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Learn How to Heal From Betrayal Trauma
Healing From Betrayal Trauma with Dr. Debi Silber

Healing from betrayal trauma is absolutely possible. Dr. Debi Silber discusses the five steps to healing and more on this episode.

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Learn How to Heal From Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Debi Silber’s groundbreaking research at The PBT Institute offers more hope to betrayal victims than ever. She’s discussing the five stages of healing from betrayal trauma and more. Healing from betrayal trauma may feel like a distant hope right now. And that’s okay. But know that healing is possible.

This episode is Part One of Anne’s interview with Dr. Debi Silber.
Part One: Healing From Betrayal Trauma with Dr. Debi Silber (this episode)
Part Two: Is Forgiveness Helpful For Victims of Betrayal?

The Five Stages of Post Betrayal Transformation:

  • Stage One: Initially, we rely heavily on our physical and mental strengths, often overlooking our emotional and spiritual sides.
  • Stage Two: This stage involves a profound disruption of our physical, mental, and worldview framework, highlighted by Discovery Day, the most daunting phase, signifying the collapse of our known reality.
  • Stage Three: Our survival instincts kick in as we tackle the practicalities of our recovery path.
  • Stage Four: We acknowledge the disappearance of our former normalcy. Although the betrayal cannot be reversed, we reclaim control over our existence and choose how to use our experiences.
  • Stage Five: The ultimate phase in overcoming betrayal trauma showcases our resilience and personal evolution. Our focus shifts to bodily recovery and prioritizing self-care as a crucial part of our healing process.

To learn more about Dr. Silber’s research and how it can help you, listen to her previous interviews with Anne:

From Betrayal to Breakthrough
Will I Ever Trust Again?
Transformation After Betrayal

Learn About Post Betrayal Transformation

Anne (00:00): Dr. Debi Silber is the founder of the PBT, which stands for Post Betrayal Transformation Institute. Debbie is a holistic psychologist, a health mindset and personal development expert, and is a two-time international bestselling author.

Her recent study was about how we experience betrayal and it made three groundbreaking discoveries that change how long it takes to heal. Welcome, Debi. I’m so happy you’re here.

Dr. Debi Silber (03:16): Thanks so much. Looking forward to our conversation again.

Dr. Debi Silber Says Healing From Betrayal Trauma is a Different Kind of Healing

Dr. Debi Silber’s Research on Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Anne (03:20): Last time you were here you talked about your PhD study and the groundbreaking discoveries you made in the five stages. Can you list them out then we’ll have the link to the full episode in our show notes?

Dr. Debi Silber (03:37): The first discovery was that betrayal is a different type of trauma that needs a different way to heal. If you’ve been through traumas, death of a loved one disease, even natural disaster and betrayal. You will notice there is a big difference.

The difference is the shattering of the self in betrayal, rejection, abandonment, belonging, confidence worthiness, trust. That’s not really affected in other traumas and in betrayal it is. So that type of healing needs its own name, which is now called post betrayal transformation.

The Second Discovery: Post Betrayal Syndrome

The second discovery was that there’s this collection of symptoms, physical, mental, and emotional, so common to betrayal.

It’s known as post betrayal syndrome, and you could be walking around with symptoms that you attribute to just daily stressors or aging or whatever. It could definitely be from a betrayal, even if it happened decades ago, time won’t heal it, a new relationship won’t heal. It healing heals it.

The third discovery revealed that, to fully heal from symptoms of post betrayal syndrome to a completely rebuilt state of post betrayal transformation, we must navigate through five proven, predictable stages.

And what’s even more exciting about that is we know what happens physically, mentally, and emotionally at every stage. We know what it takes to move from one stage to the next. Healing from betrayal trauma is entirely predictable when you move through the five stages.

Dr. Debi Silber talks to us about  Healing After Trauma From Betrayal by an Intimate Partner

A Hesitation to Start Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Anne (05:10): I love talking about that. When we’re talking about that healing from betrayal trauma, I have found that some victims are hesitant. I want to use the word hesitant to begin a healing journey because maybe they feel like somehow they’ll lose something if they heal somehow.

Not moving forward to healing to them signals that it mattered, that it had meaning for them. Can you talk about the hesitancy to heal and maybe where that comes from for some victims?

Dr. Debi Silber (05:57): Yeah, that’s very real. So many of us have so much invested in staying exactly in the space and place. One of the biggest reasons being it’s so familiar, it’s what we know. We don’t have to really think about it.

We don’t have to do anything new or different when we start making changes. First of all, people around us typically don’t like it because they like to knowing where you stood and they don’t like not knowing. But we are venturing into the unknown.

We’re venturing into a new space. I’ve seen this so often with people that come into the PPT Institute where people will actually sabotage their healing.

They don’t want to outgrow, let’s say their support group or they don’t want to outgrow their betrayer so they will sabotage their healing so that nothing changes when they truly embrace the idea that they can’t undo what happened, but they control what they do with it.

Doctor Debi Silber and Healing After Trauma From Husband's Betrayal

There’s a Very Real Grieving Process

There’s a very real grieving process that happens. It’s so shocking to people because they’re like, I thought I was doing really well. Why am I so sad now? That sadness is something that’s so unexpected for so many people, but it’s really because you’re moving forward.

So the hesitancy, so much of it has to do with the unknown because it’s so unfamiliar. But there’s so much that happens when you’re willing to move into that space.

Anne (07:23): I also think from a victim blaming point of view, you’re hesitant to heal and that’s why you’re not rather than thinking of it in that way, I want victims to think about safety. How they just have this innate need and desire to be emotionally and psychologically safe and because of the abuse. What they’ve experienced doing something different or doing something new sometimes often can feel unsafe.

So instead of thinking, why am I hesitant? Why wouldn’t I want to heal? Which is sort of a question that might make you feel bad. To think, well, of course I would be concerned about my emotional and psychological safety.

I’ve just been abused for years and of course I want to be careful about what I do next, and I took risks in order to make my relationship work.

A Non-Self Blaming POV

(08:23): I gave of myself, I was adventurous and I got really hurt, and now safety is my top priority. So I’m not going to jump in with both feet into healing per se. I’m just going to stick my toe in to make sure that this journey is safe.

As we consider this and aim to reframe it, how can we assist victims in understanding that healing from betrayal trauma is a journey, not a risky proposition with potential for further injury. There are no guarantees, but how can we reframe their perspective to help them recognize that their hesitancy stems from a desire to be safe?

Everything We do is to be Safe

Dr. Debi Silber (09:10): Think about it. Everything we do is to be safe. So often our intention, we’ve been through so much, we don’t want to take a risk of being hurt again.

This is one of the reasons why typically we will keep people at bay after we’ve been betrayed our hearts were so broken. We don’t want to take the risk of that level of vulnerability and being hurt again, so much of what we’re doing is to be safe.

What I would really invite everybody to consider is when something is a little bit different, your body is so much more perceptive than your mind, so what’s your body telling you about it?

Does it feel open and expansive and sort of freeing or tight and closed? For example, when we teach people how to rebuild trust, we go with most of the most basic feeling so and learn and remember what trust could feel like.

What Does Trust Feel Like to You? When Healing from Betrayal Trauma

(10:15): For example, if you see two babies giggling or your dog wagging his or her tail, whatever that is for you, what does that feel like? Maybe that feeling for you represents trust. Then on the other hand, what does a lack of trust feel like?

What does abuse feel like? How does your body register that and sort of lock both of those feelings in? Yes, those feelings may be a bit extreme, but as you are moving through your day check in. Which feeling as you are doing something, the dipping your toe in that feeling, which feeling does it feel closer to?

Anne (10:55):So there’s an amusement park near my home. It’s literally like 10 minutes away, so we always get season passes. For a few years, I would just walk around there and watch people and they were having fun, they were smiling, and I felt like I was in a fishbowl sort of in that their reality was different than mine.

Dr. Silber shows us how Healing From Trauma After Betrayal Can Be Transformative

Manufacturing the Feeling of Being Alive

(11:46): I remember that at one point I went on one of the roller coasters. My kids were young, so I usually didn’t do that. We just usually would walk around and I felt so alive, that feeling of being alive, I felt like I could breathe again, and it was such a different feeling. I started crying.

I just went on a roller coaster. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but I felt like, oh, I’m alive. I can breathe. And it felt so different and it was basically the same place, the same situation, sort of manufacturing that feeling of being alive. I think if we can somehow, when we’re not feeling it, can really help us get unstuck.

Unfamiliar, but not necessarily bad

Dr. Debi Silber (12:26): It’s a great point, and it’s so true. Your body is letting you know what you’re experiencing, and I’m not saying something that’s terrifying do that, not at all.

There is a feeling of something unfamiliar but not necessarily bad. Maybe on the other end of that experience is just this whole new insight that you didn’t know you had. Or this new level of confidence, or you see a new side to yourself.

And so often when we’re afraid and too hesitant to do anything that feels different, we don’t get the benefit of that, and that’s where a tremendous amount of growth is.

That’s not saying that everybody has to do it at the same level. You choose a level that really feels comfortable and right for you. Even if it’s the most incremental changes, one degree at a time, you’re only moving in one of two directions further or closer to everything you want.

If you do no more than just check in as you do that thing. Say that thing, wear that outfit, eat that food, whatever it is. Which direction is it bringing you towards that feeling of being more open, expansive, free, happy or closer to that feeling of tight constricted and something doesn’t feel right.

Enroll in The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop

Anne (13:53): We have several exercises like this in The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop that we have where it’s just little tiny incremental things that you can do just today. One of them is noticing one thing that you would be doing even if you were Oprah or even if you were Reese Witherspoon.

If you’re standing there and you’re watching this most beautiful sunset, it’s the same sunset for Oprah, and it’s the same sunset for Reese Witherspoon. It doesn’t get any better than that.

And so there are these moments where you can think, even if my life were perfect, I couldn’t get a better sunset, I would still be watching the same thing. There’s something in that that helps you feel a little bit of peace, a little bit of joy and a little bit of expansiveness in that moment that can help people move forward.

Experiencing Joy: Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Debi Silber (14:46): I love that point, and it’s really important to just experience that feeling of joy because so often if you’ve been abused and for years, decades, we forget what joy could feel like, but everybody has their own experience. It could be the simplest thing.

It could be that cup of hot coffee or tea, whatever it is, but tap into what that feels like. Then just kind of question, how could I expand this feeling or have this feeling more often?

Because the more you experience that feeling of joy in a way that feels safe and comfortable for you, the more you’re going to want to experience that again, and then it sort of grows.

And now instead of flooding yourself with stress hormones and chemicals which wreak havoc on us physically, besides mentally and emotionally, now you’re flooding yourself with endorphins that creates healing and repair.

BTR is like an Emergency Room for Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Anne (15:45): I’ve been on Debi’s podcast, she’s been on mine. We have remarked that BTR is sort of like the emergency room. You come here because you’re not safe, you’re not stable, you’re currently experiencing abuse. You’ve got to figure out how to make your way to emotional and psychological safety and get to safety so that you can observe from a safe distance. Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions really help women in this phase.

And then as you’re observing kind of feel like, okay, I can make some decisions now. And Debbie’s an expert at post betrayal transformation in where you’re generally safe and stable. Then you’re healing from betrayal trauma.

Well, let’s just talk post-divorce for a minute, maybe five years, maybe even 10 years out, and they’re still hurting. Some victims in this scenario don’t know that they were abused.

They don’t understand that they’re an abuse victim. They’re continuing to be an abuse victim because their ex is still lying about them, still gaslighting, still saying things that are untrue. People are believing what they say.

Post-Separation Abuse & “Forgiveness”

(16:52): It’s really hard to heal in that scenario because you don’t know that you were victimized and you’re feeling like maybe I could have done something better or different. And then there’s a whole new level of trauma when you realize that you were a victim of abuse and maybe still are, even if it’s an ex.

A lot of people when you’re out of the relationship and still struggling, say things that are really hurtful and are confusing and that are not helpful about forgiveness.

Like, Hey, why don’t you just forgive? Or, he’s such a nice guy now I don’t know what the problem is. You keep thinking about the things he did to you, but he’s changed when he really hasn’t changed.

You have these feelings that come up when maybe clergy says, well, the answer’s forgiveness. Or a friend says the answer’s forgiveness, and that just doesn’t feel right. The victims think that’s not it.

Can you talk about why forgiveness is such a triggering word. Why most people who are talking about it, right, maybe clergy, say forgiveness is your answer. They’re not talking about it in the right way and they don’t want the victim to apply it in a way that’s actually helpful to them.

They just mean let it go and reconcile. Perhaps not necessarily use it as a way to free yourself from pain. Let’s just talk about that for a bit.

Understanding the Stages of Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Debi Silber (18:18): There are a few ways I want to dive into this question. One is it really has so much less to do with the amount of time post-divorce, let’s just say, than what stage are you in as far as the five stages from betrayal to breakthrough?

The scenario you described that is clearly someone stuck in stage three, and that’s the most commonplace.

We get stuck and there’s so much anger, there’s so much frustration and sadness and pain and the days and months and years are going by, but there’s very little healing as far as the person who’s been betrayed. Things are compounded, but nothing is really healing.

And stage three is very action oriented, but action oriented around the problem. It’s when we move to stage four, that’s where transformation begins. By the way, that’s when we are realizing it has really nothing to do with them.

I Can’t Undo This Experience, But I Change How I Move Through It

(19:21): I can’t undo this experience, but I change how I move through it. And instead of us giving that person the benefit of our thoughts and our energy and everything, we sort of harness that back and say, you know what? You don’t really deserve that.

I do, and I’m going to use it instead for my own healing and repair. Look at it like this. Best case scenario, we have a hundred percent of our energy.

If we are dedicating and devoting 30, 40, 50 plus percent to what are they doing? Who are they with? How are they experiencing, why are they lying? And everybody thinks they’re so great and all of this. We only have the remainder for our own healing and repair.

So logic has so little to do with healing from betrayal trauma. Here’s where logic really makes sense because when you realize how much energy we’re devoting towards the problem. That’s when it’s debilitating to us because if we were to take that, use it for ourselves, that would move us into stage four.

Stage Four: We’re More Interested & Invested in Our Own Healing from Betrayal Trauma

(20:24):That’s just one thing that I want to say off the bat because in stage four, it doesn’t matter what that person is saying. It doesn’t matter who that person is with, we know the truth and we’re more interested and invested in our own healing and repair.

Let’s get to the forgiveness piece When it comes to forgiveness, if forgiveness is done for the wrong reasons, it backfires every time.

How you were saying the clergy with their suggestions, that really has nothing to do with how we feel about the whole forgiveness process. You’re right, you said it. It’s so true. Forgiveness has nothing to do with that other person.

Really what we’re doing is we’re releasing ourselves from the power all that pain has over us. So forgiving doesn’t mean we’re condoning the behavior, we’re setting ourselves up for it to happen again, we’re giving that person a free pass. We’re weak, we’re a sucker.

No, it means we’re releasing the power all that pain has and that connection we have to that person, to that problem, to that pain so that we can heal.

And that’s when forgiveness is very powerful. But if we’re just doing it because it’ll be easier, that’s what everybody else wants, and nothing has changed, that is a recipe for just more challenges and stress related illness, a hundred percent.

Anne (21:47): Debbie and I are going to pause the conversation here, but we will continue it next week, so stay tuned.

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