What is Betrayal Trauma and How Does It Affect Us?

Posted by  Soribel Martínez

There are many different types of trauma that can impact people throughout their lives. Most people are aware of things like PTSD or childhood trauma. But, betrayal trauma goes one step beyond those broader categories. 

Betrayal trauma occurs when someone you’re depending on for survival violates your trust or well-being. In childhood, that could be your parents or guardians. As an adult, it could be someone you’re in a relationship with. 

It’s important to know some of the intricacies of betrayal trauma. The more you understand what it means and the common signs, the sooner you can seek help if you need it. Even if the trauma itself happened years ago, it may still be impacting you. 

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to forever. 

Betrayal Trauma and Attachments

The betrayal trauma theory was introduced by Dr. Jennifer Freyd. The theory focuses on key relationships in a person’s life, from parent/child relationships to romantic partners. 

It is closely linked to attachment theory because attachment occurs before betrayal. You have to form a bond with someone before feeling truly, traumatically betrayed by them. As a child, you have a strong bond with your parents and depend on them for just about everything. In a relationship, you may depend on your partner to help with bills or rent, or take care of things you aren’t able to. 

Unfortunately, those attachments are exactly what makes betrayal such a big deal. It wouldn’t be so traumatic to get betrayed by someone you didn’t care about. However, when it’s someone you have a close connection with, the devastation can take years to work through. 

What Are the Signs of Betrayal Trauma? 

The effects of betrayal trauma can sometimes be hard to identify because they impact people differently. Not everyone experiences trauma in the same way, and the signs may be different depending on when the trauma occurred. 

However, there are a few “common” signs to look out for. When it comes to childhood trauma, some of the typical symptoms include: 

  • Trouble expressing or managing your emotions
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Physical pain, nausea, and/or digestive issues

If your betrayal trauma occurred as an adult, you might experience different symptoms, including: 

  • Loss of self-worth
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Numbness

You also might have a hard time trusting others, or you may lose your faith in most people. Experiencing betrayal trauma as an adult can also lead to other mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, and may even impact your physical health. 

How Can You Recover? 

Again, the recovery process is different for everyone depending on the type of trauma and when it occurred. 

However, the first step is always to acknowledge that it happened. Hiding away the traumatic experience can make your symptoms worse. Emotions will always demand to be felt, and trying to bury them down will cause them to eventually burst out. By that point, you might be seriously struggling with your mental well-being. 

It’s going to be a difficult process. But, being willing to accept your emotions—no matter what—is a great start to the healing process. 

Thankfully, that’s a process you don’t have to go through on your own. Lean on your friends and family for support, and consider opening up to someone you trust about what happened. Once it’s “out there” with someone else, the trauma itself can seem less overwhelming and controlling. 

Seeking professional help is also one of the best things you can do. A therapist can help you work through the source of the trauma while guiding you through your emotions. You’ll learn the skills necessary to take control of your life again, rather than letting the trauma dictate who you are. 

If you’ve experienced betrayal trauma, please contact me to set up an appointment. Your experience is not your fault, and you don’t have to continue to live with the effects of it forever. 

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