Betrayal Trauma: Living with the Scars

Trauma affects the entire human organism … After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system”.

There’s a lot of pressure when you learn about betrayal, to work hard on your healing, and to move on with your life.

But you’re not the same person, and the scars don’t disappear.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that progress can be made. But trauma leaves an imprint on our body, mind and brain. It changes our neurology and physiology.

In “The Body Keeps the Score” Bessel van der Kolk describes some changes that occur when a person’s traumatized, and is later diagnosed with PTSD. Some of these changes include the following:

1. In a person unaffected by PTSD, the hormone cortisol sends out an “all safe” signal after a threat or danger has passed. This doesn’t happen with PTSD sufferers. This is because the latter’s stress hormones do not return to base level after the threat or danger has passed. Instead, the person continues to experience severe anxiety. They remain agitated, they cannot relax, they remain on guard, and they tend to react disproportionately to minor or neutral stimuli.

2. A person with PTSD is primed to react to anything that might signal danger, many months and years after experiencing the trauma. This is true, even when the person has told their story, and has worked on their healing with a therapist. For as Bessel van der Kolk states:

Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain mange perceptions. (As a consequence of trauma, the person) remains hypervigilant, prepared to be wounded at any time.”

3. In ordinary everyday life, both the right and left sides of the brain work together. However, trauma temporarily deactivates the left side of the brain. This means that whenever the traumatized person is triggered, the left brain blacks out, and simply ceases to function.

At the same time, the right brain continues to feels the strong emotions related to the original traumatic experience.

Unfortunately, because the left brain cannot function when it’s triggered, it cannot distinguish between the past and the present. Thus, the person feels as if they’re trapped in the past, reliving emotions which are scary and intense.

Knowing the above, which is based on trauma research, can help relieve the pressure to “hurry up and heal.

We need to recognize these facts, and to practice self-compassion … Because experiencing betrayal is a life-changing event.

That is, the impact is profound, it affects our chemistry, and it’s very difficult to make a full recovery.

*Quotes are from Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. London: Penguin Books.

21 thoughts on “Betrayal Trauma: Living with the Scars

  1. Excellent post, trauma from betrayal can be difficult to heal from as life as it was has been completely shattered into pieces and how do you put it back together. The mind is delicate and sometimes it takes very little to destroy a person’s balance and understanding. When nerves are stretch beyond repair it takes a lot of time, patience, love often peace and quiet to be able to think things through.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thank-you for creating awareness of how PTSD affects the whole human organism, and how, after severe trauma, the traumatized person experiences the world differently.

    Thus, the three guiding principles for recovery remain:
    1.Self-nurture, 2. Self-nurture, and 3. Self-nurture. 😁🌷

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I adore this explanation, and will link it in a future post. Absolutely nails how I, and many of us are irrevocably changed, at our core. Including all the trauma therapy I have had, which has helped, but can’t reverse the damage. Thank you, DLH ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment horsercumin. I think any of us who have truly experienced trauma know that it fundamentally changes our brain, and those changes occur outside of conscious awareness. That is why we can’t just get over it and move on!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! I just ordered that book, “The Body Keeps the Score” not long ago! I haven’t gotten to it yet because there’s so little time between blogging, family, housework, errands, networking with bloggers, working on my next book, reading my current book and so much other stuff, but I think I might make it a priority to fit it into my schedule!

    And it makes sense because anytime I’m around people that seem evil, my whole body seems to freeze and hurt and I want to just get away from the person. And I know it comes from being hurt in the past. Thank you so much for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, life gets busy!!! Thanks for reading and commenting Cherie. It’s the kind of book we have to read slowly. We need to put it down, process what we’re reading, apply what we’re learning, and keep on digging into it’s gold over time. I definitely recommend it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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