So, What Is Betrayal Trauma Anyway? Great question – I’m so glad you asked! Now, that we all caught up on where I’ve been for the last year, we can get to the good stuff. To which you may asked, “Betrayal trauma is your good stuff?” For me, totally it is. Because my mission is to support women who have experienced trauma due to their partner’s sexual betrayal and/or sex addiction find the strength to reclaim their true nature, which is joy. I’m not here to save you. You have likely already done that yourself. I’m here as a guide and a resource and a spiritual companion. I’m your biggest cheerleader. And your toughest coach. But’s circle back to all that because, in addition to those things, I am also a teacher. So, let’s start with the basics. Betrayal Trauma Theory (BTT) was developed in 1994 by Jennifer Freyd and occurs when people or institutions on which a person relies for protection, resources, and survival violate the trust or well-being of that person. BTT stresses that such betrayal by a caregiver can result in “dissociation implicitly aimed to preserve the relationship with the caregiver.” In other words, we have a self-preserving, instinctual response to minimize or even forget the traumatizing behavior or experience. In the past, this sort of minimizing or forgetting behavior was labeled as an enabling and used to justify the application of the co-addiction/co-dependency model for treating the partner. This model was adapted from the Al-Anon program, which is rooted in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and aimed at helping those impacted by alcoholism find recovery from their own co-dependent behavior. More recent findings in the area of impacts from betrayal trauma and sex addiction show that this behavior that was previously labeled as co-dependent is actually a trauma response. Thanks to the work of pioneers like Barbara Steffens, Marsha Means and Omar Minwalla, we now know that partners of sex addicts experience a level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) similar to one who has experienced a violent sexual assault. How about we take a breath right now? Take a deep inhale through your nose, filling up your belly with rich oxygen and then blow that breath out through pursed lips – like you’re blowing out through a straw. That’s called a “discharging breath” and it can help re-regulate your nervous system when it’s gone off-line. Does that statement feel true to you? That you might have PTSD? Before you answer – let’s do a quick rundown of that might look like in your every day life. The technical terms for the symptoms include, among others, re-experiencing of the trauma, constant triggering and reactivity, significant anxiety, hyper-vigilance and dissociative symptoms.
What the heck does that mean?
In plain English, it means that partners of sex addicts spend a lot of time replaying the traumatic events/memories over and over in their head, even when they don’t want to. They can’t eat or sleep. They are constantly triggered by everyday, ordinary events, people and places that their brain has now associated with the traumatic events. They scream and their heart pounds like crazy over the slightest scare and they often feel like they are in a fog, living outside their bodies and find it incredibly difficult to focus on everyday tasks – like work. The first draft of this LoveLetter had a much longer description of the trauma symptoms but I found my own self disregulated and had to shut it down and go for a walk outside and phone a friend! She and I laughed when I said that I had wanted to include real life examples from my own life but I couldn’t remember any – LOL! Because my brain has done its job and tried its very best to wipe them clean. Of course, they are still there…”indelible in the hippocampus” as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford once said. I know we started this LoveLetter by talking about Betrayal Trauma and ended up talking about sex addiction. Having an affair certainly does not equate to sex addiction. However, a series of them might. Regardless, the trauma that results from your spouse or partner’s betrayal or sex addiction can look similar and must be treated and cared for. Your pain is real. You are not crazy. It is not all in your head. I hate to leave you in such a heavy place. Promise me you’ll go outside, put your feet in the grass and feel the sunshine on your face, okay? Until next time, Jenni