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In 1991, the concept of "Betrayal Trauma" was introduced by psychologist and University of Oregon professor, Jennifer Freyd. With this type of trauma, the breach of trust occurs in important social relationships where the betrayed person feels that he or she must maintain a relationship with the betrayer for protection or support. 


Betrayal trauma theory suggests that lasting trauma is caused by the damage to an "attachment" relationship, such as the relationship between a parent and child or between romantic partners. A natural response to betrayal is to pull away from the attachment figure who caused the betrayal. This becomes impossible or extremely upsetting when you depend on that very person to meet life-sustaining needs.


The most obvious example of betrayal trauma is when the breach in trust occurs to children who are completely dependent on parents for emotional needs, food, shelter, and safety. When withdrawal is not possible because of possible adverse consequences, the child will usually compartmentalize or "bury" the trauma. The event becomes shoved aside, not discussed, and often not remembered fully or correctly. Negative behavioral and emotional symptoms arise as a result of such trauma that have devastating consequences in these young lives.

After years of studying betrayal trauma in children, the field of psychology has come to recognize that betrayal trauma (and similar negative consequences) also often occurs in marriages and long-term relationships. 


In the case of romantic relationship betrayal, the betrayed partner feels emotionally tortured and humiliated when awareness of the infidelity first emerges. In fact, this person will often experience a similar set of symptoms as those listed for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


Such symptoms include: 

Just as a child may feel trapped in trauma by their reliance on parents, a betrayed partner may feel similarly locked into a relationship but for different reasons. The trapped feeling for a romantic partner may be due to:


  • the needs of her/his children,

  • financial constraints,

  • expectations of the community, or

  • not wanting to lose the life that you have built together

  • fear of losing the sense of closeness and belonging that was felt in the past.

Instead of staying alert to signs of cheating, the betrayed partner may choose (often unconsciously) to ignore or overlook clues in order to safeguard your relationship and protect emotional health. The intensity of these feelings impact both mind and body; thus, causing the long list of symptoms that you experience.

For ways to heal betrayal trauma, go to the next page in the Roadmap.

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