Why Betrayal Can Be Traumatic And How To Begin Healing

Why Betrayal Can Be Traumatic And How To Begin Healing
Source – Online MSW Programs

You’ve undoubtedly felt the pain of betrayal if someone close to you has ever violated your trust. This agony has the potential to create profound wounds.

Why Betrayal Can Be Traumatic And How To Begin Healing

You’ve undoubtedly felt the pain of betrayal if someone close to you has ever violated your trust. This agony has the potential to create profound wounds.

Any sort of betrayal may create emotional discomfort, but when someone you rely on to respect your needs and generally protect your well-being breaches the confidence you’ve put in them, you may endure long-term trauma.

Betrayal trauma is often defined as the persistent grief and turmoil felt after: 

  • Parental or other childhood caregiver betrayal
  • A romantic partner’s disloyalty

When you depend on someone for fundamental needs and affection, and security, you may be willing to tolerate a betrayal to preserve your safety.

You may also come to accept the likelihood of future betrayals, which might also erode your self-esteem, emotional well-being, and ability to develop ties with others.

Source - Rapid Transformational Therapy

Understanding the Theory of Betrayal Trauma

Jennifer Freyd, a psychologist, coined the term “betrayal trauma" in 1991. She identified it as a particular trauma that occurs in critical social connections when the betrayed individual needs the betrayer’s support or protection.

According to betrayal trauma theory, damage within attachment relationships, such as those between a parent and a child or between love partners, may result in long-term trauma.

People often react to betrayal by withdrawing from the one who has deceived them. However, if you rely on someone to provide particular needs, this solution may not be possible.

Children, for example, rely on their parents to provide emotional necessities in addition to food, shelter, and safety.

Similarly, someone who lacks financial or social means outside of their relationship may be concerned that admitting the betrayal and leaving the relationship may jeopardise their safety.

Because of the possible implications of admitting the betrayal, the betrayed person may choose to bury the pain. As a consequence, they may not completely understand or recall the betrayal, particularly if it occurs during childhood.

Relation To Attachment Theory

Though experts first applied the notion of betrayal trauma to children who had been deceived by caregivers, it became evident that this form of trauma might occur in other relationships as well.

Let’s go back to the principles of attachment theory – after all, attachment comes before the betrayal.

Early childhood interactions are crucial because they build the basis for subsequent relationships. When these relationships are strong and stable, they set the path for adult attachments to be secure.

Insecure connections, on the other hand, are often the cause of unstable or dysfunctional relationships.

A parent who brings a kid into the world is responsible for protecting and caring for that child. This duty is an unspoken agreement between the parent and the kid. The kid looks to the parent to prioritise their well-being, and they normally have complete faith in their parents – until the parent fails them.

You may not require your spouse to exist in a romantic relationship, but you most likely rely on them for affection, emotional support, and company.

These relationships, too, are founded on agreements — the limits that define the connection. Partners in a monogamous relationship, for example, typically agree on what constitutes infidelity and agree to trust each other not to cheat.

A partner who cheats violates the conditions of the agreement.

Symptoms And Signs

The trauma of betrayal may have an impact on both physical and mental health, although the particular impacts depend on the kind of trauma. Remember that not everyone experiences trauma in the same way.

Childhood Trauma

The consequences of betrayal might manifest quickly after the tragedy and last throughout adulthood.

The following are key indicators:

  • trouble recognising, expressing, or managing emotions
  • anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms
  • nightmares
  • physical pain or stomach distress
  • panic attacks
  • thoughts of suicide
  • difficulty trusting others
  • attachment issues
  • eating disorders
  • substance use

Children who have been betrayed may end up dissociating or disconnecting from reality in order to escape the memories of the abuse.

If your parent fails to protect you, the betrayal may be so jarring that you end up suppressing it in order to preserve the relationship. Blinding yourself to the betrayal and your fear of future betrayals allows you to stay in a relationship from which you feel you cannot exit.

The ability to “forget" becomes a coping tool for you. However, although dissociation may help you deal with the trauma, it may also have an impact on your memories and sense of self.

Infidelity Trauma

Infidelity is the most common sort of betrayal in a romantic relationship, but other forms of betrayal, such as financial betrayal, may also trigger a trauma response.

The discovery of infidelity often results in:

  • loss of self-esteem and self-worth
  • numbness
  • anger
  • guilt
  • difficulty controlling emotions
  • intrusive thoughts about affair details
  • loss of faith in others
  • suspicion and hypervigilance
  • depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms
  • physical symptoms, including insomnia, pain, and stomach distress

Betrayal blindness may occur in romantic relationships as well.

Maybe you don’t need your spouse to survive, but you may still feel unwilling to leave for a wide range of reasons – children, a lack of choices, a shortage of your own money.

Relationships also meet crucial requirements for belonging and social connection, and betrayal might leave you wondering how you’ll meet those needs in the future.

Instead of being on the lookout for symptoms of cheating, you might opt (often unintentionally) to ignore or dismiss signals in order to preserve your relationship and your mental health.

Starting The Healing Process

Following a betrayal in a love relationship, you may have lasting trust issues and self-doubt. Even if you decide to give your partner a second opportunity, it may take months, if not years, to completely reestablish trust.

If you reacted to a childhood trauma by dissociating from it or shutting it out, your memories will eventually resurface, particularly if something similar occurs to provoke their return. It’s possible that blocking them again won’t be an option. Even if you are able to push your memories aside once again, this will not help you recover.

The road to rehabilitation may look different for everyone, but these techniques might help you get started.

Acknowledge Instead Of Evading

Healing often entails first coming to terms with what happened.

If you don’t deal with the betrayal, your problems will spread to other aspects of your life. You can’t erase it, so no matter how hard you try, you’ll find yourself reliving those recollections while you’re among friends, caring for your children, or going to work.

Leaning into a trauma, such as adultery, may feel too painful to contemplate. In actuality, though, identifying it helps you to begin investigating the causes behind it, which may aid in the healing process.

Instead of being locked in a never-ending loop of self-doubt and self-criticism, you may start confronting underlying relationship concerns, such as a lack of communication or intimacy, and exploring solutions.

Please keep in mind that this does not absolve you of responsibility for the betrayal. Cheating is an undesirable response to relationship troubles.

Practice Accepting Painful Emotions

In the aftermath of betrayal, a slew of negative feelings might emerge. It is natural to feel embarrassed or ashamed. You may also feel enraged, resentful, ill, or bereaved. Naturally, you may attempt to prevent this anguish by rejecting or blocking what happened.

Although suppressing or disguising unpleasant or disturbing emotions may seem to be simple and safe, doing so might make it more difficult to manage them.

Putting words to particular emotions — such as anger, regret, grief, and loss — might help you navigate them more easily.

Recognising what you’re dealing with might make sitting with those feelings and gradually increasing your awareness of them simpler and less terrifying. Greater emotional awareness, in turn, might assist you in discovering ways for dealing with those emotions in a more constructive manner.

Seek Support From Others

It’s not always simple to talk about betrayal. You may be unwilling to discuss childhood trauma or your partner’s adultery. Furthermore, if someone has abused your trust, you may find it difficult to trust anybody.

People, however, need emotional support, particularly during difficult times. Your loved ones may not need to know the details, but they may still provide comfort when you don’t want to be alone and diversion when you can’t get away from your repetitive thoughts.

It’s entirely OK to respectfully inform your friends when you’d want help and when you’d simply like to convey your sentiments without any well-intentioned counsel.

When addressing a partner’s infidelity with acquaintances, you should proceed with caution. Gossip may exacerbate an already traumatic situation, so reserve the in-depth facts for your closest trusted loved ones.

Concentrate On What You Need

Most individuals require some time after a partner cheats to determine whether to leave the relationship or attempt to mend the damages. You should not feel obligated to make a decision immediately. A relationship therapist may provide support and help while you assess if it is realistic to regain trust.

Pay special attention to your needs as you begin to heal from the first shock of trauma:

  • To relax and enhance your sleep, consider aromatherapy, a warm bath, or calming music instead of lying awake cycling through stressful thoughts.
  • When you’re feeling queasy or have no appetite, instead of skipping meals, nibble on energy-boosting items and stay hydrated.
  • Favourite movies and TV series might help you relax and unwind, but try to include some other activities as well. Yoga, walking, reading, and gardening are all activities that might improve one’s mood.

How Can Therapy Help?

Trauma may be difficult to deal with on your own. Professional assistance may make a significant impact on the recovery process. You may begin to confront and move through a betrayal in therapy before it creates long-term grief.

Therapists who have been trained to deal with survivors of abuse and neglect may also help in unravelling the long-term repercussions of childhood trauma. A therapist, for example, may help uncover underlying reasons for insecure attachment and explore ways for developing more secure connections if you have attachment problems.

When seeking to restore a relationship after infidelity, most mental health specialists advocate some type of couples counselling.

However, it is equally critical to work with a therapist on your own to:

  • address any thoughts of self-blame
  • try to recover self-esteem
  • discover appropriate coping methods for unpleasant emotions

The Bottom Line

When someone you love and trust does something that shakes the foundations of your relationship, the trauma that results may be profound.

You can recover, and you may even get stronger as you restore your sense of self and learn how to form healthy connections. Are you ready to take the initial steps? A therapist can help you along the journey.



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