Betrayal Trauma: 6 Ways to Recognize the Symptoms and Heal
What do you think of when you hear the word trauma? Most of us associate trauma with a car accident, a natural disaster or with being psychologically damaged in battle. As devastating as these kinds of trauma are, there’s another kind of trauma that affects about 70% of us. Its symptoms are not different than physical or battle trauma. It causes damage to relationships and personal growth unless we face it and take steps to heal it. We call it betrayal trauma.
Nearly everyone can relate to being betrayed in one way or another. You can probably remember how much it hurt when a high school boyfriend went out on you. You were most likely sad, hurt and angry for weeks or months. But in time, the sting wore off and you let go and found other people to connect with.
Have you been betrayed by parents having affairs, or divorcing? Or by someone that you deeply loved suddenly blindsiding you with betrayal. The paralyzing overwhelming effects of betrayal trauma could have lasted months or years.
You don’t have to live with the pain that comes with these traumatizing events. It’s important that you understand how to identify, face and heal betrayal trauma.
6 Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma and How to Recognize Them: If you have any of these symptoms you need to reach out for help.
1. Nightmares and night terrors.
About 60% of people who have been traumatized by betrayal have nightmares. This damages the quality of your sleep and can cause problems with depression and focus.
2. Avoiding family and friends.
60% avoid friends and 60 to 70% avoid family. About 60 to 70% feel unlovable. People who have experienced betrayal trauma often feel ashamed to talk about what happened and how bad they feel. They tend to isolate, which just makes the trauma worse.
Another common symptom of betrayal trauma is hyper-vigilance. 60 to 70% experience this. Hyper-vigilance is a constant scanning of the environment for more trauma. Hyper-vigilance can make you suspect that others will hurt you the way the betrayer did. It becomes difficult to trust people.
4. Feeling unlovable.
60 to 70% of people feel unlovable. It’s common to feel like the betrayal was your fault and that there is something wrong with you. This robs you of the support that safe friends want to give you.
5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
About 60 to 70% of people with betrayal trauma actually meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This symptom of betrayal trauma is debilitating, causing problems with functioning at home, school or work. It can be damaging to relationships and can cause depression and overwhelming anxiety.
6. Suicidal thoughts.
And last, but extremely important, six out of ten people with betrayal trauma have suicidal thoughts. This one really bothers me. It says everything about how damaging betrayal trauma is to ones will to live. This is why you need to come out of the shadows and get the help you need.
There are other symptoms of betrayal trauma – being easily startled, flashbacks, reliving the trauma over and over. There are also physical symptoms – a racing heart or sweating. You may have trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event or loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
As you can see, the symptoms of betrayal trauma are serious and may even be life threatening. Ignoring them can be devastating to you and others close to you.
I had a couple come to see me who were in their sixties. He had betrayed her once when they were in their thirties. Because he had refused to talk about it the emotional trauma memory she had went underground. Thirty years later something that reminded her of the betrayal reactivated her trauma memories. She had full-blown PTSD symptoms that that nearly destroyed their 40-year marriage.
So now that you know the symptoms of betrayal trauma and the importance of facing it, let’s look at how to heal from it.
6 Ways to Heal From Betrayal Trauma:
1. Give your trauma emotions a voice.
You need a safe place to talk about your emotions. And you need to have the experience of feeling the compassion of another person for the emotions you are feeling. You will need the compassion of the person who betrayed you if you are going to trust him again.
2. Be open about your emotions.
Open up the painful emotions, especially with your betrayer you need to be reassured that he will always love you and that your emotions matter to him. You need to be able to tell him when your trauma is activated and trust him to help you navigate around what is triggering you.
3. Couples therapy.
You will probably need couples therapy if you want to repair your relationship with your betrayer. You’ll need to learn how to not attack him when you need him the most. He will need to learn to not be defensive and to reassure you that he is deeply sorry and that he will keep you safe. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy has been found to be effective for couples that have had betrayal trauma.
4. Trauma treatment or therapy.
You may need specialized trauma treatment. There are specialized forms of psychotherapy for trauma. Both EMDR and Brain Spotting have been found to be very effective. EEG biofeedback has also been found to be very effective to healing trauma symptoms.
It’s important to learn how to self-regulate your trauma emotion. Spending time daily doing mindfulness meditation can help you learn how to feel and let go of your traumatic emotional memory. Learning how to breathe, feel and let go without thinking is key to the success of mindfulness.
6. You are not your trauma.
Your betrayal trauma is unhealed emotional memory. It does not define who you are. Nor does it have anything to do with how lovable you are. It is important not to define yourself by what happened.
Congratulations for digging into this incredibly important, potentially life-saving topic. Betrayal trauma is a topic that often gets shoved under the carpet. And dangerously so! Now that you know how to recognize its symptoms and how to heal from them, you’ll be well equipped to take important steps toward your healing or that of a loved one.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor with offices in San Luis Obispo and Visalia, California. He’s an expert in the field of relationships and betrayal trauma. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. They have developed an online learning course that teaches why we betray and how to avoid it.
Statistics in this article are from: Skinner Kevin B. Skinner Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal: The Essential Tools for Healing, KSkinner Corp., Lindon, Utah, 2017