What Is Betrayal Trauma?

 What Is Betrayal Trauma?

What Is Betrayal Trauma_ichhori.webp

Betrayal trauma is the emotional impact a person feels when their trust or well-being is broken, either by persons or institutions important in their life.

"This sort of trauma is frequently associated with primary attachment figures from childhood, such as a parent, caregiver, or other crucial relationship." "It tends to reoccur among romantic partners in maturity," explains Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, and professor at Yeshiva University.

This article investigates the causes, symptoms, and impact of betrayal trauma, as well as some potential coping techniques.

Origin of the Betrayal Trauma Theory

Jennifer Freyd, Ph.D., an American psychology researcher, author, and educator, proposed the betrayal trauma hypothesis in 1991.

According to the hypothesis, betrayal trauma can occur when:

They are afraid, sometimes for their physical safety and other times for their lives.

They are betrayed by someone on whom they rely for survival, such as a parent or caregiver, on whom they rely for food, housing, and other fundamental necessities.

As examples of traumatic betrayals, the idea cites physical, sexual, or sadistic abuse by a caregiver as a child. The betrayal can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in youngsters, especially if the act was frightening.

According to the hypothesis, if the child is dependent on the caregiver for their daily needs and survival, they are more likely to block out the abuse or betrayal and develop dissociative amnesia. To retain their relationship with their caregiver and survive, the child's brain effectively overlooks the betrayal.

Otherwise, if the child dealt with the betrayal normally, they may begin to shun the caregiver and cease engaging with them, endangering their survival.

Impact and Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Romanoff discusses the consequences of betrayal trauma and the symptoms that may arise as a result.

Impact of Betrayal Trauma

What makes betrayal trauma so painful is that the victim is frequently unable to simply end their relationship with the perpetrator.

In the case of an abusive parent or caregiver who breaks a child's trust, the child stays depending on them even when the parent is no longer dependable or safe. This results in a complicated relationship with primary attachment figures who are both harmful and supportive.

These children may mature into people who are in relationships with partners who violate their needs in predictable ways. People who supply harm and care tend to delay processing detrimental conduct, normalize unhealthy habits, construct fantasies to compensate for painful memories, or even blame themselves in trying to reconcile the two opposites.

People who have undergone betrayal trauma tend to disconnect from the pain at its root. As a result, individuals are dealing with the aftereffects of their acute dissociation from their emotions, experiences, and reactions to the trauma. People frequently self-medicate with drugs, food, relationships, sex, or other diversities.

Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma can have a severe influence on a person, causing symptoms or health concerns such as:

  • PTSD

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Dissociation

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Emotional dysregulation

  • Trust and relationship issues

  • Physical pain and gastrointestinal issues

  • Substance abuse

  • Eating disorders

Causes of Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Romanoff discusses some of the causes of betrayal trauma in infancy and adulthood below.

Childhood Trauma

Childhood abuse is one of the most common causes of betrayal trauma. Abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional.

Trauma in Adulthood

Adults generally experience betrayal trauma in interactions with intimate partners, especially if they have previously experienced trauma. People may, however, suffer betrayal trauma at the hands of another, such as a close friend, colleague, or another person in their lives.

Institutional betrayal can also occur when an institution on which someone relies fails to prevent or effectively respond to wrongdoings by persons inside the institution's environment (for instance, in cases of sexual assault at a workplace or school).

Betrayal trauma in adulthood could look like this:

  • Physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse

  • Infidelity 

  • Revelations of financial problems or significant debt

  • Ulterior motives or other secretive behaviors

Coping With Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Romanoff recommends the following steps to help you cope with betrayal trauma:

Recognize the betrayal: The first stage is to recognize how you were betrayed and hurt. Be honest with yourself and examine how the betrayal will affect the relationship and your life.

Keep a journal of your emotions: Writing down your feelings in a journal may provide you with relief. It might help you understand your feelings and make room for reflection on them rather than ignoring or avoiding them.

Process your feelings: Facing your prior trauma can elicit a wide range of emotions, including sadness, fear, rage, regret, loss, and anxiety. It is critical to process these emotions to begin healing.

Seek aid or treatment: It can also be beneficial to seek help from a friend or therapist. People who have been betrayed frequently believe they can only rely on themselves and seek to withdraw themselves when betrayed. Instead, it is critical to do the opposite and seek help or treatment.

Set boundaries: Set hard boundaries in your relationship with the person who betrayed you if they are still in your life in any form to safeguard your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Recognize patterns: If you have experienced betrayal trauma in the past, it is critical to assess whether it is hurting your current relationships. Recognize that you deserve to be in relationships that are mutually helpful and supportive.

A Word From Ichhori 

Being abused or betrayed by someone close to you or on whom you rely can be terrible. It can have an impact on all of your following relationships as well as your mental and physical well-being.

It's critical to recognize the betrayal you experienced, process it, and move forward with healing and self-care.

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