What Is Betrayal Trauma? How To Identify & Heal The Wounds

Feeling betrayed and lost? Don’t let that baggage weigh you down.

When the person we entrust with our emotional well-being shatters our trust through deceit, infidelity, abuse, or abandonment, it can cause devastating psychological distress known as betrayal trauma. Unlike other forms of trauma, it is marked by a deep sense of personal violation and a fundamental breach of trust.

Betrayal trauma is a distinct type of trauma that arises from the profound pain of being betrayed by someone we deeply trust and rely on, such as a partner, family member, or close friend. It is a pervasive and multifaceted emotional injury that strikes at the core of our relational bonds, safety, and sense of self.

It’s not only about the specific act of betrayal itself but the emotional and psychological toll it takes. It impairs our ability to trust others and ourselves, causing feelings of worthlessness, and self-doubt, and leads to chronic insecurity. It is a trauma that goes beyond the physical realm and cuts deep into our emotional and psychological core, disrupting our sense of identity and our belief in the reliability and predictability of the world.

Through my research, work, and experience, I’ve found that it is not solely caused by a breach of trust but also deeply connected to the violation of our inherent dignity, value, and worth.

In her book, Dignity, Donna Hicks, Ph.D., has identified the 10 Essential Elements of Dignity, which serve as an effective framework for understanding how the violation of our inherent dignity can cause betrayal trauma. When any of the 10 elements of dignity are violated, the hurt and disillusionment experienced can amount to betrayal trauma.

Here are the 10 elements of dignity that, when violated, can produce betrayal trauma

1. Acceptance of identity

A violation occurs when someone undermines or dismisses your identity. This is a profound betrayal because it negates your right to self-expression and authenticity.

2. Recognition

Failure to recognize your contributions, efforts, and uniqueness can engender feelings of being undervalued and betrayed.

3. Acknowledgment

When your experiences, feelings, and concerns are ignored or invalidated, it can lead to betrayal trauma, as your emotional needs are dismissed.

4. Inclusion

Exclusion, whether subtle or overt, can cause betrayal trauma. When you’re left out or made to feel that you don’t belong, it’s a profound violation of your dignity.

5. Safety

Betrayal trauma can arise when your physical or psychological safety is compromised. This is a severe breach of trust, as it challenges your right to feel secure and safe.

6. Fairness

Unfair treatment, favoritism, or inequality can lead to feelings of betrayal, as your right to fairness and justice is violated.

7. Independence

If your autonomy is undermined, or if you are manipulated or controlled, it can result in betrayal trauma.

8. Understanding

Being misunderstood or not given a chance to express your perspectives can cause betrayal trauma, as it denies your right to be heard and understood.

9. Benefit of the doubt

When your integrity is questioned without a valid reason, it can lead to feelings of betrayal. Trust is crucial in all relationships, and its violation can cause significant distress.

10. Accountability

When someone who has wronged you does not take responsibility for their actions or fails to apologize, it can result in betrayal trauma. This refusal to hold oneself accountable is a breach of your right to respect and fairness.

Here are five symptoms of betrayal trauma

Learning to recognize the key indicators of this kind of trauma can be very helpful and yet, these indicators may vary depending on the individual and the severity of the betrayal.

1. Emotional disturbance

Betrayal trauma often triggers intense emotional responses such as anger, sadness, confusion, depression, and feelings of worthlessness.

2. Hyper-vigilance

A heightened state of alertness and an obsessive focus on the betrayer’s actions are common. This can manifest as anxiety, suspicion, and fear of further betrayal.

3. Distrust

A pervasive sense of mistrust, not only towards the betrayer but also towards others, often develops. This distrust can extend to oneself, leading to deep self-doubt in one’s own judgment and intuition.

4. Intrusive thoughts

Recurrent, intrusive thoughts about the betrayal and the events surrounding it are common. These can often lead to sleep disruptions and difficulties in concentrating, causing setbacks at work or school.

5. Physical symptoms

Betrayal trauma can also manifest physically, causing symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, and a loss of energy and vibrancy.

Healing from betrayal trauma

Understanding what is at the root of betrayal trauma is key to finding the path to healing from it. This is a deeply personal journey that necessitates time, patience, and professional support.

Here are six steps to consider to help you find your way to the other side:

1. Professional help

Therapists and counselors trained in trauma recovery can provide invaluable support. They can help you navigate through your feelings, offer coping strategies, and guide you toward recovery. Hypnotherapy can also be beneficial in releasing the trauma at a deeper subconscious level and rebuilding trust with self and others by building new healthy emotional pathways in the brain and nervous system.

2. Self-care

Prioritizing your physical and emotional well-being is crucial. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and mindful relaxation techniques can bolster your overall health and resilience.

3. Establish boundaries

It’s vital to establish and maintain clear boundaries with the person who betrayed you. This can safeguard your emotional space and help prevent further harm.

4. Emotional expression

Expressing your feelings in a healthy and constructive way, either verbally, through writing, or through other creative outlets such as art, dance, singing or other kinesthetic activities, can help in processing the trauma.

5. Support network

Lean on your support network of trusted friends and family. Their support can be an invaluable source of comfort and strength as you move through and release the emotional residue left behind from the trauma.

6. Forgiveness

While it’s not an immediate step, working toward forgiveness can be a powerful part of healing. Forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the betrayal. Instead, it means releasing the hold the betrayal has over you and letting go of the toxic energy of betrayal from your own body, mind, and spirit.

Betrayal trauma is a complex and deeply personal experience, and healing from it is an expedition through the hills and valleys of your own emotional landscape. It’s crucial to remember that recovery takes time and it’s okay to seek help.

The healing process thus entails not just rebuilding trust, but also reclaiming our dignity, self-worth, and value. The understanding that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity is a vital step toward recovery. It helps foster resilience, rebuild self-esteem, and encourage healthier relationships moving forward.

With patience, support, and self-care, it’s entirely possible to navigate through the pain and emerge on the other side of it, stronger and more resilient.

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