Updated: May 1
I just finished a technically challenging, but personally rewarding, 5 Day Shattered to Unshakeable Challenge where I walked women who had experienced spousal betrayal trauma through what they needed to do to heal from shattered to unshakeable and beyond! I was so honored to have the support of FOUR INCREDIBLE WOMEN, who have gone through my programs, and were willing to share their stories. THANK YOU, lovely gals, for being willing to light the way for other women who have found themselves in some of the dark places you once found yourselves in!
What’s the big deal about betrayal trauma?
You may be asking questions like: “What is the big deal about spousal betrayal trauma, anyway? Why are you focussing on this topic? Why don’t you just tell women to forgive, get over their emotions, and move on? Why are you encouraging women to unpack their emotions even when the betrayal happened long ago? Why are the symptoms of post betrayal trauma considered synonymous to any other PTSD?”
Well let me unpack some of these questions for you:
Why spousal betrayal causes trauma
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual's ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. It does not discriminate and it is pervasive throughout the world (https://integratedlistening.com/what-is-trauma/).
Betrayal trauma in an intimate relationship is usually caused by some form of addiction. Although all types of betrayal, such as those caused by substance abuse or financial impropriety, can provoke a traumatic, deeply distressing response, none are as heart rendering to one’s sense of self and value, as the betrayal of sexual intimacy. Within a sexually intimate relationship, there are spoken and unspoken rules of exclusivity, that when trespassed, parallel no other type of betrayal.
If the truth be told, spousal sexual betrayal is so deeply disturbing that it causes a deep wounding that shatters the betrayed to the very core of their being, and overwhelms their ability to cope . Not only does it affect a person’s sense of identity and worth, it construes their perception of reality and inhibits a person’s ability to trust and attach intimately, regardless if the relationship continues or not. Like other forms of PSTD, the effects of betrayal trauma can remain for literally years, surfacing when triggered by something that brings the experience of betrayal into recall.
The lingering effects of betrayal trauma
The lingering effects of betrayal trauma often lead to symptoms like:
Shame, loss of self-esteem and self-worth
Avoidance, blocking, dissociating, numbing, burrowing in over-busyness and/or withdrawal from deep emotional engagement
Difficulty self regulating emotions such as fear, anger, rage, disrespect and loathing
Intrusive thoughts, suspiciousness, and hypervigilance
Lack of healthy attachment, loss of belief in the safety and goodness of others,
Inability and be truly authentic, transparent and intimate
Distorted beliefs, misconceptions and misperceptions
Inability to fully trust (self, others and God)
Self-protectionism in the form of fight, flight and freeze responses
Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
Physical manifestations including insomnia, stress, stomach disorders, fibromyalgia, and other autoimmune diseases
The list could go on...but in a nutshell, post betrayal trauma is a debilitating response to a traumatic event just like any other form of PTSD, affecting one’s overall health and well-being until the effects of the trauma are fully addressed and replaced with healthier mindsets and coping mechanisms.
Beginning the recovery process
The first step in recovery is to make a decision to come to terms with what happened and a willingness to unpack your shattered emotions, not avoid them. When you don’t address the traumatic experience, your turmoil can spill over to other areas of your life. No matter how carefully you try to suppress or ignore what happened, you can’t erase it. Even if you do manage to shove your memories away, this won’t help you heal. Leaning into a trauma, like infidelity, might seem too painful to even consider but in reality, acknowledging and accepting it as your reality, gives you permission to begin exploring, understanding and addressing the impact it had on you, which can help kick off the healing process and produce a healthier, more radiant YOU!
Practice accepting difficult emotions
Plenty of unpleasant emotions can show up in the aftermath of betrayal. It’s common to feel humiliated or ashamed. Initially, you will grieve. You might also feel furious, vengeful, sick, or a desire to withdraw from fully attaching in a relationship . Naturally, you might find yourself trying to avoid this distress by denying, blocking or disassociating from what happened.
The problem with disassociating or blocking out what has happened, is that triggers will eventually cause memories of the betrayal to resurface, which will in turn cause you to experience or suppress the trauma over and over again. Although hiding from painful or upsetting emotions might seem easy, safe, and logical, the reality is, avoiding or masking your emotions can make it more difficult to self-regulate them. Identifying and putting a name to specific emotions like self-doubt, anger, regret, sadness, loss and mistrust can help you begin navigating them more effectively.
The next step to recovery is the practice of unpacking and accepting the overwhelming emotions, and learning how to handle the debilitating memories, triggers and fears. Recognizing exactly what you’re dealing with can make it easier and less frightening to sit with those emotions and will increase your awareness of them. Greater emotional awareness, in turn, can help you begin understanding them and identifying strategies to cope with those feelings more productively. It will help you identify the lies you’ve believed and replace them with truth. It will help you know what you need to do to protect yourself from further wounding, and to be willing to risk attaching in an intimate relationship again.
How trained guidance can help
Trauma can be hard to confront and manoeuver on your own. Professional support can make a big difference in the healing process and help you work through the trauma before it causes lingering distress.
Trained betrayal trauma experts, especially those who have personally experienced betrayal trauma, can help you unpack your emotions, providing you understanding and tools to address the effects of the trauma. They can help you examine any feelings of self-blame, help you rebuild self-esteem and worth, learn healthy strategies for coping with triggers, guilt, unforgiveness and other difficult emotions. A trained expert can help you identify underlying causes of insecure attachment and explore strategies for building more secure, intimate relationships.
Turn to others for community and support
Opening up about betrayal isn’t easy. There is a lot of stigma, shame and rejection surrounding betrayal. And once someone has betrayed your trust, you might have a hard time trusting anyone at all.
Yet the reality is, opening up and turning to others for guidance and support is absolutely paramount to the healing process. While isolation can seem comforting, it is actually the enemy of healing (https://partnerhope.com/resisting-temptation-isolate-betrayal/) .
People need connection and support, especially during traumatic times. The best place to open up and find support is with others who can identify with your journey because they have gone through a similar experience, but who have also made a decision not to be defined by the trauma but to heal and grow beyond it. Finding people who focus on hope and are willing to press past the hard, to get to a place of unshakeable strength, confidence and radiance is incredibly important in the healing journey.
Can a relationship survive betrayal?
After spousal betrayal, especially sexual betrayal, most people need some time to decide whether to end the relationship or to try repairing the damage. This isn’t something you should feel pressured into deciding right away. It is best to wait until you are feeling emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually grounded. A trained relationship coach or therapist can offer support and guidance as you consider your next steps.
However, it is possible to restore trust and repair the relationship if both partners are willing to work on the underlying cause of the betrayal and to deal authentically and transparently with its aftermath. Statistics show a 70% rec