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Trauma Bond: Addictive Exploitive Relationships

0819769001597698044.jpgDear Fearless Love,

I had a long-term relationship with my boyfriend that left me devastated and nowhere. I am trying to figure out how to move on after giving myself so deeply for so long. We lived together for 10 years, but recently I actually ran away from him. He is generous, good-looking, and well-liked and respected by others. However, he somehow kept me feeling controlled and dependent on him. We would go through cycles where we talked through the issues and I tried to forgive him, thinking he just needed help. When I finally threatened to leave, he said he was now seeing a therapist, but he didn’t allow me to go with him and then simply asked forgiveness for all his bad behaviors by writing love letters and giving me more attention. The patterns repeated; no real changes happened. I sit here alone and scared. I have fond memories but then I am angry with him again. I am wondering if it was all my fault. And how am I going to make it without him?


Dear Randi,

It’s confusing and traumatic to be in a romantic relationship where we’re supposed to be loved and cherished but instead, our trust is betrayed and exploited.

A betrayal is a form of abandonment where who you are – your interests and wellbeing – are continually ignored. It is purposeful and self-serving. It is often difficult to see because the betrayer may be close to you, as with your boyfriend.

Exploitive relationships create betrayal bonds. They occur when a victim bonds (or attaches) with someone who is destructive to him or her due to the presence of danger or fear (often, of losing the relationship). The bond is an addictive attachment to the person who is hurting you. You may try to help them understand what they’re doing, attempting to convert them to become a non-abuser. You may blame yourself for their behavior. The relationship usually also has positive attributes, which confuses the picture. When you cease making positive choices for yourself, the negative is outweighing the positive and the relationship has become destructive.

Betrayal bonds appeal to emptiness, unfinished business or wounds from the victim’s past. There’s an unspoken, even unconscious hope that this relationship will make up for those earlier losses. This is so appealing it overrides intuition and logic.

Some situations where these betrayal bonds typically occur are:

1. Domestic violence
2. Dysfunctional marriages and dysfunctional romantic relationships
3. Incest and child abuse
4. Exploitation in the workplace
5. Religious abuse and cults
6. Litigation
7. Kidnapping and hostage situations
8. Addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, eating, high-risk behavior)

According to Patrick Carnes (1997), a number of signs indicate the presence of a betrayal bond:

1. When people around you have strong negative reactions, yet you continue covering up, defending or explaining a relationship.
2. When there is a constant pattern of nonperformance and yet you continue to believe false promises or false hopes and are asked to overlook the broken promises.
3. When there are repetitive, destructive fights that never get resolved.
4. When you move closer to someone you know is destructive to you with the desire of converting them to non-abuser.
5. When someone’s talents, charisma or contributions cause you to overlook destructive, exploitive or degrading acts.
6. When you cannot detach from someone even though you do not trust, like or care for the person.
7. When you long for or miss a relationship that was so awful it almost destroyed you.
8. When extraordinary demands are placed upon you to cover up that you’ve been exploited.
9. When you keep secret about someone’s destructive behavior toward you or another because of all the good they have done or the importance of their position or career.

The recovery process begins when the survivor is in complete acceptance of his or her having been betrayed.

Randi, please don’t try to figure all this out alone. Healthy bonds from therapy, support groups, spiritual mentoring and supportive relationships must be created to help you walk through the healing and restorative journey. Surround yourself with people whose actions value, honor and cherish you, and this season will pass with strength and wisdom gained.


From Love Trauma To Fearless Love: 7 Tango Steps for Breaking Free From Narcissists and Predators  

Download the Free Excerpt:


Carnes, Patrick, PhD; The Betrayal Bond. HCI: Deerfield, FL: 1997

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