Betrayal Trauma

betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma recovery, symptoms of betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma symptoms, do i have betrayal trauma 26 symptoms

Maybe you have experienced betrayal trauma. Does a relationship with a significant person cause you to grapple with a mix of anger, shame, confusion, and grief? This could be your parent, family member, romantic partner, or friend. Despite the reality that this person has mistreated, abandoned, or betrayed you, you feel helpless to sever connections with them.


Affection is a fundamental and inherent human need. This need is powerful during childhood when children depend on their caregivers to meet their basic needs. Even when a caregiver is aggressive or cruel, a child needs to have a connection with them. This emotional attachment to a betrayer or abuser is known as trauma bonding. A victim in a trauma bond may confuse abuse for love, remaining loyal to the abuser.

Trauma bonds can have a significant impact on an individual’s well-being and adult relationships, resulting in identity issues, mental health problems, and dysfunctional relationships later in life.

What is betrayal trauma?

betrayal trauma

betrayal trauma recovery

betrayal trauma therapist near me

betrayal trauma therapy near me

betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma recovery, symptoms of betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma symptoms, do i have betrayal trauma 26 symptoms, what is betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma treatment

Betrayal trauma happens in significant social relationships with people to whom we form attachments, such as in a parent-child relationship or a love relationship. When someone deeply trusted does something that seriously betrays our trust, we may experience betrayal trauma.

When we have to stay connected to this person because we rely on them for meeting our fundamental needs (parents) or for love and protection (a romantic partner), we may accept betrayal. This could have an impact on our self-worth, emotional well-being, and capacity to trust and feel secure in all other relationships, keeping us stuck in trauma bonds.

How does betrayal cause trauma?

When those closest to us profoundly violate boundaries and trust, it inflicts unique harm. Betrayal by trusted figures shatters our most basic assumptions—that caregivers will care for us, intimacy provides safety, institutions will protect us. This loss of core beliefs is deeply destabilizing.

Betrayal trauma stems from the acts of depended-on people in critical relationships like family, partners, or institutions. We fault strangers who victimize us. But when people close to our hearts betray us, it breeds shame and self-blame. We struggle to reconcile their cruelty given our loyalty toward them.

betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma recovery, symptoms of betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma symptoms, do i have betrayal trauma 26 symptoms, healing from betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma treatment

For example, discovering a coworker launched your business idea would hurt but likely not traumatize you. You could distance yourself and move on. But childhood abuse by a caregiver disrupts your fundamental need for safety and trust, often leaving deep scars. Your mind may use repression to maintain vital connections with that abusive person.

Betrayal trauma also severs secure attachment bonds that provide stability. Losing safe connections after depending on others for care is agonizing. According to trauma theory, the more you depend on an abuser, the more likely you are to suppress memories of abuse. This serves a short-term protective purpose. But long-term, it can create psychological challenges.

Healing from betrayal trauma requires rebuilding shattered assumptions through establishing new trustworthy relationships. Processing painful emotions is needed to counter repression. Restoring compassion and faith often involves realizing the betrayer’s own unhealed wounds. While challenging, healing is possible.

Do I have betrayal trauma? 26 symptoms

do i have betrayal trauma 26 symptoms

symptoms of betrayal trauma

Betrayal trauma that is not processed can have long-term consequences, often resurfacing as relationship problems, trust issues, and emotional distress. Childhood betrayal trauma can affect your ability to form secure attachments and have healthy adult relationships. You may fear closeness and intimacy and find it difficult to trust others. Also, you might struggle with self-limiting beliefs, toxic shame, and self-esteem issues. Sometimes, the trauma can manifest as emotional and somatic flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, and physical illnesses.

So, here is how betrayal trauma might look:

symptoms of betrayal trauma, betrayal trauma symptoms, do i have betrayal trauma 26 symptoms
  1. Shame and guilt: You may feel ashamed or guilty for trusting the person who betrayed you, even though you are not responsible for their actions.
  2. Powerlessness: Betrayal trauma often leads to a pervasive sense of powerlessness and voicelessness, as victims feel silenced or inhibited about expressing pain over abuse from someone they depend on.
  3. Emotional mayhem: You may struggle to process your emotions and memories, leading to sadness, anger, confusion, and fear. You might experience severe mood swings, be emotionally withdrawn, and struggle with anxiety and depression. Some people with traumatic bonds can experience toxic shame, believing that they somehow caused the betrayal
  4. Anxiety and hypervigilance – You feel on guard because you don’t know if you’ll be betrayed again.
  5. Sadness: Victims can develop an inability to self-generate positive emotions, resulting in anhedonia, emptiness, and depression after betrayal eviscerates happiness and trust.
  6. Dissociative symptoms: Dissociation is a way for people to cope with really upsetting memories. You may experience impaired memory recall or dissociative amnesia surrounding the betrayal and abuse.
  7. Emotional numbness or shock: Betrayal trauma often generates immobilizing feelings of shock, incredulity, and denial, as the victim’s mind recoils from the magnitude of the betrayal by someone they depended upon for care and support. This psychological shock can leave the victim emotionally numb or disconnected.
  8. Disorientation: One common symptom of betrayal trauma is profound disorientation and an unstable sense of reality, as the victim struggles to integrate the betrayal with their previous trust in the perpetrator. This shattered worldview leads to feelings of confusion, distrust, and disempowerment.
  9. Minimization and denial: Victims may employ minimization and denial as cognitive coping strategies to downplay the betrayal trauma’s severity in order to reduce cognitive dissonance about the perpetrator’s benevolence.
  10. Self-silencing: Victims frequently engage in self-silencing and repression of their own needs to avoid provoking or upsetting their betrayer and complicating relationships.
  11. Rumination on the betrayal: You may find yourself constantly replaying the details of the betrayal in your mind, unable to shake the thoughts and feelings associated with the event.
  12. Trauma bonding: Victims may remain loyal to or bond with their perpetrator and distrust outside helpers, reflecting trauma bonding that amplifies betrayal blindness.
  13. Trust issues: You may become excessively cautious and distrustful in new relationships, constantly on guard for signs of deception or betrayal.
  14. Relationship instability – You may have problems with forming or maintaining close relationships after betrayal trauma. This can include avoidance of intimacy out of fear.
  15. Isolation: Victims often feel profound isolation and alienation from supportive communities, especially if the person who betrayed them is well regarded within these communities.
  16. Repetition of trauma pattern: People with betrayal trauma who don’t work on their inner child healing and reprocessing trauma may end up repeating patterns of betrayal in their adult relationships, continuing the cycle of trauma bonding.
  17. Self-esteem issues: Children who were abused might have internalized the betrayal, believing it was somehow their fault. This mindset can make them think they are bad at their core and not deserving of love and loyalty.
  18. Damage to identity – Our sense of identity is partly built on our relationships and lived experiences. Betrayal trauma often shatters prior identity constructs, leaving the victim feeling confused about who they are.
  19. Loss of trust in self – We rely on our judgment of others’ character. When that judgment is contradicted by betrayal, it diminishes our confidence in our own discernment, perceptions, and abilities.
  20. Internalized blame – When someone close betrays us, we struggle to make sense of it and may partly blame ourselves or absorb the perpetrator’s blame. This misattributed self-blame leads to feeling responsible, guilty, stupid, or culpable.
  21. Core belief changes: Lasting changes in core beliefs, such as a loss of perceived benevolence of people, a sense of personal vulnerability, and a view of relationships as unsafe, are hallmarks of betrayal trauma given the violation of implicit trusts.
  22. Loss of purpose – By undermining fundamental assumptions about relationships and personal value, betrayal trauma can also damage or eliminate a victim’s sense of meaning and purpose in life.
  23. Behavior issues: Self-destructive behaviors like self-harm, substance abuse, recklessness, or suicidality frequently stem from feelings of worthlessness and toxic shame following betrayal trauma.
  24. Stunted emotional development: Some victims exhibit stunted emotional development if chronic childhood betrayal trauma impaired their ability to learn to identify, express, and regulate emotions in healthy ways.
  25. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms: Symptoms of PTSD may appear months or even years after betrayal trauma. PTSD can cause confusion and create various issues at school, work, and in your relationships. Some other signs of PTSD can include anxiety, depression, changes in your physical health, and emotional reactions, like feeling more on edge or easily startled. You might also experience intrusive memories or try to avoid anything that reminds you of the traumatic event.
  26. Physical manifestations: Betrayal trauma survivors often have increased medical problems like headaches, back pain, and gastrointestinal issues due to chronic stress responses.

Your well-being matters. Start your journey toward betrayal trauma recovery.

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Betrayal trauma in childhood

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Childhood betrayal trauma arises when individuals who are expected to look after and protect the child betray their trust, often in the most heinous ways. Betrayal trauma in childhood can involve physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

To protect themselves and maintain the belief that their parents are kind and caring, a betrayed child may internalize the shame of the adult who injured them and falsely believe they are to blame for the harm they have suffered.

The consequences of childhood trauma are profound and often lifelong. The shame you internalized as a child may undermine your self-esteem, leading you to believe you are worthless and undeserving of love. You may have difficulties forming and maintaining healthy adult relationships.

For example, you may be afraid of growing emotionally close to people, struggle with setting and respecting boundaries, and seek constant reassurance and validation from others.

Also, betrayal trauma can create a cycle of victimization, causing you to repeat harmful relationships.

betrayal trauma childhood

Betrayal trauma in a relationship

partner betrayal trauma

betrayal trauma in a relationship

what is betrayal trauma in a relationship

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Betrayal trauma in a relationship emerges from the profound shattering of the foundation of trust that underpins an intimate bond between individuals. When a partner whom you trusted does something that profoundly violates the trust, such as infidelity, emotional manipulation, or abuse, this is an attachment injury that can be severely emotionally distressing.

Both infidelity and abuse are traumatic because they threaten our sense of self. You thought you knew your partner. You thought you knew who you were, who your partner was, and who you were as a couple. You had plans for the future. Now, you question everything, wondering if you can trust your judgment, your spouse, or any other human being again. You may constantly seek reassurance or explanations, experience a rollercoaster of emotions, and grapple with diminished self-esteem.

According to Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, betrayal traumas “overwhelm coping capacities and define the relationship as a source of danger rather than a haven in times of stress.”

Your partner is no longer a source of protection and comfort for you but rather a threat to your well-being. But, for one reason or another, you must maintain a relationship with them. Even in healthy, codependent relationships, it may be difficult to leave after such a severe betrayal of trust. Practical concerns such as financial reliance or concern for the well-being of children can be significant barriers, for example.

However, leaving a toxic or abusive relationship can be particularly difficult due to manipulation that destroys a sense of self-worth and creates confusion over what is considered normal behavior in a relationship. Emotional attachment and hope that the abuser will change can also complicate the decision to leave. In addition, abusers typically use manipulation strategies like gaslighting, isolation, and guilt-tripping to maintain control and make it difficult for the victim to recognize and break free from their cycle of abuse.

Recovery from betrayal trauma often requires therapy approaches centered on reprocessing trauma and the complex emotions that accompany it.

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Betrayal trauma recovery

6 steps to betrayal trauma recovery

betrayal trauma treatment

healing from betrayal trauma

healing betrayal trauma

The journey through trauma betrayal recovery is long, challenging, and transformative. It typically requires professional support and guidance. But with the help of a qualified therapist, healing is entirely possible.

1. Acknowledge the betrayal

Acknowledge your pain and allow yourself to feel your emotions. Betrayal trauma can lead to a range of difficult emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief, and fear. It is important to acknowledge these emotions and allow yourself to feel them. Bottling up your emotions will only make it harder to heal.

Talking to a trusted friend or family member, or seeking professional help from a therapist, can be helpful in processing your emotions and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

2. Validate and process your emotions

Acknowledging and validating your emotions is an essential step on your recovery path, as they are a natural response to what you’ve been through. Writing down your experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a journal may provide a good outlet, link you to your inner knowledge, and help you recognize the triggers that cause emotional distress. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Don’t blame yourself for feeling a certain way or for the actions of others. Self-compassion is crucial in healing from betrayal.

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3. Identify the effects of this betrayal trauma on you

How did this betrayal trauma impact your relationships with others? How does it affect the way you see yourself? Understanding how betrayal has impacted you emotionally, psychologically, and physically increases self-awareness. It helps you recognize patterns of behavior, emotions, and thoughts that might stem from the trauma. Recognizing the specific ways in which the betrayal has affected you allows for more targeted healing strategies.

4. Setting boundaries or breaking contact

Setting boundaries or breaking contact with the person who betrayed you is a complex decision that requires careful consideration. After experiencing betrayal, it’s crucial to establish and enforce healthy boundaries to protect yourself and facilitate the healing process. You can set various types of boundaries, including physical, emotional, financial, and communication boundaries.

Setting boundaries is about communicating your needs, expectations, and limits to others and letting them know how you want to be treated. Others may ignore or violate your boundaries, so you be prepared to regularly enforce them. Establishing boundaries during the healing process can improve self-care, reduce anxiety and stress, increase resilience, and help you experience less resentment and anger.

In some cases, the betrayal may be so severe that you may need to consider breaking contact with the betrayer for your own well-being and healing process. This decision is deeply personal and may be necessary if the trust is irreparably broken.


5. Work on rebuilding trust

Recovery from betrayal trauma does not end until you can trust yourself and others again. This may be a challenging task when trust has been profoundly violated. Surround yourself with people who support you and validate your feelings. Having a strong support network is vital in the recovery process.

6. Make self-care a priority.

Self-care plays a crucial role in the journey of recovering from and healing trauma, as self-care routines are essential for promoting well-being and resilience. They can include anything from cultivating healthier coping strategies, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and prioritizing adequate sleep and healthy eating habits.


Priscilla is a therapist, psychoanalyst, and the practice owner of Imagine Emotional Wellness, a culturally responsive online therapy practice in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC. 

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