Betrayal trauma—what is it?

For many women, this is a new term. What exactly does it mean? Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery discusses betrayal trauma and its symptoms with a BTR Coach.

The Trauma Of Betrayal Trauma

“It’s helpful to understand trauma from a holistic standpoint. The word ‘trauma’ has its roots in the Greek word for ‘wound’ which is a pretty good description of any kind of trauma. It is the wounding effect of an event, situation or instance upon us.

“Various dictionary definitions of the word converge on terms describing the ‘distressing’ or ‘disturbing’ nature of the events that produce trauma, which could be defined as the lasting psychological state produced by such events.”

A BTR Coach talks about how psychological traumas are sometimes missed.

“Some traumatic events are accompanied by physical trauma—like wounds to the body—while others are limited to the psychological impact, on the mind and spirit.

“Interestingly, whilst they are, arguably, more common, psychological traumas are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed or entirely unnoticed, due to their lack of visibility to the outside world. A physical trauma, like a gunshot wound or a broken leg, is harder to ignore, after all.”

Symptoms Of Betrayal Trauma

Although all traumatic events are different and reactions of different people depend on their personalities and experience, trauma produces a number of typical symptoms in those who experience it.

The following list, taken from Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, by Dr. Barb Steffens and Marsha Means, contains some of the symptoms of betrayal trauma. A traumatized partner may have some or many of the symptoms on this list.

26 Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

  1. Helplessness
  2. Sleeplessness
  3. Immobility
  4. Reliving the event
  5. Hyper-vigilance
  6. Anxiety
  7. Nightmares
  8. Intrusive images
  9. Withdrawing
  10. Avoidance
  11. Mood swings
  12. Panic attacks
  13. Phobias
  14. Flashbacks
  15. Denial
  16. Over-sensitivity
  17. Depression
  18. Restlessness
  19. Confusion
  20. Dissociation
  21. Inability to eat
  22. Overeating
  23. Rage
  24. Health problems
  25. Chronic fatigue
  26. Immune/endocrine system problems

The BTR Coach reminds us that it’s important to treat trauma.

“A mentor has often reminded me that ‘trauma does not tell time’ and, if left untreated, exposure to trauma and post-traumatic stress (the after effects of a traumatic experience) can develop into a more chronic condition, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD is a chronic and life-altering condition that affects both the mental and physical body significantly and can, in some cases, be a lifelong condition.”

Learn more about betrayal trauma symptoms here.

What IS Betrayal Trauma?

A BTR Coach explains the term “Betrayal Trauma” and how Betrayal Trauma Recovery uses it.

“Betrayal Trauma is a collective term for the relational trauma suffered when a person on whom you thought you could rely, a person you trust, violates that trust significantly.

“Jennifer Freyd, of the University of Oregon, describes the generic application of the term ‘Betrayal Trauma’ in the following way:

‘Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that persons trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.’

“For our purposes, we are addressing Betrayal Trauma in the context of the relational trauma suffered by the spouse or partner of a person exhibiting secretive and problematic sexual behaviors and the associated abusive behavioral issues.”

A BTR Coach talks about the growing acceptance of betrayal trauma.

“Betrayal Trauma, sometimes referred to as Sex Addiction-Induced Trauma or Partner Trauma, is becoming more widely recognized worldwide. However, more education and awareness are needed in the field before the previous treatment modalities can be laid to rest entirely.”

She explains the difference between codependency or co-addiction and betrayal trauma.

“Particularly, it is helpful to mention the overriding model in the treatment of these ‘partners’ thus far—the ‘co-addict’ model.

“While I have been unable to find one single definition of co-addiction, I was able to find a paragraph that I felt summed up collective thoughts on the experience: ‘A co-sex addict is someone who is married to, or in a significant relationship with a sex addict and demonstrates a common set of behavioral characteristics.  These characteristics include:

  • Denial
  • Preoccupation
  • Enabling
  • Rescuing
  • Taking Excessive Responsibility
  • Emotional turmoil
  • Efforts to control
  • Compromise of Self
  • Anger
  • Sexual Issues

Like sex addiction, co-sex addiction can range in severity, and some individuals will find they experience a few of these characteristics.’

“In short, the co-addict model, describes women in relationships with a sex addict as ‘sick’ and in need of treatment for their codependent behavioral patterns that enable their partner’s addiction to continue.

“It emphasizes the need to ‘let go’ of the addict’s behavior and stay on your own side of the street. It labels behaviors that are better explained as reality-testing, safety-seeking behaviors, as controlling and exerts the theory that co-addicts are addicted to the addict in their relationship.”

For more information on codependency, or co-addiction, read here.

Looking At Betrayal Trauma Symptoms Through The Trauma Lens

A BTR Coach talks about why the co-addict label doesn’t fit.

“The theories expressed in the co-addict model do not hold true to the experiences of the women I interact with. These women are, for the most part, emotionally healthy women. They often have no history of dysfunctional relationships nor codependent tendencies.

“The key piece of information to recognize here is also that they often have NO CLUE what the addicted partner is doing in their secret sexual world and, if they did, they would not usually look to hide or enable it.

“It is true that the reality of learning that your partner is a sex addict is a hard one to come to terms with, but it is neither true nor fair to assert that partners are complicit in this behavior.

She talks about the flaws in the co-addict theories.

“Ask any woman that finds out they married a sex addict if they would have pursued the relationship if they’d had the full facts. The answer will be a resounding NO 99% of the time.

“Ask sexually addicted men if they gave their long-term partners the opportunity to make such a decision, by laying out their problematic sexual behaviors right from the start and, again, you will hear a resounding NO 99% of the time. Coincidence? Maybe not…?”

The BTR Coach says that using the perspective of trauma provides a better understanding of the partner’s behaviors.

“There is a growing recognition that the behaviors exhibited following the discovery or disclosure of sex addiction in a committed relationship are better understood through the lens of relational trauma.

“The trauma here being connected to the sudden revelation that the person you are closest to, that you should feel safe with and trust, that you are supposed to be able to rely on, has deeply wounded the attachment between the two of you.”

Betrayal Trauma Creates Safety-Seeking Behaviors

The BTR Coach believes that safety is a big factor in the trauma.

“Where there was previously, a reasonable expectation of relational safety, there is now a minefield of potentially harmful and unsafe situations and occurrences.  Similarly, the lying, manipulation, and emotional abuse may be continuing—even after a disclosure.

“Such a wound, touching the most intimate places of our lives and the most intimate of our self-beliefs, can be very damaging indeed.

“Given that overwhelming impact of trauma is the sense of being unsafe, some of the previously labelled co-addict behaviors, become redefined as ‘safety-seeking’ behaviors and change from unhealthy and controlling to understandable and reasonable.”

The way a provider looks at the trauma, will determine their treatment plan. If the trauma is the focus, then safety can be found. She says the treatment makes a difference.

“The response to these behaviors also changes, from needing to step away from those behaviors, to looking for relational solutions. Instead of being told to keep on her own side of the street, she is now encouraged to speak for her needs for transparency and honesty in her relationship.

“Far from encouraging a victim mentality (as the ‘Trauma Model’ is sometimes accused of doing), this actually encourages a sense of self-value, empowerment and of equal entitlement in the relationship.”

“Those responses sound a million miles from those of a codependent, by the way!

Anne would love to hear your stories and experiences with the labels that have been assigned to you as you’ve sought help.

At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we are always looking for feedback and experiences.

Do you identify with the trauma model? How does the redefinition of your behaviors as reasonable attempts to find safety in an unsafe situation make you feel? Please comment and let us know.

In the second part of this series, Betrayal Trauma Symptoms – Am I Crazy?, the BTR Coach and Anne delve deeper into this topic and talk more about the common symptoms and responses we experience.

If you’ve discovered that your husband has been unfaithful or abusive, Betrayal Trauma Recovery is here to help. BTR wants all betrayed and abused women to find safety.

One way we can help is by providing a safe place to share. With more than 15 sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.

For more about Jennifer Freyd’s Research on Betrayal Trauma, click here.

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