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Effects of Betrayal on the Brain: How to Heal Your Mind and Body

human anatomy model, effects of betrayal on the brain

When someone close to us breaks our trust, it can deeply affect our minds and our bodies. Any betrayal experience may lead to distress, but particularly difficult experiences create betrayal trauma that may permanently change a person’s psychological and physical makeup. In fact, there are effects of betrayal on the brain. For individuals who have experienced trauma, healing these effects is paramount. 

Types of Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma can arise from any close relationship, be it family of origin, close friends, partners, caregivers, or even institutions. Common causes of betrayal trauma include:

  • Partner Betrayal: Betrayal trauma may occur when one partner discovers infidelity by the other partner. While betrayal trauma is most common in instances of physical infidelity with someone outside the relationship, it may also arise from finding a partner’s addiction to pornography, particularly if one or both partners hold beliefs that do not allow for pornography use.
  • Caregiver or Guardian Betrayal: A caregiver should create an environment of safety and dependability. When a caregiver violates trust by physically, sexually, or emotionally abusing their charge, betrayal trauma may occur.
  • Interpersonal Betrayal: Siblings and close friends allow us to be our true selves because these relationships tend to see all sides of us. When such a person violates trust, betrayal trauma may occur. 
  • Parental Betrayal: When parents don’t protect and care for their children or when they violate trust through physical, sexual, or emotional abuse (manipulation, gaslighting, and verbal mistreatment), betrayal trauma commonly occurs. It is worth noting that parental betrayal highly influences how we choose partner relationships and operate within them. Due to this, parental betrayal during childhood may lead to an intimacy disorder later in life.
  • Organizational/Institutional Betrayal: While most of our close relationships develop with other people, many of us also have relationships with institutions, such as a church, a school, or an employer. When a person experiences pain because of an institution’s actions or leadership, it can radically impact how we view the world at large and cause institutional betrayal.

Maintaining relationships of any depth requires us to trust another person or entity. However, all people (and, by extension, all organizations) are fallible, and it is likely that each of our relationships will involve disappointment at some point. 

Sometimes, a person suffering from betrayal trauma cannot escape the relationship immediately and may not realize they need to leave. It is common for a person experiencing betrayal trauma to justify remaining, either out of obligation or because they do not feel it is safe to leave. These ways of dealing with trauma may keep a person safe or stable in the short term but do not allow for true healing in the long term. Learning to differentiate between relational disappointment and betrayal trauma is key to healthy relating and helps move us forward to healthier relationships. The effects of betrayal on the brain take many forms, often causing a person to doubt their perspective.

Signs You’re Experiencing Betrayal Trauma

Understanding common trauma indicators can help clarify your own experience or the experience of someone you love. There are many effects of betrayal on the brain: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression, or feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Intrusive worry or thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, or reliving memories of when you learned of the betrayal
  • Paranoia
  • A sense of inadequacy or embarrassment
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Shame, self-blame, or decreased self-esteem
  • Loss of personal identity
  • Experiencing “fog” or feeling “out of it”
  • Insomnia, trouble falling asleep, or difficulty staying asleep
  • Mood swings, including rage, confusion, and restlessness
  • Denial that the trauma happened or that the person was involved

The impact of betrayal trauma is wide-reaching. It causes severe disruption to your life, leading to feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, and unable to trust anyone or anything. It’s important to seek help to process these feelings and experiences.

How Does Trauma Alter the Mind?

Betrayal trauma has many effects on the brain and alters the brain of a person who experiences it. Often, these experiences impact the limbic and hippocampal regions, better known as your emotional response center and memory data bank. 

Typically, these two systems help a person understand safe boundaries and judge safe relationships or settings. After significant betrayal, many of a person’s experiences and memories may change, turning more dangerous or unsafe. Settings that a person once felt were normal or preferable may now feel dangerous and difficult to understand. Memories that seemed positive may feel ominous after betrayal.

Everyone’s response to trauma is different. Some people “freeze” and others “fight or flight.” Hyperarousal in betrayal trauma resembles a heightened fight or flight response. This often involves anger, fear, or panic. In contrast, a person may experience disconnection with their body, memory lapses, dissociation, and emotional numbness. Remaining in either state for an extended period can cause long-term difficulties around functioning in relationships and the world in general. 

Betrayal trauma may also result in a person exhibiting people-pleasing tendencies and losing sight of their own identity. It is crucial to identify and address betrayal trauma so that the victim can begin working to undo their trauma and move towards healthier ways of living. 

Does Betrayal Trauma also Affect the Body? 

Our minds and bodies are indelibly linked to each other, and betrayal trauma may significantly impact both. One of the most common effects is some form of intimacy disorder. If you or someone you love has difficulty in intimate situations, or if you struggle with sex or pornography addiction, intimacy disorder treatment can help you understand how to move forward to a healthier and more satisfying way of relating to yourself and others.

Betrayal trauma may manifest in several ways, such as: 

  • Overeating or lack of appetite
  • Insomnia or oversleeping 
  • Heightened blood pressure 
  • Aversion to intimate touch 
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Nerve pain
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Migraines
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Consistent infections
  • Unexplained fevers

How Can You Get Help for Betrayal Trauma?

Healing from betrayal trauma begins when you recognize what happened and its impact. 

Betrayal trauma can cause mental and physical changes that need healing. Finding support is vital to starting the healing process while rebuilding trust. We always recommend that a person seek professional guidance in these areas because they deal with our innermost selves. Much like you would want a skilled professional mechanic to assess and repair a problem under the hood of your car, it is wise to enlist the help of skilled mental health professionals when addressing issues under the hood of your mind.

At ILC, we pride ourselves in the healing opportunities we offer through our Intimacy Disorder Treatment Program. We’ve witnessed many people address their intimacy issues through inpatient sex addiction treatment, where they have a safe place to examine their own history and plan for a different, healthier future relating to others, with the support and guidance of our knowledgeable team of professionals. 

How ILC Can Help

Our programs identify underlying motivations for unwanted or destructive behaviors and patterns. We believe that each person comes to healing through their path, and we serve as guides as our clients do the work of healing in an environment where they can truly focus on their internal world. 

If you suffer from intimacy issues, the path to recovery can begin by reaching out to us today.  Contact us today at (615) 891-2226 to learn more about betrayal trauma and our treatment options.

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