Types of Betrayal Trauma

betrayal Aug 08, 2023


In the first post of this series, I mentioned that there can be multiple forms of betrayal trauma.  In this, our second post of the series, we'll go deeper into these different types.  Again, recall that the psychological experience of betrayal occurs when actual behaviors deviate from expected behaviors.

In this post, we'll look at various types of betrayal and the relationships in which they can occur.  Let's get started!


Context of Betrayal


Parental Betrayal occurs when a parent or caretaker fails to protect you from harm or uses you inappropriately for personal benefit, such as sexual abuse, emotional enmeshment, triangulation, etc.  

Interpersonal Betrayal can occur with friends, peers, and anyone who breaks your confidence or trust through their actions or speech.  

Intimate Partner Betrayal occurs in a romantic relationship when one partner has an emotional or physical affair or engages in sexual behavior outside of their agreed boundaries, such as viewing pornography and online cam-girls.  This form of betrayal is often labeled Infidelity. 

Institutional Betrayal occurs when a group of people or system acts in ways contrary to their stated values, goals or self-portrayed image. This is especially damaging when institutions protect the perpetrator of wrong instead of advocating for victims or “whistle-blowers.”  Common settings include church, education, military, healthcare, government, etc.


Now that you have a general framework for the relationships in which betrayal may occur, let's look at the predominant forms of betrayal.



Types of Betrayal



Your body is uniquely yours and comes with implicit boundaries of the types of touch that are appropriate and safe, vs which are not.  When someone uses your body for their personal benefit without your consent, you experience physical betrayal, especially if the person was considered safe or is needed for survival.  The younger a person is, the more damaging the betrayal becomes. 

While physical assault is most commonly assumed, unwanted or unsafe touch also qualifies as physical betrayal.  The most damaging form of physical betrayal is sexual, whether in childhood as sexual abuse and incest or in marriage when a person's body is used for selfish gratification void of holistic connection.



Sharing your heart is more intimate than sharing your body.  When others demonstrate curiosity, compassion and empathy it builds trust and safety which leads to further vulnerability.  However, when others criticize, minimize or dismiss, it undermines trust and safety.  When you initially trust someone and later experience negative emotional responses, this causes a sense of emotional betrayal.  

This often happens as couples transition from dating to marriage.  Commonly, women feel pursued initially, but are suddenly left reeling in the void of attention within weeks of the wedding.  This form of betrayal is especially devastating when a spouse discovers hidden sexual behaviors, especially emotional affairs.



Holistic intimacy is based on a solid foundation of psychological safety, which consist of honestly, trust loyalty and commitment.  Read more. Watch more.  When these are initially established in a relationship, there is a sense of security and safety.  However, when any of the four foundational elements are fractured, psychological betrayal occurs.

Where once you believed your spouse to be honest, they now have been exposed as a liar.  Where once they were trustworthy, now they are untrustworthy.  Where loyal, now proven disloyal.  Where a commitment was assumed, it is now questioned.

Oftentimes, addicts stuck in their cycle of addiction strive to maintain their cover by using psychological manipulation techniques of gas-lighting and blame-shifting.  Both of which compound the psychological betrayal.



Most couples enter marriage with some form of spiritual beliefs which guide their morals and boundaries.  When a person makes choices that do not align with their stated spiritual beliefs, a spouse is left with a sense of spiritual betrayal.  Not only did this person secretly view pornography or have an affair, they also violated the spiritual beliefs they claimed to follow.  

Sometimes this sense of betrayal goes beyond the spouse and to God himself.  It's not uncommon for a betrayed spouse to question how God could have let this happen and bring in to question all of their spiritual beliefs.  In a way, a betrayed partner may feel both betrayal from their spouse and betrayal from God.

This form of betrayal also occurs when trusted religious leaders are found to live lives off-stage that they speak against or deny on-stage.  When such leaders are found to be living duplicitous lives out of alignment with their claimed values, the experience can be highly disorienting and often traumatic.  This is especially true for victims who speak out regarding their abuse, only to be silenced by the church systems that prefer to keep the leader's reputation intact rather than face the truth about their abuse of power.


Marriage can provide many financial benefits to both spouses due to shared resources.  However, pooling financial resources requires a great amount of trust and communication to navigate spending in ways that are mutually agreeable.  When one spouse spends outside their agreed upon boundaries, the other spouse is likely to feel financial betrayal.  When this spending is tied to a person's addiction or affair, the betrayal hurts all the worse.

Sometimes the financial betrayal is so great that few resources are left to even pursue counseling or divorce.  Part of the work of a betrayed spouse is to navigate how to provide for and protect themselves financially after the truth about spending finally comes to light.  It's no wonder that 1st Timothy 6:10 states that “The love of money is the root of all evil.” 



The gift of sex was designed to be a capstone for intimacy and an overflow of the rich connection nurtured by two healthy individuals.  It is the most vulnerable act you can do physically with another person.  As such, it also has potential to be the most painful form of betrayal a person can experience.

Because of the sacred nature of sex, violating boundaries and expectations causes some of the most complex trauma known today.  Be it sexual abuse in childhood, sexual misuse in adulthood, pornography or infidelity, all create a sense of sexual betrayal that takes years to heal.

In this state of trauma, betrayed spouses may strive to be hyper-sexual to "fix" the problem, experimenting with riskier forms of sex in hopes of controlling their spouse.  However, this approach almost always comes at great cost to a person' emotional and mental health as they are left empty and void, still lacking the connecting they truly desire.

Alternatively, betrayed spouses may become so repulsed by the idea of sex that they become withdrawn, critical and cold.  Without a guide to help them process betrayal trauma and specifically sexual betrayal, partners are often left waffling between extremes for years.  For training on finding the right help to address these complicated issues, check out the course Bermuda Pyramid.



Humans are highly relational beings who over time may learn to avoid relationships due to past pain of interpersonal relationships.  When any of the prior forms of betrayal occur, there is also an additional form of betrayal socially due to how others may perceive you, your spouse and your marriage. 

If someone is publicly caught having an affair, there is significant social impact for both spouses.  All relationships are now all in question... who's for me, who's against me, who really cares for my heart and who's simply judging without hearing my story.  It impacts where you may feel comfortable shopping, eating, traveling or working based on these changed social dynamics.  Certain places may even be off limits due to their strong triggering nature.

If the betrayal is more secretive, like pornography, sexting, online chat-rooms, then the social betrayal is experienced more internally as a spouse wrestles with anxiety about how much others may know, whether they should tell, who's safe to share with, how they'll be viewed if word gets out.

Basically, the entire social fabric of a person's life is forever changed as a consequence of this additional, implicit form of betrayal.




In conclusion, I want to summarize the betrayal can be categorized in multiple ways.  One way is to sort by the type of relationship in which it occurs.  The second way is to sort by the nature of the betrayal.  

To hear from women who have lived through Betrayal Trauma, did the hard work of recovery and are now flourishing, enroll in our course, Conquering Betrayal.  Hear what they have to say about the most effective ways to heal and the mistakes to avoid.

Learn more








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