Betrayal trauma occurs when someone we love or trust violates or betrays us in a devastating way. In the context of romantic relationships, examples of betrayal trauma often include infidelity, abandonment, financial abuse, or struggling with an addiction. As these experiences violate the sense of safety we are expected to feel from those we love, these types of traumas are often responsible for a significant loss of confidence and security in one’s romantic relationship.
Similarly, betrayal trauma in childhood includes abuse or neglect from our caregivers or other attachment figures. In fact, abuse and neglect in childhood inherently includes an element of betrayal trauma, since those that are supposed to care for and protect us as children (e.g., parents, teachers, relatives, etc.) actively harmed us instead. As we are emotionally and physically dependent upon our parents and other authority figures in childhood, not having safe and consistent attachment with them can actually activate our flight or fight response.
People who have experienced betrayal trauma often report symptoms such as anxiety, flashbacks, and ruminating thoughts, and they may have difficulty trusting others and feeling safe in relationships. Most commonly, survivors of betrayal trauma internalize deeply painful core beliefs about themselves and their self-worth, such as “I am not worthy of love” or “no one is ever going to want me.” While these beliefs allow us to make sense of the pain, it is important to remember that they are not fact and are a common response to experiencing such deeply painful trauma.
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