What is betrayal trauma?

Betrayal trauma is a form of trauma that occurs when someone you trust and depend on significantly violates your trust. This can include experiences like infidelity, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, major lies or deceit, or any other action that goes against what you believed about the relationship.

What are some common examples of betrayal trauma?

Some of the most common examples of betrayal trauma include:

  • Infidelity or cheating in an intimate relationship
  • Sexual abuse or harassment from a partner, family member, friend, or authority figure
  • Emotional or psychological abuse like gaslighting, neglect, or cruelty from someone close
  • Deception or lies by a partner about important things like finances, relationships, or plans
  • Abuse of power or violations of physical safety by institutions or groups
  • Identity theft or scams by a trusted friend or family member
  • Bullying or social betrayals by peers or teammates
  • Religious abuse or harassment from clergy or spiritual leaders

In essence, betrayal trauma stems from any situation where you are significantly dependent on someone for care, guidance, protection, or fidelity, and that person violates or explodes that trust in a harmful way.

What are the impacts and effects of betrayal trauma?

The impacts of betrayal trauma can be severe and long-lasting. Some potential effects include:

  • PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms like anxiety, hypervigilance, flashbacks, and avoidance
  • Depression, low moods, loss of interest or pleasure
  • Sleep disturbances like insomnia, nightmares, or fatigue
  • Anger, irritability, resentment towards the betrayer
  • Self-blame, guilt, or shame about the situation
  • Damaged self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness
  • Difficulty trusting others in new relationships
  • Grief and sadness over the loss of the relationship
  • Physical health impacts from chronic stress

Betrayal trauma can be extremely disorienting because it shatters fundamental assumptions we hold about relationships and personal security. It requires rebuilding core aspects of oneself and transforming beliefs about others’ care for you. Without healing, it can detrimentally impact mental health and relationship patterns long-term.

What causes betrayal trauma bonds and how do they form?

When betrayal occurs in an important relationship characterized by strong dependency, it can lead to trauma bonds forming between the betrayer and betrayed. This is due to a combination of factors:

  • Biochemical – betrayal triggers neurochemical reactions like oxytocin release that foster attachment
  • Behavioral – the betrayer often reassures the betrayed they still care after incidents of betrayal, fostering hope
  • Psychological – the betrayed feels cognitive dissonance between caring for someone and being hurt by them
  • Situational – the betrayed depends on the betrayer for needs like financial support or parental care

These dynamics lead the betrayed to suppress awareness of the betrayal and rationalize it to reduce inner tension. This allows betrayal incidents to recur and bonds to deepen, making the relationship highly resistant to change.

How common is betrayal trauma?

Betrayal trauma is unfortunately quite prevalent. Estimates suggest:

  • 15-25% of women and 5-10% of men have experienced betrayal trauma from childhood sexual abuse
  • 10-15% of women and 5% of men have suffered betrayal trauma from domestic abuse in relationships
  • Upwards of 20-40% of couples experience infidelity over the course of a marriage

Beyond intimate relationships, betrayal trauma stemming from institutions like religions, workplaces, teams, or governments is widespread as well. Overall, a significant portion of the population endures betrayal trauma at some point in their lives.

What are the stages of healing from betrayal trauma?

Healing from betrayal trauma is a challenging journey, but many people are able to navigate it successfully. It involves several stages:

  1. Crisis: This initial stage involves acute reactions like shock, panic, rage, and disorientation immediately after the betrayal.
  2. Denial: To cope with the overwhelming emotions, the betrayed person may attempt to minimize, rationalize, or numb themselves to the betrayal.
  3. Grief: As denial lifts, intense feelings of loss, sadness, rejection, and loneliness often arise and require processing.
  4. Anger: This stage involves shifting focus onto the betrayer’s misconduct and finding righteous anger to create distance and boundaries.
  5. Insight: With support, the betrayed can regain perspective, assign responsibility to the betrayer, and recognize necessary personal changes.
  6. Rebuilding: Focus turns to constructing a new life purpose and identity, reconnecting intimately, and establishing trust again.

The path is not linear, and stages often reoccur in cycles. Support groups, counseling, and self-care can help betrayal trauma survivors navigate the healing journey.

How can you support someone dealing with betrayal trauma?

If someone you care about is dealing with betrayal trauma, here are some tips to support them:

  • Listen without judgment and validate their feelings
  • Don’t minimize their experience or pressure reconciliation
  • Encourage but don’t force them to seek counseling
  • Remind them it’s not their fault and they don’t deserve mistreatment
  • Help set boundaries to protect them from further harm
  • Suggest support groups to reduce isolation
  • Avoid trashing the betrayer, which can prolong attachment
  • Show care through actions – meals, activities, errands

Walking with them patiently through the stages of healing, rather than trying to rush them through it, is key. With time, compassion and skilled help, recovery is possible.

What techniques help in therapy for betrayal trauma?

Many therapeutic approaches can be useful in addressing betrayal trauma. Some of the most effective techniques include:

  • Trauma-focused CBT: Teaches coping skills for symptoms like flashbacks, anxiety, and negative thoughts.
  • EMDR: Uses bi-lateral stimulation to reprocess traumatic memories that hold negative emotions.
  • Group therapy: Reduces isolation and shame by connecting with other survivors.
  • parts work/IFS: Helps forgive oneself and meet emotional needs.
  • Emotion focused therapy: Aids expression of feelings to reduce repression of betrayal.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Resolves complex psychological conflicts contributing to trauma bonds.
  • self-compassion practices: Reduce self-blame, shame, and inner criticism that harms self-worth.

A qualified trauma therapist can assess specific needs and tailor a treatment plan using evidence-based modalities to facilitate healing.

What are some healthy ways to recover from betrayal trauma?

In conjunction with professional help, there are many healthy coping strategies that can aid recovery from betrayal trauma. Some positive ways to heal include:

  • Joining a support group to reduce isolation
  • Journaling to express and understand emotions
  • Exercising to improve mood and self-esteem
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation
  • Expanding social connections and community belonging outside the relationship
  • Engaging hobbies and activities that bring joy and accomplishment
  • Seeking comforting spiritual rituals or practices that restore hope
  • Allowing oneself to grieve the losses fully

While no single method leads to recovery, mutually reinforcing physical, psychological, social, and spiritual self-care practices help establish a foundation for healing.

How can survivors reestablish trust and intimacy after betrayal trauma?

Learning to trust again after betrayal trauma is challenging but possible. Some tips that can help include:

  • Seeking counseling to identify and heal personal wounds that impair trust
  • Beginning new relationships slowly and observing behaviors over time
  • Noticing signs of healthy connection like accountability, honesty, and respect
  • Communicating needs, expectations, fears, and boundaries clearly
  • Examining thoughts for extremes like perfectionism or fear of abandonment
  • Uncovering and countering core beliefs that generate mistrust
  • Considering reconciling gradually in safe environments
  • Joining communities of other survivors who understand the journey

While trust may never be the same, with courage, prudence, and therapeutic work, meaningful connection is possible. Healing happens gradually, not overnight.

How can betrayal trauma impact partners and family systems?

Betrayal trauma sends shockwaves through family systems and close relationships. Some common impacts include:

  • Partners experience distress from the victim’s traumatic responses and recovery process
  • Role changes occur in the relationship and family to compensate
  • High levels of tension, conflict, or problems with intimacy arise
  • Children mimic unhealthy coping mechanisms modeled
  • Intergenerational cycles of abuse or trauma are perpetuated
  • Victimized partners withdraw from friends and social connections
  • Financial stresses increase if income is lost or treatment sought
  • Developmental milestones like completing education are disrupted

Seeking counseling specifically oriented to assisting couples and families recover from trauma can help prevent extensive fallout and restore stability. With care, family bonds can ultimately deepen through weathering adversity together.


Betrayal trauma describes the deep wounding that occurs when dependencies are exploited and trust shattered, forcing survivors to rebuild core foundations. The journey to heal is challenging but possible through professional help, supportive communities, self-care practices, courageous vulnerability, and time. While the trauma永远 affects them, survivors can eventually regain trust, intimacy, purpose, empowerment, and hope.