What is Betrayal Trauma?

What is Betrayal Trauma? Signs, Stages and How to Cope.

Betrayal trauma is trauma that occurs when some entity or someone does something to betray your trust. Betrayal trauma can occur when a trusted institution breaks your trust, or when a person (oftentimes a partner) breaks your trust. At the institutional level, betrayal trauma can occur when an institution commits wrongdoings against an individual or when a person realizes that an organization or group they were a part of does not hold their same ideals. At the interpersonal level, betrayal trauma often originates from things like gaslighting and other manipulation tactics that erode a person’s sense of trust. This breach in trust can cause people to feel pain and emotional distress like anxiety and depression.

Betrayal trauma can often manifest in things like panic attacks, anger and skepticism of trust moving forward. Like many other traumatic events, people normally process betrayal trauma in distinct stages. The first stage is often devastation, as you are forced to question everything you thought you knew about your partner/friend/institution and your relationship with that person or entity. Following the shock, there is typically a period of anger followed by grief and difficulty feeling grounded. The final stage of betrayal trauma is healing and learning to forge new connections. Moving through the stages of betrayal trauma does not come naturally, and it will take a lot of work to process and cope with having your trust completely betrayed. Though the journey can be difficult, it is possible to recover from betrayal trauma and learn to trust yourself, other people and institutions again.

Here are a few tips for how to heal from betrayal trauma:

Recognizing the trauma

The first step to recovering from trauma is recognizing that trauma has occurred. In interpersonal relationships, as we mentioned, betrayal trauma is often related to gaslighting, so it can be difficult to recognize when trauma is occurring because the gaslighter, whether it’s a friend, partner or family member, makes you question your perception, judgement and memory. Other times, betrayal trauma is not related to gaslighting, and simply happens when you discover dishonesty in a relationship. This can also be hard to recognize, especially if your partner is good at hiding the truth.

In order to recognize trauma, it is often helpful to consult people that are outside of the relationship. Whether you are being gaslighted or betrayed in another way, the behavior is often easier to spot from the outside, which means that close friends and family members might recognize the trauma before you do and/or may help you recognize it yourself.

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Seeking professional help

After recognizing the betrayal trauma in your relationship, it’s important to try and start your recovery process. But this is often easier said than done. In some cases it is nearly impossible to cope with and recover from betrayal trauma – and the common side effects like anxiety and panic attacks – without the help of a professional. Seeking professional help is often a super important step in the road to recovering from betrayal trauma. Therapists and counselors have the tools to help you recognize, cope and move past betrayal. Each person has different trauma and deals with trauma in unique ways. Trained professionals will be able to meet you where you are and provide insight into your exact situation.

Joining a support group

In addition to turning to professional help, it can be helpful to join a support group for people that have experienced betrayal trauma. An important part of the recovery process is learning to trust people again, even after being betrayed. Joining a support group can help foster close connections with people who have similar lived experiences. While a professional can help you work through your trauma on a personal level, they cannot teach you to become more open with people. Opening up to new people and learning to trust again will come with practice and with time. Support groups are a great resource for practicing these connections. If you are interested in joining a support group, ask the professional you are working with if they know of any groups. If they do not, there are plenty of online forums that can serve as a support group as well.

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Practicing self care

Experiencing trauma can cause you to doubt yourself, your judgement and even your reality (especially in the case of gaslighting). An important step in recovering from betrayal trauma is to practice self care. Reclaiming your body and mind through things like meditation, mindfulness and yoga will allow you to center yourself and learn to trust yourself again.

Remember that self care looks different for everyone, and part of your self care journey is finding what grounds you and lets you decompress. For some this is yoga and meditation. For others it’s running, cooking, journaling, turning down plans if you’re feeling overwhelmed or leaving toxic relationships (more on that below). If you are new to the concept of self care, be patient with yourself and understand that it is a journey like anything else and will take time. Finding a self care routine that works for you will help you deal with the trauma and take care of yourself while doing so.

Leaving the toxic relationship

When you are in a relationship that is causing you trauma, it is a toxic relationship. While it is sometimes possible to turn a toxic relationship into a healthy one, this is rarely the case. More often than not, it’s important to LEAVE the toxic relationship that is causing (or has caused) betrayal trauma. As we mentioned before, it is very difficult to gain back trust in a relationship once it has been lost. Especially if a partner, friend or family member was betraying your trust with malicious intent.

Leaving the toxic relationship will prove to yourself that you have autonomy in your life. It will also help you get out of a toxic environment, which can help you move on from the betrayal trauma more quickly. As harsh as it can sound, sometimes the most important type of self care is cutting people out of your life that are getting in the way of your happiness and growth. Leaving a toxic relationship is a huge form of self care, and an important step when recovering from betrayal trauma.

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