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What is Betrayal Trauma?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

First Step Men's Therapy helps men across Ontario, Canada develop healthier relationships with themselves and others. We offer individual, couples, and group counselling to men and their families online using our secure telehealth platform. We also offer therapy to partners seeking support for betrayal trauma.

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Note: We work with partners that have been betrayed by their partner and experience betrayal trauma. Additionally, we also offer couples counselling in our clinic.

What is Betrayal Trauma?

Men who come to us for help with compulsive sexual behaviours such as a sex or porn addiction, or for infidelity, lying, or secret-keeping often report having a partner who has experienced significant betrayal trauma as a result of their actions and choice. So what is betrayal trauma?

Betrayal Trauma occurs when trust in someone or something has been broken

Betrayal trauma is a painful wound that is created when one's trust in another has been broken. It is often referred to as a trauma, as partners who experience betrayal often exhibit symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Symptoms of betrayal trauma in a partner include:

  • emotional instability

  • hypervigilance and fear

  • confusion

  • self-blame

  • impact on sexuality (becoming overly sexual after trauma)

  • damaged self-esteem

  • nightmares and intrusive thinking

  • substance use (alcohol/drugs)

  • preoccupation

  • grief

  • public embarrassment

  • anger

  • ambivalence and withdrawal

  • shame

Drip-drop confessions and disclosures normally inflict further mistrust and pain

For many partners, this experience can be further distressing by repeated, staggered disclosures that often include small bit of information over time that can lead to further betrayal and negative effects on one's self and overall functioning. This pattern is common when an individual is addicted to a particular behaviour, such as sex or porn, where the goal for the addicted individual is damage control and an attempt to minimize behaviours and consequences.

For partners struggling with betrayal trauma, it is important to remember that:

  • self-care is important as you go through a very difficult time

  • you are not responsible for the betrayal

  • support is key - ensure you have access to friends, therapy, and support groups for betrayed partners

  • boundaries are an important part of healing - boundaries with self, partner, and others

Can therapy help me or my partner suffering from betrayal trauma?

Therapy is often essential for both partners, as one works on their addictive behaviour and the root causes of their acting out behaviour while the partner receives support in working through their trauma of being betrayed by those closest to them. One particular process that can be helpful for betrayal trauma is a therapeutic disclosure, a process that has shown to be helpful in the healing process as both individuals and as a couple.

What is a therapeutic disclosure?

Therapeutic disclosure often involves each partner receiving help from a qualified therapist and both therapists working together to collaborate on a disclosure plan. Therapeutic disclosure is only recommended for couples wishing to stay together and work on the relationship, as the process requires commitment, honesty, and engagement. Therapeutic disclosure is also recommended once both partners feel stable, have adequate supports in place, and are not in any active addiction that may cause further damage to the coupleship.

In the therapeutic disclosure, both partners have a chance to share about their experience; the partner who betrayed is offered a chance to share their purpose for the disclosure, a brief summary of behaviours that pre-dated the relationship, a thorough but not overly-detailed description of betrayal events, a cost estimate summary, and a declaration of boundaries, self-care, and commitment to working on the relationship. For the betrayed partner, therapeutic disclosure is an opportunity to ask questions and, after the disclosure, write an share an impact letter.

Working with a qualified CSAT therapist can be a helpful part of the healing process

Working with a qualified therapist is an important aspect to the disclosure process. Certified Sex Addiction Therapist's (CSAT) have extensive training in partner betrayal trauma, addiction and intimacy disorder, and engaging in the process of therapeutic disclosure. First Step Men's Therapy has several CSAT therapist's on staff who can assist you with this process, and we also offer couples counselling for those wishing to integrate both individual and couples counselling into their recovery plan.

For more information on betrayal trauma and sex addiction, visit our pages here:

Sex Addiction Therapy: Click here

Porn Addiction Therapy: Click here

Trauma & PTSD Therapy: Click here

Working with a CSAT blog post: Click here

Trauma PTSD Therapy and Sex Addiction Therapy in Ottawa, Toronto, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Mississauga, Brampton, Kingston, London, Barrie, Windsor, St. Catherines, Sudbury and Kitchener-Waterloo and across Ontario.

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