Betrayal is a profound breach of trust that can leave lasting scars on the human psyche.

When betrayal occurs within the context of close relationships, whether that’s friends, boss, family or intimate partner, it can give rise to a specific form of trauma known as betrayal trauma.

In today’s article, I’m exploring the intricacies of betrayal trauma, delving into what it is and its impact on you and providing strategies for healing and reclaiming your sense of self.

To watch the extended YouTube version, click here.

Unravelling Betrayal Trauma

1. Defining Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma is a form of psychological trauma that arises from the violation of trust in close relationships. This betrayal can take various forms, including infidelity, deception, emotional abuse, or any act that shatters the trust and security within a relationship.

Again, this is not just about intimate relationships such as a spouse or partner. It can be any type of relationship: friend, boss, co-worker, family member, etc., anywhere where a breakdown in trust occurs.

2. Types of Betrayal

Betrayal trauma can manifest in lots of different ways. Although infidelity, where a partner engages in a romantic or sexual relationship outside the committed partnership, is a common source, there are many other types of betrayal.

Typical ones include:

  • Deception, including lying, as well as lying by omission.

  • Emotional abuse 

  • Any other form of betrayal that violates the expectations and boundaries of the relationship can contribute to this trauma. Examples could include not following through on promises, going behind someone’s back, deliberately hurting someone, or even hurting someone without meaning to; in other words, not thinking your actions through enough.

The Impact of Betrayal Trauma

1.     Emotional Toll

Betrayal trauma often brings an immediate and intense emotional response. The aftermath of Betrayal Trauma can be emotionally debilitating, triggering a range of intense emotions such as shock, profound anguish, anger, sadness, a sense of despair and profound hurt.

As the reality of the betrayal sinks in, trust, a fundamental element of any healthy relationship, is shattered, leading to a pervasive sense of vulnerability and fear.

The emotional toll can be overwhelming and may manifest in symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, hypervigilance, and avoidance of reminders of the betrayal.

2. Cognitive Effects

Betrayal can deeply affect your cognitive processes. It can erode your self-esteem and self-worth. Victims often grapple with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame, questioning their own judgment and worthiness of love and loyalty.

The emotional toll can extend to physical health, manifesting as sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and other stress-related symptoms.

A pervasive sense of distrust and hypervigilance may develop as they become hyper-alert to signs of potential betrayal in other aspects of their lives.

These effects can be significantly heightened if you have complex PTSD or ADHD. With ADHD, there’s something called Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria. I’ve written two articles on this, which you can read here.

3. Impact on Identity

Betrayal trauma can shatter your sense of self and identity. The betrayal often challenges long-held beliefs about your innate self, leading to feelings of inadequacy, self-blame, and a loss of confidence.

4. Interpersonal Consequences

The impact of betrayal trauma extends beyond the betrayed individual. Relationships with the betrayer, as well as other relationships, may become strained. Trust, once broken, can be challenging to rebuild.

5. Physical Manifestations

The distress from betrayal trauma can manifest physically, leading to psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disturbances, and unexplainable aches and pains.

Now, obviously, you should always get checked out by a medical professional. However, psychosomatic pain is a real thing. The mind-body connection is a significant aspect of the trauma experience.

Coping Strategies For Betrayal Trauma

1. Seeking Professional Support

A crucial step in coping with betrayal trauma is seeking professional support. Therapists and coaches specialising in trauma and relational issues can provide a safe space for you to process your emotions, explore the impact of the betrayal, and develop coping strategies.

2. Understanding the Trauma Response

Understanding that the trauma response is a natural reaction to betrayal is essential. Validating your emotions and practising self-compassion can be foundational in the healing process.

To understand more about the fight/flight/freeze/fawn stress response, I recommend watching my video 020 – WHY you can’t THINK STRAIGHT when you’re STRESSED and what to do!

3. Establishing Boundaries

As part of the healing journey, if you want to keep this person in your life, you’ll likely need to establish or renegotiate boundaries in your relationship. Rebuilding trust can be a gradual process, and clear communication about expectations is crucial. Again, I have a video on boundary setting. You can watch it here.

4. Self-care Practices

Engaging in self-care practices is vital for navigating betrayal trauma. This may include activities that promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, and spending time with supportive friends or family.

5. Building a Support Network

Building a support network is instrumental in healing from betrayal trauma. Connecting with friends, family, or support groups who can provide empathy, understanding, and non-judgmental support can be invaluable.

You simply cannot underestimate the importance of cultivating positive social interactions, especially when you’re going through a tough time. Much evidence from recent research into this topic proves that healthy social connections help us regulate our nervous systems through the release of oxytocin, promoting a sense of safety. 

6. Embracing The Healing Journey

Embracing mindfulness and acceptance practices can aid in the healing journey. Mindfulness allows you to stay present with your emotions without becoming overwhelmed, fostering a gradual acceptance of the reality of the betrayal.

7. Rebuilding Self-esteem

Rebuilding self-esteem is a crucial aspect of healing. This can include engaging in activities that support your personal worth, setting and achieving small goals, and acknowledging your strengths. All these things contribute to rebuilding your positive self-image.

A great way to do this is to write down all the positive things people have said about you, no matter how small. We tend to ignore or invalidate those comments when we’re feeling low. However, noting them down and genuinely feeling them in your body can really help.

If you struggle to accept positive feedback or compliments, it’s likely because someone taught you to do that in childhood. To overcome the need to negate people’s positive feedback, remind yourself that no one HAS to say anything nice about you. They could say nothing at all!

Instead of rejecting a compliment, potentially hurting the other person, simply say, ‘Thank you’. It will feel uncomfortable initially, but like anything, it will get easier with practice.

Regularly review your list of compliments and positive feedback. Your inner critic will be in full flow, and your critical thinking will be offline. So, make time to sit quietly, review your list, and feel the love with which those comments were intended. It can be a bit weird at first, but incredibly powerful.

The Wrap-up

Betrayal trauma is a massive challenge, but it is not the end of the story. By understanding the nature of betrayal trauma, seeking professional support, and embracing coping strategies, you can embark on a journey of healing and transformation.

Moving beyond betrayal involves a process of self-discovery, forgiveness, and the gradual restoration of trust.

As you reclaim your sense of self and navigate the complexities of relationships, you have the power to not only survive but thrive in the aftermath of betrayal.

The journey may be difficult, and you will have to put work in, but with resilience, support, and self-compassion, building a fulfilling and empowered life is possible.

What Next?

In the extended YouTube version of this article, I also discuss Moving Forward: Reclaiming Life After Betrayal, including:

  • Forgiveness and Closure

  • Rebuilding Trust

  • Personal Growth and Resilience

  • Creating A New Narrative

Again, you can watch it here. Once I hit 1000 YouTube subscribers, I’ve decided to start doing ‘live’ Q&A sessions to answer all your burning questions. So, that is a further reason to hit that subscribe button. Oh, and it’s completely FREE!

If you enjoyed this article and haven’t yet subscribed to get my newsletter straight to your email inbox, click the ‘newsletter’ tab at the top of the page.

Finally, as always, thank you for your continued support.

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