Partner Betrayal Trauma: Part II
In Part I of this 3 part series on partner betrayal trauma you learned about the devastating impacts that occur when uncovering your partner's infidelity. In Part 2 I am going to share more on why this type of betrayal is considered a trauma. Let’s start by defining trauma, which is the emotional response to a life threatening and life altering event. Trauma can have immediate consequences as well as long lasting effects that impact daily functioning and disrupt a person's ability to cope and feel safe. In partner betrayal, the discovery of your partner’s infidelity has major impacts on you, shifting the reality of a life you once knew and your role in it. This is why it is considered a trauma. As a result, betrayed partners develop what are called “trauma responses” where your body and mind respond to the crisis and perceived threats in order to protect oneself.
Responses or coping strategies such as disassociation, shutting down, distracting ourselves with other behaviors, separating from others or intensifying connections with our relationships are common responses during this time. In addition, efforts to “fact find” such as snooping, spying, going through emails/texts, and surveilling are also ways to seek truth and feel safe. These are normal responses and further illustrate the attempts to find answers to make sense of the unfathomable. Identifying these responses as a betrayed partner can help you better understand what you are experiencing.
The following are 4 types of trauma responses partners may experience in the aftermath of betrayal:
a feeling of shock, numbness, or immobility: freeze
a desire for retaliation or expressing explosive anger : fight
pleasing in an effort to diffuse conflict and establish safety or hope for a return to homeostasis: fawning
running away or checking out from the situation itself in an effort to seek out relief or safety: flight.
These types of trauma responses above represent feeling totally out of control while simultaneously responding in ways to gain control. This is similar to feeling like an internal alarm clock, ticking and awaiting its next moment to ring. The ticking represents your state of hyper-vigilance or the anticipation of it. And the ringing represents your response to the heightened arousal. Being in this state for an extended period of time requires a depletion of your energy and can lead to significant physiological impacts on your mind and body such as exhaustion and breakdown. When we are in these states (freeze, flight, fawn, flight) our instincts as women are blocked and symptoms similar to the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) develop such as intrusive thoughts, forgetfulness, nightmares, night sweats, digestive issues and more.
In the book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk writes about how the body stores trauma. Even when we mentally try to block it out or move on from the pain of betrayal, our bodies remember. To that end, betrayal trauma has the ability to run down your immune and digestive system. If you have experienced any of these responses, it is important to understand why they occur and their effects. If you can learn to have awareness of what is happening to your mind-body connection when responding to these events post betrayal, you may find that over time, it will become easier to choose how you cope when activated by future triggers.
There are probably a lot of very big questions you have and decisions to make that feel immediate..
“Should I stay or should I go?”
“Can this relationship be fixed?”
“Can I trust again?”
While your partner may or may not choose a path of recovery, you get to choose where you stand in your path toward recovery regardless of where they are at. This is the best way to get to what is true for you and help you in the process of making decisions and healing.
There is hope and healing from this type of betrayal and it starts with you choosing your own recovery. In Part 3 of this blog series, I will be taking a deeper dive in sharing more information on partner recovery and the role partners take on to heal. To learn more on betrayal trauma or get support from a therapist or Certified Partner Trauma Therapist, visit seentherapy.com. Sending light,