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If you have ever been close to someone that has broken your trust, you may have experienced symptoms of betrayal. Trust is something that is earned and even harder to regain. Experiences of betrayal can leave long-lasting wounds on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Any experience of betrayal is likely to cause distress, although some circumstances may cause pain that does not seem to clear up over time. When this type of trauma lingers in the mind and body, it is likely to cause chronic mental and physical health issues over time. 

Betrayal trauma must be identified, understood, and treated so that it does not cause distressing symptoms to linger or worsen over time. 

What Is Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma occurs when an individual experiences extreme pain and emotional distress resulting from instances of betrayal or other violations of physical or psychological safety. This violation may be experienced as breakage of trust or a general well-being violation. 

When your trust is broken by a parent, loved one, or otherwise intimate partner, it is of no surprise that you would feel hurt. When you rely on someone else to fulfill your basic needs, or even when you need validation or reassurance, it can be overwhelming when instances of betrayal surface. 

Many individuals fall into the cycle of continued betrayal, making it even more challenging to work through past trauma or to let go of an unhealthy partner. When people get stuck in this cycle, they begin to accept that betrayal will continue to occur. This mindset perpetuates feelings such as a lack of self-worth, an inability to maintain healthy relationships, and ultimately destroys a person’s emotional well-being. 

Signs and Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

A person that experiences betrayal trauma is likely to experience a range of adverse psychological and physical health outcomes. Often, experiences of betrayal trauma occur in childhood, with symptoms continuing and worsening well into adulthood. 

Some common signs and symptoms of betrayal trauma include:

  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, or self-doubt
  • Problems with anger management
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Stomach issues
  • Physical, chronic pain
  • Suicidal ideation or instances of self-harm
  • Dissociation
  • Problems with eating or sleeping, including nightmares
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships, such as inability to trust others
  • Problems with attachment
  • Avoidance of any triggering or seemingly threatening stimuli, despite a lack of any tangible threat to self or others

As these signs and symptoms commonly surface in many other mental health conditions, it might be difficult to recognize the symptoms caused by betrayal trauma specifically. It is also important to note that betrayal trauma can manifest into other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa 
  • Substance use disorders and addiction

What Does Betrayal Trauma Look Like?

It is essential to explain that any kind of trauma is subjective. In general, trauma is an emotional reaction to a seemingly adverse event. Betrayal trauma, then, is an emotional reaction to a seemingly negative event or pattern of events that are considered incidents of betrayal. 

Although experiences of betrayal may vary from person to person, it might be helpful to understand what situations may constitute an experience of betrayal. 

For example, consider a monogamous romantic relationship—monogamy is when two people agree that their relationship is closed off to other outside partners, whether for emotional or sexual purposes. If one partner chooses to engage in infidelity with an external partner, the other partner is likely to consider this an instance of betrayal. 

Another example of betrayal trauma can stem from a parent/ caregiver relationship. It is the responsibility of a parent to keep their child fed, loved, and safe. Betrayal trauma may occur when a parent abuses their child in any way— emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. This abuse is likely to cause a child great pain, especially if the child views the motivation for the abuse as their fault.

How to Work Through Betrayal Trauma

Many people have experienced situations of betrayal and betrayal trauma. For those that continue to suffer from it, you must find the power to heal and move forward. 

Recovery from betrayal trauma begins with recognizing that suppressing or ignoring past trauma does not solve the problem. Not everyone will be ready to receive professional help at an instance, but they must know that resources are available to make the healing process go a bit smoother for them. 

Here are some suggestions on how to work through past betrayal trauma:

  • Join a trauma-informed support group
  • Consider receiving professional, trauma-informed therapy (individual or group therapy)
  • Understand the difference between self-worth and success
  • Learn how to work through your trauma triggers
  • Listen to podcasts, watch videos, or read books on healing from trauma
  • Fall into mindfulness
  • Become educated about trauma, including childhood trauma and generational trauma
  • Find ways to fall in love with yourself 

Betrayal trauma, like any trauma, is subjective. It occurs when a person feels that their physical or mental well-being is violated by a partner or another loved one and is highlighted by instances of broken trust. Betrayal trauma can be crippling and cause chronic psychological and physical distress symptoms. Even when betrayal trauma occurs in childhood, symptoms can persist well into adulthood if the trauma is not resolved. West Coast Recovery Centers offer trauma release exercises as a part of our holistic therapy treatment options. We understand that trauma is an underlying cause for many mental health conditions, especially instances of substance abuse. Navigating through trauma alone can be overwhelming. We utilize a collaborative care approach to ensure that your recovery from addiction or mental distress will be long-lasting. For more information about how to work through trauma or about the resources we offer, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509.