Understanding the Ways Betrayal Trauma Alters the Mind & Body

woman in distress showing the ways betrayal trauma alters the mind and body

If your trust has ever been broken by someone close to you, you’ve probably felt the ways betrayal trauma alters the mind and body. When somebody you depend on to protect and respect your well-being violates that trust, you may experience lingering betrayal trauma.

If a psychologically intimate relationship (such as marriage) is at the core of the betrayal, feelings of chaos and confusion can quickly take over. Sharing many of the same symptoms as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), betrayed spouses have reported feelings of depression, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, guilt, and anxiety. Trauma expert, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has shown how trauma literally reshapes both mind and body, compromising capacities for engagement, pleasure, trust, and self-control.

A betrayed spouse can experience such intense emotions the memories and trauma may remain for months or even years. The human body isn’t designed to handle long-term elevated anxiety and stress. Prolonged stress and anxiety change us. Below you can read some of the ways betrayal trauma alters the mind and body.

How Betrayal Trauma Alters the Mind

Betrayal trauma changes critical regions of the brain (the hippocampus and limbic system), which control your memory data bank and emotional response center. These systems typically work together to identify what is safe and accurate. After betrayal, the limbic system will activate your body’s survival mode. This triggers your hippocampus to start scanning memories for similar situations or indications on how to respond. You might begin questioning if the relationship was ever actually safe or doubt if your happy times were as beautiful as you once thought. Suddenly, both past and present feel upended and unsafe.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

The longer the limbic system remains in high alert, the more likely it is you’ll enter an extended state of hyper or hypo-arousal, better known as “fight, flight, or freeze.” Your mind starts changing, seeing the world (and, in the case of betrayal trauma, also your relationship) as dangerous and threatening. It’s your body’s way of keeping you safe.

In betrayal trauma, hyper-arousal manifests as an intense fight or flight response. Feelings such as panic, anger, or fear are common. Hypo-arousal, on the other hand, manifests as disconnection with your body. This may look like dissociation, lapses in memory, emotional numbness, and brain fog. Staying in any of these states for long periods can drastically change your brain’s ability to process location, time, memory, and emotions.

Possible Psychological Symptoms Include:

  • Paranoia/hypervigilance
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Intense grief and loss
  • Emotional numbness/exhaustion
  • A sense of inadequacy or embarrassment
  • Numbness or inability to stay in the moment
  • Shame or self-blame
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Loss of identity
  • Negative body image
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Reliving or dreaming about traumatic memories

How Betrayal Trauma Alters The Body

Betrayal trauma doesn’t just alter the mind; it can also change the body. When going through trauma, the body internalizes psychosocial pain. Essentially, because of the intense nature and deep meaning of the marital bond, the body naturally responds to the betrayal more acutely than it would in other situations. Not only can the stress of coping with betrayal exacerbate existing health complications, but it can also create new ones.

Possible Physiological Symptoms Include:

  • Overeating or lack of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Muscle tension and tightness
  • Headaches
  • Aversion to intimate touch
  • Crying episodes
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss

Dangers of Long-Term Stress and Anxiety

If you are experiencing any of these psychological or physiological symptoms, you are processing your trauma normally. In a survey of 800 women with betrayal trauma, we learned 75% feel indescribable fear, 85% feel helpless, and 62% relive the traumatic memory. However, despite the commonality, if your symptoms do not reduce over time, your mind and body will become overwhelmed and eventually wear out. This could lead to long-term adverse physical, emotional, and mental problems.

Your body’s safety response system is designed to protect you for short durations of time, minutes or days, not weeks, months, or even years. And yet, we’ve learned nearly 43% of women continue to feel the side effects of betrayal trauma for more than two years.

If you are experiencing more than 50% of the symptoms listed above, a professional therapist might be beneficial. They may be able to help you understand the ways betrayal trauma alters the mind and body while helping you reduce symptoms. 

Recovering from Betrayal Trauma

Our bodies aren’t designed to handle long-term elevated anxiety and stress; they will wear down the entire body. It’s essential to learn a few good habits that will curb the intensity of your symptoms.

Try implementing some basic steps to reduce the constant feelings of stress and trauma. To start with, we suggest three seemingly simple yet enormously effective suggestions.

Find Ways to Relax

This may sound trivial to some and impossible to others, but wherever you lie on the spectrum, make it a priority. Relaxing can include:

  • Getting a good night’s rest
  • Spending time in nature
  • Breathing deeply
  • Spending time with trusted friends 

Make Time for Exercise

Even 30 minutes a day can make a significant impact on your well-being. Simple exercises such as walking or yoga can be especially beneficial in healing.

Focus on Nutrition

Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Eat smaller meals more often. Making sure you’re fueling your body with nutritious foods can increase your mental and emotional balance throughout the day. Additionally, proper nutrition decreases sudden spikes in negative stressors.

Release Your Feelings

Self-expression can be very therapeutic, both for the artist and the receiver. Release your emotion through art. Draw, paint, take a photo or make a sculpture to symbolize what trauma looks like in your life. Send a snapshot of your artwork to hello@bloomforwomen.com with a short explanation, and we’ll anonymously post it to our Facebook page. You can help others know they are not alone.

If art isn’t your thing, writing can also be beneficial to healing. Writing out your trauma story can help you make sense of your experience. Even just journaling ten minutes a day has been shown to calm the mind and increase happiness. It doesn’t have to be well written or shared with anyone. Writing out whatever comes to mind is just as effective.

Healing Doesn’t Happen Alone

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 professions 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.

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