Have you ever been betrayed by a friend or family member? Have you had that person be responsible for trauma in your life? In this article, I will explore the possibility of that betrayal trauma and its effects. Looking to the future, I’ll tell you how to seek help if this has been your experience or someone you love.
What Is Betrayal Trauma?
Betrayal trauma is a form of psychological injury that results from an intentional violation of trust. In the context of relationships, betrayal trauma occurs when one person in the relationship violates the other’s trust by acting in an untrustworthy manner.
It can occur in romantic relationships, family relationships, friendships, and professional relationships. People who have been betrayed may feel as if they have lost their identity, self-worth, safety, trust in others, and ability to love — all key elements of healthy development. Betrayal traumas include:
- Physical abuse by someone close to you
- Sexual abuse by someone close to you
- Emotional/psychological abuse by someone close to you (e.g., manipulation)
- Financial exploitation by someone close to you
Signs of Betrayal Trauma
Several signs of betrayal trauma can indicate whether or not you’ve been through an experience that could cause this type of psychological injury. Individuals who have been betrayed tend to have symptoms such as:
- You have trouble trusting people. Trust is essential to healthy relationships, but if you’ve been betrayed by someone close to you, it’s not easy to trust people again. This may be because you fear that others will betray you or worry that they won’t be there for you when times get tough.
- You feel like nobody understands what you went through. Betrayal can be devastating, and it feels like no one understands how hard it was for you. You may feel isolated from those around you and frustrated when others don’t seem to understand how much it hurts or how much work it took to get over the betrayal.
- You don’t feel like yourself anymore. When something bad happens in life, it can change who we are as people — sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. When someone betrays us, our sense of identity can change dramatically because we view ourselves differently after being betrayed by someone who was once trusted by us.
How Does Betrayal Trauma Affect Someone?
The effects of betrayal trauma are similar to those of any other trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The following are some of the most common effects:
Flashbacks: You may feel like you’re reliving the betrayal repeatedly. These flashbacks can occur spontaneously or be triggered by something that reminds you of the betrayal.
Avoidance: You may avoid thinking about or talking about the betrayal because it makes you uncomfortable. You might also avoid people who remind you of your betrayers, such as coworkers or friends.
Emotional numbing: You may feel detached from others, including family members and loved ones. This is often described as feeling “emotionally dead” or “numb.”
Rage and anger: Anger is one way people cope with traumatic events — especially when they’ve been betrayed by someone close to them — but anger can also make it difficult for you to move forward after your loss.
Can Betrayal Trauma Cause PTSD?
Betrayal trauma can potentially lead to PTSD. In fact, according to research, about 30% to 60% of betrayed individuals experience PTSD, depression, and anxiety to clinically meaningful levels. Traumatic events like rape, natural disasters, and war can be emotionally devastating. But not all victims of trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Why?
It’s not that trauma survivors are more vulnerable to PTSD than other people. Rather, the unique combination of factors determines whether someone develops PTSD after a traumatic event. These factors include:
- The severity of the trauma
- Whether the survivor was injured during the event
- The amount of support available from others after the event
- Whether there were any other types of traumas present
- The person’s personality traits and coping skills
How does betrayal trauma affect the brain?
Traumatic events can change a person’s life, but they can also change how their brain works. Such experiences can alter the brain’s structure, function, and chemistry. The effects of betrayal trauma on the brain are similar to those of other types of traumatic events. They include:
Difficulty controlling emotions or impulses. They may have trouble managing anger, sadness, or fear, even in situations that wouldn’t normally provoke these feelings. They may also be more prone to panic attacks and bouts of depression than before the trauma occurred.
Memory problems and concentration issues. Many people with betrayal trauma experience short-term memory loss and problems learning new things or concentrating on tasks at hand. These symptoms can make it hard to do everyday tasks like cooking dinner or paying bills on time.
Increased sense of vulnerability and danger. After a betrayal experience, many people feel unsafe in their homes or with friends and family members who might betray them again. This feeling may cause them to avoid social situations where they could be hurt by others again — even if those people were never part of their original betrayal experience (such as avoiding all romantic relationships after experiencing one bad one).
Betrayal Trauma and Codependency
Betrayal trauma and codependency are two very different things. Betrayal trauma occurs when you’ve been hurt by someone you love or trust. This could be a relative, lover, friend, or family member. Codependency occurs when you have an unhealthy emotional attachment to another person. You may feel responsible for their happiness and feel your life is intertwined with theirs.
Codependent relationships are often characterized by a power imbalance where one partner has more control over the other’s behavior than is healthy for either. For example, if one partner financially supports the other but has no say in how money is spent, this could be a sign of codependency. Or if one partner tries to control another’s actions or feelings through guilt or manipulation, it could signify an unhealthy relationship dynamic.
The main difference between betrayal trauma and codependency is that betrayal trauma involves abuse, whereas codependency involves emotional manipulation rather than physical harm.
Related Read: Dealing With an Emotional Terrorist in Life
How to Cope With Betrayal Trauma?
People who have experienced betrayal trauma struggle to trust others and themselves. Not only do they feel betrayed by someone they loved, but they also have difficulty trusting themselves, their feelings, and their judgment.
The betrayal and the trauma can deeply embed in your mind and body. Betrayal trauma is also called “betrayal bond,” “traumatic bonding,” and “traumatic attachment.” To cope with betrayal trauma, you can use these steps:
- Understand what happened to you. It may be helpful to write down your experience or talk to someone who understands what you’ve been through. Note down how you feel at the moment and what caused these emotions. This helps you identify what triggered your feelings so that you can avoid similar situations in the future.
- Know that it’s not your fault. You didn’t cause the abuse; you don’t deserve it, and it wasn’t your responsibility to stop it from happening.
- Seek support from people who are safe for you (friends, family members). Supportive people can help you feel safe enough to process your feelings about what happened and begin trusting again.
- Stay positive. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on negative thoughts and feelings because they won’t help you get over this situation easily. Instead, focus on things that make you happy, such as spending time with friends.
- Exercise regularly to release endorphins in your brain that will help relieve stress and improve your moods overall, making it easier for you to cope with depression or anxiety caused by betrayal trauma.
- Seek the help of a professional therapist. A therapist can help you process what happened and help you deal with the emotions accompanying it. They will also be able to give you tools and techniques to help you cope and move forward in your life.
How to Help Someone Dealing With Betrayal Trauma?
When someone you love has been betrayed, it’s hard not to feel powerless. You can’t fix the situation for them, but there are ways you can help them to heal.
- Check-in with your loved one every day. Let them know you care and that you’re there for them.
- Don’t judge or blame them for what happened. The person who betrayed them is ultimately responsible for their actions — not the victim. If they blame themselves, remind them they are not the problem and did nothing wrong.
- Be patient with their reactions. They may be angry or depressed or try to avoid thinking about what happened altogether. These reactions are normal reactions to betrayal trauma, but they don’t last forever!
- Acknowledge that it hurts when loved ones betray us. Be understanding of how difficult it is for them right now and remind yourself that this isn’t permanent — they didn’t stop being a good person overnight just because someone hurt them badly in the past.
- Respect boundaries. If your friend or loved one doesn’t want to talk about what happened at first or needs time alone, respect that and give them space until they’re ready to open up again. Also, make sure not to pry; this can cause more anxiety in your friend than necessary.
Related Read: How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship?
When it comes to trauma, it is vital to remember that you are not alone and betrayal trauma is real. Loss of innocence, identity confusion, and thoughts about suicide are all common reactions of the betrayed trauma survivor. Without the right response and professional help, the results can be life-threatening. A support group including respect for boundaries, validation of pain, and sharing of coping skills can produce significant healing in this kind of trauma.
Those who have loved ones dealing with it understand there’s a lot of denials and gaslighting that goes around when it comes to dealing with betrayal trauma. Most people are afraid to confront it for fear that the person will break up with them or get angry. But no one can fix their own problems if they’re not willing to admit that they have a problem in the first place. So your best option is to gently confront them and let them know, lovingly, that you want to help them.
They might not want your help at first, but don’t give up; continue confronting them and being gentle while they adjust to the idea. Over time, they will appreciate your efforts and hopefully stop hurting you.
- Lonergan, M., Brunet, A., Rivest‐Beauregard, M., & Groleau, D. (2020). Is romantic partner betrayal a form of traumatic experience? A qualitative study. Stress and Health, 37(1), 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2968
- Gobin, R. L. (2012). Partner Preferences Among Survivors of Betrayal Trauma. Journal of Trauma &Amp; Dissociation, 13(2), 152–174. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299732.2012.642752
- Babcock, R. L., & DePrince, A. P. (2012). Childhood Betrayal Trauma and Self-Blame Appraisals Among Survivors of Intimate Partner Abuse. Journal of Trauma &Amp; Dissociation, 13(5), 526–538. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299732.2012.694842
- Goldsmith, R. E., Freyd, J. J., & DePrince, A. P. (2011). Betrayal Trauma. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(3), 547–567. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260511421672