50 Things You Need To Know About Betrayal Trauma
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.
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Refers to when the addict seems emotionally withdrawn, preoccupied, detached from reality in regard to any or all of the following: relationships, finances, work, household duties, the here- and-now situation, etc.
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). It’s a reliance on lying and emotional abuse to avoid accountability for his actions. Sex addiction has many causes. The woman is not at fault for the addiction, nor can she control or fix it. If the addiction goes without professional help/intervention, it often escalates over time.
Phases that an individual goes through during addiction including: preoccupation, ritualization, acting out, and shame and despair. 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behaviors include but are not limited to: lies, manipulation, gaslighting, emotional and/or physical abuse, erratic, withdrawn, etc. The sex addict uses these behaviors to protect his or her addiction.
The inability to reason with oneself. Makes an addict unable to make wise, constructive choices.
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.
Even though pornography / sex addiction is an attachment disorder, attachment therapy WILL NOT solve the problem. An 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.
Occurs when someone 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.
Transferring fault to another person in order to avoid accountability. Blaming another person for the abuse or compulsive sexual behaviors.
Essential to trauma recovery, boundaries help women to know what to do in an unsafe situation. They bring 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 the woman safe. They do not need to be stated in order to take action. Coach Sarah is an expert on Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries.
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 ways to attempt 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.”
There are also non-negotiable boundaries. An example of a non-negotiable boundary might be that you notify the police if you find the addict has been abusing children.
A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.
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.
In the context of BTR, our coaches are trained with APSATS, a rigorous certification process that takes up to two years of supervision after the initial training. BTR APSATS 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.
Connection / Intimacy
A feeling of physical and/or emotional closeness, togetherness, understanding and trust between two individuals.
See D-Day or Discovery.
Discovery day. Also known as DD. See Discovery 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 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 simultaneously lying, minimizing, and gaslighting during the process. Coach Cat’s is an expert on Therapeutic Disclosures & Therapeutic Polygraphs.
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) confirmed 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.
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.
A state in which a person can be open and vulnerable with another person. Several factors play into feeling emotionally safe. An example is: If I feel loveable and adequate about myself, and I feel that my spouse/partner is in recovery because I can clearly see healthy behaviors, I can share my thoughts or feelings with him. He will not be angry, throw a fit, judge, criticize, mock or ridicule me.
When our spouse or partner spends his or her emotional energy, time and attention on someone other than us, gaslighting us 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. Coach Cat defines empathy as the ability to recognize and respond to another’s pain, taking responsibility for your part in causing that pain (if appropriate).
Giving the addict “permission” to continue by not setting boundaries or holding the addict accountable. This label is sometimes used to get the woman to take some responsibility for the actions of the addict.
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 unloveable, or that we somehow caused this trauma and pain ourselves. Coach Sarah is an expert on helping women rebuild their self-worth. Alternatively, a sex addict may believe that they are worthless and beyond the capacity to change.
Fight, Flight or Freeze
An acute stress response that happens when our physical, mental, or emotional safety is threatened – or as Coach Cat likes to say, “When we perceive that our safety is threatened, even if it’s not actually.” 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 ourselves–where trust is a gift to someone else.
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. Coach Sarah is an expert at helping women detect & confront gaslighting.
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 heal, the woman must fully allow herself to grieve. There is no timeline and sometimes grief revisits when least expected. Coach Gaelyn is an expert at helping women process and grow from grief.
When discovery happens, it can be hard to trust or believe anything. Even the woman’s faith can be challenged during this period. Many people instinctively know when something is wrong, and many go through a period of pushing intuition aside. Part of recovery is learning to trust this intuition again. At the same time, because the woman may have engaged in unhealthy behaviors as a result of being lied to and abused, it’s best to consult with a coach to know if what she feels she should do is the best course of action. 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.
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 us–includes porn use.
The emotion that describes when someone is gaslighting us–crazy! Often used in 12 Steps as a way to gauge sobriety. 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, the sex addict is incapable of expressing 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 the woman 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.”
The framework used by APSATS therapists and coaches 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.
A boundary wherein there is no contact. It can include blocking phone numbers, blocking emails, and only allowing communication through a third party. This is a good boundary to consider when there is repeated and consistent emotional abuse.
Any activity that degrades women to the status of an object, including 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 used for sexual gratification. 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 and 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, 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 (especially helpful if it is a CSAT) and participation in support groups (i.e, 12 Step groups specifically for sex addiction). A spouse in recovery will not lie, gaslight, blame-shift, or pressure the woman to do things. A spouse in recovery respects the woman’s choices, needs, and journey (even if they fully don’t 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 secretive addictive behaviors. Emotionally abusive behaviors return as well as sexually acting out. Coach Gaelyn specializes in helping women create relapse preparedness plans.
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.
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.
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 include giving herself permission to sleep when tired, using paper plates, finding a Betrayal Trauma Recovery APSATS coach to guide through the healing, journaling, joining a support group, physically taking care of herself, doing something to remind herself that she is beautiful (getting a haircut, a massage, etc.), spending time in nature, practicing living in the moment, expressing gratitude, and on and on.
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 and thinking about them and the next opportunity, reducing time spent engaged in hobbies, household chores, family time, etc. For more information, read or listen to our podcast, Why Do Sex Addicts Do What They Do?
Feeling of not belonging, unworthiness. Intensely painful emotion that causes us to want to withdraw from contact with others. Coach Cat reminds us that there is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt = we did something bad. Shame = we ARE 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.
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.” Coach Gaelyn helps women be prepared for relapses.
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,” says Coach Cat. 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 or not to stay and work on the marriage. 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. Coach Cat answers women’s questions about theraputic disclosures and polygraphs.
A therapeutic polygraph is recommended to help make sure all the information is 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.
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 multidimensional 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 length 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. APSATS coaches here at BTR are professionally trained individuals who have been through the trauma themselves and are able to help navigate the new reality.
Coach Cat says, “[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 feels betrayal, symptoms such as confusion, sadness, grief, anger, despair, resentment 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. Coach Cat is a specialist helping women learn how to understand and manage triggers.
Not to be confused with 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 experience,” says Coach Cat.
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 or spouse or family member of an addict to heal. While there are 12 Step programs specifically for drug and alcohol addiction, a spouse or loved one of a pornography/sex addict will find more effective healing through finding a group specifically for spouses and family members. Similarly, a pornography/sex addict will find more effective healing through a specific 12 Step program focused on pornography and sex addiction. We recommend SALifeline 12 Step Betrayal Trauma Groups for Betrayal Trauma.