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  • Writer's pictureDr. Shira Olsen

How to Begin Healing from Betrayal Trauma after Infidelity

Healing from Betrayal Trauma

The discovery of a partner's infidelity is a painful and shattering blow. Sexual betrayal cuts deep, leaving you feeling hurt, angry, and overwhelmed. It is natural to feel lost and unsure about how to begin healing from the pain of infidelity.


At Pacific Behavioral Healthcare (PBH), we understand that the road ahead may feel uncertain, and our betrayal trauma therapists can serve as a gentle guide on your journey towards healing. From acknowledging and processing your emotions to learning ways to calm your nervous system from the trauma, we can show you practical steps to begin the healing process.


Working with a therapist specializing in betrayal can help you navigate the complex web of betrayal trauma symptoms and create a path forward. Recovery takes time and requires self-compassion. Whether you choose to rebuild your relationship or move forward independently, taking proactive steps towards healing is critical to your overall well-being.


This article provides guidance as you navigate this difficult experience. We'll offer practical advice and insights to help you begin the healing process and pave the way for a future filled with love and self-acceptance.


What is Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma is often referred to as the emotional and psychological distress one experiences after a significant violation of trust by a loved one. It can lead to feelings of shock, anger, shame, and intense sadness. The impact of betrayal trauma can extend beyond the relationship itself and affect various areas of your life.


The term betrayal trauma was first used by psychologist Jennifer Freyd in the 1990s. Dr. Freyd is a pioneering researcher in the field of trauma and betrayal, and her work has helped to raise awareness of the unique and often long-lasting effects of betrayals of trust by those we depend on.


Dr. Freyd's work has contributed significantly to our understanding of the psychological and physiological impacts of trauma, particularly in the context of betrayals by loved ones, close friends, or trusted authority figures. Her theory highlights the unique challenges faced by victims of betrayal trauma because the perpetrator is often someone relied upon for safety and support, making healing from betrayal uniquely challenging.


The Onset of Betrayal Trauma after Infidelity

We now understand that betrayal trauma can occur after the discovery of infidelity. This type of betrayal is particularly devastating because it violates a person's trust and expectations in a relationship, causing deep feelings of hurt, fear, and loss of security. It can also lead to feelings of shame and impact one’s self-esteem and self-worth.


The symptoms of betrayal trauma, which closely resemble posttraumatic stress disorder, can emerge right away and create a state of crisis for the individual. Some partners share that they felt completely shattered by the discovery of infidelity and were in a state of shock. Other times, the symptoms of betrayal trauma can have a delayed onset and emerge several months after the discovery.  


Those who struggle to heal from betrayal may go on to develop trust issues, experience feelings of abandonment, and have difficulty maintaining close relationships. These symptoms and the difficult circumstances of navigating through a shattered relationship often leaves betrayed partners feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to do first. With a little guidance however, you can begin to take empowering steps towards healing.


Strategies for Healing from Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma can have a profound impact on your emotional and mental well-being. It shakes the very foundation of trust and can leave you questioning your self-worth. Understanding the nature of betrayal trauma is the first step towards healing.


Recovering from betrayal trauma requires a multi-faceted approach. You can start feeling better the sooner you begin your healing journey. Below are strategies for overcoming betrayal that you can try today. I recommend practicing one or two to get started as opposed to trying them all at once. You will receive more benefit by focusing on one strategy at a time.


1.   Practice self-care during the healing process

Self-care plays a crucial role in healing from betrayal trauma. When you prioritize your well-being, you are taking important steps towards reclaiming your life and rebuilding your sense of self. Here are several self-care practices that can support your healing journey:


Physical Self-Care

Engage in activities that promote physical well-being, such as regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, and getting enough restful sleep. Taking care of your physical health can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional well-being.

 

Emotional Self-Care

Allow yourself to express your emotions in healthy ways. This may involve journaling, talking to a trusted friend or therapist, or engaging in creative outlets such as art or music. Find what works for you and prioritize activities that help you process and release your emotions.

 

Setting Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries with your partner as you navigate through the healing process. Communicate your needs and expectations and ensure that they are respected. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries can help rebuild trust and create a sense of safety.


Remember, self-care is not selfish. It is a necessary component of healing and rebuilding your life after betrayal. By prioritizing your well-being, you are giving yourself the love and care you deserve.


2.   Connect with a trusted support system

Navigating the healing process alone can be overwhelming and isolating. Seeking support from trusted individuals can provide you with emotional validation, guidance, and a sense of community.


It’s important to turn to individuals who are safe and supportive of your situation. Often, well-meaning friends and family can unintentionally make individuals feel worse through unsolicited or unhelpful advice. Share your feelings and experiences with those who will listen without judgment. Their support and understanding can be a source of comfort and strength.


Remember, seeking support is not a sign of weakness but a courageous step towards healing. Surrounding yourself with caring individuals can provide the encouragement and empathy you need during this difficult journey.


3.   Begin to challenge negative thoughts

It is natural after betrayal to experience a barrage of negative thoughts about yourself, your worthiness, and your future. Beginning to recognize and challenge these negative thoughts is essential for rebuilding self-esteem and resilience.


This change will not happen overnight, but starting to notice your negative thoughts and stopping them from taking over can jumpstart your healing journey. Here are some strategies to help you challenge and reframe negative thinking patterns:


Identify Negative Thoughts

Pay attention to the negative thoughts that arise in your mind. Write them down and examine their validity. Are these thoughts based on evidence, or are they distorted by the pain of betrayal?

 

Question the Evidence

Challenge the evidence supporting your negative thoughts. Look for counterexamples that contradict these negative beliefs. For example, if you believe that you are unlovable, remind yourself of the love and support you receive from friends and family.

 

Replace Negative Thoughts with Positive Affirmations

Once you have identified and questioned your negative thoughts, replace them with positive affirmations. Affirmations can help rewire your brain and promote self-compassion and self-worth. Repeat affirmations such as "I am deserving of love and respect" or "I am strong and resilient" regularly.


By challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with positive affirmations, you can cultivate a healthier and more compassionate mindset. Remember, healing begins from within, and changing your thoughts is a powerful tool in your journey towards healing.


4.   Rebuild trust with your partner (or other relationships)

Rebuilding trust with your partner after infidelity is very important. Although challenging, it is possible to build a new relationship that is stronger and healthier than before. Whether you decide to stay in your relationship or move on, surrounding yourself with supportive and trustworthy people can help rebuild your sense of security and safety.


This may seem counterintuitive to how you are feeling right now, as most partners who have been betrayed want to isolate themselves from others, but it can help your healing to have safe people to lean on. If you want to begin repairing trust in your current relationship, here are some ways to start:


Open and Honest Communication

One of the most important aspects of rebuilding trust is open and honest communication. Both partners need to be willing to express their feelings, concerns, and needs without judgment or criticism. This can happen through couples therapy or individual therapy, where a neutral third party can help facilitate productive conversations.


Setting Boundaries for Emotional Safety

Setting boundaries is essential in rebuilding trust and creating a new foundation for your relationship. Boundaries help establish a sense of safety and security, allowing both partners to feel respected and valued. It is important to have open discussions about boundaries and establish clear expectations for behavior moving forward.


Building Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is a key component of any healthy relationship. After infidelity, rebuilding emotional intimacy can be challenging but not impossible. It requires vulnerability, empathy, and a willingness to be present for each other. Engaging in activities that promote emotional connection, such as sharing feelings, dreams, and fears, can help rebuild emotional intimacy.


By focusing on open communication, setting boundaries, and building emotional intimacy, you can begin to create new relationships that are built on trust, understanding, and mutual respect.


5. Be kind to yourself

Betrayal trauma can leave you feeling broken. It is crucial to remember that you deserve kindness and compassion, especially during this challenging time. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself as you work through the healing process. Here are two ways to practice being kind to yourself:


Self-Care Practices

Engaging in self-care practices is essential for healing from betrayal trauma. Incorporate activities that bring you joy and comfort into your daily routine. This can include anything from taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk in nature, practicing yoga, or indulging in a hobby that brings you fulfillment. Prioritize self-care as an act of self-love.


Practicing Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards yourself. Acknowledge that healing takes time and that you are doing the best you can. Treat yourself with the same level of compassion and empathy that you would offer a close friend going through a similar experience.


By prioritizing self-care, seeking support, and practicing self-compassion, you can begin to heal from the pain of betrayal and cultivate a sense of kindness and love towards yourself.


6.   Processing through emotions

Allow yourself to feel and process emotions, rather than suppressing them. This can include journaling, talking to a trusted friend, or expressing emotions through art.


It is important to acknowledge and validate your emotions. Allow yourself to feel the pain, anger, and sadness that betrayal has caused. Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of trust and the future you envisioned. Remember that your feelings are valid and deserve to be heard. Processing through the intense emotions that arise after infidelity is a crucial part of the healing process.


Journaling can serve as a powerful tool for processing emotions and gaining clarity. Set aside dedicated time each day to write freely about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Allow yourself to be completely honest and vulnerable in your journal entries. This practice can help release pent-up emotions and provide insight into your healing journey.


By utilizing journaling, therapy or counseling, and support groups, you can effectively process through your emotions and gain the tools necessary for healing and growth.


7.   Practice focusing on the present each day

Try to live in the present moment and not get stuck in thoughts about the past or worries about the future.


After experiencing infidelity, it is common to dwell on the past and constantly replay the events in your mind. However, focusing on the present moment can help you regain a sense of control and find peace. Here are three techniques you can use to focus on the present:


Mindfulness Practices

Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help anchor you to the present moment. Mindfulness allows you to observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm. Even  a few minutes a day can be helpful in calming your body.


Gratitude Journaling

Practicing gratitude can shift your focus from negative emotions to positive aspects of your life. Start a gratitude journal and write down three things you are grateful for each day. This simple exercise can help reframe your mindset and bring a sense of comfort to your daily life when you are really struggling.


Engaging in Activities

Engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, even if you are not feeling up for it. This can help redirect your focus to the present moment. Whether it's pursuing a hobby, spending time with loved ones, or immersing yourself in nature, these activities can provide a much-needed break from rumination and help you find moments of peace and happiness.


By incorporating mindfulness practices, gratitude journaling, and engaging in activities that bring you joy, you can begin to shift your focus to the present moment and regain control over your thoughts and emotions.


8.   Practice Meditation

After experiencing betrayal trauma, you may feel like you’re in a constant state of fight or flight, so it becomes crucial to remind your body of a more relaxed state. Practicing mindful meditation, even for a few minutes a day can help calm your mind and body.


Meditation is a powerful tool for healing from betrayal trauma and cultivating a sense of inner peace. Here are three ways to incorporate meditation into your healing journey:


Guided Meditations

Start by exploring guided meditations specifically designed for healing and forgiveness. These meditations can help you release negative emotions, cultivate self-compassion, and bring a sense of peace and healing.


Mindfulness Meditation

Practice mindfulness meditation by focusing your attention on the present moment. Allow your thoughts and emotions to arise without judgment or attachment. Through consistent practice, mindfulness meditation can help you develop a sense of inner calm and acceptance.


Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation involves directing positive intentions and well-wishes towards yourself. This practice can help cultivate compassion and empathy for what you are going through. Regularly practicing loving-kindness meditation can support your healing journey and promote emotional well-being.


By incorporating guided meditations, mindfulness meditation, and loving-kindness meditation into your daily routine, you can harness the power of meditation to heal from betrayal trauma and cultivate inner peace.


9.  Create a New Narrative

Focus on your personal growth and making empowered decisions that bring fulfillment.

After experiencing infidelity, it is important to create a new narrative for yourself that is empowering and reflects your growth and resilience.


It is common to feel defeated and stuck after betrayal trauma, but if you can create moments where you are making decisions in your best interest, find your voice, and live your life within your values, you will begin to shift towards moments of healing and growth and away from the pain and despair.


10. Seek Professional Support

Processing your experience and trauma reactions with a professional can be immensely helpful. A betrayal trauma therapist can tailor treatment to your specific needs and help you feel like yourself again.

 

Individual Therapy for Betrayal Trauma

Consider working with a therapist who specializes in betrayal trauma. They can provide a safe space for you to process your emotions, gain insight into your experiences, and develop coping strategies. Therapy can be an invaluable resource for healing and personal growth.

 

Betrayal Trauma Therapy Group

Joining a therapy group for individuals healing from betrayal trauma can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. Connecting with others who have gone through similar experiences can offer a unique form of support and validation. Listening to and sharing stories with others can help you feel less alone and provide new perspectives on healing. At PBH, our betrayal trauma therapy group serves as a supportive space to connect with others and heal.


It is important to remember that healing from betrayal trauma takes time and patience. Everyone's journey is unique, and getting the right support and resources can make all the difference for your healing journey.


Please know that you are not alone and talking to a therapist can provide a safe space to process your feelings and work through the trauma. If you or someone you know is struggling with betrayal trauma, reaching out for help can be the first step towards healing and recovery.


At PBH, our betrayal trauma therapists understand what you are going through and are ready to help. Reach out today and schedule an initial session to start your healing journey.

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