Infidelity is abundant in our society. There are 277 divorces per hour in the United States, and even more non-married couples split every day. What are the causes of these separations? Well, infidelity, makes up for 40% of all divorces in this country.
Cheating has become such a normal behavior, so much so that we joke about it, we write songs about it, and we minimize the damage it does to the victim in the situation. I’ve seen women berated, criticized, and made fun of for expressing their hurt over infidelity. I personally know women who felt they had no one to talk to, for fear of being judged, or told to just leave.
Sure, leaving sounds great, when you’re not the victim in the situation. Unfortunately, its not always so cut and dry. There is a LOT of nuance that comes with infidelity in a relationship. One of the biggest, I’m going to talk about today, to bring awareness to this issue that has become the giant elephant in the room – Betrayal Trauma.
Betrayal trauma affects 82% of partners affected by infidelity, and can be absolutely debilitating. So what is betrayal trauma?
“Betrayal Trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends on for survival, significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being.” A direct quote from the popular psychiatrist who first coined the term Betrayal Trauma back in 2008, Jennifer Freyd. Who do we rely on for survival in this world? Some may say we only rely on ourselves, but I disagree. Humans have been herd animals since the beginning of time. We have relied on the comfort and safety of others to stay alive. Therefore, I strongly believe that each person, relies differently on the people in their life that they love, for survival.
Survival does not always mean staying alive, it can also look like thriving:
- Meaningful Friendships/Relationships
- Loving Partners
- Supportive Family Members
Partner Betrayal Trauma occurs when the betrayer is a significant other. Partner’s often depend on each other for comfort, support, and safety. There is an expectation of trust and respect within a romantic relationship. Discovering a betrayal within a partnership, can be completely devastating, as well as affect your mental AND physical well-being. This person you thought you knew, you thought you would spend the rest of your life with, you thought you built a family with – all of that comes crashing down. You start to question your sanity, your values, your beliefs. Scientists now believe, that betrayal trauma is second, ONLY to losing a child.
A key factor in developing betrayal trauma, is the reliance on the betrayer. Victims of betrayal trauma often feel like they can’t leave (and sometimes they can’t, such as a parent/child dynamic), because they feel (or are) dependent on the betrayer to meet their physical, mental, or emotional needs. Failure on behalf of the betrayer to meet those needs, forces the victim to adapt in order to try to survive and/or maintain the relationship. In Partner Betrayal Trauma, the partner often feels stuck, they love this person, and they want to spend their life with this person, but now their source of comfort, has become the source of their pain. Another reason partner’s feel trapped, is because they rely on the betrayer for financial security, they literally cannot afford to leave.
Partner Betrayal Trauma can happen when a partner physically cheats, abuses the finances, or in some cases, when a porn/sex addiction is discovered. Partner Betrayal Trauma can also be seen in victims of domestic abuse, be it physical or emotional.
Since Betrayal Trauma is a relatively new term, there’s still a lot of missing information on the subject. Leading psychiatrists in their field are working tirelessly to uncover the mysteries behind this excruciating form of trauma. What we do know, is that the impact is very severe, and in most cases, results in a form of PTSD, leaving the victim to struggle for the rest of their lives.
So what are the impacts of Partner Betrayal Trauma?
- Betrayal Blindness: This happens when the victim is consciously or unconsciously ignoring the betrayal to preserve the relationship (or minimize the betrayal). By avoiding the betrayal, the victim often makes the impact worse.
- Trust Issues: It should come as no surprise, that when betrayal is discovered, the victim often ends up with severe trust issues. This can be extremely isolating to the victim in a dire time of need, simply from the fact that the victim will often avoid people altogether.
- Altered Definitions Of Love: The victim will begin to adjust their personal definition of love to include the abuse, betrayal, and infidelity they have been experiencing. In doing so, they actually begin to seek out these behaviors in potential partners.
- Re-Victimization: Because often times victims will start to seek out traits of their abuser, victims often find themselves in the same abusive situations over and over. This can give birth to the belief that the victim is deserving of the abuse, or not worthy of love.
- Lowered Self Esteem: After being betrayed, the partner’s sense of self worth can be shattered, which can lead to them believing that they are the problem. That they deserved or played a part in the betrayal. Along with these beliefs, comes body image issues, loss of your sense of self, and disordered eating.
- Mental Health Challenges: Anxiety and depression are commonly diagnosed after betrayal, but a lesser known, but serious, side effect of betrayal trauma is diagnosed PTSD. Victims will begin to display these symptoms almost immediately after discovery.
What PTSD symptoms are commonly seen with betrayal trauma?
- Obsessive thoughts about the betrayal
- Flashback of the event/s
- Memory loss/ Brain fog
- Hyper vigilance (Checking locations, web history, texts, etc) – It is important to note that this is NOT controlling or codependent behavior. Psychiatrists have discovered this form of hyper vigilance is a desperate attempt to prevent the trauma from happening again.
- Nightmares about being betrayed
- Panic Attacks
- Elevated Heart Rate
- Intense emotional outbursts
- Social Isolation.
Betrayal Trauma can severely impact a victim for the rest of their life, and research shows, the effects of betrayal trauma can be life threatening. 30% of victims report self harm and suicidal idealization after discovering a betrayal. It leads to feelings of worthlessness, shame, embarrassment, hopelessness, and the fear of being judged or betrayed again.
With all of this new information, why are we still treating infidelity as a non-issue? Why are we still normalizing it so much with phrases like “all m*n cheat” or “all m*n watch porn”?
Pornography addiction is one of the leading causes of partner betrayal trauma, yet addicts are treated as if there is nothing wrong. We have normalized pornography addiction to the point where most men that are addicted, don’t even realize they have a problem. While the body positivity and sex positive movement are booming, and im so glad to see it that way, we also have to keep in mind the damaging effects that extended pornography consumption brings, but that’s a topic for another blog. For now, try to remember that the people in your life who have been betrayed, might be struggling more than you even know. Reach out, be a friend 🖤