What You Should Know About the Causes and Effects of Betrayal Trauma

effects of betrayal trauma

Often times after an individual has felt an intense sense of betrayal from a person or group, they will experience a unique type of mental health issue known as betrayal trauma. Similar to how soldiers coming home from war will be triggered by a seemingly harmless variable, individuals who experience betrayal trauma deal with new hurdles and challenges as they attempt to overcome their hurt.

Here are some things everyone, from the individual affected to the friends and family around them, needs to know about the causes and effects of betrayal trauma.

What Is the Betrayal Trauma Theory (BTT)?

This theory was a concept drawn up by Jennifer Freyd in the 1990s. It states that betrayal trauma can occur when you are let down or had your trust violated by a person or institution that you were close to and depended on for support, protection, and even your survival. The victim often tends to dissociate from conscious awareness in these instances as a primary means of somehow preserving the relationship.

Types of Betrayal Trauma

Child Abuse

This betrayal can involve either physical, mental/emotional abuse, or a mix of both by a primary caregiver on whom the victim depends for necessities including food, clothing, shelter, and protection from harm. This can largely influence the young victim’s response to any future trauma. 

Dissociation or ‘betrayal blindness’ is common in such cases as a means to reduce the risk of an impaired relationship with the caregiver and potential danger toward the child.

Interpersonal Betrayal

This is the betrayal felt by a person you’ve been very close to emotionally. This may include a trusted friend or colleague. The feeling of being lied to or deceived by someone close to you, even if not a romantic partner, can still leave deep psychological scars.

Institutional Betrayal

This type of betrayal is felt when an institution which the patient trusted fails to effectively deal with or prevent related wrong-doings perpetrated by other individuals. The type of betrayal felt could be responses of disbelief, blame, possible refusal to help, or even attempts to silence the victim, leading to ‘second assault’ which could worsen the initial trauma symptoms for the victim. 

There are various institutions that can perpetrate betrayal trauma, including 

  • Academic and medical institutions,
  • Religious organizations,
  • Military units, and 
  • Law enforcement systems 

The institution’s betrayal is diametrically opposite to their stated value system and motto, which makes the victim feel confused and in a state of denial.

Intimate Betrayal

One of the key features of an intimate relationship is the bonds and attachments shared between the two parties. They tell you that you are cared for, understood, appreciated, and most of all, safe. Betrayal by an intimate partner violates these bonds, and the victim is forced to experience the loss of the relationship as it stood before they were betrayed.

These betrayals can occur in several ways, including

  • Dishonesty about aspects of their life,
  • Physical or emotional abuse, 
  • An active physical or emotional affair with a third party, or
  • A problematic sexual addiction, such as pornography usage.

The victim in these situations often chooses to stay with their partner. In most situations of intimate betrayal, the effects of betrayal trauma will lead to feelings of hurt, fear, and shame as the victim will try and cover up or bury the wrong-doing.

Unique Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

Each type of betrayal has certain unique symptoms, some of which are temporary, but many with complicated and long-lasting consequences. For instance,

  • Childhood trauma can lead to emotional disruption, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, stomach ailments, eating disorders, substance abuse, and attachment issues.
  • Intimate trauma can cause a loss of self-worth, guilt, anger, emotional issues, trust issues, mental health problems, pain, insomnia, and so on.

General Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma

However, the majority of these symptoms are common to all betrayal trauma victims, including anxiety, depression, emotional disconnect, flashbacks, brain fog, trust issues, dissociation, and a scarred mental health pattern.

Steps to the Healing Process

The healing process is varied for each victim, but some of the ways you can help recover are listed below.

  • Practicing various calm-inducing and peaceful techniques like mindfulness and yoga.
  • Taking good care of your body and eating healthy and exercising adequately.
  • Building strong and healthy relationships for a good support system to heal your emotional and mental wounds.
  • Standing testimony to your abuse and how the steps you’re taking in your journey to recovery, thereby helping other victims and also improving your self-worth.
  • Indulging in long-forgotten passions and new hobbies to calm your mind and keep active.
  • Scheduling therapy sessions with a reputed therapist for marriage counseling or other counseling. Our licensed therapists at Solace Emotional Health can help you deal with the effects of betrayal trauma.


It’s important to remember that you are not weak or dumb just because you’ve been taken undue advantage of by someone else. You are not alone and there are various people and social systems to whom you can turn and who can aid your recovery process.