While there are many similar symptoms, betrayal trauma looks different for everyone. This is one woman’s story of how she experiences betrayal trauma.

What Does Betrayal Trauma Look Like?

“I wanted to talk about what betrayal trauma feels like for me. I had never heard about betrayal trauma before. When I first found out about my husband's addiction three years ago, I went deep into trauma, but I didn't have a word for it. For me it just felt like anger, a lot of intense anger. I had never been a “swearer” before, but when I’m in trauma mode I turn into a sailor and swear a lot.

“A lot of anger, a lot of guilt—that’s what it felt like for me. When I first came across this feeling after D-Day [discovery/disclosure day] I tried to cope with the situation by freezing. I just froze. I did nothing. I pretended that everything was hunky-dory, completely ignoring the fact that my husband betrayed me. I lived in freeze mode for a good two years.”

Within those two years, she’d had another baby. Around this time, she started experiencing anxiety attacks, that, she feels, were intensified by the trauma. After her baby was born, she also experienced postpartum depression and other mental health issues. She started taking medication for her anxiety and depression.

Betrayal Trauma Can Cause Mental Health Issues

Now she can look back and connect her mental health issues with her unprocessed trauma.

“I experienced anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia. When I'm in trauma mode I cannot sleep at all. It is so hard for me to fall asleep. My brain just thinks and thinks and thinks and thinks and it’s really hard for me to shut it off.

“I remember the first time I heard about betrayal trauma. It was when I first started attending a support group. I remember they were using all these words like boundaries, triggers and betrayal trauma and I thought, ‘What is this foreign language? I don’t know what they are talking about!’”

As she learned more about betrayal trauma, the more she realized she desperately needed help. She felt validated because the anger, guilt and anxiety wasn’t just her going crazy like she had thought.

She also realized that she wasn’t alone in her feelings and symptoms. It was very validating for her to know this.

There’s a line in the script that they read at the beginning of their support group meetings that describes how she feels when she is in trauma.

“Without spiritual help, living with, or having lived with, a sex addict is too much for most of us. We become nervous, irritable, and unreasonable; our thinking becomes confused, and our perspective distorted.”

She goes on to say, “I love that we get to read that weekly in our meetings to kind of remind us how that feels, and then we can go on and talk about how we can overcome that.”

Attending Support Groups Can Help You Identify Your Trauma

“Now that I have been in good recovery for about 10 months now. It kind of changes the betrayal trauma. I mean I still get in that trauma mode, but now I find more often, than not, I’m able to recognize it more quickly. I used to go weeks without realizing I was in trauma mode.

“The more into recovery I go the sooner I am able to recognize that I am in trauma mode and I’m able to kind of track back the days or the hours and pinpoint what the trigger was that started it. As I go back through it I am able to see the steps I need to take whether it’s a surrender or a boundary I haven’t been holding, so that I can get out of that trauma mode.

“I really think that one of the healthiest coping mechanisms that I have learned from recovery is surrendering. Before I started coming to support group, I didn’t know much about surrendering.

“I had read Rhyll Croshaw’s book What Can I Do About Me? and she talked about surrendering. I really liked it, but, until I went to the group and was able to talk to women about how they surrender and those steps that you take, I didn’t really understand it.”

The more she uses the process of surrendering her triggers and her trauma to her Higher Power, the healthier she feels. She has found that, when she surrenders those things, it is one of the healthiest coping mechanisms to keep her from going into trauma mode and freezing.

“Because that is my go-to coping mechanism—I just go back to freeze mode where I bottle up my emotions, and I stop being open and vulnerable. I start back in that cycle of anger and fear and anxiety, that is my trauma mode. 

Betrayal Trauma Is Like PTSD

“The thing that surprised me about betrayal trauma is how close it is to post-traumatic stress disorder. I watched a class by Dr. Andrew Skinner, on Bloom for Women, specifically on this topic. He discussed that people who have been betrayed by someone close to them, like a spouse, have almost all the symptoms of someone who has been in combat and has post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He talked a lot about how, when you are in that trauma mode, you either go into fight or flight or freeze mode. That’s why you get the emotions that you do, like the anger and the anxiety attacks for me, where my heart beats faster and my body feels like it is preparing me for battle or to run away, or to play dead, I don’t know. 

“Learning about that, and connecting those ideas, was really amazing to me that it really is something that not only affects us mentally but affects us physically as well. It affects me physically so that was another good resource that I found on recovering from betrayal trauma and learning about it. Honestly, I think the number one thing for me is still just attending the group meetings. This last week I was in trauma mode again for a bit.

“I started off the day and I was just feeling that anger, that uncontrollable need-to-punch-something anger. I recognized that for what it was and I thought, ‘Ok, I’m starting into trauma mode, what has happened?’

Learning To Recognize Trauma Triggers

“I was able to backtrack my day and realized that I’d had an interaction with my sister that made me realize that, maybe, the relationship I had with her was not as healthy as I thought. This had kind of spun me into this trauma mode. What I really needed to do was surrender that and grieve the relationship I thought I’d had with her, so I could surrender that and move on.

“I needed to set some boundaries in that relationship so that I wouldn’t be spiraling back into trauma mode. Going to group is what keyed me into that situation. I think I, honestly, can say that if I did not attend weekly support group meetings, I would be in trauma mode a lot.

“It really is going to those meetings, reading through the scripts, and doing the work that helps me be able to live in a healthy way and stay out of trauma mode, and I am so grateful for that!”

How Do You Experience Betrayal Trauma?

Women experience trauma symptoms in their own unique way. Learning more about betrayal trauma can help you recognize your own symptoms. Some women can live in trauma for years without knowing it.

Reading books like Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope And Heal, by Dr. Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means, or Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, by Dr. Sheri Keffer, can help you identify how your trauma has affected you. Identifying how the trauma has affected you will assist you in finding the right help for you.

As we progress through our own healing, we begin to identify our triggers. If you are struggling with this identification, try an Individual Session on Understanding & Managing Triggers. For help with boundaries, try a Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries session.

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