Top 7 Take Aways from “Betrayal Bonds” by Patrick Carnes

betrayal bonds

The book “The Betrayal Bonds” by Patrick Carnes is the only book I’ve come across so far that is exclusively about trauma bonds.  Carnes goes into great depth with exploring how and why these bonds are formed, and offers a series of quizzes and questions that are designed to get us to examine any patterns that may be present between the problematic people and situations in our lives. The book is a weath of information on its own, but the quizzes alone are worth reading the book for.

If you’d like to be a part of the book club discussion on this book, please join on my YouTube channel at 6:30pm EST on September 28, 2017:

So without further ado, here are my top 7 take aways from this book:


  1. Understanding Betrayal Bonds.


Abandonment by betrayal is worse than mindless neglect. Betrayal is purposeful and self-serving. If it is 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 are always on full-alert, just waiting for the hurt to begin again. Like everyone who has a loss, you have shock, disbelief, fear, loneliness and sadness. You are unaware of these feelings because your guard is up. In your readiness, you abandon yourself. Yes, another abandonment. You may develop a mind-numbing highly addictive attachment to the people who have hurt you, trying to explain to them what they did is wrong and to convert them into non-abusers. You brace yourself against further hurt, which is a guarantee of more pain. These attachments are called betrayal bonds. (Trauma bonds) When the hostage defends their captor, the abused child covers for the parent, the exploited employee covers for the boss. Bonds between people can either be bad or good. Betrayal bonds include: misplaced loyalty, inability to detach, and self-destructive denial.


  1. Understanding how trauma can effect a person.


A traumatic event can be one event, or a series of smaller ones. Trauma by accumulation is small traumatic events that happen over time—and we may not realize how bad things are until we leave the situation. It’s like being in a house that has an odor, over time you get used to it, and it’s not until you leave that you realize how bad it was.


Trauma effects people in eight major ways:


  1. Trauma reaction: Where a person struggles with a series of PTSD reactions. Perhaps they are triggered by similar events, or they avoid or self-sabotage in order to avoid being hurt again.
  2. Trauma arousal: where stimulation and pleasure compensate for pain and emptiness.
  3. Trauma blocking: where a person tries to do anything to escape uncomfortable feeling. Usually some form of numbing, comforting, relaxing, anesthetizing. This could be done by using drugs, alcohol, TV, sex, food, spending, sleeping.
  4. Trauma splitting: this is where a person dissociates from the experience and creating another reality or fantasy. There is the “real person” and then there is the Mr.Hyde, the alcoholic or abuser who destroys everything the Dr. Jekyll cares for. Daydreaming, being preoccupied with something else that needs to be attended to, living in a fantasy world when things get tough, losing yourself in fantasies or drugs/alcohol. We get lost in a fantasy world and want to stay there.
  5. Trauma abstinence: feeling the need to be in control and to go without. Depravation. Crumbs. Feeling of unworthiness. Where a person denies themselves basic needs like groceries, shoes, books, medical care, rent or heat, avoids sexual pleasure, hoards money and avoids spending it on legit needs, performs underachieving jobs, makes extreme or unwarranted sacrifices for work, spoils success opportunities, has periods of no interest in eating or attempts diets repeatedly, sees comfort, luxuries, and play as frivolous, skips vacations because of a dedication to an unrewarding task, has difficulty having fun, is underemployed, eating disorders. Common in families that have neglected children. Neglectful families teach lessons about self-care and self-esteem. The antidote to being out of control is to be in control. Where ever there is addiction (or extremes) there is depravation. Depravation can become its own addiction and its own solution to trauma.
  6. Trauma shame. Feeling unworthy and having shame due to the trauma experience.
  7. Trauma repetition. Recreating the same traumatic experiences over and over. It can be repeatedly doing something self-destructive, usually something that took place in childhood and started with a trauma; reliving a story from the past; engaging in abusive relationships repeatedly; repeating painful experiences, scenes, or doing something to others that you experiences as an early life trauma.
  8. Trauma bonds: destructive bonds formed by betrayal and hurt.



  1. Understanding the seduction story.


There is always something kind, noble, or likable about someone who has betrayed you. And often times they suck their targets in with some form of “seduction story.” The author uses the example of how animal trappers trap monkeys. What they do is they place a piece of fruit in a cage that has bars with a space just big enough for the monkey to get its hand in—but not big enough for it to get its hand out. The monkey reaches in and grabs the piece of fruit, and even when the animal trappers come to carry the monkey away, it still won’t let go of the fruit. Victims of betrayal act very much the same way. They will hold onto the fruit (the seduction story) even while the world crashes in around them.


In dating, it’s important to look at the types of people and situations in which we were dating them, and what we expect of them. Do you find yourself in a pattern of “impossible situations,” “problematic situations” or “cosmic/soulmate relationships”?


Trauma survivors can be extremely naïve even while being vigilant. Their discernment and common sense have been impaired by living with secrets, denial, deception, and exploitation. Leaving them to continually pick all the wrong people and continually seduced.


Along with seduction comes a sustaining fantasy or supporting script. The victim of seduction usually wants so badly for the story to be true that they will overlook the obvious and accept the improbably. The sustaining fantasy can come in a number of forms:


  • The belief in the story: there usually is a tale that explains why we are in the situation we are in, why we are taking specific actions or where we are headed.
  • The belief in the person: the abuser, who may be doing wonderful things for others, is viewed as someone with high credibility whose behavior is beyond question.
  • The belief in the dream: almost always there is the promise of realizing some cherished goal, be it a personal goal, a state of well-being or the redressing of some loss or wound.
  • The belief in the mission: often there is some noble cause or meaningful vision that requires personal sacrifice.


Seduction always relies on the victim’s willingness to trust again. The victim must prefer the story/fantasy over the facts, behaviors, and results.


Exercise #1: Write out 5-10 people who have exploited you using seduction. Record after each individual promise made (story/fantasy). After the promise, write the real intent or agenda you now know was true. (place a T under the name of each person who used terror, and  a “P” by the name of the person who used power. (“L” love) (“F” Friendship)


Is there a pattern? Do certain letters appear over and over? What do you think this means? Where does this pattern come from? Is there a common story or promise to which you are susceptible? What efforts to stop did you make? In what ways could you have taken better care of yourself? What do the various people on your list have in common? Who in your family or early childhood is similar? Write a description of the “typical” person who can seduce you. Why do you think that is?


Recovery requires staying in reality, and not getting sucked in by the seduction story and hoping something problematic isn’t a problem.


  1. Understanding the abuse triangle. The abuse triangle: the victim believes the abuser’s story of victimization, the abuser identifies with the target and knows exactly what they need to hear, the rescuer wants to protect the victim since the rescuer has a history of abuse as well. The victim obsesses about the abuser, the abuser obsesses about the victim, and the rescuer obsesses about the crisis. They are all naïve in their own way. The victim believes promises of change. The abuser believes they will get away with it and the rescuer believes that the rescue will really work. All three positions represent boundary failure. Victims fail to protect themselves. Abusers fail to regulate their behavior. Rescuers fail to define themselves and become enmeshed with others when they are caught up in a crisis, losing their sense of self.


Getting needs met: the victim allies with the abuser in order to get their needs met. The abuser deceives and violates the victim in order to meet their needs.



  1. Understanding the difference between intensity and intimacy. Intensity is based around drama, betrayal, and passionate reconciliations. This is not intimacy. Intimacy is based on mutuality and respect. Intimacy has no secrets. Intensity requires secrecy and develops from it. Conflicts that arrive in intimacy result in negotiation and a clear understanding about fair fighting. There is no fear and anxiety like there is with intensity. Constancy and vulnerability create an epic relationship not an episodic one.


Trauma bonds thrive on intensity. Intensity is like Styrofoam. It takes up space but has no substance.


Intensity vs. Intimacy


Dimension                                                Intensity                              Intimacy


Roles:                                          victim/victimizer               mutual/respectful


Feelings:                                    fear and arousal               passion and vulnerability


Commitment:                          one in/one out                 involved and enduring


Prospects:                                 threats of betrayal/abandonment           safety and patience


Anxiety:                                     high drama                         problem resolution


Problems:                                  no structures/rules                         fair fight contract


Development:                         high distraction                 high growth


Openness:                                                built on secrecy                no secrets

Conflict:                      escalation                            negotiation


Scenario:                    episode begets episode                               constancy


All fear intensifies human attachment. Control makes for fear and fear makes for attachment.



  1. Compulsive Relationship Patterns.


10 Common compulsive relationship patterns:


  1. Compulsive helplessness. Aka learned helplessness. The child never grows up or is able to take care of themselves.
  2. Compulsive focus on the abuser. The child becomes an expert on the abuser. The child loses their sense of self and becomes focused on the abuser.
  3. Compulsive self-reliance. The child becomes excessively self-reliant. No needs are expressed and no help is asked for or accepted. All affection and closeness are avoided. They consider themselves self-sufficient as an adult.
  4. Compulsive Caregiving. Priority is places on the needs of the others, with feelings of martyrdom and resentment resulting. Self-sacrifice goes to the extreme. Care is supplied whether requested or not.
  5. Compulsive Care-seeking. Problems are presented so that care will be received. Relationships are defined by those who can supply assistance. The victim expects others to be responsible for major areas of life. The only reasons anyone gets close to the victim is to provide help. The latest problem is a reason to have a relationship.
  6. Compulsive Rejection. Rejecting others before they can reject the victim.
  7. Compulsive compliance. Ingratiating behavior. No wish is challenged, no boundaries exist. They say yes when they mean no, do things they don’t want to, provide information they shouldn’t provide, od do things that are self-destructive, uncomfortable, or dangerous simply because someone asked them.
  8. Compulsive identification with others. They have instant sympathy for others, and easily believe the most outrageous lies, and fall for a wide variety of seduction strategies but in the presence of the abuser they get carried away with the seduction story. Their gullibility produces personal loss and constant chaos.
  9. Compulsive reality distortion. The victim persists in not seeing abuse as abuse. Excuses, rationalization, minimization, and other defenses combine to allow the endurance of more pain and exploitation. In part, this comes from wanting to believe the fantasy of the story and ignoring the obvious.
  10. Compulsive abuse seeking. The victim sets up patterns of abuse in future relationships.



  1. Understanding Boundaries. With healthy boundaries, the zipper opens from the inside. If someone asks for information a person doesn’t want to give, or do something they don’t want to do, they don’t unzip–they say no. If they are told they are bad or responsible for something they are not, they figure those comments are really about the other person, not them. People who have been tyrannized by terror have zippers on the outside. Anyone can access them. They simply unzip. They reveal info they don’t want to, commit to things they don’t want to, and feel responsible when they’ve done nothing wrong. The challenge is for the person to get the zipper in place. This requires more than knowing when someone is being abusive. It means being able to say no without shame.


Setting boundaries helps to clarify values. By successfully implementing boundaries, a new trust for yourself emerges. You do not have to have the zipper on the outside. For example, if a person has been sexually abused, their boundary may be to become celibate.  Learning that they can set boundaries, a new trust emerges. With healthy boundaries no one can exploit you. By trusting yourself you can give yourself over to passion. Learning to trust yourself is perhaps the biggest piece and most important part of recovery. If someone violates your boundaries, you leave. Saying good bye can be heart wrenching for survivors, as they’ve already experienced many losses. It’s here where they have to confront their deep desire for the seduction story to be true.


If you want things to be different, you will have to give up compulsive rescuing (aka pathological giving). Identify some behaviors you refuse to do anymore. What is the difference between healthy nurturing and coming to the rescue? It’s the difference between empowering and helping. It’s not empowering someone to do something that they can do themselves. And it’s insane to help someone exploit you.



List out the payoffs to being a savior or hero. Some common examples were:


“So I can avoid conflict by rescuing them so they will not be upset with me.”

“I want people to appreciate me and my efforts.”

“I protect my own childhood wounds by overcompensating so others will not feel disappointed or hurt as I did. I end up blocking reality from them.”

“I have a reservoir of resentment that excuses my sexual acting out.”

“Feeling obligated keeps my shame intact and powerful because I am over-extended and behind all the time.”

“Rescuing supports my hero role in the family.”

“Turmoil prevents success, which is my life script.”

“Rescuing creates a one-up position from which I can avoid my feelings and intimacy.”

“It is one more way for me to obsess about him.”


The liabilities from pathological giving are:


“I lost my freedom and ended up owned by those saved.”

“I wanted to prevent him from leaving but my helping because so much it forced him to leave.”

“It never works and usually backfires.”

“I set myself up to be exploited—and then was upset because I felt taken for granted.”

“I lost/gave money I couldn’t afford to.”

“Keeps me in denial—even when it’s dangerous for me.”

“Feeling important falsely bolstered my sense of self-worth.”


Write out specific behaviors to abstain from, strategies needed to avoid those behaviors, and guidelines for positive caring behaviors.


Some great terms in this book:


“Bookending” where the target is given support before and after having contact with a traumatizing person. This is especially useful if the target cannot go no contact for whatever reason.


“Stillness” where you give yourself time (even a few seconds or a few minutes) before taking action so you can respond instead of react.


“Carried shame” where the victim feels the shame and the abuser remains shameless.


I hope you enjoyed this book as much as I did, and I look forward to “seeing” you on the book club chat!





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I am a self-help junkie, former advocate for victims of domestic violence, current psychiatric RN, as well as being a recovering victim of Narcissistic abuse.

My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.

Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.

It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
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About Dana 349 Articles
I am a self-help junkie, former advocate for victims of domestic violence, current psychiatric RN, as well as being a recovering victim of Narcissistic abuse. My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life. Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics. It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.

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