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Betrayal

If you have experienced betrayal in your relationship then you have experienced a traumatic event. You will survive, but there are ways to survive that will enhance your self worth rather than defend or protect yourself from ever experiencing betrayal again. 

 The Initial Impact of Betrayal

Chances are if you are reading this article you have experienced the gut wrenching pain of relationship betrayal. It is a pain you will never forget. This information is written for the person that has been betrayed. The good news is that this new unexpected pain can serve you in ways you have never imagined. Betrayal can send your mind spinning and your ego deflated. It can affect your health, your mental functioning and your wallet. Before you sink into the deepest of despair, take a moment to trust that millions of people have survived and thrived after the experience of betrayal. You are in good hands to set sail on what looked to be the worst day of your life into a catalyst of self worth. 

So now what? You have come upon this horrible nightmare and you were not asleep. The first response is 911 to your nearest therapist. There is noting like the immediate relief of dumping the details of what has just transpired. You may have had signs, symptoms or doubt. But now you have all of the facts that point to being the recipient of deception. In that deception, comes shame and a lot of it. You were never prepared for the deep emotional wound even if there were cracks in the concrete. Somehow denial, avoidance or just plain looking the other way didn't do anything in the way of preventing this outcome. 

 

Learning about your partner’s motives is not your first assignment although that is all you can think about. What is on your plate, as we begin this journey, is YOU and how YOU are going to process all of what has occurred. We are initially going to unpack all of these sorted emotions so that you can be comforted in the promise of not being alone, or crazy.

 

Understanding your gut reactions to betrayal allows you to recognize, understand and properly respond to them as they occur. Doing so will help you get through this horrible initial stage, which may indeed last longer than you would prefer. Time is required. If you are not sleeping, we will begin to use that sleepless condition to your advantage. If you are sleeping too much, we need that alarm set and ringing. It is ok to come to therapy without being presentable. It is ok to cry. A lot. It is also ok to have a full range of emotions each time you show up. What we want to do is stabilize and solidify your goal to survive. Once we have agreed this is survivable, we will then go about how to do so. 

Here's a brief list of trauma responses and how you may be feeling. Write them down and put your experiences in the emotional state(s) that apply. 

"I'm in diisbelief."

You may half expect to wake up any minute from this nightmare. You will. But the betrayal will still be true. You will have that first moment in the morning (if you slept) and think to yourself , "was that a dream or is this really happening? " You have a natural state of disbelief because you trusted another person only to find that trust shattered like that fine crystal you once thought had value.  And now, you feel like an idiot for doing so. It is common for this to occur in the very first moments of discovery. 

"I'm in shock."

You are numb and often feel insane or disabled. Your emotions are extreme senses are dulled including time and space.  You go through the motions mechanically, robotically, but can’t seem to apply sufficient concentration to your day-to-day life. It is naturally destabilizing to learn that the place you once experienced safety is the very place that is now a threat to your survival. 

"Why do I feel so much shame?"

Shame covers your body like an allergic rash. In moments it can feel like a surreal experience back and forth from disbelief to reality all in a split second. While is may be reality, it feels like a nightmare. Isolation sets in and there is a deep dread that no one must ever know. Few come out of this experience with intact  self-esteem. Let's face it for now that is temporarily shattered. You may feel belittled, insignificant, or unlovable. You may feel crushed, discarded, abused. This may lead to you questioning your own value.

"Why am I so confused?"

At first, shock creates confusion. Reality combined with shock can create a range of emotions mostly felt in a physical realm. You may be feeling adrenaline and rapid breathe. You may have a need to pace or to want to run. You may feel a loss of control and a lack of awareness of time and place. For sure thinking straight is less than likely.  After the initial event, confusion sets in when driving, or running errands or adjusting back to your roles and responsibilities with more difficulty. You may end up in a location driving not knowing how you got there. It is important to slow the pace and breathe. You may also experience feeling nothing. Feeling flat and experiencing dissociation is common. It may be a time that you need to excuse yourself from too many outside obligations as you work through this initial stage.

" I feel a lot of crazy feelings."

Once that initial shock comes wearing down and the first breath comes back into your lungs, you may divert to anger. For some, it may be tears, but for many it is dark rage. Let's go ahead and expect this emotion to be around here and there for some time. We must however, extend some control over an emotion that is served best in small managed doses. Anger mixes back and forth with shame and hurt. Frustration is a form of anger and you will be experiencing frustration at a whole new level for a time. You will be frustrated at yourself for having to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions that keep circling the camp. One minute you feel powerful and capable and the next you imagine never healing from this tragedy. Bitterness will show its face as well. Looking at the betraying partner may elicit a range of negative emotions including hatred, resentment, hostility, rage, or a strong need to be out of the presence of this individual. Opposite feelings may occur such as wanting to have sex with the betraying partner or wanting to have sex with someone else. This can come on the heels of feeling anger, or fear. Acting on 'crazy' feelings can put you in a place of risk.  

"I feel so depressed."

Sleep is greatly impacted. If depression is preexisting, not getting out of bed may be a response. Not sleeping and feeling hyper vigilant also may occur. Sleep loss may result in heightened emotions and confusion. Diet may be impacted. Because stress hormones are located in the gut, many people lose an appetite while others find themselves binging on sugar or alcoholic beverages. Headaches, weakness in the limbs or having panic attacks can also occur. Weight loss is common as is weight gain. The desire to exercise may surge and you will find yourself walking the treadmill  at 5am to cope with racing thoughts and overflowing emotions. These somatic responses will decline but it is normal to observe how you are responding to this traumatic event. 

"I can't stop crying."

If you aren't crying you may still be in denial or shock. Deep emotions result from betrayal. It is common to find yourself in any place or time and then suddenly well up with a gushing emotional release.  It is also common to experience uncontrollable sobbing and even screaming out loud. A good cry is never wrong. 

"I am blocking all of this out."

Be on the lookout for constant and rigid self-control as it can block healing. You have experienced a major event so no one can manage self control for an extended amount of time. It will be a more difficult path to resist having negative emotions at this time. Let them come, because they will be the healing of wounds. 

"My mind won't quit spinning."

Questions about the events may hover in every waking moment. You will wake up with questions you want answered and circle every moment in your mind of what occurred at the disclosure of the event. You will have a thousand questions and most likely be met initially with few of the answers. Your curiosity may be insatiable or it may be too traumatic to fill in the blanks with imaged scenes and narratives. Different people have different needs and tolerances for information, but you crave information to process your trauma, in order to move through it, and move past it. The best action is to document and record your thoughts. Journal your questions and be mindful to breathe and down regulate. Your biggest question will be WHY.

"This is so unfair."

You have experienced an unjust event. Much like a victim of a crime, you are left to deal with the damage. Your partner invited danger and took the risk., You were an unintended victim who suffered the greatest injury at the moment. A part of you may want justice and may begin to think like a vigilante. You may have a secret desire to do harm to them or others or at least wish them harm. You may have a fantasy of how to get even. You may think of things you can do to cause them shame, embarrassment or professional harm. A sad truth of betrayal is that it is unfair and nothing you do will resolve the part that was done to you. No amount of revenge will diminish the pain but accepting the thoughts your mind produces doesn't indicate a need to follow through on those impulses.

"Help me heal."

Therapy is one of the fastest routes for healing betrayal. Because of its frequency and impact, therapy focuses and targets areas of recovery that can prevent unnecessary suffering. Allowing yourself time to heal is imperative. You may be healing with your partner or you may choose to take a very different direction and remove yourself from this relationship. Removing, however will not sufficient to heal the event.

 

You will need to do intentional work to set in place preventative measures as well as set new healthy boundaries for yourself moving forward. You will notice as time passes, that particular dates, places, items and activities can bring back pain as intensely as ever. It may feel like an uninvited guest and leave you once again floored. It can be  emotionally debilitating and cause depression, renewed anger, or spark and reignite memories. These flashbacks may cause you to question if you will ever again experience life without the pain of the event. Allow memories in so that you can challenge the future with a renewed sense of being able to manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You will eventually rejoice in letting go of how another person's choices were an example of their decision making and not yours. 

 

While this has been an event you did not choose, you have the opportunity to learn how to heal and forgive things outside of your control and make this an event you can say you survived well. 

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