What is Betrayal Trauma and How Does it Impact You

Betrayal trauma can be rooted in abandonment challenges or violation of attachment to another person. Trauma can have elements that impact all or some of a person’s ability to feel emotionally safe, physical safety, and other well-being indicators. This can happen in childhood with your family of origin (FOO), or with your partner or close friends or both.

The key thing to know about betrayal trauma is that it is twofold in that it both is a form of trauma typically through abuse as well as being betrayed by those you “should” be able to trust, such as a parent, caregiver, partner, system or friend that you genuinely rely on or trust of support and safety (emotional and physical). So you are navigating both traumatic experiences and attachment injury from the betrayal of trust and security with someone you had safety expectations of.

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What is Betrayal Trauma and How Does it Impact You

Types of Betrayal Trauma

  • Family of Origin Betrayal – this can include abuse in any form, such as physical, emotional, or sexual, by a parent or family member.
  • Institutional Betrayal – this can be both government-based institutions such as the military, police, schools, government benefits, etc. as well as private sector such as places of employment, etc.
  • Healthcare Systems –mental health facilities, hospitals, in or outpatient care.
  • Relationships Betrayal – this can happen when a friend, family member, or partner betrays your trust or privacy and your feeling exposed and violated.
  • Natural disasters – that impact your home and community.

Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma may or may not be identified in standard assessments for post traumatic stress disorder, but symptoms are often similar and can look like:

  • Strong emotions that come up more often than usual for you
  • Isolating yourself to “process’ or navigate through the feelings
  • Feeling that the shoe is going to drop again or need to constantly check things to reassure yourself.
  • Ruminating or spiraling on the betrayal trauma or having flashbacks with feelings or images of the betrayal.
  • Increase in anxiety, panic attacks and/or depression symptoms
  • Impacts on eating and sleeping (over or under eating or sleeping)
  • Brain fog, feeling distant or detached with your foggy brain

Therapeutic Techniques for working through Betrayal Trauma

There are several ways to approach therapy for betrayal trauma. A few modalities that can work with healing through the trauma and thriving again are:

  • EMDR Therapy – this is an evidence-based and well-studied treatment technique to work through trauma and is used successfully to treat a wide variety of trauma-related experiences.
  • Somatic Therapy – this approach focuses on your body and where you store your trauma and techniques to help understand and learn more about how it impacts your body.
  • Trauma-informed talk therapy – this is where a therapist understands both the mind and body impacts of trauma and can help you understand its impacts, learn self-compassion and techniques to identify your triggers and learn to move through them and heal from them.

Further Reading:

Lindsey Ferris, MS, LMFTA, Washington State

Talk. Heal. Thrive. therapist Lindsey Ferris is based out of Seattle, Washington working with clients via online trauma therapy who are navigating personal and relational challenges.

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