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Signs and Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

Jonathan Riley

Betrayal trauma can manifest in a variety of ways, impacting people on an emotional, physical, and behavioural level. Recognising these signs and symptoms is crucial to understanding the devastating effects betrayal can have on a person’s well-being. It’s important for couples to be aware of these signs because they can have an effect on both people in the relationship.

Emotional Symptoms:

  1. Shock and Disbelief: Initially, there may be an overwhelming sense of shock and disbelief. The reality of the betrayal can be hard to accept, leading to feelings of numbness or denial.
  2. Anger: Anger is a common response, ranging from mild irritation to intense rage. It can be directed towards the betrayer, oneself, or even unrelated people or situations.
  3. Sadness and Despair: When you realise you have been betrayed, you may experience deep grief or sadness. This can sometimes escalate into symptoms characteristic of depression.
  4. Anxiety and Fear: Anxiety may increase, driven by uncertainties about the future and fear of further betrayal. This can lead to a constant state of alertness or hypervigilance.
  5. Confusion and Difficulty Concentrating: Emotional distress can cause confusion and difficulty concentrating, impairing daily tasks and decision-making.

Physical Symptoms:

  1. Sleep Disturbances: This can include trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares related to the betrayal.
  2. Changes in Appetite: Some may experience a loss of appetite, while others might turn to comfort eating.
  3. Physical Ailments: Stress-related physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or muscle tension can become more prevalent.
  4. Fatigue: The emotional toll of betrayal trauma can lead to increased fatigue, even if sleep patterns are not disrupted.

Behavioural Symptoms:

  1. Withdrawal from Social Activities: A person may withdraw from friends, family, and activities they once enjoyed, leading to isolation.
  2. Changes in Behaviour: There may be a noticeable change in behaviour, such as becoming more irritable, aggressive, or, conversely, more passive than usual.
  3. Substance Use: An increase in the use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances can occur as a means of coping or escaping from the pain.
  4. Obsessive Thoughts and Actions: There can be an obsessive need to seek more information about the betrayal or a compulsive need to revisit details of the event.

Relational Symptoms:

  1. Trust Issues: A significant impact on one’s ability to trust others, not just the betrayer, can lead to difficulties in forming or maintaining close relationships.
  2. Emotional Detachment: There might be a tendency to emotionally detach from others, including the partner, as a protective measure to avoid further pain.
  3. Insecurity in Relationships: Feelings of insecurity, jealousy, or inadequacy in relationships may intensify.
  4. Avoidance of Intimacy: Both emotional and physical intimacy might be avoided due to fear of vulnerability and potential hurt.

These signs and symptoms can present a variety of challenges for couples. The betrayed partner may exhibit a range of these symptoms, deeply affecting their capacity to engage in the relationship healthily. The betraying partner, on the other hand, may also feel guilt, shame, and their own set of emotional responses to the consequence of their actions. This dynamic can strain the relationship further, making communication and mutual understanding more difficult.

Understanding these common signs and symptoms of betrayal trauma is the first step toward acknowledging the pain and complexity of the experience. For couples, this awareness is crucial in navigating the effects of betrayal, as it can facilitate a more empathetic and supportive approach to healing and possibly rebuilding the relationship.

If you know someone struggling with betrayal trauma, share this article with them and let them know they’re not alone. If you’re ready to take the next step, schedule a free consultation with Jonathan Riley at My Practice Counselling Melbourne.