The word “betrayal” can conjure up images of cloak and dagger-style treachery. But at the heart of it, betrayal is a violation of trust. And if you experience it with more than one person or group, it can result in chronic betrayal trauma.
People in relationships can experience betrayal in many ways. If you find out your spouse had an affair or your best friend has been lying to you, you may feel the sting of betrayal.
Betrayal trauma can create life-altering changes in relationships and life. And it can cause pain and emotional distress.
Understanding Chronic Betrayal Trauma
Chronic betrayal trauma occurs after repeated betrayals in a person’s primary relationships. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship or betrayal by the same person.
The betrayal is disturbing and damaging. And the more integrated the betrayer is in the life of the betrayed, the more profound the trauma. It can cause the betrayed person to experience lingering pain, insecurity, and distrust.
Betrayal trauma can occur from any form of betrayal. For example, when someone lies to you or you realize something about your relationship is untrue. But other things also cause betrayal trauma. Experiencing domestic, emotional, spiritual, sexual, or financial abuse can lead to betrayal trauma. This trauma is especially likely in cases where the betrayed person depends on the betrayer for care.
Betrayal Trauma and Attachment Theory
Betrayal trauma is a specific type of trauma that happens in social relationships where the betrayed needs the betrayer. In a typical betrayal scenario, the betrayed person will pull away from their betrayer. But in a scenario that can create betrayal trauma, it’s not possible for the betrayed person to retreat.
If you rely on the person who betrayed you, you may accept their behavior to ensure your safety. Partners in intimate relationships don’t always depend on one another for safety or survival. But they depend on one another for love, companionship, and emotional support.
Once the trust in the relationship breaks, the betrayed partner realizes they can no longer trust their betrayer. This realization can cause them also to question the validity of the relationship. They wonder whether it was as good as they once believed.
In some cases, betrayal trauma can lead to an avoidant attachment style. This attachment style means the person can’t trust others in a way that allows them to form healthy relationships.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Betrayal Trauma
Everyone experiences trauma differently. But there are some common signs and symptoms of chronic betrayal trauma.
Betrayed partners can struggle to believe their relationship was ever good in the wake of a betrayal. This belief can lead to feelings of anxiety, panic, and helplessness. Betrayed partners may find themselves questioning if they will ever feel normal again.
Betrayed partners may have intrusive thoughts about the betrayal. In some cases, they may search for evidence of continued betrayal. They do things like go through their partner’s phone records or emails. It can result in paranoia and hypervigilance to find more betrayal and leave little cognitive energy for any other area of life.
Even though the betrayed partner is not at fault, they may still feel shame. They think they should have noticed the betrayal or recognized it sooner. These feelings of shame may come with feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or even inadequacy.
Daily Life Stress
The stress of a betrayal can make other aspects of life more stressful for a betrayed person. For example, the toll the betrayal takes can leave little energy for work, family, or home tasks. Showing up in those areas of life can be difficult. It can increase their stress levels on top of the betrayal itself. And if the betrayed person is considering ending the relationship, they may have other stress to consider, like finances or housing.
Because of the stress and shame that betrayed partners feel, it can be challenging to reach out for support. Many betrayed partners feel a sense of isolation, especially if they don’t want to discuss how they feel to protect the reputation of their betrayer.
How to Heal from Chronic Betrayal Trauma
Even though betrayal trauma can feel like an all-encompassing thing, there is a way forward. When you’re ready to begin your betrayal trauma healing journey, support is available.
Steps for healing from chronic betrayal trauma:
- Acknowledge. To fully heal, acknowledge what happened. When you can acknowledge the pain you feel, and what caused it, you can explore why it was so traumatic. This acknowledgment can help you start the healing process.
- Prioritize. Put your own needs and self-care first. Prioritizing yourself means eating regular healthy meals, exercising, and getting enough sleep. When you prioritize your health, you create good conditions for healing trauma.
- Meditate. Meditating allows you to sit quietly and observe your thoughts. You can enable feelings and thoughts of betrayal to come to you, acknowledge them, and then let them go.
- Find Support. Reaching out to trusted friends is a great way to build a support system and community. Even though more than one person betrayed you, there are still good people in the world who you can trust and rely on for help.
How Begin Again Institute Can Help
Begin Again Institute offers treatment for betrayed partners. Our Partner Support Program offers support and healing for betrayed partners concurrent with the 14-Day Men’s Intensive Program. Healing betrayal trauma can be hard work, and you don’t have to do it alone. Contact Begin Again Institute to start the healing process.