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What is Betrayal Trauma?

Jonathan Riley

Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being: physical, emotional, or both. It often arises within close relationships where there is an expectation of trust and loyalty, such as in romantic partnerships, close friendships, or between family members. This type of trauma is especially insidious because it not only causes pain from the traumatic event but also shatters the victim’s trust in their closest relationships, resulting in deep psychological wounds.

Betrayal trauma is defined by a breach of trust. Trust, the foundation of any meaningful relationship, when broken, can set off a chain reaction of emotional and psychological problems. The betrayal can manifest in various forms, including infidelity, emotional abandonment, deceit, or any action that significantly undermines the foundation of trust and safety in a relationship.

Betrayal trauma differs from other types of trauma in that it is relationally based. The very people who are supposed to be sources of safety and security are the ones who cause harm. This paradoxical situation can lead to complex emotional responses, including confusion, self-doubt, and difficulty in processing the betrayal.

The emotional effects of betrayal trauma are deep and complex. It can make people feel angry, sad, and hopeless. Psychologically, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and a pervasive sense of vulnerability. The sense of security that comes from trusting relationships is shattered, leaving the person feeling isolated and unprotected in a world they once considered safe.

Understanding betrayal trauma is critical for couples because it involves not only the act of betrayal but also the intense feeling of loss that comes with it. The loss is not only of the relationship as it was understood but also of the sense of self and the trust in one’s judgment and perceptions. This trauma can challenge the foundation upon which a couple’s relationship is built, requiring a deep and often painful process of reassessment and adjustment.

Recognising betrayal trauma involves acknowledging the depth of the hurt and the complexity of the emotions involved. It’s about understanding that the reactions and feelings one is experiencing are normal responses to a deeply distressing situation. For the betrayed, there can be a sense of grieving, not just for the relationship, but for the loss of what was believed to be true and reliable in their partner and their shared life.

In discussing betrayal trauma, it’s essential to highlight that this experience can affect anyone, regardless of the strength or length of the relationship. When someone close to you betrays you, it breaks your faith that they won’t hurt you on purpose. This makes you rethink the relationship and often yourself.

Betrayal trauma is not just about the immediate aftermath of the discovery of betrayal. It involves a long-term process of coming to terms with the betrayal, making sense of it, and integrating this understanding into a new sense of self and relational world. For the person who has been betrayed, this journey is full of difficulties. They have to deal with their feelings, fix their relationships, and rebuild trust, with others and themselves. In conclusion, betrayal trauma is a serious and difficult problem for both individuals and couples. It strikes at the heart of what it means to trust and be vulnerable with another person, leading to a deep sense of violation and loss. Understanding betrayal trauma is the first step towards acknowledging the pain and complexity of the experience, paving the way for healing and growth. This understanding is critical for couples navigating the effects of betrayal as they work to rebuild trust and build a new path.

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.