Betrayal Trauma: What It Is and How to Cope
Just as the name implies, betrayal trauma is trauma that occurs when some entity or someone does something to betray your trust. Oftentimes, it involves a partner who does something to break your trust and, ultimately, your relationship. It can also occur on an institutional level, when an institution commits wrongdoings against an individual or when a person realizes that an organization or group they were a part of does not hold their same ideals.
At the interpersonal level, betrayal trauma often originates from things like gaslighting and other manipulation tactics that erode a person’s sense of trust. This breach in trust can cause people to feel pain and emotional distress like anxiety and depression. Betrayal trauma can result in panic attacks, anger, and skepticism of trust. There are typically three stages of this type of trauma:
- Stage 1: Feelings of devastation as you are forced to question everything you thought you knew about your partner, friend, or institution and your relationship with them.
- Stage 2: A period of anger followed by grief and difficulty feeling grounded.
- Stage 3: Healing and learning to forge new connections.
Moving through the stages of betrayal trauma does not come naturally, and it will take a lot of work to process and cope with having your trust completely betrayed. Though the journey can be difficult, it is possible to recover from it and learn to trust yourself, other people, and institutions again.
Here are a few steps to help yourself heal from betrayal trauma:
Recognizing the trauma
The first step to recovering from trauma is recognizing that it has occurred. In interpersonal relationships, betrayal trauma is often related to gaslighting, so it can be difficult to recognize when trauma is occurring because the gaslighter makes you question your perception, judgement, and memory. Other times, betrayal trauma is not related to gaslighting, and simply happens when you discover dishonesty in a relationship. This can also be hard to recognize, especially if your partner is good at hiding the truth.
In order to recognize trauma, it’s helpful to talk to people outside of the relationship that can provide an unbiased opinion. Whether you are being gaslighted or betrayed in another way, the behavior is often easier to spot from the outside, which means that close friends and family members might recognize what’s happening before you do.
Seeking professional help
After recognizing betrayal trauma, the next step is to try and recover from it, which is often easier said than done. In some cases it is nearly impossible to cope with and recover from betrayal trauma and its effects like anxiety and panic attacks without the help of a professional.
Seeking help from a therapist or counselor is a crucial step in the road to recovering from betrayal trauma. They have the tools to help you recognize, cope and move past betrayal. Each person has different trauma and deals with it in unique ways, and trained professionals will be able to provide insight tailored to your specific situation.
Joining a support group
Joining a support group for people that have experienced betrayal trauma is a great way to help yourself heal. It can help foster close connections with people who have similar lived experiences, which helps build back trust.
While a professional can help you work through your trauma on a personal level, they cannot teach you to become more open with people. If you are interested in joining a support group, ask the professional you are working with if they know of any groups or online forums that can help.
Experiencing trauma can cause you to doubt yourself, your judgement, and even your reality (especially in the case of gaslighting). An important step in recovering from betrayal trauma is to practice self-care—meditation, mindfulness, yoga, exercise—anything to help you trust yourself again. Finding a self-care routine that works for you will help you deal with the trauma and take care of yourself while doing so.
Leaving the toxic relationship
Any relationship that causes trauma is toxic. While it is sometimes possible to turn a toxic relationship into a healthy one, it’s rare. More often than not, the best thing you can do is leave a relationship that’s causing betrayal trauma. Building back trust is difficult, and it’s even harder if someone betrayed your trust with malicious intent.
Betrayal trauma is hard to overcome, but not impossible. With some patience, self-care, and help from others, you can move past your hurt and learn to trust others (and yourself) again.