What Is Betrayal Trauma?
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When I tell people about betrayal trauma, sometimes I get some strange looks. Many people don’t know about betrayal trauma, and most people don’t understand it.
Understanding Betrayal Trauma
Women who have been betrayed by their husband feel emotionally isolated and doubt their own personal worth. In fact, many suffer from symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is called Betrayal Trauma.
Women suffering from Betrayal Trauma often take extreme measures to outwardly appear perfectly in control—yet inside they really feel out of control, crazy, and unloved. In my case, I started speaking out in public to avoid the mess that was happening in my home.
A pornography and sexual addict is self absorbed and has little to no emotional connection with others and that’s how my ex-husband is. Living with him brought feelings of confusion and fear into my life. I didn’t feel emotionally isolated as much and many women do feel that, but I did feel emotionally numb and I was constantly hustling for a feeling of fulfillment. In my case it took the form of remodeling my house, publicly speaking about pornography, becoming involved in the anti-pornography movement. I was constantly trying to fix things, just fix, fix, fix, fix, fix. I had many of the characteristics of post traumatic stress disorder.
Apart from my obsessiveness about my house and changing the world, everything else started to slide. My PTSD symptoms reached a point where I didn't want to do anything hardly. I had always been interested in nature and outdoor activities before, and I stopped working out or taking care of myself physically.
I didn’t want to go out with my friends, I didn’t want to even go to parties or activities. To others, my home seemed cleaned and organized, and I seemed on top of everything, but inside I often felt totally out of control and unloved, unsafe in my own home, even though I barely admitted it to myself.
What's Wrong With My Marriage?
I sensed that something wasn't right in my marriage from the very beginning. For the first 18 months, when I questioned my husband about his rage and abuse, he lied to me. After he told me about his pornography addiction 18 months in, he supposedly started recovery, but his abusive behaviors never stopped. When I questioned him about pornography during the "recovery" years, I was told that “Everything is OK,” in spite of the fact that there was still consistent anger and resentment.
During those five years, I felt pacified. I continued speaking about pornography addiction and my experience, appearing “in control”. Even getting to the point where my husband and I spoke together five times. But then the behaviors escalated rapidly to the point where I knew I needed to set boundaries. I thought: He’s ruining my life and our family. I feel afraid and worried.
Am I Going Crazy?
Betrayal Trauma for me is most acute when I have my addicted ex-husband in my center, rather than God. A pornography addict is unstable, unable to follow through, and in my husband's case, abusive and angry. Having a person like that in my center created chaos in my life.
- We moved six times in five years.
- The threat of him swearing or physically intimidating me through punching walls or screaming in my face was ever constant.
- Several times he suddenly threatened to kill himself in front of our children.
- I was constantly trying to create stability on a foundation of quicksand. Ever building, but never getting anywhere.
Then there were amazing times. Times when he was peaceful and emotionally connected. Times that I trusted him and felt safe. I chose to believe that these times were the reality of my marriage and that the chaos and abuse were just a fluke. I did not see the reality of my situation because I wanted desperately to save my family.
His resentment grew and grew and grew until eventually he lashed out and attacked me physically. After he was arrested for domestic violence the trauma was so intense. I remembered all the things he said about other men who abandoned their families and couldn’t pull it together to repair their relationship.
I just thought, wow, that was all talk. He does not know how to do that. I watched carefully for clear signs of him attempting to repair and saw none.
On this path of healing and in recovery I’ve embraced these truths. I am not the cause of my ex-husband’s addiction and I can’t change or fix my addicted spouse. HE is making his own decisions of his own free will. I have been deeply injured by the deceit and the disrespect and the anger in my marriage. It’s only with God’s help that I can truly heal and thrive.
Staying on this path of healing and recovery is really important for me and it's very difficult. I work with a qualified therapist and I work the 12 steps with a sponsor. I’m slowly coming out of having my spouse in the center of my world. He was at my center and I wanted to do everything to help him and to save my family.
When he lived with us, I thought that I didn’t need to recover. Well I thought I was kind of in recovery. I didn’t understand what recovery was. I thought recovery was kind of like going to groups every once and awhile, every once in awhile going to a therapist, but really just reading about things. I didn’t realize that there were actual action steps and things that I could do everyday to be in recovery.
Back then I also thought if he would just stop and get better that everything would be ok but it’s not that simple. I was in trauma. I was living out an emotionally frenzied life with fear constant in my life. The first step to healing is to remove myself from the person who continues to traumatize me completely and set a boundary to remain free from that abuse until he shows he is trustworthy and emotionally safe.
Many times my addicted ex-husband came quickly back into my center - especially when he sent texts blaming me for the breakup of the marriage, blaming me his decision to divorce. That has been really difficult. I’ve worked with my sponsor quite a bit.
That’s when the trauma really hits. For me the betrayal trauma feels like anxiety, it feels like fear, it feels like pain, sorrow, and sadness, and sometimes it just gets so intense. It’s so intense I feel like I might die. There have been times when I have been laying in my bed and I just scream and yell and pound the bed or in the shower.
I just fall down to the ground and just lay in the shower and cry and cry and cry. It is so painful. I’ve learned through this that one thing I’m good at is accepting the pain and just feeling it. I do that quite often when the pain gets really intense, and then sometimes I do choose unhealthy behaviors like shopping for things I can’t afford, fix things, compulsively doing projects.
Why Does My Husband Hate Me?
I recently had to increase my boundary because my ex wrote some extremely abusive and triggering emails. After my dad read the emails, he insisted that I block his number and emails and have my ex only communicate through my dad. Since then, the constant fear has subsided a bit.
My boundaries that I’ve set are based on love, and safety and respect for myself and for my ex-husband. My boundary of no contact enables me to connect with God and put God in my center.
So with consistent effort and time and the grace of God I think I’m starting to heal. I’m starting to choose a healthy lifestyle. It’s hard. I’m still having trouble eating well and exercising. I’m still having trouble sleeping.
One healthy thing that I’ve been doing is yard work which has been really healing for me. Another healthy thing is reaching out to friends and my sponsor.
Last spring, I had a major slip up where I went and bought topiaries that I couldn’t afford especially with the divorce so I had to return them and it was really embarrassing. I feel humiliated by my actions and my compulsive behaviors when I’m in trauma and that trauma response is just trying to get out of the pain.
When I’m connected with God and God is in my center I feel much more at peace and much more calm.
Betrayal Trauma Affects Everyone Differently
A lot of people isolate, and I started publicly speaking about my experience. I regret that now because it put my family in danger. Also I didn’t know I was being a hypocrite because I didn’t understand that my husband was not in recovery and not doing recovery behaviors at the time. Now it’s really humiliating and embarrassing and I feel like wow, I set myself up as an expert when I didn’t know anything.
I’m still in that stage of not knowing anything so this podcast is more just sharing this experience with you of where I’m at now, not that I’ve arrived or that I’m anywhere but that I’m still living in trauma working through it everyday, trying to have God at my center and trying to do God’s will. I’m so grateful that you’re here with me listening to this journey and that I know I’m not alone.
Why Am I So Confused? Why Can't I Figure Out How To Save My Marriage?
Even now, I don't know exactly what happened. I suspect that my husband lied to me many times. I still deal with the anxiety, fear, sadness, heartache, and stress of the betrayal every day. Not to mention the difficulty of being a single mom of three small children. With the betrayal comes worries about the future, worries about money, and what will happen. It's extremely stressful.
I entered recovery because I desperately want to feel peace again. I want to feel safe in my life. And I’m working it everyday, grateful for my support group, my sponsor and my therapist.
Please consider attending a free betrayal trauma recovery meetings. They are online and in-person, so you can attend anywhere in the world. As you attend your meeting, you will also have the opportunity to find a free sponsor.
Appointments are available through our website with women specifically trained to guide you through this process.