The Trauma Bond

In May 2011, I published a post about the “Betrayal Bond,” also know as the “Trauma Bond.” It’s also known as Stockholm Syndrome, but unlike that suggests, it’s not people bonding with their kidnappers. It’s an incredibly strong bond with one’s abusers. The Trauma Bond is often the reason women can’t leave a relationship rife with domestic violence. The words “Why doesn’t she just leave?” echo through conversations about domestic violence, but most people don’t understand the psychology behind it.

Like I mentioned in my recent post about C-PTSD, when abuse and love (or pain and kindness) come from the same person, the psyche starts to blur the two together. It makes it difficult to tell them apart. Something similar happens with the Trauma Bond.

This bond is even more intense when the abuse is coupled with euphoric feelings, like orgasms.

It’s nearly impossible to break if you don’t recognize it for what it is, and it’s still very difficult when you do understand the psychology. The bond is solidified in abuse.

For more information, please see my original post below.

O. M. Grey at Aetherfest, 2011

Betrayal Bond. Trauma Bond. Stockholm Syndrome. These terms all describe the same thing: a deep, inexplicable bond with someone who has hurt you.

Perhaps the word “hurt” is an understatement.

This phenomenon is caused when a victim of abuse feels a strong bond to their abuser. These victims develop compassion and loyalty to their abusers, whether that abuse be physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, or a combination thereof. They tend to see the lack of abuse or periods between abuse as kindness, as proof of their abuser’s humanity.

A trauma bond is where an intense, traumatic experience or betrayal of trust takes place, forming an equally intense relationship/bond with the perpetrator. (ptsdme blog)

Trying to understand why you were betrayed can most certainly be an exercise in futility. I’m always trying to figure out why. Why do I feel so sick constantly? Why am I having these panic attacks? Why can’t I stop thinking about him? Why didn’t he still want to be friends? etc. etc. etc.

Ultimately, why doesn’t matter. What is…is. This is your reality now. This is where we must practice acceptance and just let go of the reason “why.” I know that we feel that if we could just know our abusers’ motives or thoughts or reasons, we might be able to understand the betrayal, after all we are nurturing, compassionate people. But we wouldn’t understand, because there is no excuse or valid explanation for abuse, for deception, for betrayal. Ever.

The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil. (Atwood)

In fact, it’s traumatic. The betrayal of a friendship or a lover (or worse, both) is highly traumatic, and your body (and mind) will likely respond as if you have been traumatized. Because you have been traumatized. The level of the abuse related to the impact of the abuse varies from person to person, as we all have different capacities for dealing with stress, anxiety, and pain.

As to what betrayal does to a relationship, and ultimately, a person, it’s a constant war between illusion and reality, between believing in love and explaining away lies. There are those people who excel at causing this type of betrayal and bond, especially (but not limited to) those who have NPDHPD, or other such psychopathic disorders which are characterized by a lack of empathy hidden behind a very believable mask.

The path to betrayal looks something like this:

Validation: The victimizer validated the promise in some way so that you believed things are actually the way they were presented. [Regains confidence]

First betrayal: The real intention becomes clear in early abuse or exploitation. What really happened[.]

Reseduction: The victimizer adds an explanation to the story so that the abuse is understandable. [New promise or explanation]

More betrayal: The abuse and exploitation continue in a number of forms. [Now you examine your own sanity, value, and costs for having stayed.]

Reframing: The victimizer interpreted costs to you as minimal and reframed them as necessary for the good of the relationship.

Life crisis: Ultimately, reality asserts itself and you realize you can go no further. (Carnes)

Yet the bond remains even after the relationship is severed.

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. (ptsdme blog)

People who are caught up in this type of bond experience symptoms similar to PTSD like nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. Even before the relationship is over, your body might know before you do. For the first time in my life, I was thrown into daily panic attacks, and I couldn’t understand why. Looking back, and after a lot of research, this is common to those victimized by Narcissists. People who have had no history of an anxiety disorder or panic attacks suddenly are finding themselves popping Xanax just to make it through the day. Constant nausea. Inability to eat. Weight loss.

The body knows. It has encountered a poison, and it’s trying to purge. It’s thrown into a survival fight or flight mode, and it remains there day after day. It’s exhausting.

But that is not the worst. The worst is a mind-numbing, highly addictive attachment to the person who has hurt you. You may even try to explain and help them understand what they are doing–convert them into non-abusers. You may even blame yourself, your defects, your failed efforts. You strive to do better as your life slips away in the swirl of the intensity. This attachment causes you to distrust your own judgement, distort your own realities and place yoruself at even greater risk. The great irony? You are bracing yoruself against further hurt. The result? A guarantee of more pain. This attachment to the person that betrayed you has a name–they are called betrayal bonds. (Carnes)

And of pain, or the remnants of the pain, the fading scars that never seem to go away…

But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind. (Atwood)

As for the unending circular questions, try these on:

Why would you want to be friends? Why would you go back into a situation of abuse?

But those questions, as logical as they are, don’t have answers yet because the betrayal bond is not broken. Some part of you is still empathizing with the abuser, rationalizing his/her behavior, wondering if it’s something that you had done wrong.

As Carnes says, “You will never mend the wound without dealing with the betrayal bond. Like gravity, you may defy it for a while, but ultimately it will put you back. You cannot walk away from it. Time will not heal it. Burying yourself in compulsive and addictive behaviors will bring no relief, just more pain.”


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