Boulder Recovery Blog

Ways Betrayal Trauma Alters the Mind and Body

If someone close to you ever broke your trust, you’ve likely felt betrayed. This experience leaves a painful, deep wound and makes it challenging to trust in relationships. Any betrayal can cause distress, but you may experience betrayal trauma when a person you depend on to respect your needs in a relationship and provide a safe, nurturing space violates your trust.  

How Does Trauma Alter the Mind?

Betrayal trauma, coined by Jenny Freyd in 1991, alters the mind. It impacts the brain and its natural ability to react to stress. A critical region changed by betrayal is the limbic and hippocampal regions, better known as your emotional response center and memory data bank. Both systems usually work in concert to instruct you on what is safe in a relationship and what you can trust as accurate. Following a betrayal, this system is upended and enters survival mode, where the limbic system acts as a fire alarm. As this system blares danger, your memory center, the hippocampus, scans memories. You may begin questioning what you thought you knew. Or start to doubt whether a particular vacation was as lovely as you once thought. You may even struggle to know what was truly real in your relationship. Every memory feels dislocated and unsafe.  

As the limbic region experiences more stress over time, you may enter a prolonged state of hyper or hypo-arousal, where your mind changes to see memories and the world as threatening. 

Everyone’s response to trauma is different. Some people may “freeze” and others may “fight or flight.” Hyperarousal in betrayal trauma resembles a heightened flight or fight response. This response may include intense anger, fear, or panic. The opposite of a hyper-aroused state, a hypo arousal state may resemble disconnection with your body, mind fog, memory lapses, dissociation, and emotional numbness. Prolonged experiences in either of these states can drastically alter the brain’s ability to process memory, feelings, time, location, and your ability to be present in the moment.   

 A third state resulting from betrayal trauma is appeasement or people-pleasing. This state may look like you are ignoring, validating, or catering to the needs of others to preserve relationships. Ultimately, this appeasement may result in loss of identity, create resentment, and lead to experiencing more betrayal in the future.  

A betrayed person may experience: 

  • Intrusive thoughts or worry 
  • Paranoia
  • Hypervigilance or feelings that nothing is safe
  • A sense of inadequacy or embarrassment
  • Shame or self-blame
  • Decreased self-esteem 
  • Isolation
  • Loss of Identity
  • Alexithymia or the lack of language to convey emotions and experience 


A person may question everything about their relationship as they respond to heightened emotional pain. As you attempt to come to grips with the betrayal, you may ruminate on details you feel like you need to know to maintain safety. Scanning calendars, phone records, and emails could become common activities. You may eventually feel like a detective in your relationship. You may question the last year, three years, 10 years, or even an entire relationship because of betrayal.


A woman holds her wedding ring between her fingers. Only her hands are visible in the photo

Does Betrayal Trauma also Affect the Body? 

Betrayal trauma can also alter the body. The body under duress and trauma internalizes psychological pain and may manifest it as physical complications. The stress of coping with betrayal may exacerbate any existing health complication. Taking care of yourself may become labor as you cope with the relationship’s loss of trust and security.  

Physical symptoms you can experience include: 

  • Negative body image
  • Overeating or lack of appetite
  • Insomnia or oversleeping 
  • Heightened blood pressure 
  • Aversion to intimate touch 
  • Crying episodes
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Numbness or lack of presence in the moment  

Are Betrayal Trauma and Stress Linked?

For those who experience betrayal, every minute seems longer. Stress occupies every second in between as you try to make sense of your world. At times, it may feel like your emotions are out of control. These emotions may disappear as easily as they came. Day-to-day tasks also may feel dangerous or disconnected. 

You may struggle with the belief that you now have to keep a secret from your loved ones, community, and support network to protect the security of your family and partner. Keeping the secret of betrayal intensifies feelings of stress. You lose opportunities for others to empathize and validate your experience. It often becomes difficult to articulate how you feel or make sense of reality following betrayal trauma. 

How Can You Get Help for Betrayal Trauma? 

You can start healing after the discovery of a betrayal by connecting with a therapist. Finding support where your voice matters is key to re-establishing safety and trust in yourself. Specifically, enlisting the help of a betrayal trauma specialist can build empathy and trust in someone who understands the pain you are in. It is one step closer to finding true healing after betrayal trauma. 

Another way to advocate for healing is to seek support from a group. Boulder Recovery’s 14-day Men’s Intensive treatment incorporates a Partner Support Program. The program provides wives and partners an opportunity to process betrayal trauma and develop community. Healing happens best when people share in fellowship, and the partner support program at Boulder Recovery connects partners in walking a shared path of empowerment and resilience.


Contact us today to learn more about betrayal trauma, our 14-Day intensive treatment for men, or our Partner Support Program. 

  • Category: Mental Health
  • By Lawrence Buddoo
  • October 4, 2021

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