What is Betrayal Trauma?

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”

I experienced betrayal trauma when both my parents used me in a paedophile ring and offered me to numerous men from the age of 4-18 and then when I turned 18 turned me out onto the streets of Dublin as I was too old for the men. Rejection by your parents is the ultimate betrayal trauma. They are meant to be trusted caregivers in whom children place complete trust and care.


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.  I felt like I was all these monkeys combined into one! I refused to hear or see the abuse in my childhood and definitely terrified to say anything about the things I did notice.

What is Betrayal Trauma? | muchnessmama.com | wife of a sex addict | spouse of an addict | PTSD

Joao Tzanno

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 traumatized wives deal with. Lucky me, I got both! I will say, however, that my trauma from deployment was VERY minimal to the extent that I didn’t even really realize that it existed for a long time. My betrayal trauma due to abandonment has been much more in my face and in control of my life. 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

Yeah, that’s a lot. 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. It’s WAY too much to cover here.


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.

First and formost you need to get out of your isolation! That is why I have ripped the curtain off my life and decided to start sharing here.

Second, and equally important, is counseling 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 (more on those in a future post). 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 counselor. They are coaches rather than certified therapists, but they have focused their training on betrayal trauma and most are victims as well.

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. For dealing with your own insecurities adn regaining your individuality and muchness anything by Brene Brown is pure gold. I’m currently working through “The Gifts of Imperfection” book via the art journaling class.

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. I’ve found a majority of the posts here to be very helpful but this one more so than any one prior. Thank you for including links within your post about where to find resources for dealing specially with this topic and titles of books you’ve found helpful. Without this site and so many sharing their stories as well as resources for help I’d still be lost and overwhelmed by where to begin my path to healing.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Sara thank you so much for commenting and your positive comments. I really appreciate them. All the very best on your journey to healing. I hope it goes well for you. Erin

    • Thank you for sharing this. It explains a lot of my problems that I always thought were true. I was abandoned as a child and have been having dreams of being left by my loved ones. This may help me.

      • Thank you for sending me a message. I am pleased that the article resonated with you but sorry you were abandoned as a child. One of the worst traumas we can go through is to be abandoned by our primary caregivers. You must have had a very painful childhood. I hope it does help you. It is what you deserve. All the best Erin

    • Hi Alexis, Thanks for commenting. Glad you enjoyed the article. All the best Erin.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. It’s incredibly brave and inspiring to share your story like this. I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been through. On my own healing journey, parental betrayal was definitely the hardest thing to come to terms with. I am so glad there are people like you out there. You can’t imagine how less lonely I feel when I read this kind of post. Thank you. Hannah

    • Thank you Hannah !! You can’t imagine how less lonely it makes me feel to get a reply to my post like yours. Thank you for reading my article and taking the trouble to comment on it. I am glad it made you feel less lonely. Our journey’s are painful and lonely so it’s great when a connection is made. Thank you for making one. It means a lot. All the very best for the future. Erin

  3. Thank you for your article! I was not a victim of child abuse, but have experienced many abusive relationships and I feel like I probably do have betrayal trauma. You mentioned the FB group. Is that only for survivors of child abuse? Is there a group for survivors of adult trauma? Thank you for any information you might have!

    • Hi Lea, thanks for getting in touch and for commenting on the article. I appreciate it. It’s always good to get feedback. The Facebook group is for anyone who has experienced trauma. There are many people on there who have experienced childhood abuse but equally as many who have experienced trauma from narcissistic or abusive adult relationships or have experienced other types of adult trauma that has caused PTSD. You would be more than welcome to join and if you do I look forward to meeting you there. All the best Erin

  4. Hi Erin, I am a therapist and am so thankful for your strength in sharing this article. I work with children and significant others of narcissists who all struggle with PTSD from the betrayals they suffer(ed). Though not the same as your experience, I feel better prepared for the day that someone with a similar betrayal trauma walks through my door, as well as working with my current clients.

    • Hi Beth

      Thanks so much for your comment. I truly appreciate it. Your clients are very lucky to have a therapist who is always willing to learn and take on new approaches. I have a fantastic psychotherapist. I would not be here today if it were not for her. You work in a noble profession for which we are all grateful. Thank you. All the best Erin.

  5. Awesome post!!! I’ve also been a victim of betrayal trauma, diagnosed with CPTSD and Quiet BPD. I totally agree we have to become our own mental health champions! My mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being is my responsibility! I’ve just recently read The Body Keeps the Score, an amazing eye-opening book and have found a wonderful psychologist who is doing EMDR with me. I’ve spent 27 years working on my emotional growth and feel I’m right at the edge of finally being free and feeling so much better. The hard work has paid off. Ok I’m not naive I know I need to maintain my mental health and I loved your point on showing self care or self compassion. Absolutely essential! I think you’re inspirational for what you have gone through and yet you are this articulate, educated and giving person. Wishing you all the best and I’ll look out for your book.
    Ps. You helped me to identify that I have also suffered betrayal trauma. It just helps fill in some missing jigsaw puzzle pieces.

    • Thanks so much Lea for your positive comments. I am thrilled that you found the article useful. EMDR is fantastic. It has literally saved my life. Stay safe in these difficult times. All the best Erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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