Betrayal, a profoundly distressing human experience, can shatter the very foundations of trust and security in our relationships. It’s a harrowing breach of faith that can leave scars that linger long after the initial act of betrayal. But when we delve deeper into this complex realm, we uncover a hidden layer of emotional turmoil known as “betrayal trauma.”
This psychological phenomenon encompasses a series of intricate stages, each marked by its own unique emotional challenges and coping mechanisms. In this article, we will embark on a journey through the stages of betrayal trauma, shedding light on the intricacies of this emotional process and providing insight into the path to healing and recovery.
What Is Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma is a type of psychological trauma that occurs when someone close to you violates your trust in a major way. This can be anything from infidelity to abuse or even just a major lie. Betrayal trauma can cause a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, and social isolation. It can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Betrayal trauma is often more difficult to recover from than other types of trauma because it can damage your sense of self and your ability to trust others. The stages of betrayal usually include shock, denial, pain, anger, and eventually acceptance.
11 Physical Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma can manifest in a variety of physical symptoms, often stemming from the intense emotional distress and psychological turmoil it causes. It’s important to note that these symptoms can vary from person to person and may not be present in every case. Here are some common physical symptoms associated with betrayal trauma:
Sleep Issues: Insomnia, nightmares, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Appetite Changes: Fluctuations leading to overeating or loss of appetite.
Digestive Problems: Stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
Muscle Tension: Neck, shoulder, and back pain, often resulting in headaches.
Heart Palpitations: Sensation of rapid or irregular heartbeat.
Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and low energy levels.
Weakened Immune System: Increased vulnerability to illnesses.
Pain Sensitivity: Heightened perception of physical discomfort.
Skin Issues: Aggravation of skin conditions like acne or eczema.
Hypervigilance: Elevated alertness, causing increased heart rate and shallow breathing.
These physical symptoms often accompany the emotional and psychological challenges of betrayal trauma. Healing involves addressing the emotional aspects through therapy and support while seeking medical advice for physical symptom management.
7 Common Stages Of Betrayal
No matter what form it takes, betrayal can leave you feeling hurt, confused, and even angry. While everyone experiences betrayal differently, there are typically 7 stages that people go through when dealing with this type of pain.
By understanding these stages, you can begin to work through the betrayal and start to heal.
Stage 1: Shock
When a person first learns about the betrayal, they often experience a sense of shock and disbelief. They may find it difficult to process the information and may feel physically and emotionally numb. It can be challenging to accept that someone they trusted has hurt them in such a way.
During this stage, individuals may struggle to grasp the reality of the betrayal. They may ask themselves questions like, “Is this really happening?” or “Did this person really betray me?” It’s common to feel disoriented and overwhelmed, and some people may have trouble sleeping or eating.
This stage typically lasts for a few hours to a few days immediately following the betrayal. However, it can be shorter or longer depending on the individual and the nature of the betrayal.
Stage 2: Denial
In this stage, individuals may continue to resist accepting the reality of the betrayal. They may engage in self-deception or wishful thinking, hoping that the betrayal is a misunderstanding or a one-time occurrence. This stage serves as a defense mechanism to protect one’s emotions and can involve minimizing the significance of the betrayal.
People often try to rationalize the behavior of the person who betrayed them, making excuses or seeking evidence that contradicts the betrayal. Some may confront the person in an attempt to gain clarity or validation. Overall, the focus is on avoiding the painful reality of the situation.
This stage can last for days to weeks after the initial shock, although it may vary.
Stage 3: Obsession
During this stage, individuals become preoccupied with the betrayal. They may constantly think about the details of what happened, replaying the events in their mind, and seeking answers to questions like “Why did this happen?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Obsession can lead to heightened emotional distress and rumination.
People may engage in behaviors such as stalking the betrayer’s social media profiles, seeking information from others, or becoming fixated on revenge or retribution. This stage can be emotionally exhausting, as individuals struggle to make sense of the betrayal and find closure.
The obsession stage can last for weeks to months or even longer.
Stage 4 – Anger and Grief
The stage of anger and grief is when individuals finally begin to outwardly express the intense feelings of fury and sorrow that have built up within them. This phase can extend over several weeks or even months and may have harmful consequences. During this time, they may vent their anger towards friends, family members, or even strangers.
Their wrath can also be directed at the person who betrayed them, or they may internalize it.
In this stage, people may lash out verbally or physically, struggling to cope with the overwhelming emotions they are experiencing. They might engage in arguments, confrontations, or even aggressive behavior as they grapple with their pain and anger.
Stage 5 – Bargaining
The bargaining phase occurs when individuals attempt to strike a bargain with a higher power or the universe in a bid to rectify the situation. This stage can persist for a few weeks or months and often involves making pledges never to repeat the betrayal or pleading with the person who betrayed them to make amends.
During this stage, individuals may beg for forgiveness or make offers to do anything to set things right again. This phase can be frustrating for those around them, as it can impede the healing process. It involves a desperate search for solutions and can have self-destructive tendencies.
Stage 6 – Mourning
In the grief and isolation stage of betrayal trauma, many individuals report losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, including spending time with others. It’s common to withdraw from social interactions and enter a depressive state. Mourning the loss of the relationship as it was initially perceived is a natural response.
During this period, it’s crucial to treat oneself with extra kindness and allocate time for emotional healing.
While experiencing deep sadness and depression is normal, getting stuck in this stage and having harmful thoughts is not. Seeking help is essential if thoughts of self-harm or suicide arise. In some cases, medication may be a suitable option. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate course of action.
The mourning stage is often uncomfortable, but rushing through it won’t lead to genuine healing. True healing comes from examining, processing, embracing, learning from, and growing through one’s emotions.
Stage 7 – Acceptance
Instead of anguish, brokenness, and devastation, this stage involves redefining oneself and one’s relationship. Acceptance should not be mistaken for being okay with what happened; rather, it’s about embracing the new reality and adapting for a healthier future. For the betrayed individual, acceptance entails understanding how they ended up in a relationship scarred by betrayal and trusting that they can regain their health and wholeness despite the pain of the past.
During this stage, individuals work on reconstructing their sense of self and their understanding of relationships. They seek to move forward with a newfound perspective and a commitment to emotional recovery and personal growth.
7 Adverse Effects of Betrayal on the Brain
Betrayal trauma, a concept pioneered by psychologist Jenny Freyd in 1991, exerts a profound influence on the human brain, significantly altering its functioning and disrupting its natural responses to stress. This intricate interplay between betrayal and brain functioning primarily impacts two critical regions: the limbic system and the hippocampus. These regions, often referred to as the emotional response center and the memory data bank of the brain, respectively, undergo substantial changes in response to the trauma of betrayal, ultimately leading to an effect akin to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Here, we will explore the intricate effects of betrayal on the brain in detail:
Emotional Dysregulation: One of the most immediate and noticeable effects of betrayal on the brain is the disruption of emotional regulation. Betrayal can trigger intense emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, and even profound feelings of shame and guilt. The limbic system, particularly the amygdala, plays a central role in processing these emotions. In the context of betrayal, the amygdala becomes hyperactive, amplifying emotional responses and making it challenging for the individual to regulate their feelings effectively.
Hippocampal Alterations: The hippocampus, a region responsible for memory consolidation and contextualizing experiences, is significantly impacted by betrayal. Traumatic events associated with betrayal may lead to structural changes in the hippocampus, such as reduced volume. This can result in difficulties with memory recall and the integration of new information, as well as persistent intrusive thoughts about the betrayal, akin to the intrusive memories seen in PTSD.
Hypervigilance and Altered Perception: Betrayal can induce a state of hypervigilance in individuals, where they become highly alert to potential threats in their environment. This heightened state of arousal involves the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, chronic stress can damage the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like decision-making and impulse control. This can lead to impulsive reactions and difficulty in making rational judgments.
Impaired Trust and Attachment: Betrayal can undermine an individual’s ability to trust others and form secure attachments. The brain’s mirror neuron system, responsible for understanding and empathizing with others, may become less responsive as a protective mechanism. This can result in difficulties in forming close relationships and an increased tendency to interpret others’ actions as potentially betraying.
Chronic Stress and Neuroplasticity: The chronic stress triggered by betrayal can have long-lasting effects on brain plasticity. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can inhibit the formation of new neurons and synaptic connections. As a result, individuals may find it challenging to adapt to new situations or cope with stressors effectively.
Sleep Disturbances: Betrayal often leads to sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or nightmares. Sleep plays a vital role in consolidating memories and processing emotions. The disruption of sleep patterns can further exacerbate the cognitive and emotional consequences of betrayal.
Increased Vulnerability to Mental Health Issues: Betrayal can significantly increase an individual’s vulnerability to mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The neurological changes resulting from betrayal may overlap with those observed in individuals with PTSD, as both conditions involve alterations in the brain’s stress response system.
7 Helpful Tips For Recovering From Betrayal Trauma
When you’ve been betrayed, it can feel like your world has been turned upside down. You may feel hurt, angry, and confused, and you may have trouble trusting people in the future. However, it is possible to recover from betrayal.
Here are some steps that may help:
1. Acknowledge what happened
It’s important to accept that you have been betrayed. This can be a difficult process, but it’s necessary in order to move on.
Being oblivious of the fact that we have been betrayed may seem easy but that does a lot of damage. When suppress the trauma that we have experienced it stays unresolved and there are chances it may surface again later.
Therefore it is really important that we acknowledge that we have been betrayed so that we can start our journey of recovering from betrayal trauma.
2. Forgive the person who betrayed you
Forgiving the person who betrayed us is often an essential part of this process. By forgiving them, we can begin to heal the wounds of betrayal and move forward with our lives. This doesn’t mean that you have to forget what they did; rather, it means letting go of the anger and resentment you feel towards them.
3. Learn to trust again
When we experience betrayal, it can be incredibly traumatic and difficult to recover from. In order to heal and move on, it is essential that we learn to trust again. However, this can be very difficult to do.
After betrayal, it’s natural to feel mistrustful of others.
However, try not to let this feeling take over your life. Gradually open yourself up to people again and see who deserves your trust. Remember that not all people are untrustworthy. There are still good people in the world, and we need to learn to open ourselves up to them again. It won’t be easy, but it is possible to rebuild trust after betrayal.
4. Talk to someone whom you trust
When someone we trust breaks our trust, it can leave us feeling isolated, exposed, and vulnerable. Recovery from betrayal trauma is possible, but it takes time and effort. A friend, family member, or therapist.
This can help to start the process of rebuilding trust. Seeking professional help can also be beneficial, as betrayals often trigger unresolved emotional issues.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Talk to someone we trust: This can help us to feel heard, understood, and validated. It can also provide a sense of relief, as we realize we’re not alone in our experience.
- Seek professional help: A therapist can help us understand our thoughts and feelings, work through our pain, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
- Join a support group: Sharing our story with others who have gone through similar experiences can be incredibly healing. We can learn from others and feel less isolated in our pain.
By working through the stages of betrayal, we can begin to rebuild our sense of self and move on from the pain of betrayal.
5. Write about your experiences in a journal or blog
Journaling is a powerful tool that can help us process our thoughts and feelings, make sense of our experiences, and recover from trauma. When we journal, we are able to express our emotions in a safe and supportive space. We can explore our thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. We can also track our progress as we heal and see the improvements we have made over time.
Journaling can also help us to understand our reactions to betrayal trauma. By writing about our experiences, we can gain insight into our triggers, explore our emotions, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
We can also identify any negative thought patterns or behaviors that may be causing us distress. Journaling is a safe and supportive space where we can work through the pain of betrayal trauma at our own pace.
6. Avoid making any major decisions
When we’re recovering from betrayal trauma, it’s often best to avoid making major decisions. That’s because our judgment can be impaired and we may not be thinking clearly. Instead, it’s usually best to take some time to heal and then reevaluate the situation.
There are a few reasons why it’s best to avoid making major decisions while in recovery:
- Our judgment is often impaired after experiencing betrayal trauma. We may not be thinking clearly or rationally, which can lead to bad decision-making.
- We may not have all the information we need. Betrayal can cloud our judgment and prevent us from seeing things clearly. As a result, we may make decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information.
- We may be emotional and reactive. After experiencing betrayal, we may be feeling a range of intense emotions like anger, sadness, and fear. These emotions can cloud our judgment and lead to impulsive decision-making.
- We need time to heal. Making major decisions can be stressful, and that stress can actually impede our recovery. It’s important to give ourselves time to heal before taking on any additional challenges.
7. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is an important part of recovering from betrayal trauma. There are many things you can do to take care of yourself, including:
- Get plenty of rest. You may find it hard to sleep, but making sure you get enough rest will help your body recover from the stress of the betrayal.
- Eat healthy foods. Eating nutritious foods will help your body heal and give you the energy you need to face each day.
- Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which can help improve your mood. It can also help to reduce stress levels and improve your overall sense of well-being.
- Get enough sleep.
- Spend time with positive people who make you feel good about yourself.
- Do things that make you unhappy.
There are many stages of betrayal, from the initial hurt and anger to the eventual acceptance and forgiveness. The road to recovery is different for everyone, but it is important to remember that it is possible to move on from betrayal. With time, patience, and a little self-love, you can rebuild trust and find your way back to a place of peace.