One of the hidden trauma truths that is often swept under the rug is the issue of betrayal trauma. Many of the side affects and symptoms mirror very closely the affects you would find with post-traumatic stress disorder such as triggers, sleep disturbances, flashbacks and more. What is betrayal trauma; any time there is a significant betrayal of trust between yourself and someone with whom you have a close relationship with. Goldsmith, Chesney, Heath, and Barlow (2013) contributors to a journal article in the Journal of Traumatic Stress state that “betrayal trauma, or trauma perpetrated by someone to whom the victim was close, is more strongly related to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress than is trauma perpetrated by someone to whom the victim was not close” (Goldsmith, Chesney, Heath & Barlow, 2013, p. 376).
Sara: So, here I am talking to Megan who is a fellow intern with me at Community Recovery Counseling Center and she's going to be talking about betrayal trauma, so can you give us a little idea of maybe like what betrayal trauma is?
Megan: so, betrayal trauma is when you have like a lot of trust in somebody and they break that trust in a few different ways, as in my case, it was an affair.
Sara: Okay, so your betrayal trauma was an affair and you're going share some of the things you've learned along this road. I mean your betrayal is fairly recent within a year. I know that doesn't seem recent to some people but in terms of trauma, that’s still pretty significant. What are some of the difficult things that you have gone through that relate to trauma?
Megan: So, the first one is “give people room to breathe” especially if they have not had time yet to process their trauma. People cannot make the best decision without all the information. In my situation everyone was trying to rush me to make a decision and I didn't know what to do at the time because my senses were so overloaded that I couldn't even think clearly.
Sara: Like you're not helping anybody by saying, "I got a divorce a divorce lawyer, you know number and stuff. Do you want me to go ahead and give them a call? Give people a little bit of time to process what has even happened to them?
Megan: Yes, and then the same the other way you cannot force someone to not get divorce just because they've had affair and it's not good to put pressure on the people who are going through that because they're having a hard time thinking everything through. Another important thing is not all affairs end marriages. In my case my husband and I went through therapy and we were still together still working through things but no divorce. Trust takes a long time to rebuild, some people say full trust will never return I am personally too early to tell this right so it's still some things that bothers me.
Sara: I think another thing on the flip side is the person who has done the betrayal also has to realize that trust takes a long time to restore and that yeah, You may feel like you're groveling quite a bit, but if the trust is important to restore like you have to be and not the ones like are you over this yet? like get over this move on from this this was a year ago. Well, you know what the trauma is pretty significant and one of those on the number and I think it's the next one that we're going to get to is Why you can't just necessarily get over such betrayal trauma?
Megan: Yes, Betrayal trauma is significant comparable to PTSD, certain things can trigger my thoughts back to that day especially the beginning now, it's much better but like date reoccurrence was very hard time for me. So, it's a lot who don't see house? I see him as like a physical like PTSD trauma, but definitely a lot of similar characteristics to it.
Sara: Now you just told me you had a story where your husband was putting his own account back on Facebook and you were having significant issues with that that maybe weren't even conscious at first.
Megan: Yes, it was not good at all.
Sara: Issues with anger and for you, I'm assuming that you started to feel it, you know physiologically as well.
Megan: Yeah, very anxious and going through the whole process of what is he like an ad on Facebook, is he talking to somebody else, yeah, it's very interesting. The final one lack of intimacy is not always the driving force behind affairs. It's not always sex. Sometimes it's just not having a person to connect to. Everyone has busy worlds, so if your spouse feels like they can get attention from someone else and they do then one thing can lead to another.
The important thing to note is Megan is educated and trained in mental health and her specialty is trauma. She knows the signs and symptoms, and even she had difficulties dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s serious and significant betrayal. She found herself caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to do the best she could for herself and her two daughters. Imagine how devastating betrayal trauma could be for someone who does not know or understand how similar the affects of a betrayal is to PTSD. You would think that you are over reacting, feeling alone and beaten down. You would might not understand how healing takes time and submit to things you were not really ready for.
The aforementioned article titled, “Emotion Regulation Difficulties Mediate Associations Between Betrayal Trauma and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress, Depression, and Anxiety” sites a lot of pertinent information regarding the emotional affects that betrayal trauma has on victims. When trust is built within the school, family or military systems, betrayal trauma may cause victims to suppress anger and sadness and victims may even take on the maladaptive truth that they deserved the betrayal (p. 376). As in an affair situation, a spouse might believe that they were the cause of an affair especially depending on how a loved one responds to the victim’s symptoms. In order to have betrayal, there has to be a level of trust that can be betrayed and thus, the impact of betrayal from a loved one is the most impactful.
It took Megan time to heal and impacted her abilities as a mother, wife and student who was working to complete her graduate studies in professional counseling. I could see psychological and emotional impacts as the anniversary date of the affair reveal loomed. She was visually upset, and it appeared difficult for her to concentrate. She jumped between trying to keep her mind off the truth of her marriage and the anger she still felt over the betrayal. A strength for Megan was the fact that she knew that she had to be honest and she was honest with those who she knew that she could trust. Understanding that such a trauma is significant and as Megan mentioned above, you have to give people time to heal.
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