What is Betrayal Trauma?

In my previous post I told you that I have betrayal trauma induced post traumatic stress (PTSD), adrenal fatigue, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Some of you may have read that and said “huh? What in the world is betrayal trauma!?” I know that’s what I thought the first time I heard the term. Understanding is the first step to healing, so this post is all about understanding betrayal trauma and it’s affects on the individual and the relationship.

What is Betrayal Trauma? | muchnessmama.com | When you are betrayad by a spouse or caregiver it can leave deep wounds. Did you know that the symptoms of betrayal trauma are the same as the symptoms of PTSD?

Betrayal Trauma Definition

The term betrayal trauma was first introduced by Jennifer Freyd in 1991 at a presentation at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute. According to Freyd “Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’ s trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.” (link) So as a wife of a sex addict I experienced trauma when I discovered the ways in which my husband was acting out. When this trauma hit it was a HUGE betrayal because it felt like there was more harm that could come from confronting and standing up to it than there was in putting my head down, walking on eggshells, and trying to maintain the peace. For me personally betrayal trauma has also been sustained by my husband’s anger management problems in our early years as well. Double whammy!

The Affects of Betrayal Trauma

Freyd further tells us that when trauma involves a betrayal we are less likely to be aware of what is occurring or recall the details. Why? Because when we confront the perpetrator it threatens an attachment that we feel is necessary to our survival. Those awesome survival instincts can kick in and literally erase our memory or change it to make the betrayal seem like less of a threat.  I felt like I was all these monkeys combined into one! I refused to hear or see the abuse in my marriage and definitely terrified to say anything about the things I did notice.

What is Betrayal Trauma? | muchnessmama.com | wife of a sex addict | spouse of an addict | PTSD Joao Tzanno

When our conscious mind is protecting us, and our subconscious mind is screaming that everything is not ok it can lead to some pretty severe problems. In a recent study it was shown that ~70% of wives of sex addicts could be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yep, the same thing that military folk come home with is what traumatized wives deal with. Lucky me, I got both! I will say, however, that my trauma from deployment was VERY minimal to the extent that I didn’t even really realize that it existed for a long time. My betrayal trauma due to addiction has been much more in my face and in control of my life. PTSD comes with a lot of really fun symptoms including:

  • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events
  • Flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • Physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events
  • Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders
  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
  • Persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep

Yeah, that’s a lot. All of these symptoms can also take their toll physically. Adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, joint and/or muscle pain, headaches, weight gain, and even more often manifest themselves when a person is suffering from trauma. “The Body Keeps The Score” is a great book to read if you are more interested in this topic. It’s WAY too much to cover here.

How To Heal From Betrayal Trauma

Quite frequently all these symptoms are lumped into one happy little diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression. Here pop a pill and be on your merry way! While I’m all for medication if and when you need it really healing trauma requires far more than that.

4 Steps for Betrayal Trauma Recovery | muchnessmama.com | you can heal from betrayal trauma, but it requires a lot fo work. Here are 4 important steps to get you started.

First and formost you need to get out of your isolation! That is why I have ripped the curtain off my life and decided to start sharing here, thankfully with my husband’s full support and even cheerleading. You need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! As I said in my previous post 64% of Christina men admit to at least monthly viewing of pornography. I dont’ think there is a single woman in this world who has not been affected by sex addiction in some way. Whether it’s harassment from schoolmates or coworkers or a deep betrayal of a spouse we’ve all been touched. It is not your fault. You don’t deserve it. You are worthy of love and respect. There are a few different groups out there that you can meet with in person. S-Anon is the partner program to Sexaholics Anonymous. They provide pretty good support, but they follow a codependency model which I believe is very unhealthy, so I would not personally recommend them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints offers a Spouse and Family Support Group. These meetings are based on some beautiful principles. The leaders, however, are missionaries called by the church. They may or may not have any actual education or experience with trauma. Some meetings can be further re-traumatizing. If your local meeting is not a supportive safe place for you there are many phone meetings to choose from as well. Lifestar and Healing Through Christ are two other groups I am aware of. They both lean towards codependency though, so once again not my highest recommendations. I am also a member of a few different groups on Facebook. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics discussed these groups are secret. If you are interested in learning more about these groups please feel free to contact me. Determined to Rise is also a great resource for connection. I am REALLY looking forward to attending the retreat that they are hosting next month in Utah.

Second, and equally important, is counseling with a qualified therapist. Finding the right therapist can be very difficult. While there are all sorts of certifications you can look for ultimately it all comes down to do they know and understand betrayal trauma. It is also really helpful if they are trained in EMDR and/or neural feedback therapy (more on those in a future post). Both of these help to integrate the mind/body connection and speed up the healing process.  Betrayal Trauma Recovery is an excellent resource for finding a good counselor. They are coaches rather than certified therapists, but they have focused their training on betrayal trauma and most are victims as well. One last note on therapy. NEVER EVER EVER do couples therapy with a man who is still in active addiction. It usually does far more harm than good as it provides a platform for the addict to further abuse you through manipulating and gaslighting both you and the therapist. I would recommend that an addict is working a solid recovery program and attending weekly counseling sessions on their own for at least 3-6 months before you even consider couples therapy. When you do start couples therapy look for a therapist who uses Emotionally Focused Therapy techniques. Addiction is at the root a disease of connection. Learning to reconnect to your own emotions and your spouses in healthy ways is far more important than directly working on any specific marriage issues, especially in the early stages of healing a relationship.

Third, become  a learn it all. No one is ever going to care as much about your healing as you do. Knowledge is power and you need all the power you can get to escape the pit that you find yourself in while dealing with these issues. The first book I would start with is “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse“. If you are dealing with verbal abuse or out of control anger as I was then I would also highly recommend “Why Does He Do That“. For dealing with your own insecurities adn regaining your individuality and muchness anything by Brene Brown is pure gold. I’m currently working through “The Gifts of Imperfection” book via the art journaling class.

Fourth is some solid self-care and self-love work. Self-Care is NOT selfish! You matter. You are important. You can not give to others what you don’t have for yourself. Your capacity to love others, including and even especially your own family, is limited by your ability to love yourself. If you struggle with this I would encourage you to find ten minutes every day where you can just do something you love. Take a walk, do some art, sing in the shower, just do whatever makes you happy. Then look in the mirror and say to yourself “I am a beloved child of God with infinite potential. I am worthy of love. I love you Emily!” Please put your own name in there though. While I do enjoy adoring fans this is about you.

What is Betrayal Trauma | muchnessmama.com | Positive Affirmations | you are beloved | Child of God

Are you or a loved one suffering from Betrayal trauma? What more do you wish you knew about it? I’d love to see you over in my Muchness Mamas group on Facebook where you can discuss this and other topics in a group of supportive and understanding women.