What is Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma typically refers to the lingering pain and turmoil experienced after betrayal by a parent, another childhood caregiver, or a romantic partner. However, in the field of sex addiction, it is mostly referred to when a spouse or partner has an affair and violates the sanctity of the relationship.  When someone you depend on to respect your needs and safeguard your well-being violates the trust you’ve placed in them, it will result in emotional distress and possibly lingering trauma. Those who experience this trauma might find themselves accepting the possibility of future betrayals which can begin to degrade self-esteem, emotional well-being, and the ability to form healthy, functional, and productive attachments with others.

What are the Signs of Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal Trauma is unique compared to other forms of trauma because it involves the intense feelings of shame and worthlessness associated with the act of being violated and cheated on. This can affect someone’s physical and mental health, but the specific effects can vary depending on the type or complexity of the betrayal trauma. As it is not everyone experiences trauma in the same way. Signs of betrayal trauma can look like this:


  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance (constantly scanning your environment for potential threats)
  • Intrusive thoughts and images
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-worth
  • Loss of faith in others
  • Guilt and self-blame
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms
  • Physical symptoms, including insomnia, pain, and stomach distress

Betrayal blindness often happens in the context of romantic relationships. Relationships fulfill important belonging and social connection needs, so instead of staying alert to signs/red flags of cheating, people might choose (often unconsciously) to ignore or overlook clues to safeguard the relationship and protect their mental health.

The Road to Healing

It might take months, even years, to successfully rebuild trust after betrayal trauma and you may find yourself dealing with ongoing trust issues and self-doubt. The healing journey will not look the same for everyone, but these strategies can help you take the first steps

Address the Betrayal

When you don’t address the betrayal, your trauma can spill over to other areas of your life. No matter how carefully you try to suppress what happened, you may catch yourself replaying or ruminating on the memories when you’re with friends, caring for your children, or driving to work.

Acknowledging the trauma allows you to begin exploring your thoughts, emotions, and reactions and can help kick off the healing process. This helps to begin coming to terms with underlying relationship issues, such as lack of communication or intimacy, and explore ways to resolve them. It will also allow you to stop blaming yourself for the action(s) of your partner while simultaneously acknowledging any preexisting relationship struggles.

Practice Accepting Difficult Emotions

After experiencing betrayal trauma, you might find yourself trying to avoid this distress by denying or trying to cognitively and/or emotionally block what happened – making it more difficult to regulate your emotions.

Recognizing exactly what you’re feeling and dealing with can make it easier and less frightening to sit with those emotions and slowly increase your awareness of them over time. This is a great way to help you begin identifying strategies to cope with those feelings more effectively.

Turn to Others for Support

Although it can be difficult to talk about our trauma, people need emotional support, especially during stressful times. Your loved ones and friends may not need to know exactly what happened, but they can still offer companionship when you don’t want to be alone and distraction when you can’t get away from your looping thoughts.

At Illinois Healing Center for Trauma and Addiction, we offer a female-only Betrayal Trauma Group for members whose spouse or significant other/partner was recently found to be having an affair or caught inappropriately watching pornography. This is a supportive trauma-based process group for spouses/partners who have experienced the traumatic betrayal of infidelity.

Join us virtually on Fridays from 9-10 and 12 PM – 1 PM. Visit our website for more information.


Illinois Healing Center for Trauma and Addiction is Here for You

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, our compassionate therapists are here to help. We offer an array of specialized individual therapy services including drugs and alcohol addiction, sex addiction, and more.

Learn more about our services at www.ilhealingcenter.com/services.html or call us at 773.570.0770 to schedule an appointment.