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Navigating Betrayal Trauma

August 22, 2023
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Betrayal trauma involves having an innate desire to feel joy, having your idea of a joyful relationship shattered, experiencing the worst pain of your life, and then using previously learned coping skills, repeatedly, to feel better. And they don’t work.

Let me explain. Every individual has an innate drive to feel good. A significant factor contributing to this feeling is belief. We all harbor beliefs about what makes us feel good. We believe good relationships make us feel good. Most of us believe that loyalty and fidelity are foundational to good relationships. They represent true love. When we believe someone loves us, we feel good. If our relationship meets these criteria, we align with our innate desire to feel mostly positive.

However, when betrayal is uncovered, disloyalty and infidelity taint the relationship. The relationship turns sour. We start to believe we are unloved, and perhaps, that we were never loved. Our relationship now stands in stark contrast to what we believed was good and what would make us happy. As a result, we feel terrible. Because loyalty and fidelity are deeply valued, their breach in the form of disloyalty and infidelity causes profound trauma.

Confronted with such intense emotions, we naturally seek solace. We revert to the only coping strategies we know. For betrayed women, one coping strategy is to analyze, to try to understand the entire situation. Their minds race:

“Who was she? How many times? How long has he been deceiving me? I’m such an idiot! How could I not have seen this coming? I’m going to divorce him. But what will that do to the kids? I can’t believe this is happening. Is this really happening? Yes. I have proof! Ugh!”

Although this train of thought might seem natural, it doesn’t bring comfort. In fact, it may amplify the emotional pain. So, what should one do instead?

Here’s an alternative: Ground yourself.

Here are three techniques:

  1. Repeat a mantra. My personal mantra is, “Let go and let God, yes, trust in the Lord.” It might be too religious for some, but you can choose another mantra that resonates with you. Perhaps, “Be still” or just “Breathe.”
  2. Focus on breathing. One grounding technique I recommend to my clients is a body scan to identify tense muscles. Then, I guide them to visualize breathing into and out of those tense areas.
  3. Descriptive exercise. I sometimes hand my clients a pen and instruct them to describe it for six minutes. You can pick any object and describe it for as long as you find helpful.

Indeed, any activity can become a grounding exercise, provided you adhere to these four steps:

  1. Choose a grounding technique that has a specific goal and focus on achieving it (e.g., repeat “Let go and let God” for three minutes).
  2. Remember, the objective is to strive to achieve your goal, not necessarily to meet it (it’s okay if you get distracted within 30 seconds).
  3. Whatever happens during the exercise, it’s alright. Embrace both successes and distractions.
  4. If you lose focus or feel frustration creeping in, as soon as you recognize it, gently return to the exercise, assuring yourself that everything is fine.

Some might assume that these exercises aim to calm you down. While there’s some truth to that, setting the primary expectation as finding calm might lead to disappointment if it doesn’t happen. If you’re at peace with any outcome (as per instruction #3), a byproduct of the exercises might indeed be calmness.

You might think these exercises are deceptively simple and question their efficacy. While they are straightforward, they’re also intricate. Their complexity is understood only when practiced. With time and repetition, you’ll grasp how they assist. Initially, as a betrayed partner, your objective isn’t necessarily to feel good but to manage the pain constructively. These exercises can sharpen your thinking, enabling better decision-making in turbulent times. With patience, healing will come.

God bless!