Five Reasons Betrayal Hurts So Badly

By Dr. Shira Olsen, CSAT

By Dr. Shira Olsen, CSAT


A partner of a sex addict experiences a level of pain that is indescribable.   The hurt is so profound and complex, partners often wonder if it will ever get better.  The partner's experience of devastation is valid.  In fact, research supports that betrayal impacts individuals in a uniquely painful way (Freyd, 2008). 

It is understood that individuals betrayed by a loved one experience symptoms similar to going through a traumatic event. But there is a much deeper level of pain to betrayal that can have lasting effects beyond just posttraumatic stress symptoms. 

To understand the depths of your pain and the powerful way it impacts your life, here are five reasons why betrayal hurts so much:

1)    Betrayal is relational.  The closer you are to someone, the more devastating it feels when they betray you.  You would not, for instance, feel the same level of devastation if an acquaintance lied to you versus your spouse.  When someone you love and trust hurts you, it’s difficult not to generalize this experience and fear that other people in your life could easily hurt you as well.  This belief is unsettling and can impact your ability to be open and vulnerable with others.

2)    Betrayal threatens our instincts.  We are hard-wired for belonging and connection.  After we select a partner and emotionally attach to them, we naturally believe that they will never hurt us.  When we are betrayed, our judgement and intuition about this person is now called into question.  No longer believing that you can trust your gut feels scary.

3)    Betrayal is traumatic. No one plans on being betrayed.  You are in a relationship because you believe that your significant other is safe, trustworthy, and will not hurt you.  When betrayal occurs, these beliefs are shattered in an instant making you question your views about yourself, your world, and the people in it. 

4)    Betrayal is confusing.  When intimate betrayal is not something you would ever do and thus outside of your values, it's difficult to comprehend how someone could do such a thing. Trying to make sense of someone’s betrayal is exhausting and can lead you to believe it is somehow your fault.  Our mind wants a simple explanation, and unfortunately the quickest solution leads us to blame ourselves (or doubt ourselves), even when it’s not our fault.

5)    Betrayal feels personal.  When you are betrayed, it’s personal. When it's someone else, we find every excuse to not make it about them.  Although irrational, this personal bias exists for a reason.  When faced with extreme pain our mind tries to quickly make sense of it in order to regain safety — the logic is, if I can figure this out, I will no longer feel as hurt.  With no good explanation on hand, we resort to the simplest solution, which is, it must be something about me. 

If you have been betrayed, therapy can help.  Working through your thoughts and feelings will allow you to break free from the grips of betrayal.  If you would like to learn more please contact me at my Bellevue, WA practice to see if working with a psychologist could be beneficial.

Freyd, J.J. (2008) Betrayal trauma.  In G. Reyes, J.D. Elhai, & J.D.Ford (Eds) Encyclopedia of Psychological Trauma.  (p. 76). New York: John Wiley & Sons. 

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