Book Intro: ‘The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships’

Book Intro: ‘The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships’

Screenshot of Betrayal Bonds book Cover

The Betrayal Bond:Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships

“Betrayal bonds” or more recently understood and referred to as “trauma bonds” are relationships we find ourselves intensely bound inside of, even when overall they are destructive to our self esteem and healthy functioning.

They get created through a unique chemical cocktail involving stress hormones, bonding hormones and neuro-chemicals that support addiction.  People who have experienced developmental trauma earlier in life, often find themselves trauma bonded to a partner or series of them later in life that re-create the earlier circumstances.

This book, written by Patrick J Carnes, PhD and published in 1997 remains a wonderful depth exploration of trauma bonding, explaining how they are established and maintained and includes a relationally based Post-Traumatic Stress Index for you to work through.

On Betrayal:

“Betrayal intensifies pathologically the human trait of bonding deeply in the presence of danger or fear.”

On abandonment and addiction:

Abandonment is at the core of addictions. Abandonment causes deep shame.  Abandonment by betrayal is worse than mindless neglect.  Betrayal is purposeful and self-serving.  If severe enough, it is traumatic.  What moves betrayal into the realm of trauma is fear and terror.  If the wound is deep enough, and the terror big enough, your bodily systems shift to an alarm state.  You never feel safe.  You’re always on full-alert, just waiting for the hurt to begin again.  In that state of readiness, you’re unaware that part of you has died.  You are grieving. Like everyone who has loss, you have shock and disbelief, fear, loneliness and sadness.  Yet you are unaware of these feeling because your guard is up.  In your readiness, you abandon yourself.  Yes, another abandonment.”

Signs of trauma bonding:

Some signs of trauma bonding that Patrick describes include:

  • obsessing about people who have hurt you and left
  • seeking contact with people you know will cause more pain
  • going all out to help people who have hurt you
  • working to get people who are using you to like you
  • trying to explain relationship concerns to people who don’t want to listen
  • being loyal to those who have betrayed you

He describes how they can form almost instantaneously, but last forever, making survivors more vulnerable to repeated episodes of relationship abuse, often without even realising it.

Included is a wonderful graph, explaining the relationship between warmth and intention in relationships.  The combination of high warmth, but low intention to genuinely care or connect or invest can create the kind of seductive scenario that can lead to anxiety, intensity, manipulation and exploitation, with risk in the relationship often being one sided.

Types of betrayal:

Various types of betrayal are discussed, including:

  • Betrayal by seduction
  • Betrayal by terror
  • Betrayal by power
  • Betrayal by intimacy
  • Betrayal by spirit
Compulsive behaviours and the way forward:

The book includes a Compulsive Relationship Self-Assessment and a Compulsive Relationship Consequences Inventory, where you can take stock of the levels of how trauma bonding may be impacting you.

Guidance is provided for the paths of:

  • No contact
  • Limited contact
  • Full relationship restoration
Dimensions of recovery

Dimensions of recovery are outlined, with examples of what that looks like for ‘no contact’, ‘limited contact’ and ‘full relationship’.  The dimensions Patrick identified for trauma bond recovery are:

  • Establishing healthy bonds
  • Boundary development
  • Role development
  • Trauma resolution
  • Systems change
  • Strengthening sense of self
  • Metaphors for a new working model
  • Recovery plan

I’m a big believer that the right information and frameworks for understanding can help us hold ourselves through the difficult times and find ways forward that are genuinely healing and supportive.

rewire 4 life blog

Articles, videos and resources for healing complex and relational trauma.

Was it trauma?

Was it trauma?

Was it trauma?

‘I don’t know if what happened to me was actually trauma’

‘Mostly my childhood was pretty normal .. Dad just drank a bit (or Mum was always with the put-downs) ..’

‘All that was a long time ago, I’m past all that, I’ve got a good job and a partner who cares, but I can’t seem to trust people / stop crying / get too angry with the kids / recover from this illness …’

Trauma’s a big word and most people don’t apply it to themselves until a therapist says at some point – ‘do you know what happened to you was abuse?’ or ‘I’d like you to understand how that was actually a traumatic experience that is impacting you still’.

Trauma is an outcome, not an event

I’d like to invite you to start seeing trauma not as an event or thing that happened, but as the impact on the nervous system of experiences that were and still can be, intensely dysregulating.  That means, sending your nervous system into hyper-arousal (too activated) or hypo-arousal (not enough activation to be present).

So the definition I’m suggesting is:

‘Trauma is the outcome of experiences that generate ongoing, intense and systemic nervous system dysregulation.”


There are four types of life experience that can generate a traumatic response in the nervous system.


1. Shock trauma

  • Specific event/s
  • Experiencing survival threat, serious injury, sexual violation
  • Witnessing or vicarious exposure to same

Shock trauma is the kind of thing more generally understood to be traumatic.  It relates generally to one-off events that were overwhelming to your nervous system to the point where you had to shut down to some aspect of life or your inner experience.  Typical events that could generate shock trauma include accidents and injury, acute illness or medical procedures, violent attack, natural disaster, unexpected death.  Being held at gun point.  Any kind of life threatening situation, especially one where you felt powerless.

When shock trauma happens in childhood, it can have a bigger impact than when it happens in adulthood, depending on a bunch of other factors including receiving appropriate care, soothing and empathic response from others after the event and having had a history of secure attachment in childhood.


2. Complex and developmental trauma

  • Ongoing
  • Occur whilst brain and nervous system are developing
  • People who were supposed to keep you safe didn’t or couldn’t
  • Relates to experiences of abuse and neglect that occurred during the developmental years.

It’s complex for two main reasons:

1. It’s complex because it impacted your nervous system at a time when your nervous system was growing the structures and pathways and programs it would have to work with for the rest of your life.  Trauma and abuse that happens during this time has a disproportionately high impact on the nervous system, compared with trauma and abuse that happens for the first time later in life after a safe and secure childhood.

2. It’s complex because it often comes at us from parents, adults, older relatives, sometimes teachers, church leaders, medical professional – the people who were supposed to be safe and keep us safe.  Often the abuse is coming directly from these people.  Sometimes the abuse may come from elsewhere but for some reason the adults and caregivers were unable to keep us safe or take care of us properly afterwards.

When the abuse or neglect comes from a source that is supposed to keep us safe, it messes with our wiring in a way that inhibits our ability to access safe nurturing, bonding, intimacy and attachment with people into the future and so life becomes a whole lot more difficult.  It also messes with our general sense of trust in the flow of life, trust in other people, trust in ourselves and our own feelings, needs and responses.  All this has a flow on effect in terms of the way our identity and sense of self forms.  It often means low self esteem, poor boundaries and an unclear sense of where you end and others begin and a changeable, unclear or easily disrupted sense of who you are in the world.

3. Adverse childhood experiences (an experience based window into developmental trauma)

  • Abuse or neglect
  • Challenges to household stability (eg. a parent with an alcohol, substance abuse, anger management or mental health problem)

Adverse childhood experiences are a part of the overall picture of complex or developmental trauma and refer to acts of abuse or neglect.  They also include challenges to the household stability, such as being exposed to violent behaviour, having a parent or household member with a mental health condition, a substance abuse problem, having a household member go to gaol and parental separation or divorce.

ACES have been shown to have a significant impact on the likelihood a child will develop a range of psychological, physical health and life management concerns over the mid to long term. More ACES in childhood equals higher likelihood of health, social and life problems down the track.  ACES have been extensively studied by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and their collaborative partners over the last twenty or so years.


4. Insecure attachment

  • Avoid attachment, emotionally distant, or
  • Seek attachment, but anxious and insecure, or
  • Confused and disorganised attachment

This refers to the way you learned to seek, avoid or moderate attachment bonding when you were a child, in order to best manage your nervous system activation and your access to needed resources such as love and safety.

Whilst around 50% of the population operates primarily from a secure attachment style (and this can be achieved in adulthood even when it wasn’t available as a child), it is likely that many of you reading this needed to develop what’s called an insecure attachment style when you were young.

It means that one or both parents were not attuned to you consistently enough and not able to meet your needs for care and bonding sufficiently on an ongoing basis.  So in response your clever nervous system adapted to either become very cut-off and self contained or to activate anxiously and work extra hard to try and generate connection and hence soothing from parents or caregivers.

This is not necessarily the fault of the parents – often they will have been behaving at the effect of their own unconscious or unresolved trauma and attachment patterning.

To an infant or child, having a care-giver behave in a threatening or neglectful way, is actually having their survival mechanism threatened.  It’s in our biology as human beings that we are dependent on the care of others for survival needs when we are young.  When this is not sufficiently available or is abused, it registers in the nervous system as a threat to our life and physical survival.

The two primary modes of insecure attachment are (a) avoidant or needing to withdraw from connection to moderate arousal and (b) anxious or working hard to generate connection in order to moderate arousal.

Sometimes a child will express as (c) confused and disorganised in the way they relate to attachment and would be seen as angry, non-responsive or depressed.

Each style makes perfect sense as an adaptation to a particular kind of early childhood environment, in terms of the constancy of love, care, safety, empathic attunement and rich experiences available to the child.


Information about therapy for healing complex trauma here.

rewire 4 life blog

Articles, videos and resources for healing complex and relational trauma.

Creating the best environment to support the intelligent energy in you that knows how to heal

Creating the best environment to support the intelligent energy in you that knows how to heal

There is an intelligent energy that moves in all of us that knows what’s needed for our healing and growth. Call it wisdom or vital energy or life force or whatever fits for you.

You need to:

A. Recognise when and how it shows up for you and

B. Create the right conditions for it to operate to create in your life .. to connect what needs connecting .. to open what needs opening .. to meet what needs meeting .. to soothe what needs soothing.

There is a right order about all this. And patterns inside patterns that lead to a still point and a beautiful flowing vibrance. Get in touch to put some empathy, attunement, compassionate seeing, secure support in place as you notice and allow your own movement into truth and freedom.


rewire 4 life blog

Articles, videos and resources for healing complex and relational trauma.

You’re strong because you’ve had to be.

You’re strong because you’ve had to be.

You’re strong because you’ve had to be. Life hasn’t worked out the way you expected. It’s hard.

You wonder about the parallel you and life you could have had.

You’ve learned a lot. Books and workshops and all kinds of therapy, because you know you are more than your current circumstances.

There’s a dream in there, dusty as it may be.

You may feel desperate at time, or stuff it down at others.

Let me help you join the dots, follow the trail, the misty haze from early life, that you thought you had left behind long ago.

To see how adverse childhood experiences saw your brain adapt, your nervous system work harder, your mind swing from pushing through to breaking down.

Again and again.

Let me help you soften and open enough for the authentic you to rise up and fill the space.

Let me help you to breathe freely and create your life, moment to moment, from this wise and alive place inside you.

That is also awake and intelligent and flowing in the world around you.

It all is you.

rewire 4 life blog

Articles, videos and resources for healing complex and relational trauma.