than I have at the moment.

  30. Living in realityMarch 01, 2015

    Living in reality !

    Bloody brilliant. More helpful than all the bloody therapy in the world. It's the abandonment and exploitation that others perpetrate upon the trusting that does the damage. A million thanks.

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this. You at blogging this is HUGE. It is inspiring me to do my own work. I am just now reading up on the betrayal bond. Please continue writing and thank you so much!

  32. are you still blogging? it is 2020 and i just came across this! awesome

    1. Not really blogging much here any more but I could if there is any demand. It is mostly for historical purposes and to help anyone who might need it and finds it. WHen I asked if there was interest a few months ago, only got one reply, so I let it go. Still in recovery and still have PTSD though!