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Is It Betrayal Trauma?

Jonathan Riley

Betrayal trauma is different from other types of psychological trauma because it involves a breach of trust in a close relationship. While all traumas can deeply affect someone’s mental, emotional, and physical health, betrayal trauma specifically comes from someone close breaking that trust. This makes it unique compared to traumas caused by accidents, natural disasters, or violence that doesn’t involve a personal relationship.

Relational Foundation:

Betrayal trauma occurs in the context of a relationship in which there is implicit or explicit trust and dependence. The source of trauma being someone close – a partner, a family member, a close friend – amplifies the pain and confusion, making it fundamentally different from traumas caused by impersonal or random events.

Violation of Trust:

Trust is the cornerstone of close relationships. When this trust is broken by someone who is important to one’s emotional well-being, it not only causes immediate emotional distress, but it also raises serious questions about one’s own judgement, self-worth, and ability to trust others in the future. This loss of trust does not typically occur to the same extent in other types of trauma.

Sense of Betrayal:

The sense of betrayal adds a layer of complexity to the trauma, combining feelings of grief, anger, and loss with a sense of personal violation. This is different from other types of trauma, where the emotional response could be more directly linked to fear, loss, or physical harm, without the added dimension of betrayal in a relationship.

Cognitive Dissonance:

When someone experiences betrayal, especially from someone they deeply trust, it can lead to a very confusing and painful emotional state. This happens because there’s a clash between what they believed about the person and the hurtful reality of their actions. This clash can cause a lot of emotional distress, as it’s tough to reconcile the image of someone you thought was loving and trustworthy with their hurtful behaviour. This type of emotional distress is less likely to happen with other kinds of trauma that don’t involve a betrayal by someone close.

Impact on Self-Identity and Relationships:

The repercussions of betrayal trauma extend deeply into one’s self-identity and worldview. Victims may question their worthiness, judgment, and the very foundations of their relationships. The inner conflict and confusion we feel after being betrayed is unique compared to other types of trauma. This is because betrayal directly affects how we see ourselves and what we believe about relationships with others, unlike other traumas that might not have the same impact on our personal beliefs and relationships.

Healing and Recovery:

The path to healing from betrayal trauma often involves rebuilding trust, which is a complex and lengthy process. This aspect of recovery is unique compared to other traumas, where the focus might be more on overcoming fear, re-establishing safety, or coping with physical injuries. In betrayal trauma, the hurt feelings are closely linked with the person’s relationships and their own identity. Healing from this requires a careful approach that considers rebuilding trust, improving self-worth, and understanding relationship patterns.

For Couples:

In a relationship, when one partner betrays the other, it can deeply hurt the bond between them. Both partners need to work together to heal. The one who broke the trust must deal with their guilt and understand the impact of their actions. The one who was hurt has to deal with feelings of pain, difficulty in trusting again, and deciding whether to forgive. Healing from this kind of betrayal is a journey both must take together, unlike healing from other personal traumas which might be more individual.

It’s important for couples dealing with the effects of betrayal to understand the differences in what they’re going through. This knowledge shines a light on the specific challenges they face and highlights why they need a healing approach that carefully considers both their relationship and the trust that’s been damaged. Acknowledging the particular nature of betrayal trauma is a key first step. It helps in fostering a supportive atmosphere filled with empathy and patience, which is essential for healing and possibly mending 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.