What Is Betrayal Trauma?

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The term betrayal trauma was first introduced by Jennifer Freyd in 1991 at a presentation at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute. According to Freyd “Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’ s trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.”

The Effects of Betrayal Trauma

Freyd further tells us that when trauma involves a betrayal we are less likely to be aware of what is occurring or recall the details. Why? Because when we confront the perpetrator it threatens an attachment that we feel is necessary to our survival. Those awesome survival instincts can kick in and literally erase our memory or change it to make the betrayal seem like less of a threat.

What is Betrayal Trauma?

When our conscious mind is protecting us, and our subconscious mind is screaming that everything is not ok it can lead to some pretty severe problems. In a recent study, it was shown that ~70% of wives of sex addicts could be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yep, the same thing that military folk come home with is what traumatised wives deal with. PTSD comes with a lot of really fun symptoms including:

    • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
    • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events
    • Flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring
    • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
    • Physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events
    • Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders
    • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
    • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
    • Persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
    • Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
    • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
    • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
    • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
    • Irritable or aggressive behavior
    • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
    • Hypervigilance
    • Exaggerated startle response
    • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep

All of these symptoms can also take their toll physically. Adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, joint and/or muscle pain, headaches, weight gain, and even more often manifest themselves when a person is suffering from trauma. “The Body Keeps The Score” is a great book to read if you are more interested in this topic. 

How to Deal With Betrayal Trauma

Quite frequently all these symptoms are lumped into one happy little diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression. Here pop a pill and be on your merry way! While I’m all for medication if and when you need it really healing trauma requires far more than that.

4 Steps for Betrayal Trauma Recovery 

You can heal from betrayal trauma, but it requires a lot of work. Here are 4 important steps to get you started.

First and foremost you need to get out of your isolation! You need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Second, and equally important, is counselling with a qualified therapist. Finding the right therapist can be very difficult. While there are all sorts of certifications you can look for ultimately it all comes down to do they know and understand betrayal trauma. It is also really helpful if they are trained in EMDR and/or neural feedback therapy. Both of these help to integrate the mind/body connection and speed up the healing process.  Betrayal Trauma Recovery is an excellent resource for finding a good counsellor. They are coaches rather than certified therapists, but they have focused their training on betrayal trauma and most are victims as well.  Addiction is at the root a disease of connection. Learning to reconnect to your own emotions and your spouses in healthy ways is far more important than directly working on any specific marriage issues, especially in the early stages of healing a relationship.

Third, become a learn it all. No one is ever going to care as much about your healing as you do. Knowledge is power and you need all the power you can get to escape the pit that you find yourself in while dealing with these issues.

Fourth is some solid self-care and self-love work. Self-Care is NOT selfish! You matter. You are important. You can not give to others what you don’t have for yourself. Your capacity to love others, including and even especially your own family, is limited by your ability to love yourself. If you struggle with this I would encourage you to find ten minutes every day where you can just do something you love. Take a walk, do some art, sing in the shower, just do whatever makes you happy.

For more information on CPTSD and other issues visit our YouTube Channel

If you need support or would like to connect with like-minded people join our Private and Closed online Facebook Group for Child Abuse Survivors and those with CPTSD. Click here to join

The Memoir You Will Bear Witness is available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback


  1. Hi Erin. I also suffer from CPTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder and more from a dysfunctional childhood. I just turned 59 and my quality of life is SO poor due to this crap. I have tried so many times/ways/methods to come to terms with my past…to no avail. It continues to amaze me how much poor parenting contributes to screwing up children. There is not a single part of my life that has been unaffected by the 17 years I spent under the roof of my rotten mother/alcoholic stepdad who HATED me. It’s the “gift” that keeps giving I guess. To say I’m bitter is an understatement.

    • Sorry to hear you too had such a dysfunctional childhood. I understand the pain you must be going through on a daily basis. It is very hard to come to terms with when your mother doesn’t protect you as your main caregiver. Your stepdad did terrible damage. I hope you are receiving professional help. You have to keep fighting. You can’t let them win. You have a right to a decent life now and a chance to recover from your trauma. It is a painful, slow process but it can be done with the help of a good therapist and the right kind of treatment. If you want support and want to talk to other survivors we have a closed and private Facebook group called Youwillbearwitness where you can discuss your issues and get information and get support from like minded people. Link is here https://www.facebook.com/groups/277914119721153/. Thanks for getting in touch. All the best Erin.

    • Hi Lauren

      Thanks for getting in touch. I am delighted you found the article helpful and that you don’t feel so alone. This is a particularly hard time of the year. Email me anytime you wish. More than happy to talk. erinfado@gmail.com. All the best Erin

  2. Erin, for the longest time I made excuses for my parents. My dads childhood was filled with trauma and emotional abuse. Therefore when he and my mom who was 15 had me they were both not equipped for a chd. After they discovered i could stay home alone they repeatedly left me by myself to work. I had an enormous amount of responsibility cleaning cooking and taking care or horses and cows in addition to household things as well. This caused me to feel unloved and unwanted because I was alone. The only plus side is that is spent a lot of time with my grandmother. They used to threaten to take away the things I loved when I was bad. I still hold a lot of resentment for my father but my mom and I have managed to repair most things. I recently discussed all this is counseling and went threw the grief process. I had just said it was childhood trauma but it seems to be the very definition of betrayal trauma. Would you agree? Does the process differ from.other trauma in the healing stage?
    Stacie Ciminelli

    • Hi Stacie

      Firstly sorry for the traumatic childhood you had. You definitely experienced betrayal trauma at quite a high level. That is hard to deal with as a child but perhaps more so as an adult when you have the benefit of hindsight. EMDR is an excellent for of therapy for betrayal trauma. It is non invasive and after it you talk through in depth what has come up and develop strategies for dealing with it. If you don’t know what EMDR is go to the blog site and in search engine type in EMDR.

      The heal process is the same as other trauma. It is all difficult and painful. Good luck

      All the best


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