Have you heard of the term “Betrayal Trauma”?
In my practice, I have seen an increase in the number of individuals experiencing betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma occurs when a person we are attached to or depend on significantly lets you down or more accurately, betrays your trust. In adult relationships, this person is often a spouse or lover who repeatedly violates the “trust bond”. The betrayed partner may experience verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse. This abuse can create uncertainty and ambiguity within the relationship and usually leads to a feeling of instability, like the rug has been ripped out from under you.
Betrayal trauma results when an addict views pornography, goes to a strip club or participates in some other form of “sexual acting out”. When the betrayed partner expects their partner to be faithful, but instead is cheated on, then betrayal trauma can result.
The difficulty in the relationship comes to a head when a partner makes a clear discovery that the addict has betrayed the expected trust. Once the betrayal comes out in the open, the betrayed partner needs help working through the emotional devastation caused by the addicts’ behavior.
In a betrayal situation, the betrayed partner often feels like their life is spinning out of control or that they are going crazy. They often experience symptoms of anxiety. There is a body of research that suggests that partners married to sexually addicted spouses can and often do exhibit anxiety symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following infidelity or even perceived unfaithfulness.
Robert Weiss, MSW describes some of the anxiety symptoms that a betrayed partner may experiences including depression, mood shifts, extreme emotional reactions, tearfulness, rage, anger, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They may have difficulty sleeping, waking up, or have nightmares. They may begin to investigative the addict by checking phone texts, phone numbers, computer logs, wallets, credit card bills or phone bills for signs of unfaithfulness.
They may be easily triggered by their partner flirting with others, looking too long at others, or getting off the computer too quickly. They may have difficulty concentrating and completing daily tasks. They may obsess about the betrayal and have problems living in the present. They may exhibit addictive behavior themselves by using drugs, alcohol, gambling or spending. They may also eat too much or too little in response to the stressors.
Even though the betrayed partner exhibits symptoms of PTSD, a diagnosis of PTSD may not be necessary. With time and therapeutic intervention, the partners can recover and experience relief.
One of the best ways to self-soothe and heal from this trauma is to focus on establishing better boundaries. In her book, Moving Beyond Betrayal, Vickie Tidwell Palmer suggests that self-care through the use of boundaries is essential for healing. The boundaries include physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual areas.
Boundaries are Essential for Healing
Physical – These boundaries include behavior to keep the partner safe such as not allowing for any abusive behavior, getting testing for STD’s, and only having protected sex.
Intellectual – Obtain as much information about the addiction as possible. The knowledge will help you better understand the situation and make better decisions.
Emotional – Seek support from appropriate people such as a knowledgeable addiction therapist, friends, sponsors, and family members who understand what is happening. It is important that you don’t try to go through this trauma alone. Connecting to supportive individuals can be very helpful.
Spiritual – Spiritual practices can provide a sense of hope, comfort, and peace during this difficult time.
In addition to setting boundaries, a final suggestion is to stay positive during the recovery process. Even though a person is thrown into a very difficult situation, they can find comfort in remembering their core values. This can prevent you from blaming yourself for the addict’s actions. Focusing on positive values can also help you avoid becoming bitter. May your recovery be strong and your journey, be filled with hope.