When someone you love and trust betrays you, it can make you doubt your sanity. Betrayal can be so traumatic you may even show early signs of PTSD. Think of the times a spouse discovers that their partner is cheating on them or into porn addiction. Or when a parent realizes a child is an alcoholic or drug addict. Such discoveries make you go through shock, denial, and other long-term emotional scars that strain the relationship. So, what is betrayal trauma? And, how can you manage and heal from it? Let’s have a detailed look.
Understanding Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma occurs when people or systems we trust or rely on for survival violate that trust and emotional wellbeing. Ideally, we feel the urge to end a relationship with anyone who betrays us. Still, if you are in an attachment relationship where you rely on the betrayer to meet specific needs, walking away is not feasible.
It is this attachment to someone or an institution that you know is betraying you, that triggers deep emotional wounds. Typical examples of betrayal trauma include child neglect and abuse, sexual abuse, and infidelity between spouses.
6 Signs You Are Undergoing Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma makes us question ourselves and our partners’ motives. It also triggers mood swings, irritability, memory loss, dissociation, isolation, lack of intimacy, and engaging in activities that distract us. Below are some additional tell-tale physiological, emotional, and mental signs of betrayal trauma: –
#1: Feeling Unsafe
When you identify the relationship with your spouse, friend, or workmates as a lie, the deception violates your trust. Moreover, you begin to question your judgment about other relationships you may have at the moment.
Emotional insecurity makes us: –
- Struggle to open up on hard topics
- Get defensive when criticized
- Snoop around for clues or anything suspicious
- Agreeing to everything
- Blaming a partner for everything
- Faking happy moments
#2: Gaslighting Partners
Now, partners living a double life will do all they can to keep their other relationships a secret. At times, they may gaslight their spouses to make them question their perception of reality. For example, they claim you are overreacting when you ask about the numerous withdrawals from the family bank account. Likewise, they may blame you for triggering their short tempers, saying you changed after having kids.
Now, betrayal trauma makes us look inwards for answers. In hindsight, we end up blaming ourselves for being too busy and overlooking the red flags. You know, your partner’s sudden controlling behavior, deceit, gaslighting, verbal or physical abuse, and concerns by your friends or family members.
But since you love and trust your partner, wishful thinking and infatuation make you overlook all these tell-tale signs that something is amiss. Consequently, we blame ourselves, saying if only we were more attractive, loving, or had more money, the betrayal wouldn’t have happened.
#4: Overwhelming Secondary Guilt or Shame
If you hold a reputable leadership position in your community, church, school, or place of work, betrayal comes with overwhelming shame. Letting those around you know that you’re going through a divorce, or your child is a drug addict, or your parent is facing theft charges ruins the picture-perfect reputation you have. In addition, your feel ashamed for crying or not being strong enough for your kids during this challenging phase.
#5: Physical Distress
Typical physical signs of betrayal trauma include: –
- Sudden panic attacks
- Stomach distress
- Sleep problems
- Anxiety & depression
- Easily prone to panic attacks by external triggers
- Poor hygiene
Some physiological effects of betrayal trauma like tiredness and stomach upsets may resolve after a few weeks. Others like anxiety and depression can escalate into mental health complications unless addressed early.
#6: Self-Destructive Impulses
When undergoing betrayal trauma, you become vulnerable to negative impulses like: –
- Having suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Alcohol and drug misuse
- Excessive smoking
- Chronic self-injury like hair pulling, self-cutting, & nail-biting
- Compulsive gambling, gaming, or shopping
- Binge eating
Most victims know they are self-destructive. However, the urge to harm themselves is beyond their control.
Managing Betrayal Trauma
#1: Speak Up
Join community groups or online support forums and share your painful experiences with others. Doing so helps you know that you are not alone. Plus, you access valuable resources to help you cope with the trauma.
#2: Acknowledge Your Emotions
Start by forgiving yourself for being vulnerable to the abuser. Next, practice mindful meditation to help you release your negative emotions and begin your healing process. Journalizing how you feel each day will help you pinpoint the triggers in your self-harm behaviors or what you need to focus on in your healing journey.
#3: Practice Self-Love
Is your lifestyle self-destructive? Here are some self-love practices you can start right away: –
- Practice clean eating
- Quit smoking
- Join your local gym
- Go for a massage or forest bath
- Take up a new hobby
Self-love helps us rediscover ourselves, boosting our self-esteem.
#4: Set Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries after your spouse, friend, or colleague hurts you helps to achieve a sense of safety when around them. It is a necessary coping mechanism when you have no way of ending the relationship. Hence, you can: –
- Review your expectations from the relationship
- State what you can and cannot tolerate in the relationship
- Discuss what you consider acceptable financial boundaries
- Redefine how much friends and extended family can interfere with the relationship
- Define what you consider as private
#5: Seek Professional Help
Betrayal trauma presents itself in a multilayer form that is best dealt with by an experienced professional. Indeed, an inexperienced family member may re-traumatize you by saying such things as “Did you stop getting intimate after having kids?” Also, talk to an experienced family therapist or counselor about how the trauma affects your quality of life.
What is betrayal trauma to you? Well, if you experience an attachment injury when a friend, spouse, or colleague breaks the mutual trust you have, you may develop deep wounds that take time to heal. If your gut feelings tell your partner or parent is gaslighting you, they could be doing so to distract you from their deception. Likewise, if you feel unsafe, struggle with guilt, self-blame, or self-harm behaviors, seek professional help to heal from the trauma. Also, share your experience, rediscover yourself, and set firm boundaries to give you some peace of mind in this challenging time.