“Betrayal trauma makes you feel like you are losing your mind. It puts you on an emotional rack and pulls you in opposite directions until you are begging for mercy. It yanks your sense of security out from under you and puts you in a state of emotional free fall. It is severely emotionally distressing, and until you have experienced it, you really can’t imagine how truly life-altering the experience can be.”
When you have experienced betrayal trauma you are living in a state of emotional devastation, something that is very hard to navigate. Its symptoms include the following:
1. Adrenalin and cortisol are surging through your body as your autonomic nervous system (ANS) prepares for “fight or flight”.
2. Your body and mind are screaming danger and threat. You feel as if you’re living on high alert.
3. For many people, when they start to calm down, the whole unpleasant cycle starts over again, and is repeated and repeated in a series of waves.
4. The fear of future betrayals, and what that could mean, keeps the internal threat response system activated, and ready to go into over-drive again. This becomes chronic, and a way of life.
5. This means you are on an emotional roller coaster where emotions rise suddenly, are extreme, overwhelming and intense, are unpredictable, and hard to control. As a consequence of this, life feels frightening, chaotic and difficult to navigate.
6. When the ANS response system is triggered, it interferes with mental functioning. This affects your ability to focus, pay attention, concentrate, apply problem-solving skills, think logically, or analyze and process almost any information. Also, your memory is affected, and you can’t remember things.
7. You feels as if you’re constantly being “rubber-banded” back into the past. Because of the intensity of this experience, it is hard to separate the past from the present; to feel grounded; and to be fully aware of, and responsive to, what is happening here-and-now.
8. When you’re living with emotional dysregulation, it is rare to experience prolonged periods peace and calm.
However, once you can identify what’s happening to you, and can start to articulate the trauma and pain, you can begin the long process of recovery. Hold on to that hope. You are starting to heal.
“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”
When we have experienced rejection or betrayal it changes the way we see, and feel about, ourselves. We can pick up the message that there’s something wrong with us. That we’re less than other people. That we’re seriously flawed.
But all of these are lies, and we need to love ourselves.
So how do we learn to love ourselves?
1. Our mindset affects the way we see ourselves, how we interact with others, and how we live our lives. It affects our expectations around how others will treat us, and whether that’s appropriate, and what we should accept. This is an area we often need to challenge, and especially if we suffer from low self-esteem.
Some questions to ask yourself here include: Do I expect others to treat the same as/ better than/ or worse than they treat others? Why is that the case? What do I deserve when it comes to being loved? What will I put up with, and why?
2. Pay attention to how you treat yourself.
For example, do you tend to be self-critical and harsh towards yourself? Are you good at noticing and taking care of your physical, mental and emotional needs? How do you do that? How well do you do that? Do you make time to do the things you want and like to do? If not, why not?
3. We need to show self-understanding and develop self-compassion.
It can be helpful to take the time to write down our life story, and trace how our experiences have shaped who we’ve become.
4. We need to give ourselves permission to design our own life, and to say what we want, and then to go after that.
Of course, our plans can be destroyed by the people in our lives, and it’s hard to recover when we’ve been traumatized. But our life still our own. We still have some agency. And we still get a say in what’s going to happen next.
5. Perhaps you’ve heard it said thar each of us is the average of the five people we spend the most time with. With this in mind, think about who you spend your time with. Are these people who like, love and value you? Are they people who can see your potential, and who encourage you to live your best life? If not, it might be time to make some changes here and surround yourself with people who will love and treat you well.
The book and movie Into the Wild tell the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who dropped out of society, wandered the land, and finally died while living alone in Alaska.
Chris had every apparent advantage. A wealthy upbringing. An intact family. An education at top-notch schools. And yet, one day, he walked away from it all.
What was behind such a turn of events? Why did he turn his back on his life?
Chris (who changed his name to Alex Supertramp) uncovered a dark secret about his family. This changed him forever, and it knocked his life off course.
After finishing high school, Alex went on a road trip where he learned that his dad had been a bigamist. This long-held family secret turned his whole world upside down, and he couldn’t quite recover from the devastating news.
His sense of trust was shattered. He was shaken to the core. He thought all love was suspect, and that closeness just brought pain.
Hence, he set out on a journey. Restless. Broken. Seeking solace. And trying to find peace in the rugged empty wilds.
How This Applies to Us
Discovering those close to us have led a secret life, and have cruelly deceived us, has profound, lasting effects. It tears up our life’s narrative. It fills our heart with pain. It leaves our mind fragmented; our identity in shreds.
A story that made sense, and an unquestioned history, seem like a house of cards. It’s nothing more than a mirage.
The ending of the novel and the movie break your heart. Chris can’t survive alone, and so eventually he starves.
There’s a lesson and a warning here if you’ve been traumatized, or had to deal with secrets that have blown your world apart. It is:
We all need other people when dark secrets are revealed, when trauma overwhelms us, and destabilizes us.
We feel so isolated, and so cut off from the world. We don’t know who to turn to. Who on earth would understand?
But there are those who’ll listen. Who will help us bear the pain. They’ll be there in the darkness, in the long and endless night.
Support makes all the difference. Please don’t carry this alone. Reach out, and share your story. There are people here who care.