Sorting Out Your Betrayal Trauma

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What does it mean to have "betrayal trauma"?

It means that someone had an institution or person important in their life who violated their well-being or trust.

Now, that person is left with an emotional impact. This type of trauma leaves emotional marks on people of any age.

Here we will discuss the betrayal trauma theory, partner betrayal trauma, dissociation, possible leads up to substance use disorders, and coping skills.

Keep reading to learn about what it means to have betrayal trauma.

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Betrayal Trauma Theory

In 1991, Jennifer Freyd, Ph.D., a psychology researcher, educator, author, and researcher, proposed the betrayal trauma theory.

What this theory indicates is that a person has experienced betrayal trauma when they have been betrayed by someone they depend on for shelter or food, like a caregiver or parent.

A person is left terrified for their safety, or even life.

Examples of betrayal trauma in childhood include sadistic, sexual, or physical abuse by a caregiver.

If the child was left in fear, then the child may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

When dependent on the caregiver for their daily needs, the child may block any incidents from their mind, leading to dissociative amnesia.

In the opposite realm, a child may normally process the betrayal, avoid and stop interacting with their caregiver, and have their survival threatened.

Partner Betrayal Trauma

Now, from reading above you have gauged that betrayal trauma can be a problem with children.

With adults, it can show up in romantic relationships.

It is common for someone to rely on their partner for physical, emotional, and financial needs.

Betrayal of trust in a romantic relationship may include physical and emotional abuse, or misusing money.

Unfortunately, some people feel unable to leave their partners after continued betrayal.

People aim to preserve their relationships through betrayal blindness, which means that they either unconsciously or consciously ignore betrayal signs.

If someone outside of the relationship questions them about their partner's behaviors or actions, they can become defensive, make excuses or deny behaviors.

If they remain in the relationship, a person's self-esteem will be lowered.

When someone is betrayed, they may feel guilt or shame, and/or go on to think that they deserved the betrayal.

Aside from self-esteem, people who have experienced betrayal trauma may show signs of a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.

They might also have trouble sleeping.

Dissociation

Above we indicated that a person may experience dissociation. This happens to every person during their lifetime.

What dissociation means is that you feel disconnected from what is happening around you.

A classic example is being in a movie theater.

You might sit down with popcorn and a drink and become super engaged in the movie.

Once the movie ends, you may find your popcorn and drink are gone, and more people came into the movie while you were occupied.

It is normal and healthy to dissociate from traumatic events.

People dissociate when their minds must deal with overwhelming amounts of fear or stress.

Dissociation may last for hours to months, depending on the trauma and the person affected by it.

What happens to some people who dissociate because of trauma is that dissociation is their go-to defense, even when perhaps only remembering the trauma.

Dissociation is related to attachment theory.

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Substance Use

When people have been traumatized by someone they trusted, excessive substance use may occur.

These substances can include misuse of prescription drugs, or illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana.

Excessive substance use is a negative coping strategy to "check out."

Using substances to help avoid or deny the trauma will only eventually increase one's anxiety and stress because of the event(s).

People turn to substances to deal with bad memories, emotional pain, terror, shame, guilt, and anxiety.

There are people who find themselves in cycles of experiencing trauma, misusing substances, experiencing more trauma, misusing more substances, then repeating over and over.

People who are in this type of situation are not only hurting themselves but their relationships with friends and family members.

They can have problems at work or school, or even while driving or with the police.

They can give up essential responsibilities, obligations, or activities because of their usage.

Positive Betrayal Trauma Coping Skills

Whether or not you have a substance abuse issue, feel you have dissociated, or the trauma is related to either child or adulthood, first thing first: acknowledge that you have been betrayed.

You need to think about how the betrayal impacts your relationship with this person and your own life.

From there, it is important to process your emotions. Bringing up emotions like anxiety, loss, regret, fear, anger, and grief may be uncomfortable, but it will get you on a path to healing.

What may help you process your trauma is journaling. Many mental health clients have found this to be a helpful technique.

Whether you want to use a notebook that has been sitting in the back of your desk drawer for years, or go to the store and buy a new journal with a pattern you like, the choice is yours.

Through journaling you are giving yourself space to reflect on your emotions.

A mental health professional can help you with betrayal trauma.

We realize after your betrayal you may want to isolate yourself, however, there are people you can trust out there who can help.

A mental health professional can work with you to set boundaries with whoever betrayed you and recognize patterns in your past and current relationships.

Conclusion

Betrayal trauma can affect people of all ages. It is an important issue that cannot be ignored.

Substance use disorders, dissociation, partner betrayal trauma, and dissociation are all important concepts when it comes to betrayal trauma.

With knowledge and coping skills, it is very possible to get through and thrive after this type of trauma.

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July 17th, 2024

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