It’s no exaggeration that betrayal can hit you like an earthquake.
It shakes your life to its foundation and leaves behind a trail of destruction and hurt.
The worst part is that it often doesn’t stop there.
Just like earthquakes are frequently followed by multiple aftershocks, the pain connected with betrayal due to an affair can hit you over and over again. While aftershocks may not be as ground-shaking, they are nonetheless perilous.
Yes, the reality of betrayal trauma is agonizing and continuous.
But you don’t have to voluntarily surrender to it.
Often the best defense is an offense. So, start by gaining an understanding of why you may be experiencing betrayal trauma.
Betrayal Trauma – The Turmoil Deep Beneath the Surface
Betrayal can create psychological trauma when it overwhelms you emotionally, mentally, and physically to the point where your ability to cope is notably compromised.
It’s often not so much the affair that causes the deepest hurt, it’s the shattered trust and implicit belief in the person closest to you. The person you deeply loved, and that you thought loved you as well. This loss of security starts a turmoil deep down inside of you that eventually starts rising to the surface and expresses itself in various ways.
What effects might you be experiencing due to betrayal trauma?
1. Emotional pain
Your emotions may fluctuate quickly and over a wide range. The initial shock and every aftershock may trigger rage, anger outbursts, anxiety or fear. Those emotions then often plummet into sadness, depression, numbness, emptiness or despair. Followed by hope. Only to go back to irritability and starting the whole cycle over.
2. Physical pain
Due to the prolonged stress of betrayal trauma, you may also experience physical symptoms. Hypervigilance, hyperarousal, numbing, isolation, compulsive behavior, overeating, insomnia, nightmares, and flashbacks are all stress-related manifestations of unresolved emotional issues. Concentration may become a real challenge and affect work performance and your family life. Moreover, due to surging stress hormones, you may also experience broken heart syndrome—feeling like you’re having a heart attack.
3. Intrusive thoughts
You may be obsessing about the trauma, replaying imagined scenarios of what happened between your spouse and their affair partner or events that you formerly assumed were harmless but now view with suspicion. At times, you may even try to connect a sequence of unrelated situations in anticipation of a future betrayal. Triggers for these intrusive thoughts can come from everywhere.
4. Negative self-beliefs
Because the betrayal may have blindsided you, embarrassment and shame can lead to feelings of guilt and you looking for someone to blame—yourself. You may wonder how you could not have seen this coming, dubbing yourself “stupid” or “not good enough.” Thinking that your own flaws and failing brought this upon you, and even questioning if you’re capable of loving or being loved. Anything but accepting that the affair was not your fault.
Will You Let Betrayal Trauma Forever Rule Your Life?
Be assured that despite the major stress, despite the pain and agony, despite constant reminders and aftershocks, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is life after an affair.
Now that you know why you’re experiencing trauma, why the manipulation and seeming lack of concern of the person that you most counted on to have your back continue to shock you, it’s time to take action and fight back.
It’s time to address the underlying turmoil.
The best way to do that is with the help of a skilled and compassionate counselor, trained in techniques to combat betrayal trauma. One who can help you explore the issues, sift through the feelings and memories, and build confidence in your ability to overcome the nagging pain.
Janie McMahan is a marriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas. She works with couples and individuals to help them through the aftermath of relationship infidelity. She can be reached at 512-739-2494.