October 10 2022

Responding to Betrayal Trauma in a Relationship


When those we trust the most cross boundaries unexpectedly, the pain we feel can seem insurmountable. It can feel like a waking nightmare, as if you are broken and life as you once knew it will never be the same. 

Though the emotions that come from betrayal trauma in a relationship are very real, there is hope for the future. There are steps you can take and treatment options available to help you find peace, healing, and joy again. 

You can heal painful memories. 

The feelings you are experiencing are a natural response to trauma. By knowing the symptoms of betrayal trauma in a relationship, you can begin to understand your own reactions and behaviors. Trauma affects you more than just emotionally – it affects you physically as well. When you experience trauma, your brain actually changes. It can cause memories you’d rather forget to continuously replay in your mind. It can make you feel like you are at war with your thoughts. It can create a mismatch between intentions and actions. It can wear you down. It can do so many things that make you feel hopeless and depressed. However, by helping your brain process those painful memories, you can turn the negative thoughts around. These four steps can help you conquer intrusive thoughts and turn your focus onto happier activities:

  1. Recognize Intrusive Thoughts: Recognizing when a thought is intrusive and unwelcome is the first step towards healing and growth. Your brain is trying to process the emotions associated with these intrusive thoughts. By recognizing the work your subconscious is putting into understanding this new reality, you can begin to consciously pick a direction toward healing. 
Tip: Distract yourself from negative thoughts with healthy behaviors – go on a walk, read a book, or call a friend! 
  1. Respond to Unwanted Thoughts: After recognizing the intrusive thoughts, begin talking back to them. This might sound like, “Yes, this happened. I did not choose this. It is not my fault. But I can choose to move forward and heal.” By giving a voice to the story, you are acknowledging the pain and moving through the negative to begin rewiring your thoughts. The lies and negativity will no longer be able to take up space in your mind.  It can be especially helpful to utilize trusted friends and family who can validate your feelings and experiences while also reminding you of what is true.
Tip: If you cannot find a close friend or family member to confide in, or if you need an unbiased supporter, try contacting a free hotline where a trained professional can provide support for betrayal trauma in a relationship.
  1. Identify the “5 Whys” of Your Trauma: If you break down your betrayal trauma into small pieces, it’s easier to identify the places where healing can begin. For example, in a multi-car pileup, there’s no way you can help every car at once. However, if you approach one car at a time, you can understand the needs of each person, determine which needs are the most urgent, help where you can, and allow professionals to aid where you can’t. 

You can break your trauma into pieces by completing the following tasks:

  • Take a moment to write down your intrusive thoughts.
  • Identify a thought you want to focus on.
    • Example: I can’t stop my mind from replaying what my spouse did to me.
  • Find the root cause of the thought by asking the “5 Whys”. In other words, ask a series of five why questions until you are at the root of the problem.
    • Examples of a why question are:
      1. Why is this bothering me?
      2. Why am I so angry at him? 
      3. Why does this thought hurt so badly?
      4. Why am I reacting so strongly?
  • Repeat as necessary.
  1. Practice Mindfulness: While the previous steps can slow down your racing mind and break the cycle of negative thoughts, sometimes it takes additional effort to calm down. Another way to remind yourself that you are okay is through practicing mindfulness. 

When our bodies are in a state of fight or flight (which is normal for those who have experienced betrayal trauma in a relationship), the hormones that normally regulate our heart rate and metabolism rise. Our heart rate increases, more blood flows to our muscles, and energy stores begin to release glucose. Furthermore, when we experience fear or anxiety, our hippocampus (a part of the brain) records the event and makes it possible for trauma to be replayed later. By practicing stillness and meditation, you can counteract these reactions and increase the body’s ability to maintain balance during stressful situations.

Additionally, by practicing mindfulness, you can be proactive in your healing as you face anxiety and fear in the future. Being mindful can help you process the past, the present, and the future.

Tips for Beginning Mindful Practices Focus on your breath. Take a few deep breaths. Then breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 1, and push out hard for 6. Repeat this for 3 minutes. Focus on breathing through your diaphragm, feeling the breath travel all the way to the bottom of your stomach. 

By following the steps outlined above, you allow your brain to find the source of your pain. From there, you can tend to the root of your suffering and work through your betrayal trauma. Furthermore, you can begin to identify issues that need to be worked on further with the assistance and guidance of a professional.

Using Bloom to Start the Healing Process

While healing from betrayal trauma in a relationship 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 pinpoint 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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