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35 Signs & Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma in a Relationship

Betrayal is as old as time. Judas and Jesus. Cain and Abel. Samson and Delilah. Brutus and Caesar. Anna Karenina and Alexei Karenin. Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Scar and Mufasa. Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. King Arthur and Mordred.

Regardless of the story, regardless of the setting, regardless of whether it’s fact or fiction, history or legend – betrayal is an unfortunate and omnipresent part of our reality. So, how come no one ever sees it coming?

Is it because the human brain is “programmed” not to recognize signs of betrayal in friendships, intimate partnerships, or professional relationships? Or is it because the prospect of experiencing mental, emotional, and physical symptoms of betrayal trauma is so terrifying that we subconsciously choose to ignore it?

What Does Betrayal Trauma Do To A Person?

Experiencing betrayal can have a profound and enduring detrimental impact on virtually every aspect of a person’s well-being, including their mental and physical health, emotional stability, cognitive capabilities, and future relationships, among others.

As such, discovering signs of betrayal in friendship, romantic partnership, or even professional relationships can be devastating to the person on the receiving end. To understand how and why, first, we need to understand which perpetrator’s actions and behaviors constitute betrayal.

What Are The Signs Of Betrayal In Relationship Psychology?

Detecting signs of betrayal in a friendship, marriage, or even a professional relationship can be challenging for two reasons:

  • Each relationship is unique. The intensity and dynamics may vary significantly, and so can the (precipice) upon which it’s built. This renders some signs of betrayal more relevant than others, depending on the individual circumstances of the relationship.
  • These signs do not definitely indicate betrayal. However, their persistence and/or continuous increase in intensity can signal the existence of a deeper problem, prompting caution when approaching their interpretation.

With that being said, here are potential signs of betrayal in a relationship, from a psychological standpoint:

  • Change in communication patterns: evasiveness, avoidance of certain topics, secrecy, reluctance/refusal to engage in open and honest communication;
  • Emotional distance: gradual disengagement, indifference, or alienation of the partner;
  • Behavioral shifts: significant and sometimes extreme changes in routines and habits;
  • Defensiveness: being oversensitive when faced with questions regarding their activities, interactions, or whereabouts;
  • Mood swings: drastic and sudden changes in disposition, with no obvious (logical) cause;
  • Excessive secrecy: sudden and extreme guardedness, especially regarding privacy (e.g personal space, devices, accounts, etc.);
  • Decline in intimacy: lack of interest in personal or emotional closeness;
  • Financial discrepancies: unexplained expenses; undisclosed or hidden financial activities;
  • Lack of transparency: being dishonest, secretive, or deceptive about plans, activities, and interactions.

Whether proven true or misinterpreted, the above signs carry great potential to cause internal turmoil which can contribute to the formation of betrayal trauma. Even at a glance, it’s easy to see how each sign can constitute a breach of trust.

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Betrayal?

Considering how trust is the very foundation upon which any healthy relationship resides, it shattering can (and often does) leave lasting consequences on the victim. Long-term signs of betrayal trauma can roughly be sorted into six categories, as follows:

  • Emotional consequences are the most numerous and, arguably, the most intense. They include:
    • Chronic emotional distress
    • Persistent feeling of intense sadness, similar to grief; 
    • Emotional scars that can contribute to the formation of fear to vulnerability;
    • Altered worldviews, typically shifting toward skeptical or cynical;
    • Difficulty forgiving or letting go in various aspects of life, not only relationships;
    • Diminished self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Mental health challenges stemming from excessive emotional turmoil may include the development or exacerbation of various issues, even to the point of them being clinically diagnosable:
    • Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression;
    • PTSD-like symptoms, such as hypervigilance, insomnia, and dissociation;
  • Relational effects of betrayal trauma can hinder a person’s capability to form new or maintain healthy relationships due to the:
    • Pervasive trust issues can shape victims’ behavior, causing them to approach any interaction with an extreme dose of cautiousness;
    • Fear of vulnerability can render a person incapable of opening up.
  • Cognitive difficulties
    • Impaired cognitive functions, such as difficulty focusing or concentrating, can have significant detrimental effects on a person’s day-to-day functioning;
    • Recurring intrusive thoughts may resurface unexpectedly and cause a person to relive the traumatic event, making it difficult to move on and further hindering daily routine;
    • Dissociation can lead to feelings of detachment or unreality, even causing a person to respond or behave in certain ways without being fully aware of their actions.
  • Behavioral issues usually develop as maladaptive coping mechanisms and a way of adapting to a new situation and can include:
    • Self-isolation can be a person’s way to shield themselves from potential emotional harm or relational vulnerabilities;
    • Increased irritability is a response to the experienced breach of trust, serving both as a way to express pain or frustration and as an attempt to “push away” potential emotional harm;
    • Substance abuse disorder (SUD) which can potentially lead to full-blown addiction.
  • Physical signs of betrayal trauma are diverse and a common manifestation of internal turmoil. These may include:
    • Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia and nightmares;
    • Changes in appetite, such as overeating or undereating;
    • Digestive problems, such as indigestion, stomachaches, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS);
    • Palpitations or elevated heart rate are a common response to stress;
    • Weight fluctuations, sometimes to the point of extreme (e.g. obesity or malnutrition);
    • Chronic fatigue, despite adequate and sufficient rest;
    • Frequent or chronic headaches, typically associated with constant tension;
    • The compromised immune system, caused by chronic emotional distress;
    • Sexual dysfunction and decreased libido.

The detrimental effects are even further exacerbated by the fact that betrayal often comes suddenly and unexpectedly, adding shock and disbelief to an already difficult situation, effectively rendering the victim incapable of taking constructive steps to remedy the situation.

What Is Post Betrayal Syndrome?

The “Post Betrayal Syndrome” is a concept used to describe responses an individual can experience after they’ve been betrayed, and includes a cluster of emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms of betrayal trauma:

  • Re-experiencing the event through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or dreams;
  • Hyperarousal, which can manifest as hypervigilance and heightened irritability;
  • Avoidance of triggers (e.g. situations, individuals) that remind them of betrayal, even to the point of self-isolation;
  • Negative changes in cognition and mood, result from the altered perception of the world and diminished sense of self-worth.

While the concept of Post Betrayal Syndrome accurately depicts the combination of responses mentioned above, it is not formally recognized as a clinical term or a psychological disorder. Rather, it is a descriptor used to delineate the (long-term) impact of betrayal on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Addressing the signs of betrayal trauma and its effects often requires professional assistance, typically a combination of therapeutic interventions (e.g., coaching, psychotherapy, etc.), leaning on a reliable support system (e.g., family, friends, support groups), and above all, commitment to the healing process and everything it entails.

Turn To PIVOT If You Recognize Signs Of Betrayal Trauma In Friendships Or Romantic Relationships?

Experiencing betrayal trauma is not a sign of weakness but an indication that you deserve to be in an honest, healthy relationship. With PIVOT’s help, you can start down the path of recovery and learn to overcome the pain of betrayal. At our rejuvenating Glass House Retreat, every individual coaching session is tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.

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Our experienced coaches are here to help you understand and address the emotional, mental, and physical symptoms of betrayal trauma, ensuring that you receive not only support but empowerment every step of the way. Reach out to us today and step into the future free from the weight of betrayal!

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