Betrayal
Trauma
Recovery

Understanding Betrayal Trauma

by | Abuse Literacy

Symptoms of betrayal trauma

Betrayal Trauma Is Caused By Abuse

Many betrayal victims spend a significant amount of time wondering if they are crazy, controlling, or even abusive, before they learn the truth: they are victims of abuse and suffering from Betrayal Trauma.

Betrayal Trauma is caused by abuse. Pornography use, infidelity (virtual, emotional, and/or physical), masturbation, and any other secret sexual acting-out behavior in a partnership is an abusive act that causes significant Betrayal Trauma.

Other forms of relational abuse will also cause Betrayal Trauma: any time an abusive man treats his partner in a way that significantly betrays her trust, he is causing devastating trauma to her brain and body.

Betrayal Trauma Manifests Itself in Women’s Bodies and Brains

Tragically, women take the brunt of their partners’ abusiveness both in their bodies and brains. Physical, mental, and emotional symptoms can range from mild to severe.

11 Most Common Betrayal Trauma Responses

  1. Overwhelming emotions
  2. Unusual/uncharacteristic behaviors
  3. Sleep difficulties– too much/too little
  4. ‘Brain fog’– inability to think clearly, memory loss, getting lost easily
  5. Eating problems– inability to eat/overeating
  6. Anxiety/panic attacks
  7. Depression
  8. Rumination/obsessive thoughts and intrusive images/flashbacks
  9. Difficulty caring for self or others
  10. Isolation
  11. Obsessive need to check the internet history, GPS, email accounts, text message history, etc. for signs that the danger is still present

This is not a comprehensive list. There are many more trauma responses than those listed here.

Betrayal Trauma is a Serious Condition

Often, victims of emotional abuse and Betrayal Trauma are sidelined as their symptoms are minimized by professionals, clergy, and misguided family and friends. Research is now catching up with the truth: Betrayal Trauma is real and it is serious. It can be debilitating.

Common Physical Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite/Constant hunger
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Nerve pain
  • Autoimmune disease-like symptoms
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea
  • Tremors, Shaking, Shivering
  • Unexplained Fever
  • Unexplained joint pain
  • Pelvic/sexual pain
  • Constant infections
  • Migraine and/or tension headaches
  • Muscle pain/weakness

Common Emotional and Mental Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic/Anxiety attacks
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Inability to focus
  • Hyper-alertness
  • Reliving traumatic experiences (flashbacks)
  • Terror
  • Mood swings
  • Rage
  • Apathy
  • Intense emotional outbursts

“Partners often present with a set of symptoms that match symptoms similar to rape trauma syndrome (RTS) and complex post-traumatic-stress disorder (C-PTSD), including psycho-biological alterations, re-experiencing of the trauma, social and emotional constriction, constant triggering and reactivity, significant anxiety, emotional arousal and hyper-vigilance.

“Sex addiction-induced trauma is a highly specific type of trauma that involves nuanced symptoms that can include fear and panic of potential disease and contamination, fear of child safety and potential of child molestation, social isolation, embarrassment and shame and intense relational rupture and attachment injuries.”

– Dr. Omar Minwalla

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Abuse

At BTR, we believe that every woman deserves safety, validation, and support as she navigates the difficult journey of healing from Betrayal Trauma. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Support Group meets daily, in every time zone, and offers community to women all over the world, just like you. Join today.

And remember, you are not alone.

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36 Comments

  1. Ashley

    I need your help !!

    Reply
  2. A. Carter

    I experienced my first ‘d-day’ over 25 years ago. Another maybe 15 years ago.Wondering if healing can happen after all this time since we are still married? Your podcasts are healing to listen to. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      Healing is possible. It’s a long road, but there is hope! I’m so glad you’re finding the podcasts to be helpful!

      Reply
  3. Ellisabeth

    Wow, I can’t even really explain correctly how I feel reading this. It’s like you were there, and know him and I. I’m sad, confused and heartbroken. I need help.

    Reply
    • R.L.

      I think I’m experiencing betrayal trauma but it’s hard because I’m not sure my husband can be labeled as an addict. His porn use over the years has me feeling interchangeable and worthless, and he can’t seem to fully give it up, No matter how bad it hurts me. but he’s very reluctant to say he’s an addict cause his use is so infrequent. But i feel crazy. Scared. Weepy. Disconnected. Desperate. Am i overreacting?

      Reply
      • Anne Blythe

        You are not over-reacting. You’re actually a victim of psychological abuse and sexual coercion. Have you considered joining an online support group?

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        You are absolutely not overreacting and all of your feelings are valid and make perfect sense. Your husband sounds like he is in denial. “Infrequent” use can absolutely still be an addiction- if he can’t control his sexual acting out despite the harm he knows he’s causing. It’s also possible he’s telling you it’s infrequent when it’s more than that (my husbands case anyway). Your post was 5 months ago and I hope you’re finding the help you need. Sexual betrayal is traumatizing no matter if it’s infrequent or frequent. It feels the same. Stay strong and keep listening to your gut. You are not crazy.

        Reply
  4. Marc

    I am a man. All of this applies to me. Why is the material addressing only women?

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so sorry about the pain you’re going through! We decided to focus our non-profit and site for women only, but you’re welcome to read and listen to the podcast!

      Reply
    • ST

      Marc, Amen! I’m glad you spoke up. Tho I understand that their audience is women only. I recently spoke with my therapist because I’m concerned about men who are being betrayed and abused by women or being abused in same sexy relationships. What support is out there for men?

      I recently brought up this the group that I’m a female, in a same sex relationship, and asked them if they would consider acknowledging that woman are abusers too. They brushed over my question, and suggested that I listen to their podcasts. Yes, the information is helpful, but it’s not just men who are abusive.
      How can a woman feel “Safe and Secure” in a Betryal and Trauma recovery group when the group is unwilling to acknowledged that women are experiencing betrayal and abuse by another woman in same sex domestic relationships?

      Reply
      • Anne Blythe

        I understand your concern. Women can be abusive. But because abusers accuse their victims of abuse. So hearing someone accuse another woman of abuse is triggery for women. Was this in a professionally facilitated group or the free peer-to-peer facebook group?

        Reply
  5. parkslakelife

    I had a very significant dream just months before the 3rd discovery in my 32 years married. My husband, the addict, I discovered in a lie in Aug 2018. He is in weekly 12 step for the last 9 years. In “working” recovery, answering all my questions with lies straight to my face looking me in the eyes over the last 8 years. I’m so broken. Feel free to contact me via email.

    Reply
  6. Emma

    I am divorced since last year and I still struggle with my own emotions. It mixes with anger, betrayal, guilt, sadness, and depression. I am taking bupropion daily to control my depression, attending consular session every Thursday, working out almost daily to exhaust myself physically, volunteering as much as I can to occupy my free time, but once I sit in the car driving, my tears just like a water hose open by itself and I can’t stop the crying. My ex cheated on me several time and somehow we worked it out each time and kept our marriage even though I threaten for a divorce. I used to think it is our destiny to stay together and have a child all this time. Until last year, I threaten for a divorce and moved out of the house because my anger and sadness, he DID file the paper after my signature. 2 months after, I realized what I have done and begged him to get back together for our son. He told me in face coldly that he is much happier now and he doesn’t want to go back. I broke completely in my heart and just want to sleep not getting up anymore. The pain is too much for me and I couldn’t take care of my son but hurting him emotionally. I want to move on and find myself again! I want to love my son unconditionally! But this pain and grief inside me are tearing me apart!!

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      Emma, I’m so sorry. I’m so glad you found us.

      Reply
  7. Cerridwen

    I have found this info absolutely amazing with one very strong caveat. My husband is not a sex addict he is a run of the mill alcoholic who has done an extensive amount of damage. Everything here describes far better than anything else what I am going through – far better than alanon or co-dependency so I am wondering why it only applies to a person whose husband is a sex addict and not an addict of any type? It effectively means that this type of help is unavailable to me and yet I need it so desperately….

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      This applies to anyone in an abusive relationship – which is sounds like you’re experiencing. So yes! We can help:).

      Reply
  8. Skygray

    I have all the symptoms and I’m falling apart it’s really bad 17 years and I dont feel like it I can heal from it each day its worst still the betrayal and mental abuse I dont know how to leave him and I’m scared to lose hi to someone else. Broke up with me tonight for going to the doctor with out saying anything to him I only felt if I said anything I wouldn’t go and put it off for another day. I’m losing my mind and feel lifeless

    Reply
      • sister-in-pain

        Feeling like I am not living an authentic life anymore. Nearly 30 years together and I feel like I am living with a stranger.

        I think he is a serial cheat, but have no concrete proof of physical infidelity. Certainly there have been inappropriate dalliances over the years which are only just coming to light after all my snooping. Long story short-my beloved partner had life threatening cancer and surgery, then I discovered flirtatious messages from one woman and gifts he’d bought for another woman (but I stupidly assumed they were for the same woman). He confessed to planning an affair and said he was glad I’d found out as I was precious and things wouldn’t have been the same.

        I was already reeling from the trauma of nearly losing him to cancer and then THIS! Something didn’t add up so I did some digging and then to my horror found e-mails going back years with romantic and dirty conversations and a list of women’s names- at least 20 of them! I have now compiled a dossier of them all. What on earth for? I must be crazy. Every time I have tried to express my emotional distress I get told to draw a line under it or he makes it clear such discussions are making him feel ill so I end up feeling even worse.

        I have done so much screaming and crying, but I don’t believe he has any real understanding of the devastation he has caused. I have googled ‘narcissism’ until my brain aches. I feel like all my precious memories of our life with our son (now 23) have been one long lie. I am hyper-vigilant, can’t stop snooping even though because I feel so unsafe. It is nearly 2 years since D-Day and I swing from rage to sorrow every day. To complicate things I am having to translate everything into English as this is not his first language. I am exhausted. Sorry for my long rant but I feel so alone as I have only shared this with very few people and I don’t want to keep banging on about it. Will I ever be the person I once was? Thank you for listening.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          I am right there with you. My son is 22 years old and my first discovery of my husband’s porn use with proof was 5 years ago. My husband was not ill and the more I researched the more I found all the way back to the beginning.

          The lies even with proof, the gaslighting and switch to focus on my imperfections, and his anger to shut me up is so overwhelming. He will admit to some things always minimizing and playing the victim, but never honestly face the truth or my devastation. He said he was sorry and took so-called responsibility, but it is to never be addressed again I just need to “get over it”.

          He seems to be stepping up and being the man he should have been for 25 years, but all the nice things he does and constant caring and concern seem to hurt more – like he is just burying his bad behavior and all the empty stories should be forgotten just like my pain of realizing over half my life has been a lie.

          Reply
          • sister-in-pain

            Dear Anonymous,

            Just wanted to reach out to you and let you know I am with you too. Your words struck such a chord-especially the parts about your husband lying even with proof, minimizing and not facing the truth. Not knowing everything is driving me crazy. The scenarios I am now imagining are far worse than any truth could be. And yes, how do we begin to move forward when looking back at our lives is so excruciatingly painful when faced with the cold fact that it was fake and we were taken for a fool.

            I so hope you are doing ok in this new painful reality we seem to find ourselves in. I read somewhere that we have 3 possible choices after betrayal- to become bitter, to go mad or to grow. I wish you love and strength on your path.x

          • Anne Blythe

            Your comment we have three choices in unfortunately a misogynistic trope: we will be angry (bitter) – if we weren’t, we would go crazy:). One of my goals is to help women embrace their anger to get to emotional and psychological safety. So please, never worry about “being bitter”. The anger will dissolve once you are safe.

            Men generally tell women not to be “bitter” when they are justified in their anger and the abuse hasn’t stopped yet. It’s usually a manipulation tactic to gaslight them. So please, be angry! Be bitter even:). So in this case there is only ONE possible choice: get to real, true emotional and psychological safety. That should be your only goal right now.

    • Squirrelly

      Skygray, I was once there. You are not alone. Please get help in the form of online groups, books, podcasts, websites. BREATHE. And know you are loved. You are in betrayal trauma and you need rescued. You cannot swim to shore alone. You need a life boat. All of the things I listed can be your life boat. I’m so sorry. I know exactly how you feel.

      Reply
  9. Suzanne Booth

    I’ve bought Trust Again and am currently reading it. I would love to join the BTR community, it’s a wonderful idea and I desperately need support.

    Reply
  10. Jill

    I found out in January that my husband was using porn again. This time he agreed to get help. Since then, he has a female partner at work that he has deleted text from, she’s texted him on days off from their 24 hour shifts, and he gets angry that he’s trying so hard and that I can’t be more kind. I get enraged. This is not who I am but I am constantly shifting between anger, severe depression, crying, doubt. I am ineffective at living in general. Will we ever get better? I don’t want to always be mean to him.

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      Instead of worrying about whether or not you are being mean to him, take some time to consider if you are emotionally safe. Usually when victims are emotionally safe, they can begin to relax.

      Reply
  11. Celin

    I’ve been cheated many times in our 17 years of married life. Both sexually and emotionally. I doubt our whole married life. I wonder if he’s ever loved me. I just was confirmed about another of his affairs yesterday. Í feel like I’m in a roller coaster. One moment I want to stay in this marriage for my kids. The next moment, I’m feeling so low and helpless and wanted to leave him. All this while I’m being blamed by him for causing an unnecessary rift in the family since I bring up the affair and confront him. How do I even get out of this with 2 kids? I don’t know what I feel anymore. I feel stupid that I love him still and sometimes, I don’t want to leave him.

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      You’re not stupid. We totally get it. The pain of the situation is almost unbearable. We are here for you.

      Reply
  12. Mia Denn

    I discovered my husband’s infidelity one week after I moved home after a three-month separation.

    I had agreed to move home after an intensive couple’s therapy weekend, during which he swore to me and the therapist that he had never “crossed the line.”

    One week later I found evidence of a year-long affair, complete with conversations about marriage. Then about a month later, I found evidence of another affair, this one lasting EIGHT YEARS (the last year of it was at the same time as the other one…so he actually had TWO mistresses when he was begging me to come home).

    He cut all ties with the woman with whom he had the shorter affair, but lied to me for another two years about continued contact with the other woman. I feel humiliated and completely ashamed of my life, so much so that I have distanced myself emotionally from family and friends.

    When I first agreed to come home he promised that we would go to therapy as long as either of us felt it was necessary…a promise that he quickly broke. Now not only will he not go to couple’s counseling, but he also tells me repeatedly that he does not want me to go either. So I have not shared the true story of all the things that have happened between us (this post barely scratches the surface) with anyone…not a single friend, family member, or therapist. We have been married for 30 years, and after learning what was really going on in his life for the last decade, I am extremely doubtful that he was faithful during the first 20 years. I don’t know how to untangle myself from this mess!

    Reply

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