As humans, we rely upon close relationships for love and stability. Our very survival depends upon a deep, trusting relationship built with our parents as infants and children. We need them to feed us when we’re hungry and provide comfort when we’re upset so we can regulate our emotions. This foundation is the very basis of healthy emotional attachment. They control and manage our entire world.
No matter our age, we are designed to bond closely with others. We need this love, affection, and emotional intimacy to help us navigate life and its stressors. With time, we develop deep relationships with people outside of our immediate family. Our lives may become intricately intertwined with that of a romantic partner. They become our soul mate, our best friend, our co-parent, and life traveler.
Time and again researchers and therapists have demonstrated the importance of connection. So, what happens when we are betrayed by these very people who are our world?
What Is Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma is a complex type of trauma that can happen to children or adults. When parents or caregivers inflict trauma, abuse, or neglect upon the children in their care, they create betrayal trauma.
In adult relationships, betrayal trauma typically occurs when a romantic partner cheats or decides to end the relationship. Finding out about the infidelity or feeling blindsided by a breakup often sets off a complex, genuinely overwhelming emotional reaction. When we have become deeply bonded emotionally to another person, the fracturing of this bond feels like having the ground collapse beneath us.
How it Impacts You
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for managing how the body reacts to stress and danger. We refer to it as the fight-flight-freeze response. As an adult, finding out that your closest love has betrayed you pushes this part of your nervous system into high alert.
Betrayal makes you feel threatened, afraid, and disoriented. You thought you knew what was true and right in your world. When someone violates this trust, your body tries to find a way to protect you. But in its efforts to protect you, it can end up making it harder for you to function and find your footing again.
How This Response Looks
When you experience betrayal trauma, you will likely have great feelings of anxiety and panic. Because your body responds to emotional threats in the same way it responds to physical threats, the intense surges of adrenaline will remain.
As you struggle to make sense of how your world has changed, you may have enormous mood dips. Your fear can feel overwhelming. You may wonder how you’ll get by without their friendship. Perhaps you rely on them for financial support and can’t see a way out. Maybe your confidence in yourself feels shredded as you wonder why you didn’t see their betrayal coming. Depression is also a likely response.
Betrayal trauma is just as real and damaging as other types of trauma. It can leave you hypervigilant, which means that you’re always on the lookout for more betrayals or emotional threats. You may have trauma triggers that reawaken the pain: your sleeping, eating, and ability to function become impaired. Forming close relationships seems impossible; you can’t feel close to anyone.
If this sounds familiar, it’s vital to know that you can find healing. As an experienced therapist, I am well-trained in helping people navigate their way through trauma.
Together, we can process what has happened to you and find a way for healing to occur. You don’t have to live with mistrust, anxiety, and confusion because of what other people did to you in the past. If you’re ready to begin your healing journey, please visit my Trauma and PTSD page or contact my office to learn more about how I can help.