October 17 2022

Guide to the Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma


Ideally, relationships between family, friends, or significant other foster feelings of safety and protection. However, when betrayal occurs, this foundation of trust is shattered. This can leave individuals feeling unsafe, ashamed, and overwhelmed – all symptoms of betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma is defined as the emotional suffering resulting from physical or emotional betrayal within a relationship. 

Betrayal trauma can come in many forms and leads to a wide range of symptoms. Bloom supports partners facing infidelity with programs working through compulsive pornography use and emotional or sexual affairs. 

Symptoms of betrayal trauma can include, but aren’t limited to, interrupted sleep patterns, lack of or increase in appetite, panic attacks, guilt, and depression. If you have experienced betrayal trauma, know that your feelings are valid. 

Betrayal trauma can leave one feeling many emotions all at once. Common symptoms of betrayal trauma include: 

  • Feeling unsafe. Because the individual who betrayed you previously provided security and protection within your relationship, you may feel unsafe, violated, and unable to relax after experiencing the betrayal. These emotions are the body’s natural response when damage to a relationship’s foundation surfaces. Working with a therapist, either individually or as a couple, can help rebuild feelings of safety. 
  • Feelings of shame, worthlessness, or responsibility. You may feel that something is inherently wrong or lacking within you for you to have experienced betrayal. You may also feel that you could have done something to avoid this pain. However, you are in no way responsible or at fault for the actions of others.  
  • Feeling overwhelmed. When life as you knew it suddenly changes, even the simplest of tasks or obligations can feel like more than you can handle. It is natural to feel overwhelmed as you work through the process of working through your healing. Be patient with yourself. You have to regain your footing and re-learn what once were normal habits. Don’t expect or force yourself to operate at your previous capacity as you work through your trauma.
  • Fight, flight or freeze. In your body’s attempt to protect you from danger, or in this case, further betrayal, you may find yourself stuck in a fight, flight, or freeze. 
    • Fight: To avoid future emotional pain, you may experience anger. This anger may be present for a multitude of reasons: it may help you feel heard, in control, provide you with a sense of protection from the betrayer, or may even be a way to cope with the myriad of emotions you are experiencing. 
    • Flight: You may feel the need to end the relationship while working through betrayal trauma. You may also attempt to “flee” or “escape” the situation and your feelings around it through excessive sleeping, exercise, or drinking, eating disorders, or extensive social media or television usage.
    • Freeze: “Freezing up” can manifest in many ways, including emotional numbness, inability to act or respond to the events occurring in your life, feeling helpless, or even fainting. 
  • Anxiety, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts. Other common symptoms of betrayal trauma include feeling anxious or even hypervigilant. You may begin to obsessively monitor the betrayer’s emotions or actions in an attempt to correct or eliminate the infidelity or addiction within your relationship. Likewise, you may also experience depression or have suicidal thoughts. 
If these thoughts and feelings persist or intensify, please do not hesitate to find support by confiding in a trusted individual, reaching out for counseling, calling the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988, or visiting 988lifeline.org. 

In more extreme cases, symptoms of betrayal trauma can also fall under symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD, as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), has five significant ways in which it can impact individuals.

  1. Life-Threatening Experiences: As stated previously, individuals suffering from betrayal trauma may feel unsafe or violated, especially around the person who betrayed them. Some may even experience physical violence or threats from the individual that has occurred. If this situation applies to you, please reach out for support so you can find safety. Furthermore, if sexual infidelity has occurred, you might need to consider the risk of STDs. 
  2. Reliving the Events: You may experience nightmares, flashbacks, or reoccurring thoughts about the behavior of the individual that betrayed you. This is the brain’s method of formulating a narrative of what has happened to you and why it has happened.  
  3. Avoidance: You may avoid feelings, thoughts, people, or environments that stir up negative emotions related to the betrayal trauma you are experiencing. This may even include severing healthy relationships with others that could have lent support through your betrayal trauma. 
  4. Mood and Cognitions: You may internalize and hold yourself unnecessarily accountable for the actions done by the individual that has betrayed you. This can spur you into feeling depressed, anxious, and hopeless causing you to isolate yourself from others, including the individual that has betrayed you. 
  5. Emotional Arousal and Reactivity: It is common to experience a wide range of emotions that can shift from moment to moment. As you make sense of what has happened and how you feel about the situation, it is common to have difficulty regulating your emotions. You may lash out at your partner, family, friends, or even strangers. If these unregulated emotions continue for months or even years on end, your mental health may begin to deteriorate and could even negatively affect your physical health. This may induce sleeping issues, increased anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. 

Focus on Healing with Bloom

While healing from betrayal trauma is possible, it takes time and focused effort. Taking the courageous step to begin your recovery doesn’t have to happen alone. There are a growing number of mental health professionals specializing in treating trauma.

With Bloom, you can start pinpointing the ways betrayal trauma alters your mind and body and discover how to best respond. Become part of our FREE community today.

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