Betrayal Trauma - What Is It and How to Cope

Many people have experienced betrayal in some form or another, but very few think of it as a traumatic event. In fact, when most people hear the word “trauma” they immediately think of war veterans or people who have experienced physical or sexual abuse.

The staggering reality is that trauma (including betrayal trauma) affects everyone and is more prevalent than we had once thought, with most estimates placing it around 70% of the general population (1).

This is because trauma can come from events that we normally would call “minor.” events such as gaslighting, lying or hidden actions. Furthermore, many people who have suffered trauma do not always present with symptoms (2). You can read more about trauma on our Trauma Therapy page.

Let’s talk about betrayal trauma. What is it?

Betrayal trauma can be caused by many things, but they all have one root cause: That is a betrayal of trust or security (usually in a relationship). This type of betrayal trauma hits especially hard, because relationships (especially romantic ones) are essential for our ability to navigate the world successfully.

No man is an island, and when any of us try to be, we ultimately fail. Ultimately, we are social animals and we all know that any successful relationship is based on trust and security. When either trust or security is broken, we easily become lost and disconnected from the world around us.

How do we “allow” ourselves to be betrayed?

Even when people end relationships on mutual terms, many experience something like drug withdrawal. That’s because, as according to the research of Dr.Pfaus, “[Love] works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.” In addition, while in a romantic relationship our “logical brain” can take a backseat, which allows us to ignore many “red flags” we would otherwise be observant of. Naturally, when our love is betrayed in more traumatic ways the results can be crushing.

Yet, many victims of betrayal trauma have a lot of shame or guilt about being the betrayed partner. You may think, “Maybe if I had more sex with him/her,” or, “Maybe if I was more expressive of my feelings” then he/she would not have had an affair or continued the addiction. Let me clear that your partner’s infidelity/addiction had nothing to do with your actions.

What are some common examples of betrayal trauma?



-Gaslighting: The act of someone convincing you that your reality is not real. When confronting a cheater, you may be gaslighted in return with: “You really don’t trust me or love me do you? You should watch less TV dramas and let’s go back to normal.”

-Hidden addictions: porn, drugs, etc.

How to overcome betrayal trauma

Many people who have experienced betrayal trauma experience symptoms similar to PTSD. For these people, and others severely affected by their trauma, it is helpful to seek therapy. This means first accepting that you have experienced a trauma that is not your fault. Second, getting reconnected with yourself and third, understand that you are experiencing a memory of the trauma, not the actual trauma, and learning techniques to cope with these memories.

One good first step is my grounding technique, that helps you get reconnected with your body and realize that the past is past and the present is present. It involves a breathing exercise that can help you slow down and feel more in control of your body and thoughts. You can get access to my technique by requesting access on Facebook here.This technique is just a start to tackling your anxieties and fears over your memories of betrayal. I understand that each patient is unique and additional techniques may be helpful, but any treatment has to be tailored to you. Contact us today to schedule a therapy session.


1. Benjet, C., Bromet, E., Karam, E. G., Kessler, R. C., McLaughlin, K. A., Ruscio, A. M., Shahly, V., Stein, D. J., Petukhova, M., Hill, E., Alonso, J., Atwoli, L., Bunting, B., Bruffaerts, R., Caldas-de-Almeida, J. M., de Girolamo, G., Florescu, S., Gureje, O., Huang, Y., Lepine, J. P., … Koenen, K. C. (2016). The epidemiology of traumatic event exposure worldwide: results from the World Mental Health Survey Consortium. Psychological medicine, 46(2), 327–343.

2. Levine, P. A., & Frederick, A. (1997). Walking the tiger healing trauma: The innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.


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