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What Is Betrayal Trauma Therapy (& How Can It Help You Recover from Infidelity)?

Kathy Kinghorn

August 1, 2022

When your trust is seriously violated, it can have widespread ramifications throughout the rest of your life. Betrayal trauma, as it is referred to in the therapeutic community, is common amongst adults—especially in the wake of infidelity—and can severely impact quality of life. However, betrayal trauma therapy can provide tools and strategies for recovery and allow you to mitigate or reverse these undesirable effects.

Below, we’ll explain betrayal trauma in detail and tell you more about the most effective forms of therapy for addressing it. Read on and discover how the professionals at Therapy Utah can help you take your life back if you are struggling with betrayal trauma due to an infidelity or other serious breach of trust.

What Is Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma is a type of psychological trauma that is distinct from PTSD in part because it occurs as the result of a person or institution that you depend on doing something to damage that trust or your well-being. Betrayal trauma can also be particularly difficult to address since it concerns attachments you likely consider vital to your identity or survival.

People who suffer from betrayal trauma often have a difficult time recalling the details of the betrayal they’ve suffered. Research suggests this is because doing so might provoke a confrontation that could threaten the relationship in question.

The problem is that although the details of the betrayal itself may be vague, the effects of the trauma itself can still be acute. Put simply, just because you’ve obscured the memory of what someone did to you in order to avoid a conflict with that person, it doesn’t mean their actions haven’t damaged you in ways that still affect your life.

Via Pexels

What Situations Can Cause Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma can result from many situations. Some of the most common include:

Infidelity

When a spouse or significant other cheats, it often creates betrayal trauma. Victims may be prone to gaslighting themselves—creating a false narrative by distorting, willfully misinterpreting, or omitting key memories of the event—in order to protect their relationship with the partner who committed the infidelity. This also means that people suffering from betrayal trauma can experience powerful feelings of shame or guilt not commonly associated with other forms of trauma—because they blame themselves for what happened to them.

Childhood Abuse

Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at the hands of a caregiver during childhood often produces betrayal trauma that carries over into adulthood. Adults who have suffered this kind of abuse as children are typically less likely to remember the details if the incident was perpetrated by a caregiver such as a relative, teacher, or other guardian than if it occurred at the hands of a stranger.

What Are the Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma?

Women tend to experience exposure to trauma involving betrayal more frequently than men, who are more likely to experience other kinds. However, anybody can experience betrayal trauma and the symptoms that come with it. These include:

Intrusive Thoughts

Victims of betrayal trauma may experience disturbing thoughts and images—either directly or obliquely related to the events that caused the trauma originally.

Trouble Sleeping

Insomnia is common amongst people suffering from betrayal trauma. When victims do sleep, they may be affected by vivid nightmares (or even experience flashbacks during waking hours).

Anti-Social Tendencies

People who have lingering betrayal trauma may be prone to avoidant behavior, especially regarding the people who violated their trust or those seeking to talk about it. This can look like making excuses for the people who hurt them, withdrawing from social situations—even with others who were not involved in the betrayal—and a pervasive sense of anxiety or fear when others are present.

Hypersensitivity

Those who have experienced betrayal trauma are prone to constantly assessing their immediate environment for potential threats. They may seem paranoid, unable to relax, or constantly “wired”.

Difficulty Regulating Moods

Due to their hypervigilance and increased sensitivity, people who’ve experienced betrayal trauma can seem angry and irritable. Their reactions may not always seem proportionate to events because those events can trigger associations for them that are not always obvious to others.

Reduced Emotional Affect

Conversely, people who have experienced betrayal trauma may experience a flattening of emotions. This can be a defense mechanism that manifests after suffering deep emotional pain.

Physical Discomfort

Fatigue, migraines, and tension headaches can also result from betrayal trauma.

How Can People Recover from Betrayal Trauma?

Several therapeutic methodologies exist to help people recover from betrayal trauma. These include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT aims to identify cognitive distortions—patterns of thinking involving lapses in logic. Patients use CBT to identify these patterns, then learn to create strategies for changing the behaviors they trigger and eventually the feelings associated with them.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is similar to CBT, but takes a more holistic and mindfulness-oriented approach. Through DBT, a therapist can help a patient retrain their mind to reduce their emotional pain by relating to their challenges in kinder and more compassionate ways.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a form of therapy that uses physical stimulus (most commonly specific movements of the eyes) to help patients revisit memories associated with traumatic experiences and reprocess them in healthier ways. At Therapy Utah, all of our therapists are EMDR trained and frequently encourage this approach for people who are struggling with betrayal trauma.

Starting Your Journey to Overcome Betrayal Trauma

Overcoming betrayal trauma is difficult, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. That’s why Therapy Utah offers our unique LIFT Program for Betrayal Trauma in addition to our individual therapy services and associated methodologies. LIFT consists of online modules and weekly group sessions led by experts in betrayal trauma who provide in-depth insights you’ll be able to unpack alongside others who have shared your pain and can empathize with what you’re going through.

The LIFT Program involves two main sections: a discovery phase that lasts eight weeks, then a six-stage recovery journey spread out over 52 weeks. To find out more about how we can help you overcome betrayal trauma or to book an intake session at Therapy Utah, contact us today and talk with one of our staff members.

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