Exploitation usually begins with a promise. This promise can be explicitly expressed, or it can be simply implied. Patrick Carnes, author of Betrayal Bonds tells us that, “Those who (exploit) read their victims well. They appeal to the emptiness and the wounds of others. “
The promise is a lure and its purpose is to provide the victim with all that is missing from their lives. If the victim feels unlovable, the abuser will use love bomb tactics, giving almost more attention and admiration than they feel comfortable with. Those victims that come from families where neglect was present and where emotions and affection was not frequently available are particularly susceptible to the attention and emotions that are evoked with such an onslaught.
The abuser will go to great lengths to make sure that the victim believes the initial promise. He will lie, deceive, mislead and con his way through a maze of stories, all designed to confuse and keep the victim believing in the promise. The victim also wants to believe that the promise is true so badly, she will disregard facts and abandon all common sense to the contrary. Carnes says that, “The victimizer is so terrified that his needs will not be met, that he must deceive and exploit the victim.”
When the victim comes across some issues that threaten the validity of the promise, she will confront the abuser. The abuser will do his deception dance and initially she will believe him. After this scenario has been repeated several times, the victim will usually pull away a little. She will test the abuser, she’ll step out of the relationship (or at least pretend to) to test if the victimizer really cares.
Once he notices that the victim isn’t fulfilling his needs and has pulled away, he again love bombs the victim showing sincere displays of love, flattery, attention and remorse. Once the victimizer is confident that he has won back the loyalty of the victim, he will distance himself again from the relationship, thus causing another round of Hokey Pokey, where both individuals never have both feet in at the same time.
In the beginning the abuser has both feet in. When the victim buys into the promise, she will put both feet in, but once the abuser realizes that she’s committed, he pulls one or both feet out. Now that the victim realizes she’s sitting there in the circle with both feet in all by herself, she will pull one foot out. The abuser wants both her feet in all the time, so when he recognizes that she’s only got one foot in and is threatening to pull the other out, he jumps back in with both feet – until of course he’s content that both of her feet have been put back in.
In abusive relationships where exploitation is present this dance will repeat many, many times. In last week’s blog we discussed the three elements Carnes lists for a trauma/betrayal bond to form: A power differential, Intermittent rewards, and periods of high arousal followed by periods of intense bonding.
The Betrayal Bond Inventory Test
The following link from the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals is the Betrayal Bond Index Test. To see if you have developed a Trauma Bond please take the time and complete the test.
If you scored 11 or higher don’t despair. Awareness is the first step to healing and it gives you an understanding as to why your relationship has been so difficult for you to walk away from.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes, blue pills or magic wands that will instantly resolve our issues. Therapy often takes months, if not years to sort through. In Carnes book, The Betrayal Bond, he provides some excellent exercises that will help you get an understanding and put you on the road to healing.
Write the Story
One such exercise is to write a story about your life in the third person. Before you write this off as dumb, understand that compulsive bonds start early. The relationship patterns that we learn from our primary caregivers become the prototype that we will use throughout our lives. I’ll start:
Once upon a time there was a princess named Savannah. The King was kind and loving, but was very sick. The queen was excessively beautiful, but she was emotionally unavailable and critical. As the princess grew up she heard the story over and over again, about how she wasn’t wanted by her aging mother. Phrases like, “You’re lucky the abortion doctor wasn’t around,” were commonly uttered. The princess tried to be close to the queen, but the queen would constantly publicly shame, criticize and humiliate her little girl. If the princess cried, or was emotional the queen would repeat her words back to her in a mocking voice.
The princess tried and tried to please the queen, but always fell short. Nothing was ever good enough and just being herself was out of the question. The princess learned that the only way to get the queens approval was to be perfect. The princess studied the queen and tried to learn what would make her happy and she would behave and act in that manner, but usually without notice what once made the queen happy one day, wouldn’t make her happy the next.
Princess Savannah loved to shop and often accompanied the queen to the mall. From as early as five years of age, the queen would ‘lose’ the princess in the mall. She would make no attempt to find her and would continue on, going about her business. In a panic the princess would look everywhere for the queen and would eventually find her – unaffected by the separation, looking at this and that….As the princess became a teenager she realized that pleasing the queen was a futile endeavor and she rebelled. She started smoking, drinking and staying out late at night. As she began to date she would seek out exceptionally beautiful men that were emotionally unavailable and left her feeling unwanted, unlovable and flawed.
From this simple exercise I can see where all of my dysfunctional relationship patterns started. My low self-esteem, my fear of abandonment, my people pleasing desire, my belief that I wasn’t good enough, my belief that I was flawed and unlovable – all started there and what became clear is that I kept looking for the traits of my mother in every man that I dated. If you haven’t already written your story – do it now.
Dr Carnes tells us that, “survivors continually are attracted to people who were like their abusers, people who can recreate the same situations over and over again. These people can reseduce them repeatedly. Because the attraction is so powerful, a person will invariably seek out people who will do them harm or betray them. Healthy people with integrity and appropriate boundaries are boring. There is no adrenaline rush no phenylethylamine high (the hormone that is present when we are falling in love) nor is there the mobilization of the endocrine system to cope with crisis.”
Awareness is just the first step. What we know about belief and behavior is that it becomes cemented in our psyche through repetition. If you tell a small child that he is useless and stupid his whole life, that is going to become his belief about himself and his behavior is going to reflect that belief. We don’t become addicted to smoking after one cigarette. It’s through repetitive thoughts and actions that neural pathways form and our character takes shape. The next exercise is about affirmations and it’s designed to reprogram your core beliefs about yourself. Before you scoff (like I used to do) about affirmations – think about what its designed to do – if we can convince someone something bad about themselves through repetition – we can also do the reverse.
Write out about 10 things you would like to believe about you. When you are done, print them out and stick them on the back of your bedroom door and read them every morning and/or every night before bed.
I am beautiful
I am strong
I am worthy of love and of having a mutually fulfilling and loving relationship
I am perfectly unapologetically me and that’s all I have to be
I consider Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, the queen of positive affirmations. For more help and advice on affirmations visit her website.
Carnes lists many helpful exercises, too many to discuss within the confines of a single blog entry, but I will discuss a few of the most helpful.
Recognize Your Compulsive Behaviors
Now that you are aware of your relationship patterns write out a list of behaviors that you absolutely refuse to do anymore. Example:
I will give up compulsive caregiving – I will stop making the needs of others my top priority. I will focus on my needs and my wants and let others take care of themselves.
I will live in reality always – I will start seeing things as they are and not as I wish them to be. I will see abuse as abuse. I will no longer rationalize, minimize or allow anyone to talk their way out of bad behavior.
I will be concious of my relationship patterns – I will no longer seek out individuals that exhibit the same traits that my initial abuser possesses. If I recognize it – I will leave the relationship immediately.
I will give up compulsive rescuing – I will no longer try to fix people. I will allow others to deal with their own problems and I will not engage in any relationship with individuals that are obviously emotionally damaged.
Next, list behaviors that you will instantly notice as dysfunctional, behaviors that you will absolutely not tolerate and what you are prepared to do when they happen. Example:
- If someone lies to me I will end the relationship.
- If someone cheats on me I will end the relationship.
- If someone insults me, puts me down or tries to make me feel bad, I will leave with a warning that if this ever repeats I will end the relationship.
- If someone does not consistently treat me in a loving, caring and respectful manner I will end the relationship
- If someone does not make me a priority I will end the relationship
- I will recognize when I am being love bombed and I will leave….
“When the victim starts insisting on maintaining limits and meeting her own needs self-respect emerges.” Carnes
Recognizing a Healthy Relationship
Make a list of all of the traits you would expect to identify in a healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship. Example:
- Both partners have both feet in at the same time.
- There isn’t a repetitive cycle of one leaving, one rushing to pull them back, followed by one leaving and the other rushing to pull them back.
- There is mutual and consistent love, care and respect….
“By successfully implementing boundaries a new trust for yourself emerges, that you can and will take care of yourself, which creates a new sense of safety.” Carnes
Learn how to be alone and okay
So many people accept abuse rather than face the prospect of living alone. They’ve become accustomed to the uncertainty, the drama and the highs and lows. I can tell you from experience that once you gain some solid emotional distance, you will view things in a completely different way. Fear is a huge stumbling block, but it’s one hurdle you must overcome. For once you have gained your independence, you will come to appreciate the quiet serenity. The highs and lows of a dysfunctional relationship will hold no interest for you. Being independent means freedom and choice. Once you’ve found your center and created your own stability, you can easily spot someone that is damaged. Being alone and being okay with that, means that you can demand more for yourself and from any new relationship that comes your way.
Now go back to the story you wrote about your life and write the ending as you want it to be.
If you find that you are stuck in a trauma bond please pick up Patrick Carnes book, The Betrayal Bond from your local book store. If it’s not available click onto Savannah’s Suggest Reading and order it through Amazon.
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Im glad I read this, its not only helped me to understand more about my own character, ive reversed the gender reference and see I am in fact too an idealist and been victim many times to predatory behaivior. Thank you for the research
The lightbulb came on. Going to print and keep this with me. Thanks!!
I just took the Betrayal Bond Index online and scored a 25. 🙁 I had a narcissist father, have been involved almost solely with dangerous and/or emotionally unavailable men who themselves had been sexually and/or physically traumatized, and am in the process of leaving a six year relationship with a N.
I’m much healthier now than I have ever been previously due to spending these six years with one person and observing my own behaviors in response to his. My plan is to work on my physical health and create more social support for myself, write these things out as you suggest and to go on lots of first dates without any physical intimacy. I’m 43; growing in years has made me more comfortable with who I am. Having seen how low my addictive relationship took me has given me the courage to create something far healthier for myself, as just myself, and with someone else.
Thank you for this encouraging site!
Even after everything I have read and know about narcissism I still didn’t understand why I still sometimes long for this man I know is so damaging to me. The analogy you used for trauma bonds is frightening, but felt so true to me. Now I finally after 5 years understand what has happened to me and why I still have these feelings. I don’t know if I will ever be free of this but thank you Savanah for writing articles that keep bringing me back to reality and make me realize I am not alone in this fight.
I scored 24, the same number of years we were married. The divorce was just final, but I am already believing him that he is going to get treatment – he says he knows he has NPD and plans to get help. I don’t know how to shut off my optimism.
Your life story is eerily similar to my own and my sister’s.
My sister kept up trying to be “perfect” until well into her 30s. Like you, I rebelled instead in high school and started smoking, drinking, doing drugs and seeking out dangerous men.
I writing my own ending TODAY.
Bravo. This is almost everything I did when I went to therapy after ending my last relationship, because I knew I never ever wanted to feel that way again. I did the inventory twice – once for how I was when I was with him (I scored 20) and one for how I am now, after approx 5 months no contact.. I scored 6 this time. The longer you stay strong, and with support, the easier it gets.
I must add that in the past month I’ve noticed that I relish being alone; an evening to myself to meditate, read and clean is savored. No longer am I wanting to be with him most of the time. I haven’t pulled off NO CONTACT, but I have pulled off that I do not initiate contact and that I do not reply to texts or emails or voice mails. Baby steps. I have signed up for a yoga class. 🙂
So, SO needed to hear this, this week. Thank you, as always, for your insight and support. I WILL get through this with your help.
Oh, did I need your column this week and there is enough in it to keep me busy all week. I’m in the “sprint to the finish” toward the finalization of the divorce and he’s throwing the love bomb at me big time, in addition to trying to manipulate me through my daughter. He’s trying to make me question me behavior, my perceptions, and reality. I’ve rallied all my supporters to cheer me on, and every bit helps. Thanks!