What Exactly is Betrayal Trauma?
BY JEN MAKIN CMHC
You are raised in a loving home. Your needs were met emotionally, physically and spiritually. You were able to be aligned within yourself and speak up and out. If you didn’t feel right about something, you voiced concern and you were heard. Your voice was valued, you knew of your worth and you were supported.
Then you meet him. He says all the right things and treats you well after a fight and makes you feel silly for making such a big deal out of things. LIfe is to be enjoyed after all.
This is the first betrayal. The betrayal of self. Everything you have been taught is thrown to the wind and you dive in, head first only to hit concrete and get paralyzed.
Up is down and down is up. Your home life as a youth was a world of funny mirrors. Violence and abuse equaled love but when you attempted to speak up about it, you were shut down, spun around and sent on your way. You felt confused about it all but soldiered on.
You meet someone. He seems better than your family. At least at the start. You feel like it’s love but it’s cloudy. You have no safe pockets to turn to. You feel loved but he still has tendencies but they are normalized for you so you look past them. You hold up the red flags to the sun and realize they are actually orange. Silly you.
You have been taught from a very young age to betray yourself and not listen to your inner self. You bought into the idea of a distorted love and attracted it. You live in distortion.
These two scenarios are extreme but they set the stage for the explanation of what betrayal trauma is. In my words, betrayal trauma is when your partner betrays you through his actions, whether addiction, infidelity, abuse or other means of harm. As a result, you are traumatized.
WHAT TO DO
Heal. Look deeply in the mirror and face reality. You are lovable. You are enough. This betrayal has nothing to do with you. You may have had poor boundaries or allowed certain behaviors, but the betrayal itself was not your choice. Owning it brings more trauma.
Allowing another to blame you for it is more trauma. When you heal yourself, the world will become more clear. You will learn to live in peace and be aligned with yourself. How I see a person is a spirit and a body. It’s more than that, but for this exercise, bear with me. With betrayal trauma, we become unaligned; offset. Our body betrays our spirit. Our spirit is screaming NO and our lips say YES. Or we are SILENT when we mean to SPEAK.
Alignment is the key. Healing of oneself is the key. Focusing on the individual that caused harm and trying to control him is sick. Staying in the world of funny mirrors only harms you deeply. Finding clarity and seeking help from safe loved ones and competent professionals can be a start to healing. If nothing changes, nothing changes. If you continue to look in the mirror and see distortion, you need to do the work to change out the mirror.
HOW TO SUPPORT
This trauma has symptoms of PTSD. You may have nightmares, flashbacks and sink into a depression. Or you may scoot over to denial and ignore. However one copes, it takes work to get through. Whether a woman chooses to stay or go is her business. It is her life, not yours. You may need to set boundaries in an effort to ensure you stay well.
No, she may not stay on your sofa for the 10th time after she comes over at midnight bruised and battered. But you will help her find a shelter. Yes, you will help her find a competent therapist but no you won’t make the appointment for her. No, you won’t talk to him about things but you will support her to create safety and find a person who can mediate and be a third party. No, you won’t listen to her talk about how amazing he is, but you will be honest and say that you’re choosing not to hear the story instead of lying and saying you have to go to work.
You can’t make someone see clearly. They must change out the mirrors. They must have an infrastructure of healthy people in their life that create safety and security. When it does hit the fan, they need safe pockets to turn to. Safety that says, “I am here. I love you. You are beautiful.” Not, “What an ass. We never liked him! Good for you.” That creates harm not healing.
Bottom line: the first betrayal is with self. We are offset with our spirit and body and may allow ourselves to engage in high risk behaviors, such as unhealthy or abusive relationships. We must realign like an adjustment at a chiropractor. To do this, we need light and love. We must anchor in it daily. Move past the grief. It is a 3 step process.
STEP 1: MOVE FROM DENIAL TO ACCEPTANCE
Denial keeps us sick and in secrecy. He went to the strip club again but you know if you tell your best friend she will unleash. So you make excuses for him and realize he needed to “blow off steam.” So you stay silent and in denial. The first step is to come OUT of denial and INTO acceptance.
Accepting the reality that you are being harmed and deserve to feel loved, always, in all scenarios is the foundation of healing. Accepting that you can only change yourself and not others is the beginning of eye opening. Acceptance can take time so be gentle with yourself.
STEP 2: FORGIVE YOURSELF IN AN EFFORT TO FORGIVE OTHERS
FORGIVENESS OF SELF
Sitting in shame has become your norm. After all, when you’re betrayed you have been trained that it’s responsibility to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If only you … (fill in the blank) … this wouldn’t happen again. If you don’t want it to happy, keep looking in the funny mirror and stop seeking clarity. Forgive yourself. Honor yourself. Come out of shame and into healing. As Maya Angelou says, when you know better, you do better. You now know better, slowly do better. This starts with forgiving YOURSELF.
FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS
It’s impossible to try to forgive others when we haven’t forgive ourselves. This isn’t a perfect act, as it takes time, but we cannot continue to beat ourselves up and live in shame. Forgiveness is about ME and trust is about WE. In order to forgive, we have to remove the burden from our shoulders and turn it over. We forgive their actions and with a hug and a kiss, we let them go. Whether emotionally or physically, that is your call.
STEP 3: CREATE BOUNDARIES SO YOU CAN TRUST YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Then we learn boundaries. These are limits and invisible lines in which we live. I can’t start a garden in my neighbor’s yard. It is their yard. That is a physical boundary. Someone cannot touch me without consent. Another physical boundary. You cannot call me names or attempt to belittle me. That is an emotional boundary. You cannot tell me how God speaks to me; this is a spiritual boundary. Boundaries take time to develop. Go slow.
Educate yourself. Read books. Dive in. Build trust with yourself so you can trust others again. Remember, forgiveness is about ME and trust is about WE. The other person has to show change. Real change. Not a dog and pony show and the same old nonsense. Trust yourself to know the difference and live in trust. Listen to your spirit and keep it aligned with your body by remaining grounded. Avoid the fake world. Stay grounded in truth.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Being aligned means honesty with self first. We may be at a point where we believe our own lies. Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to stay safe. You have to go with the flow and agree that up is down and down is up. If you speak up and out, you are harmed. So you’ve learned. But, I promise, you can relearn. It will take time. Maybe decades. But don’t give up.
Don’t allow yourself to betray your inner self. Stay aligned and when another betrays, have a strategy to stay in reality. Don’t allow your mind to slip. That is where they want you to live and it is quite a slippery slope. Stay grounded at the top of the mountain. Look at the valley. See clearly and change out your mirror, ensuring it sees clearly without distortion. Check with loved ones if you have to. And believe them if it’s not the right mirror. Keep changing it out until it’s crystal clear.