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Over the past three decades, Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D. — founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) and Gentle Path Press — has observed that trauma and addictions tend to go hand in hand.  In his presentation Trauma Bonds, Why People Bond To Those That Hurt Them, Dr. Carnes explores the multi-faceted relationship between trauma (especially early childhood trauma) and multiple addictions that are carried into adult life.  He states that the essential issue is the abuse of power, which has a tremendous impact on the culture, the people who are abused, and the entire socio-economic system.

In Dr. Carnes’ presentation — which can be purchased at Gentle Path Press — he identifies four responses to traumatic events:

  • Trauma Pleasure is the pleasure cycle that addicts cycle through to satisfy their addictive cravings (desire, satiation, pain, desire).
  • Trauma Blocking is the analgesic, calming, relaxing neural pathways that are activated to numb oneself to the trauma.
  • Trauma Splitting is a dissociative state that allows the victim to escape the traumatic events taking place.
  • Traumatic Abstinence, also known as Extreme Deprivation, is when the victim swings into extreme control over the trauma they experienced.

Dr. Carnes illustrates in his presentation that three additional elements often heighten one’s response to trauma — Traumatic Shaming, Traumatic Repetition and Traumatic Bonding.

  • Traumatic Shaming involves the victim feeling defective in one way or another as a result of the trauma. His/her identity becomes shame-based, making it impossible to achieve a healthy sense of self.
  • In Traumatic Repetition, an individual repeats the victimization in some form in an attempt to gain mastery over it, which reinforces the deep wounding over and over again.
  • In Trauma Bonding, trauma fuses a bond between the abuser and victim in which the two replay their original trauma. The abuser asserts his/her power over the victim, causing a life-altering love/hate relationship between them. The victim often experiences this power differential by confusing abuse with a sense of love and caring. When this kind of bonding occurs, victims are in danger of moving closer to the person exploiting them, a very natural and common reaction to trauma.

As Dr. Carnes wraps up his presentation, he briefly addresses why victims remain in trauma and do not leave.  He explains that it’s caused by co-dependency, which he describes as an obsession with the person who is out of control and a focus on the addiction rather than the abuser. When a victim is able to break free of this relational pattern, Dr. Carnes states he/she will cycle through denial, fear, anger, pain and finally acceptance

Trauma Bonds: Why People Bond To Those That Hurt Them is an insightful overview of trauma and addiction, and a must-watch video for anyone with a history of trauma.

Yale Kushner, Mental Health Counselor Intern