When Betrayal Trauma Shatters Your World

by Terry Chapman LICSW, CCPS-Candidate

When betrayal trauma shatters your world the result is heartbreak so intense you may wonder if you will survive. You may be familiar with the terms of trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. You might even be aware of the common symptoms of these. But there is a kissing cousin of PTSD that many are unaware of—betrayal trauma—also known as relational trauma.

Dr. Jill Manning, LMFT, CCPS, explains the difference between the commonly known physical trauma and betrayal trauma:

“Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or overwhelming experience that is commonly followed by emotional and physical shock. If left unresolved or untreated, traumatic experiences can lead to short and long-term challenges. In contrast, betrayal trauma occurs when someone we depend on for survival, or are significantly attached to, violates our trust in a critical way.   Unresolved betrayal trauma also causes short and long-term challenges.”

Unlike physical trauma where there is usually a clear cause and effect between an incident and symptoms; it can be more challenging to see the connection between heartbreak and our body and mind feeling like they are going haywire.

There are various causes of betrayal trauma that incite emotional, mental, physical and spiritual reactions:

• Learning your partner had an affair
• Learning that your partner has been cheating on you via online chat rooms or sexting
• Experiencing your partner spending more time looking at pornography while feeling that he or she is increasingly emotionally and physically detached from you
• Learning that your partner is acting out sexually with multiple partners and putting your health and wellbeing at risk

Common symptoms of betrayal trauma are:

• Experiencing sleep difficulties (either too much sleep or having difficulty falling and staying asleep)
• Having difficulty concentrating due to shock
• Eating problems (either loss of appetite or emotional eating to self soothe)• Experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks
• Depression
• Grief and loss
• Having ruminating and obsessive thoughts with intrusive images of your partner’s behavior
• Compulsively feeling the need to check on your partner’s whereabouts or looking at his/her cell phone or social media accounts to try to determine what is the truth—what are the facts

The good news is that just like the more commonly known PTSD, there is help available for anyone suffering from betrayal trauma. Trained therapists or coaches can help you make sense of your shattered world, regain your sense of self and empower you to make necessary decisions to promote safety, healing and growth. It is possible to move from feeling shattered, to surviving and thriving.

At TLC Collaborative Counseling we have the tools to help you.