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When you think of the word TRAUMA what images come to mind? Maybe your mind steered you toward natural disasters. You might be thinking about what people had to endure during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or those impacted by the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. You might even be thinking of the volcano eruptions in Hawaii where over 2000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes. It is also common for people to think of acts of violence or terrorism when considering what it means to experience trauma or to be “traumatized.” Many of us still remember where we were, what we were doing, and maybe even, what we were wearing as our nation was traumatized by the events of 9/11. What about school shootings? Many of us remember the Columbine Massacre of 1999, or the Sandy Hook shooting of 2012. We think about how horrifying these experiences were for the kids and all involved. We grieve for the families who had to lay their children to rest. We would all say, that THAT is trauma.
But, can trauma be experienced in families and relationships? “Of, course!!” you might say. “Physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence…..all of these can be traumatic.” I cannot agree more! The lingering question, though, is – Can we experience TRAUMA from BETRAYAL?
~What is Betrayal Trauma?~
Betrayal trauma is most often associated with relational infidelity in couple relationships, whether it be an emotional affair, a sexual affair, or chronic infidelity as seen in sex addiction. However, there can be other types of events that create betrayal trauma (e.g., financial infidelity, other addictions, etc.). Despite the context from which it manifests, secrecy and deception are more than likely involved in the experience. When this occurs, the world of the one betrayed often gets tipped upside down. It creates a deep wound, not only in the one betrayed, but also in the couple relationship. It is important to note, that when the word “trauma” is used to describe these experiences, it is not being used for effect; it truly is TRAUMA in every sense of the word!
~How do I know if I’ve been traumatized by betrayal?~
There are many symptoms that can manifest when one has experienced betrayal. For example, you might have heightened feelings of anxiety and/or depression, intense feelings of anger, broken trust in the relationship, intense personal insecurity, and more. These are important symptoms to pay attention to, but, in my opinion, the most important symptom to pay attention to is the DEEP PAIN you are experiencing. Many people who have experienced trauma from betrayal describe the pain as having a depth to it that they have never experienced before. And if they are familiar with it, it usually is because they have experienced this type of betrayal before. So, if you have experienced betrayal and the pain manifesting feels almost unbearable, then you possibly are dealing with a deep wound that needs tended to right away.
~What do I need to do now?~
The first step is to SEEK HELP. Tackling this problem in solitude will often result in an exacerbated wound. My encouragement is to find a professional therapist trained to work with betrayal trauma so that s/he can help stop the bleeding. Then, s/he can help you and your partner/spouse develop a plan for healing and recovery. Here are some quality therapist directories where you can find therapists in your area:
- Directory for Infidelity & Sex Addiction Recovery Therapists
- Directory for Somatic Experiencing Therapists
- Directory for EMDR Therapists
- Directory for Therapists (general listings)
~Can my spouse be involved in my healing process?~
This is a question that my colleagues and I are commonly asked from the betrayed partner/spouse. The question is quite understandable given the fact that their partner/spouse is the one that created this deep wound they are suffering from. Think about it, if you were healing from an injury caused by a drunk driver, would you want that person involved in your healing process? The answer seems obvious; but, when it comes to relational traumas, it’s different. In my practice, we not only think it is a good idea, we encourage it. The reality is that the one suffering from betrayal trauma does not NEED their partner to participate in order to effectively heal, but the relationship does. When the betrayer is a willing participant in treatment, yes, it is often very difficult and emotionally painful in the beginning; but as the couple progresses in treatment, this effort toward healing and recovery can become a very intimate and bonding experience.
Experiencing betrayal in a committed relationship is often very painful because it IS traumatic. However, it is important to note that these relationships can survive and even thrive after the experience. In other words, although we could never guarantee the relationship will recovery, for many couples this is often the beginning of a new type of relationship built on a foundation of honesty, transparency, and integrity – because that is the type of relationship they deserve. And so do YOU!
Below are some resources we offer here at FSC:
- Betrayal trauma groups for the BETRAYED and the BETRAYER
- Betrayal trauma therapy
- Affair Recovery & Sex Addiction Recovery Couples Intensives
Check out these videos on our YouTube channel #RecoveryTV:
- The 5 Myths of Infidelity
- A Message to The Betrayed
- Trauma Therapy
- Is there Hope after Infidelity (about couples intensives)
- Making Sense of Infidelity
Don’t stop with this article, take the next step toward healing. Contact us TODAY!!
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most of us have probably heard the song – Addicted to Love. I don’t think Robert Palmer, the singer-songwriter that recorded this classic 80’s tune, was thinking about love being an ACTUAL addiction; however, he definitely stumbled onto a concept way ahead of his time.
I once heard the term “sex and love addiction” and immediately thought, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. How can a person be addicted to sex or love? Well, time has passed, and knowledge has been gained. Today, I’d like to share just a few things I have learned in my journey as a therapist who works with those suffering and battling this struggle we have come to know as sex and love addiction.
♫ Might as well face it;
you’re addicted to love. ♫
The first thing that really stand out to me is that sex and love addiction is NOT really about sex or love; but, instead, it is an intimacy problem. It is about a desperate search for emotional connections, often not experienced during childhood. This addiction is most often driven by attempts to satisfy unmet emotional needs. John Bowlby, a pioneer in attachment theory, states, “we’re only as needy as our unmet needs.” What this means to those experiencing sex and love addiction is that they are searching for something outside of themselves to provide them with the emotional comfort and stability they lack, more specifically, they are trying to “fix” themselves. Unfortunately; though, the bond that forms is not with the other person, but it is formed with the experience of being in love. As a result, as with alcohol and drugs, the “high” of being “in love” will eventually dissipate, resulting in void and empty relationships.
♫ You might think that you’re immune to this stuff.
Oh yeah! ♫
Secondly, there are signs and symptoms commonly experienced by sex and love addicts. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), a 12-step program for this particular addiction, identifies those symptomatic behaviors as:
- becoming sexually involved with and/or emotionally attached to people without knowing them
- staying in painful, destructive relationships due to fear of abandonment and loneliness,
- confusing love with neediness or the need to rescue/ be rescued, and
- feeling empty and incomplete when alone.
While each of these symptoms may be experienced in healthy romantic relationships, with sex and love addiction, there is a consistent pattern of behaviors that tend to escalate into negative life consequences. Consequences may include, but not limited to: anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, risk of STD’s, legal problems, financial problems, and inability to experience genuine intimacy.
♫ It’s closer to the truth
to say you can’t get enough. ♫
Another interesting aspect regarding sex and love addiction is that withdraw symptoms can and do occur. Those who experience sex and love addiction struggle with real physical and emotional distress when letting go of relationships. “Falling in love” and “falling out of love” impact oxytocin and dopamine levels. A drop in oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” can cause a person to feel lost and confused. Subsequently, a drop in dopamine, our pleasure and reward neurotransmitters, acts like heroin withdraw in that a person will no longer feel pleasure and will likely become depressed. Symptoms can also include irritability, emptiness, confusion of “what’s next?”, shame, guilt, and grief. Grief is experienced much like any loss; only, they also grieve the connection, the relationship experience, and the loss of their self-identity as they typically identify themselves through the eyes of the partner.
♫ You know you’re gonna have to face it;
you’re addicted to love. ♫
My last, but certainly not final, observation in my studies and work with sex and love addicts is that HOPE is possible! Healing can transpire through strong recovery work by creating and implementing healthy boundaries, exploring early childhood attachment injuries and negative core beliefs, exploring fantasies and unmet needs, and learning about healthy relationships. Seeking professional help will be beneficial: a trusting, safe relationship will create a framework for recovery. Additionally, 12-step programs, sponsors, church/ support groups, and accountability partners are often important components for a healthy recovery plan.
In my work as a licensed marital and family therapist and certified sex addiction therapist, I can attest that people often recover from sex and love addiction. The wounded find healing. The hopeless find hope. The distraught find peace. If you are wrestling with compulsive behavior and/or addiction, please don’t wait any longer. Find a therapist who can help you. You deserve peace; you deserve happiness; and you most definitely deserve to feel a genuine, lasting love and the depths of intimacy that grow out it. Blessings.
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addictions Therapist