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
- hostage situations
- 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).