What is Betrayal Trauma?

The brain is a wonderful thing!  Our bodies were created by God to do some pretty fantastic things.  One of those things it does very automatically is to protect us from danger…physical, mental and emotional danger.  Did you know that your body sends chemicals to your brain to help it cope with a traumatic experience?  It does!  These chemicals protect our brains from “seeing” what we are not ready to see.  That’s why there is that saying, “the wife is always the last to know.”  Her brain is protecting her from the trauma, until she is safe enough to see it on her own.  This safety, provided by the brain, usually come out in the form of denial, controlling self or others, enabling, and a host of other “unhealthy behaviors,” all of which are completely normal. So, no, you are not going crazy.

If you did’t see your husband’s addiction for a long time, you are not alone.  This happens more often than you think, because his brain is also protecting him from seeing the enormity of his addiction. This comes out in behaviors like; lying, denial, blaming, turning the tables, crazy-making, and even, gaslighting. His brain is working overtime to try and convince you that you don’t see what is plainly in front of your face and your brain is working overtime to protect you from seeing what you are not ready to handle.  It’s the perfect set up for an addiction. He is hiding what you don’t want to see.

Something is wrong.  You know it.  But you can’t see it.  Still it nags at you until, little by little, you start to see what you knew, but did not want to believe. Or, someone else will disclose his addiction to you, which is a complete sucker punch to the stomach! Either way, discovering your husband is an addict will turn your, once peaceful life, into shear chaos, in the blink of an eye.  Your life will, literally, be turned upside down in a matter of nano seconds.

Everything you believed to be true, will suddenly become a lie. This is throwing you and your entire world into as state of shock, denial, anger, rage, and intense pain.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Trust me, it’s funner to have toothpicks shoved under your fingernails.  It feels like your world is careening out of control toward sudden destruction, you cannot focus, you can’t think, you can’t feel, and your mind and body go into complete panic mode.  Adrenaline and cortisol are coursing though your body, because your body suddenly thinks it is in danger.  In this state, you will do one of three things; fight, flight, or freeze.  Sometimes you will move quickly through all three, one or two, and then back and forth.  You will not be able to completely cope under normal circumstances again for quite a while.  You need to know that, and be very patient with yourself and others.

It is also common to function in this crazy, warped form of reality.  You are able to go about your normal daily activities, but when everyone is gone, you slip back into the chaos.  Little by little, day by day, you will get past the feeling that you are in danger 24/7, but for now, this will be your “new normal.”

PTSD: It’s not just for War Veterans

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly seen in veterans returning from a war zone.  The symptoms of PTSD, according to Web MD, are;

Post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD — is a condition in which one’s life has been disrupted by an actual or perceived event that was life-threatening or violent or posed a risk for serious injury.

Someone who has experienced severe trauma — war, combat, natural disaster, physical, emotional or sexual abuse — or witnessed violence, such as murder or physical abuse, may display one or more of these symptoms:

Intrusion (re-experiencing):

  • Reliving the event with repeated flashbacks or recurring dreams of the event (Children may not remember the whole event, but may be haunted by a single image. They may express their fear by repeatedly play-acting an event or action.)
  • Frightening or disturbing dreams
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Intense distress if exposed to anything resembling the event

Hypervigilance (hyperarousal and  reactivity):

  • Preoccupation with possible unknown threats, constantly watching and scanning surroundings, startling easily. A persistent sense of insecurity

Avoidance behaviors:

  • Efforts to avoid any people or activities that may arouse recollection of the trauma

Changes in mood and thinking:

  • Trouble recalling trauma-related events
  • Distorted beliefs about the world or oneself (for example, being all bad)
  • Negative or detached emotions
  • Loss of interest

Other symptoms may involve:

  • Psychological numbing
  • Inability to relate to others
  • Chronic physical symptoms such as pain, headaches, or irritable bowels
  • No sense of a future — no expectation of having a family, of having a career, or of living to old age
  • Dissociation, whereby someone can experience derealization or depersonalization

 Interestingly enough, the symptoms of Betrayal Trauma are also:

  • Emotional lability (excessive emotional reactions and frequent mood shifts) – recurrent tearfulness, quick shifts from rage to sadness to hope and back again
  • Hypervigilence that can manifest in self-protective behaviors like doing “detective work” (checking bills, wallets, computer files, phone apps, browser histories, etc.)
  • Attempting to combine a series of unrelated events in order to predict future betrayal
  • Being labile and easily triggered (think PTSD) into anxiety, rage, or fear by any hint that the betrayal might be repeated or ongoing – trigger examples include: the spouse comes home late, turns off the computer quickly, or looks “too long” at an attractive person
  • Sleeplessness, nightmares, difficulty focusing on the day-to-day
  • Obsessing about the trauma – struggling to focus, being distracted, depressed, etc.
  • Avoiding thinking about or discussing the trauma (a common reaction to a traumatic experience)
  • Isolation
  • Compulsive spending, eating, exercise
  • Intrusive fantasy images or thoughts about the betrayal

In part, the trauma of infidelity stems from the fact that while the cheater has obviously known about his or her extracurricular sexual behavior all along and may actually feel some relief once the truth is on the table, a betrayed partner is all too often blindsided by this information. Even when a spouse is not fully deceived, having had some prior knowledge of the cheating, he or she is usually overwhelmed upon learning the full extent of the partner’s behavior (after all, cheating is usually an ongoing pattern rather than an isolated incident).

Adding insult to injury, it’s not just anyone who caused this pain, loss, and hurt. The agony experienced by betrayed spouses – their reactivity – is amplified by the fact that they’ve been cheated on by the person they had most counted upon to “have their back.” Think what it would be like to have your best friend – the person you live, sleep, and have sex with, the one who co-parents your children and with whom you share your most intimate self, your finances, your world – suddenly become someone coldly unknown to you. The person who carries with them the most profound emotional and concrete significance in your past, present, and future has just taken a sharp implement and ripped apart your emotional world (and often that of your family) with lies, manipulation, and a seeming lack of concern about your emotional and physical wellbeing! No wonder the effects of this kind of betrayal can last for a year or more.

If you find yourself experiencing any of the above sumptoms, I am truly sorry.  I wish you didn’t need to be here!  Don’t go it alone, because you won’t be able to do it alone. I created this blog especially for you!  I do not want anyone to feel as alone and helpless as I did when I found out about my husband’s affairs, two years ago.

You have now joined the ranks of “Cupcake Warrior!” This is an unique Sisterhood of women struggling to overcome Betrayal Trauma. Welcome!  This is a safe place for you!

“Be Strong, Stay Sweet!”

chocolate cupcake warrior   

The Cupcake Warrior

To Learn More About Betrayal Trauma, visit… Bloom

4 thoughts on “What is Betrayal Trauma?”

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