50 Things You Need To Know About Betrayal Trauma
Many women who find out about their husband’s abuse, including lies and porn use, enter a world that seems completely foreign to them. Here is a glossary of many of the common terms used in the betrayal trauma world.
Please let us know if there is a term that we have not listed here. We would love to help define unknown terms so that you can navigate your way through this journey. For more information on some of the topics, please read the linked pages.
A way of thinking that reduces others to merely objects or servants and leads to the misuse or cruel treatment of a person. The aim of the abusive behaviors is control. Abuse is not just physical assault.
Abusive people don't lose control. They are trying to assert control through lies, manipulation, anger, physical intimidation or violence. To learn more about signs of abuse, please read here.
This is different than safety- or truth-seeking behaviors. See Safety- & Truth-Seeking Behaviors for more information.
At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we believe that pornography use is abusive. For more information on this, please read here.
Many women find it difficult to identify that they are being abused because of the abuse cycle. This cycle includes the following phases:
- Grooming- attentive, kind, helpful, apologetic
- Tension- any behavior from the victim that the abuser sees as offensive creates resentment which builds up
- Abuse- physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological
- Denial- gaslighting, minimizing, victim-blaming
- Not all abusive episodes go through this cycle. For example, lies to deceive are ongoing, and a form of controlling a wife.
Recognizing and accepting full responsibility for thoughts, feelings, perceptions, choices, etc., and the outcomes of those actions and choices.
Taking responsibility for actions by acknowledging what happened, working diligently to change behavior, and making restitution for past behavior. The victim, or wife, is, in no way, accountable for her husband’s actions.
Accountability is also a sign of recovery. An addict who becomes accountable and takes responsibility for his past and present choices, may be working recovery. Unfortunately, some addicts are very good at faking recovery and learn the “right” things to say to fool those around them into thinking that they are in recovery.
For more information on how to tell if an addict is truly in recovery, read this post here.
In sex addiction, acting out refers to the addict turning to his or her chosen method of dopamine release, including, but not limited to, lying, anger, abuse, porn, masturbation, infidelity, etc.
Not Sure How to Get Started?
This video gives you the basics we recommend to get started with your Betrayal Trauma Recovery.
An individual who suffers from addiction. See Addiction below.
Addict Brain or Addict Fog
Refers to when the addict seems emotionally withdrawn, preoccupied, detached from reality regarding any or all of the following: relationships, finances, work, household duties, the here- and-now situation, etc.
These terms are also used to refer to the irrational or illogical thought processes that lead an addict to behave irrationally or illogically.
For example, when an addict lies about something irrelevant, such as saying he and your toddler watched Planes the entire time, rather than telling the truth: that they watched Ice Age, then they watched Planes. There are many other examples, but that’s the gist of it.
The dependence on engaging in abuse, pornography and acting out (sex with self or others) in order to get a “fix” (dopamine release to the brain). For the addiction to thrive, the addict must rely on lying, gaslighting, and manipulation.
The spouse is not at fault for the abuse or acting out behaviors, nor can she fix it. If the addiction goes without professional help or intervention, it often escalates over time.
Phases that an individual goes through during addiction including:
- Preoccupation- Fantasizing and thinking about the next time they can act out.
- Ritualization- Creating an environment where they can act out; this could include creating a situation so they can rationalize their behavior, such as getting into an argument with their spouse. They can rationalize by telling themselves that she is mean and abusive and doesn’t respect him.
- Acting Out- See Acting Out.
- Shame and Despair- They feel guilty about what they’ve done and say they won’t do it again, but continue to wallow in these feelings, which leads back to preoccupation.
These phases include forms of emotional withdrawal and emotional abuse.
Unhealthy ways to cope, usually masking underlying issues. Addictive behaviors include but are not limited to:
- Emotional and/or physical abuse
- Erratic behaviors
The sex addict uses these behaviors to protect his secret life of addiction.
The inability to reason with oneself. Makes an addict unable to make wise, constructive choices or see the truth of his actions. See also Addict Brain or Addict Fog.
The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists. APSATS coaches have specific training in providing support to partners, families, addicts and communities regarding the impact of sexual addiction and betrayal trauma. An APSATS coach may or may not also be a therapist, depending on training and certification. As with CSATs, please be careful when selecting a coach or therapist. Not all APSATS therapists or coaches are the same, so care should be taken to make sure that the help you receive is going to be beneficial to you, and not cause further trauma.
To learn more about APSATS, read here.
Even though pornography use prevents the user to healthily attach, attachment therapy WILL NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. An abuser/addict must be in long-term recovery—at least two years with no slips, relapses, or ANY abuse episodes before even considering attachment therapy or couples therapy.
A wife seeing her husband's therapist to let the therapist know the problem behaviors is not the same thing as couples’ therapy, where both parties are given responsibility to resolve marital issues. If there is any abuse, gaslighting or manipulation, it will exacerbate the abuse.
To learn more about the potential harm from attachment or couples’ therapy, read here.
Betrayal trauma occurs when someone that a person is significantly attached to violates trust in a critical way. An example is when a sex addict uses gaslighting, lies, manipulation, etc., to protect the addiction. To learn more about betrayal trauma, read here.
Transferring fault to another person in order to avoid accountability. Blaming another person for the abuse or compulsive sexual behaviors. For example, saying, “If you wouldn’t do ____, then I wouldn’t look at porn/hire prostitutes/yell at you/fill-in-the-blank.”
Boundaries are essential to recovery from betrayal trauma. Boundaries provide a plan for women to know what to do in an unsafe situation. Boundaries can help provide clarity.
Boundaries can be carefully predetermined, or they can come up naturally as a predictable consequence. For example, a woman being yelled at by her husband will likely not want to have sex with him.
Boundaries are not things to be said. They are actions to keep a woman safe. They do not need to be stated in order to take action.
A good way to think about boundaries is to complete these sentences:
- I do not feel safe when ____________.
- In order to feel safe, I will ____________.
Boundaries are not a way to control the addict. Rather, boundaries help the woman to find safety. For example, a boundary could be: “If my husband chooses not to attend therapy, I feel unsafe. Because I feel unsafe, I will not sleep in the same bed with him until he chooses to get help for his issues.”
Another example might be that a woman notifies the police when she finds the addict has been abusing children.
If you would like help Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries, try an Individual Session.
For more information on boundaries, read here.
A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. Please note: A CSAT does not necessarily mean experienced or qualified. Since sex and pornography addiction is abusive, it is best to find a therapist who is experienced in dealing with abuse.
Read here for more information on how to find a good therapist for a pornography and sex addict.
A way to provide transparency and emotional connection when both partners are seeking recovery. It’s an organized, scheduled conversation that follows a pattern where spouses share emotions, sobriety, and behaviors for that day.
Setting up "ground rules" such as no interrupting, showing respect, etc., can be helpful. How you format your check-in’s is up to you.
If you are triggered by detailed descriptions of your husband’s triggers or acting out behaviors, make sure to include that in your ground rules. Usually, a simple, “I was triggered (or acted out) and here is how I handled it.” Preferably, he has reached out to a support person.
In the context of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, our coaches are Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialists. This certification is a rigorous process that takes up to two years of supervision after the initial training.
BTR’s coaches provide professional support and offer insight, validation, and direction for wives of porn users and sex addicts. All BTR coaches are also trained by an ICF-accredited organization.
A label sometimes put on victims of lies, infidelity, and abuse to encourage taking some level of responsibility for the situation. Also known as a co-addict or co-sex addict. To learn more about codependency, read here and here.
A feeling of physical and/or emotional closeness, togetherness, understanding and trust between two individuals.
See D-Day or Discovery.
Discovery or Disclosure Day. Also known as DD. See Discovery and Disclosure for details.
When the woman detaches with love, she allows the sex addict to be fully responsible for their behavior. They no longer try to rescue, fix, or control the addict. This can be extremely difficult as the consequences of an addicts' actions are very real.
Having boundaries can help the woman to detach with love, knowing that the addiction is something they did not cause and cannot fix. Detaching allows healing from the betrayal trauma.
Occurs when a sex addict discloses the truth of an addiction. While traumatic, it is necessary. Sometimes disclosure is initiated by the addict, but it most often occurs when compulsive sexual behaviors have been discovered and the addict is confronted.
Because of shame (and/or wanting to “protect” the woman from the truth), a sex addict will likely not share the extent of his behavior during an informal disclosure.
Often the sex addict will say what a relief it is to have finally shared the truth—not aware that this truth is now a nightmare/reality to the woman—all the while lying, minimizing, and gaslighting during the process.
Trickle disclosures may also occur. This is when an addict discloses acting out behaviors here and there, just a little bit at a time. They usually minimize their behavior and it may seem like they are being honest, but it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg. This is also a form of psychological abuse.
When a partner or spouse’s sex addiction is discovered. This is most often a traumatic, shocking, and/or sometimes dangerous event for the woman. It can be discovered without any warning, or it may be suspected and D-Day (Discovery Day) confirms it.
D-day is traumatic. The woman's sense of reality is shattered, and she often finds herself experiencing distorted feelings of guilt or blame, confusion, intense fear, nightmares, despair, insomnia and so on. See Trauma for more details.
You can learn about one woman’s D-Day here.
A model representing a troubled relationship. Designed by psychologist Stephen Karpman, MD, there are three roles: victim, rescuer, and persecutor. Understanding this model helps. Finding ways out of this triangle can lead to healthier relationships and inner peace.
Behavior from the sex addict, including but not limited to lying, blame-shifting, manipulation, gaslighting, name calling, avoiding, stonewalling, etc. For more information on signs of abuse, read here.
If you would like help Spotting & Stopping Emotional Abuse, try an Individual Session.
A state in which a person can be open and vulnerable with another person. Several factors play into feeling emotionally safe. To learn more about emotional safety, read here.
Emotional safety happens when you feel loved, adequate, and safe to share your feelings, and your husband/partner is showing healthy recovery behaviors. If you share your feelings and thoughts, he does not get angry, throw a fit, judge, criticize, mock, or ridicule you.
When your spouse or partner spends his or her emotional energy, time and attention on someone other than you, gaslighting you to protect the compulsive sexual addiction.
A powerful tool to connect with others, respecting an individual’s situation and sitting with them in their pain, rather than trying to fix or lecture.
When we feel empathy for another, we acknowledge and/or validate their pain as we place ourselves in their situation. Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to another’s pain, taking responsibility for your part in causing that pain (only if appropriate).
Giving the addict "permission" to continue acting out by not setting boundaries or holding the addict accountable. This label is often used in the codependency model of treatment and is used to get the woman to take some responsibility for the actions of the addict.
Women who didn’t know about or have been traumatized are not enablers. They didn’t know about it or they didn’t know what to do about it.
An imagined space where a sex addict can escape to avoid reality. It can take the form of using sexual images—remembered or imagined—to create ‘porn” in their mind. Addicts can be so caught up in fantasy that they become unable to distinguish reality from fantasy in their everyday activities.
Faulty Core Beliefs
Deeply held beliefs that are not true.
For example, we may have come to believe early in our life that we need to earn love, or that we are unlovable, or that we somehow caused this trauma and pain ourselves. BTR coaches are trained to help you rediscovery your self-worth.
Alternatively, a sex addict may believe that they are worthless and beyond the capacity to change, or that they are entitled to certain things.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze
An acute stress response that happens when our physical, mental, or emotional safety is threatened—or when we perceive that our safety is threatened, even if it isn’t. We may experience this upon discovery and afterwards.
Physically, we might experience rapid heart beating, rapid breathing, trembling, becoming paralyzed with fear, etc. Our body is literally reacting to a threat and goes into a type of survival mode. Triggers often activate this response.
An addict may experience fight, flight, or freeze during a normal conversation when they perceive they are somehow threatened (but aren’t really).
Essential for our trauma healing, but not to be confused with trust. Forgiveness comes with healing and is not necessary to think about while seeking safety and stabilization. Forgiveness is a gift to us—where trust is a gift to someone else.
To learn more about forgiveness, read here.
A tool used by sex addicts to protect their addiction. They psychologically manipulate in order to distort reality, causing a feeling of craziness, also referred to as crazy-making. To learn more about Detecting & Confronting Gaslighting, schedule an individual session.
A feeling of profound sadness and loss. After discovery, the woman experiences stages of grief such as grief over the fact that the reality she thought she had is false, and that her life has been shattered to the core.
To fully heal, a betrayed traumatized woman must allow herself to grieve. Through her grief, the woman can find ways to grow. To learn more about Growing Through Grief, schedule an individual session.
When discovery happens, it can be hard to trust or believe anything. Even the woman's faith can be challenged during this period. Many women instinctively know when something is wrong, but when D-Day happens they brush their intuition (or “gut feelings”) aside.
Other women have spent years being gaslighted by their sex-addicted husband and have, essentially, been told that their “gut” is wrong.
Part of healing is learning to trust this intuition again. For example, many women do not feel comfortable setting boundaries; it feels wrong at first. Over time, as boundaries are set, the benefits are realized, and they learn to trust their intuition again.
Occurs by recognizing that what we feel in the moment is real and to be willing to learn from the emotion, rather than pushing it down to avoid the pain. We can honor other’s emotions by respecting the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to own our emotions and how we choose to handle them.
If the sex addict blames us for their anger, we can honor his emotions by saying, "I understand that you’re angry and I hope you find the support you need to work through it." It is not the woman's responsibility to make the sex addict feel better.
Behavior or circumstance where the addict is unfaithful to their spouse. This includes porn use. To learn more about BTR’s stance or this, read here.
The way we feel when someone is gaslighting us—crazy! See Gaslighting.
A deeply felt emotion connecting two people. A personal, warm attachment with someone such as a parent, child or friend. With a spouse or partner, love also includes deep trust and physical intimacy.
Love is often felt when we can be vulnerable in personal and physical ways. When not in recovery, a sex addict is incapable of expressing real love for another person.
An intense desire to satisfy physical appetite. A form of infidelity, if directed towards a person outside of an exclusive relationship such as marriage. It can also happen in a marriage when the sex addict treats his wife like an object to satisfy his addiction.
Sex addicts minimize their addiction behaviors by:
- Justifying their porn use because “guys do this all the time” or “it was just porn, not an actual affair.”
- Rationalizing: “It just popped up on my screen.”
- Blame-shifting, saying they “turned to porn/affair because [wife/partner] won’t have sex with them.”
Multi-Dimensional Partner Trauma Model
The framework used by Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialists to help them through the betrayal trauma healing process. This model has three distinct stages that are not necessarily linear: 1) Safety & Stabilization, 2) Grieving & Processing, 3) Reconnecting.
To learn more about the three stages of healing from betrayal trauma, read here.
Includes extreme self-centeredness, need for attention, lack of empathy, and grandiose ideas/self-perception. For more information about symptoms of narcissism, read here.
A boundary wherein there is no contact between the abuser/addict and the victim. It can include blocking phone calls, texts and emails, and only allowing communication through a third party.
This is a good boundary to consider when there is repeated and consistent emotional and/or physical abuse. For more information on a No Contact boundary, read here.
Any activity that degrades people to the status of an object. This includes pornography, strip clubs, prostitution, sex with self, affairs, etc. Also identifying people by body parts and appearance, rather than personality traits and strengths.
A parent, caregiver or spouse. Such a close connection to another person constitutes a primary attachment.
Any material, written or visual, used to arouse sexual feelings in a person. It is also used to satisfy sexual desires and is a tool used to degrade humans into sexual objects.
Attempting to justify or explain a behavior to make it appear logical. For example, “I didn’t do anything wrong; this porn just popped up on my screen...” when the truth is, the addict clicked on an image he suspected would bring up porn, viewed it for longer than a second, and then masturbated to it.
For spouses experiencing betrayal trauma, recovery means regaining identity, purpose, and self-worth. It is the journey of courageously healing, undertaken to become whole again after betrayal.
For sex addicts, recovery means turning away from compulsive, secretive sexual behaviors, abusive behaviors, living in reality, and taking full responsibility for the damage caused. The addict seeks to live an honest life and make amends.
Full recovery for a sex addict is not likely without professional support from a therapist with experience in abuse and participation in support groups (12-Step groups specifically for sex addiction).
An addict in recovery will not abuse, lie, gaslight, blame-shift, or pressure the woman to do things. An addict in recovery respects the woman's choices, needs, and journey (even if they don’t fully understand it). The process is long—at least 3-5 years for the initial phase.
Occurs when an addict stepping away from recovery and healing returns to abusive and/or secretive sexual behaviors. Lies and emotional abuse return as well. To learn what to do if he relapses, try an Individual Session.
A term referred to when the addict has hit a devastating low, realizing that his addiction is beyond his control and has caused tremendous damage, to the point that he reaches out for help. This is the point when he also realizes that the pain of the addiction is greater than the pain of the recovery.
It also refers to when a woman cannot handle the behaviors of her husband anymore. She steps away and seeks help for herself rather than for her husband or marriage.
Safety- & Truth-Seeking Behaviors
Behaviors that women do to establish safety in their home. This might include checking their husband's computer history, his phone, asking him questions, following up on his whereabouts, etc. These are not an effort to control the addict, but an attempt to keep herself safe from abuse.
Tools to help in the healing process. In betrayal trauma, self-care refers to more than just getting a pedicure and crying on the shoulder of a trusted friend. Self-care is a choice a woman makes to learn to love themselves.
A woman using self-care understands that no one can take better care of herself than she can. It is one of the most loving things she can do for herself.
Examples may include but is not limited to:
- Giving herself permission to sleep when tired
- Using paper plates
- Finding a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist to guide her through the healing (click here)
- Joining a support group
- Physically taking care of herself (some days this may be as simple as taking a shower)
- Doing something to remind herself that she is beautiful (getting a haircut, a massage, etc.)
- Spending time in nature
- Practicing living in the moment (mindfulness)
- Expressing gratitude
Refers to the disease of being addicted to sex-related behaviors.
Indicators of sexual addiction include:
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to stop
- Escalation over time
- Spending increasing amounts of time engaged in sexual behaviors, thinking about them and the next opportunity he’ll have to act out
- Reducing time spent engaged in hobbies, household chores, family time, etc.
For more information, read here.
Feeling of not belonging, unworthiness. Intensely painful emotion that causes us to want to withdraw from contact with others. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I AM bad.
Contrary to popular belief, shame does not cause addiction or abuse. All people feel shame, but not everyone chooses to be unfaithful or to abuse someone as a result. To learn more about the myths of shame and addiction, read here.
The preferred term at Betrayal Trauma Recovery for a woman who has suffered due to her husband’s sexual addiction, pornography addiction, lies, emotional abuse, etc. A woman who becomes her own hero by setting boundaries and creating a safe home.
“When addiction specialists use the term ‘slip,’ they are often describing a one-time or short-term lapse back toward compulsive sexual behavior; this type of lapse ends with some kind of swift and serious self-intervention.
“When an addict ‘slips’ he, generally, gets himself ‘back on the wagon’ relatively quickly, and while that slip is considered a setback, it doesn’t necessarily undo all of the positive recovery work that he has been doing to that point.
“While a slip may be considered 'no big deal' or a 'learning opportunity' for the addict, it can still be deeply traumatic to the wife.
“For sex addicts, for example, a slip might involve clicking on an inappropriate website, viewing something sexually explicit, then stopping himself before allowing that behavior to draw him back into the vortex of chronic and compulsive sexual acting out.”
It can also be lying, manipulating, or gaslighting. To learn more about slips and relapses, read here.
Occurs when a sex addict chooses to stop looking at porn, engaging in sex with self or others, going to strip clubs, communicating with affair partners, etc. Often, he will share the number of days he has been sober.
Reference to someone in a 12-Step program who acts as a mentor to another person who is newer to the program. While sponsors often have valuable experience and insight that can provide tremendous support, sponsors are not qualified therapists and do not have the expertise to take the place of a therapist.
Sex addicts in recovery have a sponsor and a qualified therapist.
While painful either way, a therapeutic disclosure can be the difference between a savage tear and a surgical cut. Both hurt, but one is easier to heal and leaves less of a scar.
Therapeutic disclosures help women understand the reality of the situation. Little bits of information of betrayal here and there can take a woman back to ground zero, reliving the trauma.
Women need the truth and transparency in order to understand the facts and make choices about whether to stay and work on the marriage or to separate and divorce.
In a therapeutic disclosure, the couple meets with a therapist in a safe environment while being guided through the disclosure process. A therapeutic polygraph is also recommended to help make sure all the information is disclosed.
If you need help with a therapeutic disclosure, schedule an Individual Session.
A therapeutic polygraph is recommended to help make sure all information has been disclosed. Results largely depend on the experience and training of the examiner conducting the test, so it is important to find someone who is highly-trained and qualified. When done well, this can provide a helpful foundation on which to build trust.
If you need help deciding if a polygraph is what you need, schedule an Individual Session.
The discovery of a partners' sex addiction creates deep wounds in the wife/partner. Trauma is the resulting emotional state created by the wound. Betrayal trauma has a multi-dimensional impact with emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial effects.
When a woman discovers the reality of her situation, that her husband is abusive, her reality is shattered. She often realizes she has been lied to and manipulated by a person who went to great lengths to protect his compulsive sexual behavior.
When a woman is in trauma, she often experiences a wide range of thoughts and emotions. It is crucial to find help and support as soon as possible. Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialists, here at BTR, are professionally-trained individuals who have been through the trauma themselves and are able to help navigate the new reality.
To schedule a session with a BTR Coach, click here.
A trigger is an experience (real or perceived) which causes a person to recall a traumatic memory. It will throw the person experiencing it back into the emotions of the traumatic event itself.
When a woman has been betrayed, symptoms such as confusion, sadness, grief, anger, despair, and resentment may manifest in relation to the sex addict.
Sometimes the trigger can be noticed (noticing the sex addict sleeping late), and sometimes it sneaks up and sabotages (walking down an aisle at the grocery store). Triggers can send a person down a dark path of loneliness and misery, but there are ways to combat them.
Trust is not the same thing as forgiveness. Learning about trust and whether someone is trustworthy is a process. It takes experience.
Someone is trustworthy if they are able to be confronted, accountable, honest, humble, and compassionate. Trust is the ability to reliably predict the behavior of another based on previous experience.
Being willing to take risks and share emotions, even when things feel uncertain. The more vulnerable a woman is willing to be, the more courage she will have to act in her healing/recovery.
It is not wise to be vulnerable with unsafe people who will likely use the information to abuse.
A sex addict who is sober but not in recovery. He isn’t watching porn or having an affair, but he is battling the urge to relapse, and it can consume all his energy to not act out.
Wife of a Pornography Addict. Betrayal Trauma Recovery prefers not to use this term to describe women who have suffered from their husband’s lies and abuse.
Working the Steps
Reference to practicing the principles found in 12-step recovery programs. See 12-Steps.
Programs centered on 12 Steps of recovery that help an addict to heal. While there are 12-Step programs specifically for drug and alcohol addiction, a pornography/sex addict will find more effective healing through a sex addiction-specific 12-Step program, focused on pornography and sex addiction.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery does not recommend 12-Step for the betrayed spouse. To learn more about Anne’s 12-Step journey, read here.