Sunday, December 11, 2005

What's this betrayal stuff got to do with ptsd anyway?

I already wrote a little about betrayal in the posts on betrayal bonds and the effects of trauma over time. Carnes has a whole chapter explaining the power of betrayal. He write that "Common to all is a promise. Those who betray read their victims well. They appeal to the emptiness, the unfinished, and the wounds of others." Otherwise intelligent people set aside their intuitions because the promise is so attractive. "The starting point for all trauma survivors" he says, is a complete acceptance of the betrayal." From a distance this seems obvious, but it is hard to put into effect, and I still struggle with it. Abusive parents in denial, manipulative, self-serving people fostering traumatic relationships who want to feel good about themselves -- these types of abusers have an insidious way of getting into and undermining a person's very sense of self, making me doubt my own reality.

Carnes maps out "five main ways promises are used to betray:"
  • Betrayal by seduction: "High warmth with low intention. . . . Relationships are manipulative and exploitive. Agreements are ill-defined, unclear, or tentative. Feelings are anxious and intense. Trust depends on exaggerated or unreal promises. Rewards are in the future and are often conditional. Risk is often one-sided." Most importantly, the seducer is deceptive about all these things in order to lure the other person into the relationship. People with family histories of abuse or trauma are particularly susceptible because they have never learned to protect or take care of themselves in important ways. A traumatized person's "picker" is often broken. Trauma shame creates doubt of one's intuitions. And there is a neediness that allows the person to ignore warning signs
  • Betrayal by terror: If seduction fails, terror might work. Fear "deepens attachment" in ways that can be addictively intense, especially when coupled with seduction. Cults work this dual betrayal very well. They promise vulnerable people what they want, whether that be wealth, friends, spiritual growth, or whatever, but then withdraw support or even rip a person's life apart if they question things. This is the "love bomb" followed by the terror of abandonment. Often the result of betrayal by terror is guilt and shame on the part of the victim. According to Carnes, only seven percent of women who have been sexually assaulted, often by someone they know, report the offense. That is why Holly's work is so important.
  • Betrayal by exploitation of power: Sexual harrassment often falls under this category, where women (or occasionally men) are in a position at work where to challenge the abuse would threaten their job because the abuser has more power. Incest relations are another example. They are "exploitation by people in power of those most vulnerable to them. If you're not equal in power, then by definition you're vulnerable. And that vulnerability is critical to trauma bonding."
  • Betrayal by intimacy: In its strongest form this is emotional blackmail by someone you trust. Somebody does something wrong and the other person won't turn him in because she would be affected too. The cult abuse/'support community' that ripped up my life did this by trying to stop me from pursuing legal actions because of the ramifications it would have throughout the community.
  • Betrayal by spirit: The most publicized version of this form of betrayal has been the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church over the past few years. Not limited by denomination, numerous televangelists have been undone by their sexual betrayals in the past few years too. Carnes thinks the reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg. He doesn't talk about it, but somewhat amorphous New Agey cultish groups also commit these spiritual betrayals. That is part of the story of how my life got ripped apart. And outside institutional religion, "spiritual" abusers often frame what they are doing as "God's will" or some such happy horseshit ("I like to think it happened for a reason"). Whatever the source, spiritual betrayal is doubly damaging, because beyond the abuse, the betrayal cuts off a primary resource for recovery, at least in the twelve step model. Such spiritual betrayals are part of why I don't do step programs any more. Maybe my belief in spirituality was just an illusion anyway. I might be better off, less deluded and vulnerable, without it.

Again, any combination, or even all of the above may be present.

Let me know if you read this by leaving a comment, ok?

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), 47-72.


  1. great site! in this post i particularly identified with...
    "...spiritual betrayal is doubly damaging, because beyond the abuse, the betrayal cuts off a primary resource for recovery..."
    very well said. and not only for 12 step programs, but spirituality in general for which many rely on for comfort and peace of mind.
    thank you!

  2. Hi PTSD,
    Had to do some pampering, I was not around for a few days.
    I agree with this betrayal stuff. What a wonderful post, great way to articulate the important points from Carnes book?
    Take care and chat soon! Glad to see the your progress.
    Thank you for mentioning the blog.

  3. After reading your story and a small sampling of your blog; I was compelled to let you know how much I admire and appreciate your strength, intelligence, persistence and purpose!

    I can relate to your experiences as one has experienced sexual and emotional abuse and the information you've posted concerning PTSD sparked another bout of healing in me.

    Thank you for being so brave and reaching out to others to help them regain their dignity, self-esteem and spark for life as well as facilitating their further healing.

  4. Hey everyone. Sort of fell off the planet for a few days. Got busy at work. Thanks for saying supportive things here. They really mean a lot.

  5. Hi. Interesting to read your comments and I recognize myself in the descriptions of your symptoms. Thank you for blogging.

  6. Thanks! It makes me fell less alone to hear this. One of the things that was among the worst was the feeling like I was the only one and that what was going on was inexplicable.

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I've ordered the book and wrote quite a bit about these "betrayals" by father, mother and so-called "therapist" I went to for help. It's opening some important doors, no matter how painful it might be to walk through. I am starting to understand so much. God bless you and the world. Your friend in Art & Music (what else do we really have?), Catherine Todd, Nov. 5, 2008

  8. Well, I'll be... completely forgot I ever read this post (in 2008) and here I am commenting again. Still a great read. So much to remember and learn from here.

    "Holly's blog is open only to invited readers" so I couldn't read more, but was glad to see her comment here. So it's back to work for me - working "on myself" as we speak. 5 years later, and some things never change.

    Actually, I've been "working" on this for 63 years. The best thing I can say is that "I'm still here." Whew. Will miracles never cease. Thank God for the internet and all it entails, and all we can share. What would we do without and free blogs such as yours?