The Heartbreak of Betrayal Trauma

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

By Jody VanDrimmelen, LCSW, MSW

One of the deepest longings of our heart is to find a person who loves us, accepts us unconditionally and will keep us safe.  We want someone we can trust with our deepest secrets and our fondest, most impossible dreams.  Psychological intimacy results when we open up our hearts to trust another in our vulnerability.  We often cherish those relationships because we believe our partner is understanding and devoted to us in the good and the bad times. In this kind of a relationship we often develop a powerful emotional attachment to our partner.

The shocking discovery of betrayal in a relationship creates trauma.  Few experiences create more pain than sexual infidelity, whether through printed or electronic media or in physical interactions.  The effects of betrayal trauma often lasts for months and sometimes years.  The term “betrayal trauma” refers to the damage that is caused when you experience a betrayal in your relationship that damages your trust, safety and attachment to your partner.  When an unknown addiction or infidelity is discovered it can be the most debilitating moment of your life with devastating mental, physical and emotional consequences. 

 According to Dr. George Everly, Ph.D.,  “Betrayal represents the traumatic death, not of a person, but of a relationship. So as you might expect, individuals who have been betrayed by a partner in a trusting, psychologically intimate relationship experience many of the symptoms of PTSD.” (“The Trauma of Intimate Partner Betrayal,” 06/08/2018, Psychology Today )

Some of the symptoms of betrayal trauma include the following: 

  • Hypervigilance: “Is he/she going to hurt me again?” 

  • Numbing out: “If I can stop feeling everything then I cannot get hurt again”

  • Loss of Self-Esteem:  “Why doesn’t he/she want me?” 

  • Nightmares: Reliving the disclosure or discovery moment over and over again 

  • Grief: The death of the dreams of happiness in the marriage 

  • Lack of Trust: “How can I ever trust him/her again?” 

While the initial betrayal discovery is devastating, the effects of it can be increased if the betrayal is repeated throughout the years of the relationship.  With each succeeding betrayal it is common for the partner to withdraw more and more through disconnecting behaviors in an attempt to provide their own emotional safety and can result in divorce.   

Recovery from betrayal trauma usually takes many months of work and often focuses on self-care and processing activities.  

The upcoming LCAP Conference, October 19, 2019 at Collin County Community College, will feature betrayal trauma specialist Jody VanDrimmelen, LCSW, as a conference speaker with a Q&A as a part of the conference schedule. Jody has a private practice in Plano and Arlington Texas, specializing in Pornography Addiction Recovery and Betrayal Trauma. She facilitates four groups for women weekly focusing on recovery from betrayal trauma. We invite you to join us.