Creative Space

Trauma and Beyond


“All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain ……secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense.”

I am not advocating an intervention … and I don’t know why.

a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

And then, as if indicating a single experience … or not.

Slowly perhaps we learn about stuff. This is for me as I attempt to get my head around the complexities of human life. You could bypass my blather and jump right in or, join me as I have copied bits that are important to me in my understanding of abuse.

Quotes About Power
All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain ……secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. if secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely he tries to make sure no one listens. Judith Herman, Healing Trauma, 1997


About This Website About Abuse

The purpose of this site is to reduce harm and lessen suffering, by bringing clarity to the confusing area of intimate partner violence. This site is not designed to help survivors with immediate safety planning. If that is needed, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) can help with finding a hotline and advocates in your area. If you believe you are in, or entering an abusive relationship, the following list of warning signs, and other information on this site may be useful. However it is not intended to substitute for the advice and support of a trained community victim’s advocate.

Trauma Bonding
Bonding is a biological and emotional process that makes people more important to each other over time. Unlike love, trust, or attraction, bonding is not something that can be lost. It is cumulative and only gets greater, never smaller. Bonding grows with spending time together, living together, eating together, making love together, having children together, and being together during stress or difficulty. Bad times bond people as strongly as good times, perhaps more so.

Bonding is in part why it is harder to leave an abusive relationship the longer it continues. Bonding makes it hard to enforce boundaries, because it is much harder to keep away from people to whom we have bonded. In leaving a long relationship, it is not always useful to judge the correctness of the decision by how hard it is, because it will always be hard.

Moreover, experiencing together extreme situations and extreme feelings tends to bond people in a special way.. Trauma bonding, a term developed by Patrick Carnes, is the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person. Many primary aggressors tend toward extreme behavior and risk taking, and trauma bonding is a factor in their relationships.

Strangely, growing up in an unsafe home makes later unsafe situations have more holding power. This has a biological basis beyond any cognitive learning. It is trauma in one’s history that makes for trauma bonding. Because trauma (and developmental trauma or early relational trauma is epidemic) cause numbing around many aspects of intimacy, traumatized people often respond positively to a dangerous person or situation because it makes them feel


Primary Agressor
A Primary Aggressor is an adult or adolescent who gains power and control in a relationship by limiting the partners options on an ongoing basis through vigilance, coercion, non-cooperation and punishment, and maintains the limitation with the denial of abuse. Primary aggression is rooted in an extreme attachment to outcome–that outcome being a state in which the primary aggressor is indispensable to the survivor. Said differently, this a state in which the survivor can in no way dispose of the primary aggressor. Nice tactics may be used at first and intermittently, but when the survivor tries to exercise options in her life, coercive tactics inevitably emerge.

A primary aggressor is that person that is adding the constant pressure of control to the system. It is not necessarily the person acting the most obviously inappropriate or hurtful.

Escalation describes the process by which controlling behavior becomes more frequent, less disguised, more damaging, and closer to lethal over time. Escalation occurs, in part, because the feeling of being in control is never stable for the primary aggressor. Events that do not turn out the way the primary aggressor wants or expects fuel the need for control. But on the other hand, success in controlling the survivor sensitizes the primary aggressor to any lapses of control and so also feeds the desire for control.

Most survivors try very hard to interrupt or manage escalation…

… experience has shown that abuse and control escalates over time regardless.


A survivor is a person in a relationship whose ability to be safe and to act in their own interest and according to their own desires has been limited by a partner using power and control. Our culture tends to blame survivors for not exercising the option that they may appear to always have, completely leaving, while not considering as legitimate their desire to have safey and freedom within a chosen relationship. In this, the culture replicates the blame process by keeping attention on the survivor’s behavior.


Victim Stancing
As stated elsewhere, a survivor is focused on what she or he can do, someone taking the stance of a victim is focused on what she or he can’t do. But a primary aggressor victim stancing is even more insidious. Victim stancing is a power behavior that exploits the desire of others to help someone who is in distress. It is intended on one hand to deflect the efforts of the survivor to address issues honestly, and on the other hand, intended to draw third parties into rescuing (relieving of responsibility) the primary aggressor, or even allying with him. Victim stancing is also based on an external locus of responsibility. It denies choices that do exist. It turns the non-agreement of others into an injury.

The basic maneuver is to describe a disliked action of another person, in terms of being injured, usually just when accountability is expected. This works by changing the focus from the primary aggressor’s behavior and irresponsibility, and puts focus on other people’s behavior. This is more than deflection however. There is a tendency in people to believe that a ‘greater’ wrong trumps another wrong, so victim stancing quickly escalates into accusations of great misconduct, which however unfounded, seem to obligate others to respond.


Sexual Abuse
The most basic sexual abuse by primary aggressors is to obtain sex with the insincere promise of love and nurture. Any sex without full consent is sexual abuse. In any relationship where primary aggression operates, the survivor cannot be said to have the ability to consent but only the ability to submit.

Any unwanted sex is abuse. Even if the survivor enjoys the sex in someway, if the survivor is pressured into it, it is sexual abuse. Marital rape was not accepted as a concept until the 1970’s. It is still not accepted as a crime, as witnessed by the fact that it has never been prosecuted in the US. Primary aggressors may pursue sexual activities with a blatant goal of power, using pain or direct physical control. In extreme cases, femicidal violence may be threatened or simulated.*

Moments of extreme feelings and extreme arousal tend to bond people, even when the experience is negative or dangerous. This is called trauma bonding. High risk and high-coercion sex certainly fits this category. It has been postulated that in some relationships of severe abuse, it is, in part, the sexual abuse that keeps the survivor attached to the primary aggressor.


Survivor Advocates
If not in immediate danger, the best move anyone being abused can make is to talk to a professional community advocate. This is the first step in restoring clarity, which may be the only outside help needed. Most advocacy agencies have support groups for survivors. It is not necessary to leave a relationship or adhere to any agenda to receive advocacy services. At the other end of the spectrum, community advocates may provide expert safety planning or access to confidential shelters.

Survivor Violence
Survivor violence is assaultive behavior by a survivor that, while it may be frequent, is ineffective in altering power and control in a relationship. The goal of this violence is to increase the survivor’s options. Survivor violence may meet the legal definition of abuse but it does not meet the behavioral definition. Survivor violence also tends to be in proportion to the threat and to cease when the threat is gone. This is in distinction to abusive violence, which tends to be extreme and continue until exhaustion.




The Narcissistic Primary Aggressor
In psychology narcissism is a complex topic. But in practical terms, pathological narcissism is dedicating oneself to an image of being superior. All feeling and evidence is suppressed if it is not consistent with the image. More oppressively, the image is enforced on others through a mix of actual achievement, impression management, lies, manipulation, and keeping others off balance. If a situation exposes the truth, or others back the narcissist in a corner, rage will emerge. A narcissist cannot tolerate criticism. This does not just mean that a narcissist will reject or dislike criticism, but that he will escalate and lash out in the face of it.

Narcissism is a lot easier to see going than coming. That is, it is always very exciting and positive to interact with a person with narcissism in the beginning. This is not just being fooled, people with narcissism often provide a dazzle that could be an element of any satisfying relationship, but the other ingredients that one assumes will also be coming do not materialize.


Isolation has two purposes. One, to keep the survivor away from anyone that she might, in the mind of the primary aggressor, abandon him for. It is not unusual for primary aggressors to try to keep their partner from all males. Two, isolation keeps the survivor away from anyone that may influence the survivor to leave, use boundaries, or respond to the primary aggressor differently. This often includes her entire family, and most of her friends. Often isolating actions will be rationalized by the primary aggressor stating they don’t like the person. But isolation is about controlling the survivor’s access to the person she likes or from whom she receives support.


Some sources write that jealous feelings are okay as long as they do not lead to intimidation, isolation, or stalking. That seems a reasonable position toward occasional feelings in a non-oppressive relationship. However, constant looming jealousy, and unjustified jealous suspicions (from angry attachment) do quite a bit of damage to survivors. The walking on eggshells necessarily causes survivors to limit and distort normal social interaction. Paired with a jealous man, most women will start to isolate themselves for protection.


Couples Therapy
Most survivors are deeply committed to their relationships. It is a very common to seek couples therapy at the survivor’s insistence,. Where primary aggression is operating, this almost makes things worse for the survivor. This website’s author is a couples’ therapist, and can endorse this statement both from studying the experience of survivors, and from his own clinical experience. Even if the therapist understands the dynamics of primary aggression (which is rare), the detrimental effect seems to be the usual outcome. Couples therapy can go wrong with either an expert, or inexpert therapist for the following reasons:

In therapy, subjective perceptions are treated as carefully as objective facts. From a psychological point of view, what a client thinks should be true is as important as what is true. However, a primary aggressor’s subjective perceptions will be so blaming of the partner, and so numerous, that privileging his perceptions in this way keeps blaming attention on the survivors behavior, which replicates the basic abusive maneuver.
Some therapy will attempt to lessen conflict by encouraging partners to accomodate each other more. Survivors may take this to heart and redouble efforts to accomodate the primary aggressor, who, for his part, will not follow through on any promises.
Primary aggressors are usually dedicated at impression management. It is possible that a naive therapist will ally with the primary aggressor against the survivor for the alledgedly outrageous behavior reported about her.
Survivors tend to take responsibility for more than their share anyway. Since lesser skilled therapists welcome ‘volunteers’, this means still more focusing on survivors behavior. Somehow, the primary aggressor never volunteers to take responsibility.
If the therapist does start pointing out power behavior immediately, the primary aggressor will usually make a case that the therapist is against him, and demand another therapist. Considering how difficult it is to find a therapist that understands the dynamics of abuse, and considering how hard it is to get the primary aggressor to agree to go at all, it can be quite disheartening to start over, and often therapy is given up with hope and energy depleted further.


The word ’empowerment’ derives from the concept of ‘power to’ exercise options in one’s own best interest. It is not about well-wishers and family making sure the right thing happens by any means possible. Rather it is about a survivor being part of her own change in outlook by struggling with her actual options. For those who would be supportive, empowerment means letting survivors make their own decisions. Empowerment does not mean pretending to agree, only supporting the person. It also means confronting the victim role. Even those who have in fact been victimized are hurt when they take the stance of helplessness.

Part of empowering survivors is taking their desires seriously. The issue that separates survivors and well-wishers most strongly is ‘not leaving.’

Survivors, like all people want to be safe. Outsiders often look at the decision to stay and somehow doubt this. It is as if to the outsiders, the primary aggressor having demonstrated the capacity to harm shows that safety is impossible. But survivors want to be safe because their partner chooses not to harm them not only because their partner is incapable of harming them.


Ending a Relationship and Leaving
This discussion is not about the advisability of leaving a relationship with a primary aggressor. It is about the safety aspects. Angry attachment produces desperation and rage when a partner tries to leave or separate. By far, leaving is the most dangerous and lethal time for a survivor. Sometimes, it is only when first trying to end a relationship, that a survivor sees the most dangerous side of a primary agressor. Please keep the following things in mind:




Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship
many several


Non-Battering or Low-Battering Abuse
With rare exceptions, primary aggressors try to avoid anything like traditionally-defined violence, which in these pages is referred to as battering. Survivors understandably share this goal, and overwhelmingly, they back down and submit if the primary aggressor escalates.

For this reason, a low battering abusive relationship is usually a testament to survivor resourcefulness, not an indication of respect and freedom.


Serial Abuse
It is unfortunately well known that there is a type of abuser who goes from one victim to the next. This describes childhood sex abuse (pedophilia), serial rapists, sex-trafficking, and workplace sexual harassment.

While the motivation for the abuse also stems from a combination sex and power, there is a difference between this and intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence (DV). In contrast to the almost unseverable dis-ordered attachment in Intimate Partner Violence, there is a pattern in which victims are groomed or entrapped with premeditation and focus, abused, and then discarded as new victims are obtained.

Serial abuse is driven both by sexual interest (deviant or not) and power and control.
Predators often develop a double-life. The lives they live in public are exemplary and conspicuous in rectitude, while privately they cultivate abusive technique and proceed callously if not cruelly. What is not understood is that niceness is a choice not a character trait. Predators make different choices in public than in private.
Grooming becomes a well-practiced art through repetition. So does deception and lying.

The predator is always moving serially to new victims, which means that he is indeed a ‘professional among amateurs.’
The silence of previous victims maintains the isolation of future victims


About This Website About Abuse

The purpose of this site is to reduce harm and lessen suffering, by bringing clarity to the confusing area of intimate partner violence. This site is not designed to help survivors with immediate safety planning. If that is needed, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) can help with finding a hotline and advocates in your area. If you believe you are in, or entering an abusive relationship, the following list of warning signs, and other information on this site may be useful. However it is not intended to substitute for the advice and support of a trained community victim’s advocate.