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Unmasking Betrayal Trauma: Understanding the Pain

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Betrayal is a complex emotional wound, often leaving deep scars that can take years to heal. In the realm of mental health, betrayal trauma stands as a unique and challenging experience. I work with clients dealing with ‘betrayal trauma’ often at the hands of a close friend, family member, or intimate partner. This article delves into the multifaceted nature of betrayal trauma, exploring its roots in human behavior, personality traits, past trauma, and the profound influence of intergenerational trauma.

 

I’m often asked: Why does Betrayal Happen?

Betrayal, in its many forms, occurs for a myriad of reasons. It’s a consequence of human nature, interpersonal dynamics, and societal influences. While each situation is unique, common factors contributing to betrayal may include:

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Author

Tina Balachandran

Clinical Director & Clinical Psychologist

Tina is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 18 years of experience across clinical, aviation, and organisational settings. As a Certified Complex Trauma Professional, she uses an integrative strength-based approach to work with adults dealing with trauma and consults with organisations following critical incidents. She also works with couples, helping them learn how to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions, repair past hurts, and begin creating a shared meaning and purpose in their relationship.

  1. Self-Preservation: Sometimes, betrayal occurs when an individual prioritizes their own needs or desires over the well-being of others. This self-preservation instinct can lead to deceit and betrayal in intimate relationships.
  2. Lack of Communication: Poor communication skills can pave the way for misunderstandings and mistrust. Betrayal may be a result of an inability to express one’s feelings or needs effectively.
  3. External Influences: Environmental factors, such as peer pressure or societal norms, can drive individuals to betray the trust of loved ones. The desire to fit in or conform to societal expectations can lead to betrayal.
  4. Conflict of Interest: Competing interests, whether financial, emotional, or social, can breed betrayal when individuals perceive that pursuing their own interests necessitates betraying someone else’s trust.

Does Personality Traits play a role here?

While betrayal can stem from various factors, certain personality traits can heighten the likelihood of betrayal in relationships. Individuals with narcissistic tendencies, for instance, may prioritize their own needs and desires over others, making betrayal more probable. A low level of empathy is another factor, as it can result in a disregard for the feelings and well-being of others, fostering an environment where betrayal may occur. Additionally, impulsivity can play a role, with impulsive individuals acting without considering the consequences, leading to betrayals in the heat of the moment. Lastly, insecure attachment styles, such as anxious or avoidant, may contribute to difficulties in trust and intimacy, thereby increasing the potential for betrayal within relationships.

What about the role of Past Traumas?

Past trauma can significantly impact a person’s capacity to trust and be vulnerable in relationships. Those who have experienced trauma, especially in their formative years, may develop maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as betrayal, to protect themselves from further harm. Betrayal can be both a consequence of past trauma and a perpetuator of future trauma, creating a vicious cycle that needs therapeutic intervention to break.

The betrayal trauma theory suggests that there are situations where it’s socially advantageous for individuals to remain unaware of abuse, especially when it comes from a caregiver. In such cases, being conscious of mistreatment may be counterproductive to survival. For instance, in instances of childhood sexual abuse, a child may withdraw from the relationship if they realize a parent is abusive. However, if the child depends on the parent for basic needs, withdrawing might be detrimental, particularly if the parent responds with less care or more violence. Traditionally, trauma research focused on fear as the primary response, but the theory argues that the levels of fear and betrayal vary in traumatic events, impacting post-traumatic outcomes. Recent studies show that the distinction between fear and betrayal is crucial, with feelings of betrayal in traumatic events being linked to negative mental health effects, such as post-traumatic stress and other symptoms. In simpler terms, realizing betrayal in traumatic situations can significantly impact a person’s well-being.

And we cannot ignore the profound influence of Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational trauma, the transmission of psychological wounds and coping patterns from one generation to the next, plays a pivotal role in the occurrence of betrayal trauma. When betrayal and associated coping mechanisms become ingrained in a family’s history, they can be passed down through the generations. Families with a history of betrayal may struggle to foster trust and healthy relationships, perpetuating the cycle of betrayal.

Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Recognizing and addressing betrayal trauma is essential for healing and personal growth. It often requires a combination of individual therapy, couples counseling, and family therapy, depending on the context. Here are some key steps in the healing process:

  1. Acknowledgment: Acknowledge the betrayal and its impact on your emotional well-being.
  2. Seek Support: Reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in trauma and betrayal to guide your healing journey.
  3. Communication: Develop healthy communication skills to rebuild trust and strengthen relationships.
  4. Addressing Past Trauma: Work on understanding and resolving past traumas that may have contributed to the betrayal.
  5. Breaking the Cycle: If intergenerational trauma is a factor, consider family therapy to break the cycle and foster healthier family dynamics.

Betrayal trauma is a complex and painful experience with roots in human behavior, personality traits, past trauma, and intergenerational trauma. Understanding why betrayal happens and addressing the underlying factors is crucial for healing and preventing its perpetuation through generations. With the right support and therapy, individuals can navigate the path to recovery and cultivate healthier, more trusting relationships.

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Author

Tina Balachandran

Clinical Director & Clinical Psychologist

Tina is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 18 years of experience across clinical, aviation, and organisational settings. As a Certified Complex Trauma Professional, she uses an integrative strength-based approach to work with adults dealing with trauma and consults with organisations following critical incidents. She also works with couples, helping them learn how to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions, repair past hurts, and begin creating a shared meaning and purpose in their relationship.

Dr. Iram Kassis

Consultant Psychiatrist

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