Intimate betrayal is devastating. Some women wonder if they will ever be okay again after such a significant and life-altering experience.
Dr. Debi Silber, founder of the PBT Institute, has completed research specifically centering around betrayal trauma. She joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to educate victims about betrayal trauma and offer the hope of “post betrayal transformation”. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
What Is Post Betrayal Transformation?
As victims of betrayal work through their feelings (instead of numbing out), they begin to experience a phenomenon coined by Dr. Silber, known as “betrayal transformation”.
Originally, I was studying something called Post Traumatic Growth. Sort of like the upside, let’s say, of tragedy or trauma. Where you have a new perspective, and new life because of it. I knew that betrayal felt so different than healing from death of a loved one, disease. I’ve been through those and it felt very different, but I didn’t want to assume it. So, I brought it out to all of my study participants and sure enough they all agreed. Healing from betrayal is so different than healing from other types of crises. So, it needed a new name. So, we coined a new term: Post Betrayal Transformation.
Dr. Deb Silber, betrayal trauma expert
How Can I “Transform” After Betrayal?
Dr. Silber explains that most betrayed women will experience these five stages of trauma and growth:
- Auto-Pilot, which is a lot of thinking, not that much feeling.
- Shock, meaning there is a cascade of symptoms.
- Survival, where the focus is on practicality.
- Finding a new normal and adjusting to it.
- Healing, Rebirth, Vitality, and embracing a new world view.
To begin the process of transformation, women must allow themselves to experience the other stages, including the painful ones.
As women find safe support and begin processing their trauma in healthy ways, they are able to work through the stages and eventually experience the “healing, rebirth, and vitality” that Dr. Silber describes.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal
At BTR, we understand how devastating intimate betrayal can be. Women who have been betrayed and abused by their partner experience distinct and debilitating emotions. It is absolutely necessary for victims to find a healthy support network.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers women a unique community of fellow victims. Join today and the validation, support, and connection that you deserve.
Remember, you are not alone.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.
I have Dr. Debi Silber on today’s episode. She is the founder of the PBT Institute and she is a transformational psychology and a health mindset and personal development expert. She is an award-winning speaker, coach, and author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book The Unshakable Woman: Four Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind, and Life After a Life Crisis. She’s also authored The Unshakable Woman the Workbook, which is a companion guide to the book. Debi has contributed to Fox, CBS, The Dr. Oz Show, TedX, The Huffington Post, and I could go on and on. We are so grateful to have her here.
Based on her findings along with 27 years of health, mindset, and lifestyle coaching she’s created a proven approach to help woman heal physically, mentally, and emotionally from life crisis regarding betrayal. Welcome Dr. Silber! I’m really interested in this concept of the difference between a self-induced life crisis and a life crisis. Can you talk about that?
Is There Really Light After Betrayal?
Dr. Silber: Well, a self-induced life crisis, that’s all about decision. You know, that’s the day where you throw out the cookies. You pack the bag. You join the gym. You had that difficult conversation. It’s that day, and from that moment on you are different and everyone around you knows it. There is no turning back. That’s where you’re in control of creating the effect that will happen because of it.
A life crisis is when it’s done to you, for you. So, that could be the disease, the divorce, the devastation of some kind, abuse, betrayal, financial crisis. Any of those where life is compartmentalized into 2 camps. Before and after IT happened. Anybody going through this, especially something like betrayal, we know exactly that day and our life is never the same because of it. That’s the difference. One is we control. One is done for us.
Anne: In both situations of either a self-induced life crisis or in a crisis where we are a victim and we don’t have control over the situation, from your experience, how do you see women sabotaging themselves.
The Transformative Power Of Betrayal Trauma
Dr. Silber: When something is really hard to face, or we don’t want to face it or we’re not ready or willing to, we do anything we can to numb/distract/avoid because it’s painful. So, we’ll use things like food or drugs or alcohol, work, TV, keeping busy, reckless behavior. I mean, of course these are the very things that can bring on a life crisis, but what we’re doing is using these things so that we don’t have to look and see what it is that needs our attention.
I even have a few questions that the listeners can ask themselves to see if they’re doing this. So, the first is just ask yourself: Am I numbing and distracting? If so, how?
The second question: What am I pretending not to see? Am I pretending not to see that there is trouble in my relationship? Am I pretending not to see I hate my job? Am I pretending not to see that health issue that’s popping up?
The third: What’s life going to look like in 5-10 years if I do nothing? So, keep that going where your avoiding/numbing/distracting, what’s life going to look like in 5-10years? Let’s say you’re doing that so that you don’t look at your relationship, right. What’s going to happen?
How Betrayal Can Be Healed
Then the last question: What could life look like in 5-10 years if I change now? Now. It’s not like that change is going to be easy, but that’s going to get the ball moving.
Anne: Absolutely. I’m asking myself that question right now in regard to snack sized candy bars actually. What will my life look like if I continue to eat them with wild abandon? Good times there!
So, you talk about what we can either prevent or heal from when it comes to a life crisis, and what do you mean by that? How can people try to prevent a life crisis in the first place?
Dr. Silber: You know, we try to prevent it by healthy means, right. That could be, let’s say, eating well. Exercise. LIife style behaviors. Being around positive uplifting people that are supportive. Then there are the unhealthy ways which are those ways that we numb/avoid/distract. But, it’s when we have that life crisis, and I specialize in betrayal. I mean that’s what my whole PhD study was on.
Betrayal Trauma Is Real And It Is Awful
You know, here is a time where our world is absolutely rocked. I mean, life is so different than what we’ve known. There’s this part of us that may not want to move on, that may not be ready, that may not know how. So, we may just try to avoid it all together by using avoidance tactics or techniques. You know, I found people in my study, the ones who didn’t heal, very often they were the ones who would do everything to try to avoid/numb/distract. The ones who faced it head on were the ones who healed the most.
Anne: From your perspective, what are some things that you can share with our audience about why it hurts? How does it impact us? What it creates in our lives?
Dr. Silber: Well, you don’t do a dissertation on betrayal unless you’ve been hard hit, and that was certainly the case with me. First it was the family betrayal and then it was my husband. And that sent me right into this PhD program in Transpersonal Psychology, and that’s the psychology of transformation in human potential.
What Is Post Traumatic Growth?
I was transforming. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know what was happening, but I needed to understand how the mind works. Why we do what we do. How I could heal. Because, you know, that’s what happens. We’re so blindsided because when the people we trust the most prove untrustworthy. Who do we trust? You know, when the ones we’d run to when there is a problem are the ones causing the problem. Where do we go? And it’s never from people we don’t know. Betrayal happens from the people we’re the closest to.
So, I dove into this program, and it was time for a study. So, I did a study on how women specifically experience betrayal. What holds them back? What helps them heal. While I was there we actually made three discoveries.
The first was: Well, we can stay stuck for years/decades/a lifetime if we’re going to go from this shock to transformation. This place called Post Betrayal Transformation. We’re going to go through these five proven predictable stages.
What Is Post Betrayal Syndrome?
The second discovery was there’s a collection of symptoms so common to betrayal, that it’s become known as Post Betrayal Syndrome.
And the third: Originally, I was studying something called Post Traumatic Growth. Sort of like the upside, let’s say, of tragedy or trauma. Where you have a new perspective, and new life because of it. I knew that betrayal felt so different than healing from death of a loved one, disease. I’ve been through those and it felt very different, but I didn’t want to assume it. So, I brought it out to all of my study participants and sure enough they all agreed. Healing from betrayal is so different than healing from other types of crises. So, it needed a new name. So, we coined a new term: Post Betrayal Transformation.
Anne: I love that. So, in your studies, what are the physical symptoms of betrayal, and also the emotional and mental symptoms that you discovered?
What Are The Stages After Betrayal?
Dr. Silber: You know, the most common physical symptom was extreme exhaustion. And this makes so much sense because the stress response is ignited and when that happens it’s as if you’re running 24/7. You may have energy in the beginning and then you get this sort of tired but wired feeling, and then you’re just tired. So, extreme exhaustion but sleeplessness was something I saw with every single person. So, you’re exhausted but you can’t sleep, and when you do sleep you wake up and you feel like you could just sleep all over again. So, exhaustion was first.
Digestive issues. I saw that in just about everybody. Anything from acid reflux or Crones or colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Or even anything like gas, bloating, diarrhea. I mean, just our gut is a wreck. It makes so much sense because every woman also sensed, they explained the feeling as if they got punched in the gut. Our gut is so sensitive, and that’s where 80% of our immune system is. So, when the gut is impacted our immune system is impacted.
What happens is, we suppress the immune system. Your immune system is like an internal army. When it’s strong it protects its boarders, when it’s weakened it’s as if that army is fast asleep. Things that you’d normally be resistant to you’re not. So, here you are as if you’re betrayal wasn’t bad enough now you’re at risk for just about every symptom, illness, condition, disease that could come your way. So, physically that’s what’s going on.
How Can Betrayal Trauma Turn To Transformation?
Mentally, it’s chaos, overwhelm, confusion, brain fog. We can’t wrap our heads around that.
And emotionally, oh my gosh. Sadness, anger, rage, depression. So many things.
Anne: Yes, which might explain my Hulu binge that I went on right after my husband’s arrest. I watched every single episode, all 7 seasons, of the Good Wife. Which was a really good one. I recommend it if you’re going to go on a Hulu binge, that is a good one to do.
So, what are the 5 stages from betrayal to breakthrough that were discovered in your study?
Dr. Silber: Well, the first one is sort of like a set of phases, and by no means, is there any blame or judgement. I mean, this was me too and every single study participant. If you can imagine four legs of a table, and the four legs are mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. What I saw with every single woman, including myself, we are so good at the mental and the physical. It’s as if, you know, our bodies are taking us around, doing what the mind is telling us to do. We’re like one big running to-do list getting things done.
Betrayal Trauma And It’s Life Changing Power
But, when we’re only focusing on two legs and we’re neglecting the emotional and the spiritual, we’re doing a whole lot of doing and not as much being. A lot of thinking, not that much feeling. You can imagine if there’s a table with only 2 legs being strengthened, that table is shaky and unstable and that’s how we are in this stage one. So, it’s not that if you’re only paying attention to your mental and physical you’re at risk for betrayal, but this is just absolutely what I found, and it’s because women are so capable. We’re so good at getting things done, but it’s not without a price.
Stage two then is that shock. That you’re absolutely blindsided. You didn’t see it coming. You had no idea, and stage two is the breakdown of the body, the mind, and the world view. And what happens here is the breakdown of the body, some of those symptoms that we talked about. The stress response is ignited. There is this cascade of symptoms, illness, condition, even disease where we’re creating chronic illness. We’re creating just this nightmare physically. Because this happens with the people we’ve trusted the most, we are absolutely in a mental state of chaos and there’s a breakdown of the world view.
Why Does Everything Change After Betrayal?
You know, the world view is how you view the world. Your mental model, your construction of: ok, these people are safe, this is what I do, this is how the world works. Well, during this stage two with the shock everything is broken down. The world as you’ve know it no longer exists, but a new model hasn’t shown up yet. So, you can imagine this is the scariest stage, and this is where the bottom just bottoms out on you. And everybody listening knows exactly that feeling.
I remember one of my participants saying: You know Deb, it felt like every physical feeling that I could feel plus losing a child in a crowd. Like, it felt like that. And so, this is the scariest stage because the bottom has bottomed out and no new bottom has shown up. But think about it, if you were walking down the street and that were to happen you, you would grab onto whatever you possible could so that you’d survive, and that’s exactly what stage three is.
Survival instincts immerge. This is an extremely practical stage. This is like, where am I going to live? What am I going to do? How am I going to feed my kids? Who can I speak to? How do I get through this day? Very practical. If you can’t help me, get out of my way. You know, that sort of thing.
Growth After Betrayal Is Possible
When we’re in this stage for a while and we know we can survive it. We know: ok. I’ll have this job and I’ll live here. I’ll do this. We slowly morph into the fourth stage. That’s finding and adjusting to a new normal.
So, in stage three your stress response is still ignited and engage and you’re still creating disease because you’re still afraid. Stage four it looks like: If you’ve ever moved, you know you move into your new house, condo, apartment, whatever. It doesn’t feel cozy yet, it doesn’t feel like yours. You don’t know your way around, but it’s going to be okay. When you signal the mind that it’s going to be okay, you rest a little bit easier. And in that space you start turning the stress response down.
You may not be rebuilding and healing at this stage, but at least you’re not creating more destruction. This is your new normal. Your old normal doesn’t exist. It’s not an option. This is going to be your new life, and when you’re there for a while and you find a way to make it work and you’re making it comfortable and you’re making it your own, sort of like your decorating your new place, you slowly move into this fifth and most beautiful stage.
How Healing Happens After Betrayal
This is healing, rebirth, and a new world view. Here is where we’ve turned the stress response down. Now we’re starting to physically, mentally, and emotionally heal. We have the bandwidth now for self-love and self-care. We were in survival, you know? We couldn’t think of that back then. So, it’s healing of the body. Healing of the mind. We’re making meaning out of our experience. Now we’re creating a new set of beliefs based on where we are now. We’re just this vibrant, healed, unshakable version of ourselves. And remember that table in the beginning where we only were really focusing on the mental and physical? Now we are strongly and solidly focusing on all four legs. The emotional and the spiritual too.
Anne: Yeah. Yeah. That stage takes time. It’s a process.
So, you named it Post Betrayal Syndrome. Can you describe what that looks like for you and how do we know it we have it?
Research On Betrayal Trauma
Dr. Silber: You know, Post Betrayal Syndrome is that collection of symptoms. Here’s the issue: So often we don’t even know we’re walking around like that. Actually, I have a free quiz right on the site pbtinstitute.com/quiz, and there you take the quiz and see to what extent you’re still struggling. You’ll find: Am I still struggling to have new relationships? Am I still struggling to trust again? Am I not sleeping? Am I hypervigilant? Do I not feel safe? Do I have adrenal fatigue or weight gain or thyroid issues or digestive issues? You know, am I constantly revisiting that experience? Do I have triggers? I mean, it’s all there in the quiz.
The beauty of the study also is: now we know physically, mentally, emotionally what happens at every stage and what we need to do to move from one stage to the next.
Anne: So, is that moving from one stage to the next what you describe as Post Betrayal Transformation? And if so, how is that different from the classic post traumatic growth that many people talk about?
Betrayal Trauma Can Lead To Growth
Dr. Silber: You know, sure it can maybe happen on its own. I mean, I have a six-week program. There was a woman in there who said: oh my gosh Debi. This would have saved me 20 years. Because think about it, if there’s a roadmap and now you say: ok. I’m on this road and here’s where I am, here’s what I do to get to the next stage. We can move forward and heal.
For example, stage three, that’s survival stage. We could stay stuck in that one stage alone for a lifetime, and I know so many people who do. We just adjust and adapt and feel like, ok. That’s where I need to be. I guess this is where I am. This is where I need to live. Let me set up camp here. That’s not the case at all.
In fact, when we’re in that stage. I remember one of my mentors saying: we’ve been given a seed of greatness. I mean, here’s where we have incentive now to say: I’m out of here, this stinks, (laughing) and move forward.
The Stages Of Post Betrayal Transformation
When we do, the idea is Post traumatic growth is: yes. It’s this new appreciation for life. It’s, you know, an appreciation for the little things. It’s one of the benefits that I can see. The gifts that come from this experience. But with something like betrayal, there are all of these aspects of the self that need to be healed that other crises don’t really ask you to do. Like, think about it. You have to heal trust, issues of worthiness, abandonment, rejection, confidence. I mean, these things are hard hit when it comes to betrayal. Yes, it involves all the rebuilding and the grieving of what was lost. But you have to rebuild the self. It is so different.
You know, I remember one of my participants saying: with something like death. It’s sad, it’s unfortunate, you miss that person, but it’s not intentional. Betrayal is intentional. And because of the intention it hurts. It’s such a different set of tools to heal from that.
Anne: Yeah. And as we’re healing or as we’re attempting to go through the healing process or we’ve committed to it. Sometimes I think I’m doing pretty good, right, and then I have kind of a bad day or something else happens and I realize: Whoa. You know, I didn’t realize that I had this other thing to work on.
What Is PTSD And How Does It Compare To Betrayal Trauma?
So, I want you to talk about how we know if we haven’t healed from the betrayal. What does that look like and how does that show up in our lives?
Dr. Silber: Yeah. I think with so many of us, I mean even with me, there will be triggers that still get me. Now, I look at it as where each trigger shows me how far I’ve come and what still needs work. Where something may have bothered me a while ago, and I’m sure everybody listening, you know, maybe it could be a word. It could be a sight. It could be a smell. It could be anything.
Here’s the thing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), we usually feel, or we usually think: well, ok. That’s sort of reserved for the war vets and when they hear a car backfire they remember their time in war. That’s actually not it.
Our body, when we’re triggered, it’s like it’s re-experiencing it right then, and it can happen with betrayal too. So, we have to honor that and realize we’re going to see something or be triggered by something, your body will let you know however. You may feel hot. Your heart might race. You know, however you react and respond.
How Is Betrayal Trauma Different Than Other Trauma?
There is a difference between ruminating, which is sort of, you want to make sense and meaning out of your experience. And then there is marinating, you know, which is my own term, where it’s like we’re just sitting in it. There is not one positive thing we’re ever going to get from going over it another 5000 times. We have to know the difference between the two.
But, those triggers, as painful as they are (and I know, you just sometimes you just can’t even breath, they are awful), but they show us: ok. Obviously this still needs healing. This still needs work. And whether it’s my mind telling me, my body telling me, my spirit telling me, there is something letting me know this is still here to be healed.
Anne: Either that, or in many cases it’s something telling you that you need to set another boundary, right? That you’re not safe. It can be one of the two of those things. I’m not safe and I need to set a boundary. Or I haven’t healed in this way and this is somewhere that I need to heal. A situation in which that I haven’t healed yet.
So, for our listeners, from your vast experience and from your perspective, what tips do you have about how to move forward and heal from a betrayal experience?
Betrayal Trauma Is Unlike Other Trauma
Dr. Silber: First, I would say you absolutely need to build trust again. You know, trust is one of these things where it can take 30 years to build and it’s just torn down in a matter of moments. I look at it as a brick wall. It’s built brick by brick by brick and taken down in a moment. Well, how does it need to be rebuilt? Well, brick by brick. By brick.
One of the ways that I’ve found, it’s really helpful to start and every single one of my study participants felt the same way, they move towards spirituality. Now spirituality can mean the spiritual side of your religion. It could mean spirituality just for the sake of spirituality. Whatever it is. The idea with this is we need this sense of connection. We need to understand and believe in something bigger than us.
But, with so many of the women they sort of reasoned: Well. I can’t trust my betrayer. I don’t trust myself because how did I not see? How did I not know? So, at least I can trust God, source, universe, whatever you want to call it. And that was their way of sort of dipping their toe back in the water of: ok. I need to relearn trust. Because our relationships rely and rest on a foundation of trust. So, however you can start, we all need just a support system. Whether it’s a trusted other, just somebody. A mentor, a therapist, a coach, a friend, a very close relative. We need to rebuild that trust. So, that’s, that’s huge.
Transformation Can Come After Betrayal
Anne: Yeah. I found that I have really developed trust in my parents, which has been really cool. We have this tradition that we do now. Every other weekend when my children go with my Ex, my parents take me on a date. They take me out to dinner and they take me to a movie. And also, they’ve just been so helpful. It doesn’t have to be with a man. It doesn’t have to be with a romantic partner. It could be with a friend. It could be with a neighbor. It could be with anyone. But, exploring that and digging into that to find safety has been such a blessing in my life. It’s really helped me heal. I just wanted to do a public thank you to them right now because they’ve been awesome through this.
Dr. Silber: You know what, it’s so beautiful about your family, your parents, and some people don’t have anyone. Here’s where you trust in the sunrise, you know. You trust in the sunset. You trust in anything you can find that is real and true. You trust that when you have that cup of coffee it’s going to taste good. Whatever it is for you, that you can trust. Maybe it’s a pet. Anything. Anything that can start rebuilding trust.
Anne: Debi, I appreciate you coming on the podcast today.
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Wow… I did not know how much I needed to read this- all of this- right now!
I’m so glad it’s helpful!!
I’m so grateful for BTR and this podcast on PBT. I feel so stuck after 36 years married to my husband who has never wanted intimacy with me… Porn. I still love him, but am in so much pain and confusion. It’s such a gift finally being validated after so much pain and not knowing what to do to heal. Thank you so much! God bless you all! Hope you have a very Merry Christmas. ❤️???
I’m so glad you found it helpful!
Thank you so much. May I use a quote from this on my personal facebook page?
The part about death is unfortunate and it hurts, but betrayal trauma is deliberate. Love that.
Yes, of course. Please credit the quote with a link back to the article:). Thanks!
Somehow BTR came up on my Facebook feed. I have no idea how! After 36 years trying to live with the pain caused from trying to live with and help multiple-addicted man, a spell in a mental hospital and so much manipulation there are others out there who understand how destructive it is. Thank you.
Jayne, I so glad you found us. Most people don’t understand how abusive pornography use, lying and manipulation is. I’m so sorry for your pain, but so glad you found us!
Can you address how you moved past the anger and flooding and outbursts? How do you stop raging at the betrayer? This is especially important for those who choose to stay in the marriage. Thanks in advance.
Sometimes that anger indicates that there is still danger or that you are still unsafe. Determining if you are completely safe is the first step.
How do you determine safety?
I am trying to see if I should stay in my marriage or not….pornography, multiple affairs, prostitutes and abuse were all present.
I’m so sorry! Because everyone’s situation is different, it’s difficult to give an answer here. We recommend women get help specifically for them through our group coaching sessions or individual sessions. Go to BTR.org for more info and see the group coaching sessions.