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:

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:

Check out these videos on our YouTube channel #RecoveryTV:

Don’t stop with this article, take the next step toward healing. Contact us TODAY!!

~Joshua Nichols~
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist

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