What Is Betrayal Trauma?
Over the coming weeks we will be exploring this term of Betrayal Trauma to really get to grips with what this means and what the ‘trauma model’ is about. We will start today by looking at the concept of trauma and how it applies to the experience we have as partners and wives of men with compulsive or addictive sexual behaviours. Over the next two weeks we will unpack some of the common symptoms and experiences we share and will conclude by looking at the stages of trauma healing and recovery. This will give you an insight into what you can expect when working through the healing process with a trauma trained professional, such as our APSATS trained coaches here at BTR.
The Trauma In Betrayal Trauma
To begin to explore the idea of betrayal trauma, it is 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. Some trauma events are accompanied by physical trauma (ie wounds to the body), while others are limited to the psychological impact, that 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.
Whilst all traumatic events are different and all people exposed to trauma have a unique interaction with it and bring different tolerances to emotional stress and different levels of resilience, trauma produces a number of typical symptoms in those who experience it. These symptoms are likely to consist of some of the following (From Your Sexually Addicted Spouse):
- Reliving the event
- Intrusive images
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Inability to eat
- Health problems
- Chronic fatigue
- Immune/endocrine system problems
A good friend of mine, and a respected colleague and mentor has often reminded me that “trauma does not tell time” and left untreated, exposure to trauma and post-traumatic stress (the after effects of a traumatic experience) can develop into a more chronic condition, that of 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.
So, What’s Betrayal Trauma?
Betrayal Trauma is a collective term for the relational trauma suffered when a person on whom you though 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 behaviours and the associated abusive behavioural issues.
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. In particular, it is helpful to mention the overriding model in the treatment of these ‘partners’ thus far – the ‘co-addict’ model. Whilst 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:
- Taking Excessive Responsibility
- Emotional turmoil
- Efforts to control
- Compromise of Self
- 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 sex addict as ‘sick’ and in need of treatment for their co-dependent behavioral patterns that enable their partners addiction to continue. It emphasizes the need to ‘let go’ of the addict’s behavior, stay on your own side of the street and labels behaviors that are better explained as reality testing, safety seeking behavior, as controlling and exerts the theory that co-addicts are addicted to the addict in their relationship.
The Symptoms May Be The Same, But The Reasoning Behind Them Is Drastically Different
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 cover that up, hide and 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. Ask any woman that finds out they married a sex addict if they would have pursued the relationship in light of the full facts and 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…?
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 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. 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 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, of empowerment and of equal entitlement in the relationship. Those responses sound a million miles from those of a codependent by the way!
We love hearing and sharing in the experiences of our readers and would love to know how you have felt about some of the labels that have been assigned to you as you've sought out help and support for this issue. 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 and join us next week as we delve deeper into this topic and understand the common symptoms and responses we experience. Until then, take good care of yourselves.
Coach Cat xx
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