Betrayal Trauma and Post-Betrayal Syndrome
If you have been betrayed by someone close to you, it behooves you to understand betrayal trauma and post-betrayal syndrome.
Betrayal results in anger, resentment, and a loss of trust, but so much more. Afterward, there are pervasive mental, emotional and physical issues. Perseveration is common, along with typical or atypical grief reactions.
If you have been betrayed by a loved one as I have, let’s attempt to understand how betrayal trauma differs from garden-variety grief.
What is Betrayal Trauma and the Post-Betrayal Syndrome
Betrayal trauma is not just a result of infidelity in marriage. While sexual betrayal is common, promiscuity is infrequently an isolated event. When you see one cockroach, you can be sure there are others.
There are banal and less-so reasons your loved ones betray you. Unfortunately, cluster B personality disorders abound in western society. While data are scattered, perhaps up to 1 in 20 people may have significant cluster B traits (that may or may not warrant a personality disorder diagnosis). Do the easy math, and 1/10 marriages may be complicated by narcissistic, antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and non-specific Cluster B-type personality disorders.
As a result, betrayal trauma may result from prolonged emotional abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation, not to mention routine lying and infidelity. This not infrequently leads to post-betrayal syndrome, a combination of devastation, loss of reality (because of constant invalidation and gaslighting), and typical or atypical grief reactions.
Next, perseveration and out-of-control self- and partner questioning may be additionally traumatizing. When pervasive questioning leads to further trauma, it is occasionally (and dramatically) called “pain shopping” or “emotional cutting.” After betrayal, it is appropriate to ask questions, but this process can become pathological.
When pathological, the pain often becomes the story, and the story can become the source of the pain. At some point, as with grief, we must move beyond betrayal and learn to trust again.
As the betrayed partner, you have been lied to and gaslighted (your truth and instincts dismissed and invalidated by the abuser) for so long that seeing the actual truth is often difficult.
So, what is betrayal trauma? Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being
There are four types of betrayal trauma: parental, intimate partner, institutional and interpersonal.
Interpersonal: when a trusted friend, peer, or other individual betrays your trust.
As it may take eighteen to 36 months to recover from betrayal trauma, I’m going to look now at the recovery process rather than harp on symptomatology.
Considerations and Recovery from Betrayal Trauma
If you have symptoms of post-betrayal syndrome, here are some ideas and considerations for recovery.
- Validate yourself and learn to trust your truth and instinct again
- Allow yourself to feel negative emotions and let them pass
- Minimize the numbing of your emotions (we all numb)
- Self-love is primary work after self-acceptance and self-forgiveness
- Self-care is obligatory, and your primary responsibility
- Boundaries (self and with others)
- Understand if your covert narcissist is a sociopath
- Focus on your values, your strengths, and your passions
- Do what you love regularly. Discover what you love, again
- Yellow Rocking is important if you have children
- Discover if you have PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms and get help
- It helps to understand the neurobiochemical correlates of the trauma response
- Figure out if you need to leave the relationship, and do so
Manifesting Betrayal Trauma
“When you are betrayed by the person who is supposed to love, respect and support you the most, your world shatters. It may feel as though the whole life of your relationship has been a lie. Many people naturally retrace their relationship’s history adding in all the missing details of betrayal that they just learned. This process is jarring, especially when the details from the spouse come in pieces. It can make you feel as though the rug is constantly being pulled from under you.”-DR. Skinner
Betrayal trauma is difficult to recognize.
You can miss the chaos within yourself by focusing on fixing your relationship with your abuser. Recognizing that you cannot change someone is part of the difficulty. With cluster B personality disorders (in which case you will have post-betrayal trauma and perhaps C-PTSD), the devastation is complete and total. The only solution is to end the relationship, learn why you attracted the personality-disordered person first, and move on with your new life.
Symptoms of betrayal trauma are mundane and too numerous to mention. Instead, they are those of chronic trauma and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Mental health issues start with a feeling of violation and reliving the experience. One might become avoidance or even dissociate, and negative self-evaluation and mood are pervasive. Shame is common and devastating as, more frequently than not, shame is a typical underlying feature that allows the abuse in the first place. Anger, resentment, and irritability are to be expected.
Tips to Heal From Betrayal Trauma
Here are some Tips to Heal from betrayal trauma:
- Practicing Self-Compassion and Self-Kindness
- Physical exercise and self-care
- Sleep habits are invaluable as trauma causes poor sleep architecture
- Basic and obscene self-care (also known as pampering oneself)
- Working on attachment styles
- Forming safe relationships
- Self-partnering (also known as inner-child parenting or inner child work)
- Work on Boundaries
- Tell your story (like shame, betrayal trauma lives in the dark and dies in the light)
- Rediscover your values and passions
- Schedule everything (self-care, fun, and interpersonal interactions, especially if you are an introvert)
- Group and personal therapy
Stages of Betrayal Trauma and Recovery
Adapted from Stages of Betrayal Trauma and Recovery, here are the stages one might expect to go through after betrayal.
- Shock and devastation. This is “Who are you?” The basic premise of your relationship is called into question. You know nothing anymore about the person you thought you loved. Your ability to even trust yourself and your reality are called into question. This is an intense stage that will be triggered again (it is not one and done for any of the stages)
- Resentment and the desire for revenge are expected. After all, the violation is complete; of your soul, mind and body. The loss is tremendous, and revenge fantasies are common.
- Grief and difficulty feeling grounded. Sadness follows. You might start doubting other decisions you have made in your life. Take time with grief, but over-isolation is not helpful
- Healing and Rebirth. Self-compassion, self-kindness, and self-acceptance lead to healing. Depending on the degree of betrayal, you may need rebirth and inner child healing.
Other sites offer stages of betrayal trauma recovery as well, but one interesting one is the Post-Betrayal Transformation Institute. She (of course) offers an online class to transform after betrayal trauma and has a book that I’ve ordered (Trust Again: Overcoming Betrayal and Regaining Health, Confidence, and Happiness)
Her five stages include
- Stage 1 – Ignoring your gut instinct that something is wrong. You ignore your emotional and spiritual self in favor of the physical and mental. Thinking and doing, and not paying much attention to the feeling and being
- Stage 2 – Shock. There is a fundamental paradigm shift in your worldview. You are shattered by the betrayal and cannot see an end to the pain.
- Stage 3 – Survival. Don’t get stuck here. First, learn to breathe again, and then everything else, but you must go beyond survival for transformation after abuse. If you are numbing from betrayal years or decades ago, you might be stuck here.
- Stage 4 – Finding a new normal. After radical self-acceptance, you can reformulate the rules by which you live.
- Stage 5 – Rebirth. You focus on your emotional and spiritual self, as well as the physical and mental side of you.
The important idea is that your grief after betrayal differs from other traumas. Variously called betrayal trauma or post-betrayal transformation, it is a result of a personal attack on your very foundational beliefs about who you are and who is important in your life. The one who should be the very one to care for you abuses you. Why?
When you lose someone you love, you grieve but don’t take it as a personal attack. You haven’t been violated. After someone you love abuses you, you need to be rebuilt. You need transformation.
Curious to know if you have post-betrayal syndrome? She has a Quiz
Summary – Betrayal Trauma and Post-Betrayal Syndrome
Until you change, you will keep attracting abusive people. The energy you put out draws them to you and you, and you will go to what is comfortable. Until you have done the self-work, there are only band-aids, distractions, and numbing.
The goal is post-traumatic growth. Be flexible again. Have a growth mindset. You must move on, and to do that, you must rebuild the foundation. Your foundation.
Are you numbing yourself? Is there something you are pretending not to see? What is real for you? What does your gut tell you?
You will only change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.
Let go of the story and the benefits you get from telling yourself the story, and move on. Get support. But most importantly decide to become a person who treats themselves the way they want others to. You won’t give love until you love yourself. If you are being abused, is it because you abuse yourself and tolerate other people doing the same? Look inside. Who are you at your core? What do you tolerate for yourself and thus in others?
And finally, remember, with intergeneration trauma, unless you do the work, your children will. You must break the bondage of emotional immaturity, or you will pass it on. Yes, your kids will be in therapy, and yes, they will blame you. But what do you want them to blame you for?