12 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Within a relation, betrayal trauma can arise when another person’s actions break the trust upon which the bond was formed. A severe and unanticipated betrayal can be extremely upsetting and distressing. We know that you are going through one of the most trying moments of your life as a result of a major betrayal. Your faith and trust in the people closest to you have been damaged, whether it was in an abusive situation, with a once loving partner, or in a variety of other relationships. 

We understand that somebody you care about has lied and exploited you, leaving you embarrassed, in agony, and emotionally wounded. It’s common to place blame on oneself and experience a great deal of sorrow and humiliation. You are not alone in your suffering, and you can recover.

Betrayal trauma can sometimes stem from emotional abuse or childhood trauma. We are here to help each resident at the luxury betrayal trauma therapy programs to embrace their rehabilitation in their own way. Trauma recovery and the process of healing might make one feel alone. We acknowledge that not everyone will heal in the same way so we adopt a holistic approach of healing mind, body, and spirit, all at the same time. In this article, we learn about how betrayal trauma happens, its various effects, and how we can start our journey of healing.

To comprehend betrayal trauma, it is necessary to understand how PTSD works.

Consider sitting at a stop sign in your car, minding your own thing. Unexpectedly, a fast vehicle rams into you from the back, completely wrecking your car and seriously injuring you. What If this happened to you a dozen times. Can you fathom what it would be like to attempt driving for the thirteenth time?

Can you imagine being anxious when you peer out the rearview mirror and see automobiles approaching from behind? You may get flashbacks or nightmares associated with one of the accidents. You may have anxiety even if you are not driving. Who could blame you for being fearful?

When you find out that your partner has sexual behaviors that feel emotionally treacherous and pose a threat to the integrity of your relationship, you may experience some of the same feelings.

You may experience fear. You may experience nightmares. When your partner is 5 minutes late for work, you may panic. And, as with vehicle accidents, just because something is “in the past” does not immediately make you feel better. Trauma does not resolve on its own.

Alterations Of The Mind

Jenny Freyd coined the concept “betrayal trauma” in 1991 to describe how it transforms the mind. It has an effect on the brain’s inherent ability to respond to stress. The limbic and hippocampus areas, more commonly referred to as your emotional reaction center and memory data bank, are crucial regions that are altered by betrayal. 

Both systems typically function in tandem to teach you what constitutes a secure relationship and what you can trust to be truthful. This system is thrown into survival mode after a betrayal, with the limbic system acting as a fire alarm. While this system is alerting you to danger, your memory center, the hippocampus, is scanning your memories. 

You may begin to doubt what you previously believed. Or you begin to doubt that a certain vacation was as wonderful as you had believed. You may even have difficulty determining what was actually authentic in your connection. Each recollection has a sense of alienation and insecurity.

As the limbic region becomes more stressed over time, you may experience a protracted state of hyper- or hypo-arousal, during which your mind begins to perceive memories and the world as dangerous.

Everyone’s reaction to trauma is unique. Certain individuals may “freeze,” while others may “fight or flee.” In betrayal trauma, hyper-arousal reflects a greater flight or fight response. This reaction may involve outbursts of rage, terror, or panic. 

A hypo arousal state is the polar opposite of a hyperarousal state and may manifest as disconnection from your body, mental fog, memory problems, detachment, and emotional numbness. Prolonged exposure to either of these states can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to comprehend memories, emotions, time, and location, as well as on your capability to be aware of the present moment.

Appeasement or people-pleasing is a third condition that results from betrayal trauma. This state may appear as though you are disregarding, affirming, or accommodating the desires of others in order to maintain relationships. Ultimately, this appeasing may result in a loss of individuality, the development of bitterness, and subsequent experiences of betrayal.

A person who has been betrayed may encounter the following:

  • Thoughts or concerns that are intrusive
  • Paranoia
  • Hypervigilance or the perception that nothing is secure
  • Suffering from feelings of inadequacy or shame
  • Embarrassment or self-blame
  • Low self-esteem
  • Isolation
  • Identity Loss
  • Alexithymia, or the inability to express feelings and experiences through language

As a result of their increased emotional agony, a person may begin to doubt everything about their relationship. As you struggle to come to terms with the betrayal, you may find yourself ruminating on things you believe you need to know in order to be safe. Phone records scanning, calendar scanning and email scanning could become routine tasks. Your relationship may eventually make you feel like an investigator. Due to betrayal, you may begin to doubt the last year, 3 years, 10 years, or perhaps an entire relationship.

Alterations Of The Body

Additionally, betrayal stress can affect the body. Under duress and trauma, the body internalizes mental trauma and may manifest it physically. The stress of betrayal may worsen any pre-existing health problem. Self-care may become a chore as you adjust to the relationship’s lack of trust and stability.

Physical symptoms include the following:

  • Negative self-esteem
  • Consumption of excessive food or a lack of appetite
  • Insomnia or excessive sleep
  • An increase in blood pressure
  • Intolerance of intimate touch
  • Episodes of sobbing
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of hair
  • Numbness or a lack of present-moment awareness

It’s heartbreaking to learn that your partner has broken your faith. Whether you figured out your companion had an online, emotional, or physical affair, indulged in compulsive sexual activity or addiction, or lied to you about being with somebody they claimed to be “just a friend,” you may go through the following stages:

  1. Shock and devastation

All you assumed you knew about your companion and your relationship has been thrown into doubt. “Who are you? I was under the impression that I knew you! How can I have been so blind? What am I going to do now? I don’t know how I could ever trust or love you again.” Your ability to believe in yourself, your intuition, and your understanding of reality have all been flipped on their heads. Things may seem surreal, and you may cry, feel depressed, apprehensive, or even scared, and be unable to eat and sleep. 

Realizing that your feelings are appropriate, that this phase will pass, and that you will survive will help you face each day with optimism. This phase might continue for weeks or even months, and it can be reactivated if you hear fresh details about your partner’s betrayal.

  1. Anger

The collapse of relation and life as you know it would naturally elicit feelings of rage and, in some cases, a desire for vengeance. You’ll probably think to yourself, “I could destroy you, tell everybody we know, embarrass you, and force you to pay for what you did to me.” You may have comparable or more extreme thoughts of seeking vengeance from your partner’s betrayal, as well as everyone else who knew of your partner’s actions and sheltered them through inaction or enabling. It might be difficult to resist the impulse to act on these feelings but betrayed spouses rarely find revenge as rewarding as they had hoped. 

Furthermore, people frequently lament “outing” their partner to family members and friends, who are subsequently critical or withdraw support and communicate directly with you and your partner at entirely the wrong time. There will inevitably be a demand for more information regarding the betrayal, and some broad information, including when and how long the behavior occurred, and the nature of the activity, can be useful (use of prostitution or compulsive porn, crossing emotional intimacy limits at work, using dating sites online). 

Knowing about particular sexual activities or seeing texts and photographs, on the other hand, will be impossible to “un-see,” and also many betrayed companions will find these pictures and information to be even more distressing, so tread carefully if you feel compelled to inquire about such graphic details.

  1. Grief and difficulty feeling grounded 

After the first outburst of rage has subsided, sorrow and even depression can find their place. It’s normal to be upset after any kind of loss, and the truth is that your relationship, as you thought it was, is ended. There is also the “loss of innocence” that comes with realizing that things aren’t always as they may seem and that the individual you thought you know isn’t really your partner. 

Both spouses and their relationship are forever affected when a betrayal is exposed. Your belief in your ability to trust yourself is also shattered, and you may begin to second-guess all of your actions. It’s difficult to know how to move on when your sentiments are “all over the place,” such as wanting to leave the relationship one minute and desperately wanting to salvage it the next. This stage will pass as well, though more slowly than the shock and rage stages. 

Finding “wise mentors” in the form of therapists who specialize in betrayal trauma and relationship recovery programs, like Sanon, will help you navigate through each stage more successfully and without feeling so alone.

  1. Healing and Rebirth

If you and your partner have decided to work on rebuilding your link and moving forward together, sorrow, brokenness, and tragedy will give way to rediscovering yourself and your partnership. Knowing how you were involved in a betrayed relationship will help you build greater self-compassion and a mindset and willingness that you can be happy and strong again. 

You can start a new, healthy, and truly intimate relationship if you both concentrate on your own personal healing and progress. When each partner commits to a guided program of individual and relationship rehabilitation with qualified specialists and, if addiction or compulsive behaviors are present, the support of 12 step or addiction recovery programs, the couple can heal and be reborn. 

Couples’ prospects of effectively repairing and moving forward together are significantly lowered without professional or organized program assistance. Even if the betrayed partner refuses to seek treatment or make adjustments, individual rehabilitation and healing can occur.

Timeframe Of Stages Of Betrayal

There is no precise time span for these stages, with the exception of the initial shock and devastation at the time of discovery. When a betrayed partner is provoked, it’s common for components of each stage to resurface. Seeing a sexual movie scene, hearing a particular song, or driving past a hotel are all examples of unexpected triggers. 

Because cheated partners instinctually mark time as “before I knew” and “after I knew” after they have found a betrayal, the recovery of trust even with professional assistance and no new betrayal behavior usually requires at least a year, of going through a complete cycle of holidays, seasons and birthdays. 

However, trust may and will eventually return with the reliability of words and actions over time, as well as actual changes as a consequence of individual and couple efforts. Couples who work through a program of recovery and rebuilding trust and intimacy find that their connection and love are stronger than ever before and that they should never take their relationship for granted.

Betrayal trauma is not a formal diagnosis but an approach to understanding a type of pain perpetrated on an individual due to their broken trust. A betrayal trauma recovery coach or therapist will formulate a personalized plan for each survivor. With this in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for treatment. However, the following aspects are generally required for genuine healing from betrayal to occur:


Because they suffer dissociation, have difficulties believing in themselves, and have mental health problems they can’t describe, victims of betrayal trauma often assume there’s something awry with them. They often think they are ‘evil’ because they feel horrible and also because shame is a common survival response to enduring betrayal trauma.

Shame and dissociation are actually defense mechanisms that prevent a person from creating a disturbance while in a relationship with the offender, which could exacerbate the situation. Survivors must recognize that these symptoms are indicators that their mind was attempting to assist them in surviving, not signs that something is wrong with them.

Interoception/Somatic Focus

Survivors of trauma due to betrayal are frequently cut off from their bodies, but learning interoception might help them heal. The ability to identify and interpret the body’s natural feelings is known as interoception.  Psychoeducation will not be useful in changing the victim’s negative ideas about themselves if the survivor lacks sufficient interoceptive skills since the irrational beliefs will still seem true.

While tuning in and listening to one’s body can be frightening at first, survivors typically discover that their body’s cues are more reliable than they could have expected. Many somatic techniques, including somatic experience and sensorimotor psychotherapy, assist survivors to build interoceptive skills.

Compassion And Self-Compassion

Therapists dealing with betrayal trauma victims must demonstrate compassion in order for the survivor to feel secure enough to undertake their own work.

In order to stay the course and heal, victims must also learn how to treat themselves with compassion and care. Tools for fostering empathy and self-compassion include mindful self-compassion and compassion-focused psychotherapy.


Abuse occurs over months, years, or even decades in most cases of betrayal trauma. Therapy and treatment for betrayal trauma might take a long period as well. just  It’s about healing, not repairing or just wanting to get rid of symptoms.

Since Freyd’s first publication on betrayal trauma was released in 1994, betrayal trauma research has grown at an accelerating rate. Every year, hundreds of papers and dissertations on betrayal trauma are published. This gives us optimism that, in the next years, victims will have recourse to more and more betrayal-trauma-informed professionals to better deal with betrayal trauma survivors.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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