Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’ s trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma. (Freyd, 2008)
Discovering that your loved one has a sex or pornography addiction can be a traumatizing experience. It turns people’s worlds upside down and creates a sense of helplessness and lack of relational or emotional safety that is impossible to resolve while the addiction is active.
This trauma needs to be treated in order for couples to successfully navigate their way through the addicted person’s recovery. Without an equal emphasis on a partner’s healing and recovery, treatment of sex addiction is only half complete.
What does betrayal trauma look like?
To understand betrayal trauma, you need to know how PTSD works.
Imagine sitting in your car at a stop light, minding your own business. Suddenly, a speeding vehicle slams into you from behind, totaling your car and causing you serious harm. Now imagine having it happen to you a dozen more times. Can you imagine what it might feel like to try to drive again after the 13th time?
Can you imagine feeling jittery as you look out the rear view mirror when cars come up behind you? You might have nightmares or flashbacks to one of the accidents. You might feel anxious even when you’re not driving. Could anyone blame you for being afraid?
When you discover that your partner has been engaging in sexual behaviors that feel like an emotional betrayal, a threat to the stability of your relationship, you might end up experiencing some of the same things.
You might feel fear. You might have nightmares. You might panic when your partner is five minutes late from work. And just like with car accidents, just because it’s “in the past” doesn’t mean you automatically feel better. Trauma doesn’t just go away with time.
Learning to Trust Again
Trust is not automatic. It is earned. If you've experienced betrayal trauma beceause of a partner's sexual addiction, you can only trust as your partner makes real changes. Spouses or partners are not obligated to trust. In therapy, you learn to honestly express your needs around rebuilding trust.
You might struggle understand boundaries Maybe you know what boundaries are, but you struggle to implement them. Some people feel boundaries are "mean" or "selfish." In therapy, we will help you learn what boundaries are and overcome whatever is getting in your way of healthily using them in your life to keep yourself safe as you heal from trauma.
We understand the emotional trauma caused by addiction. Affected partners and spouses need to heal. They need time, space, and permission to heal at their own rate and in their own way. Part of that healing comes when the recovering addict presents a therapy-guided “full disclosure” of all of his or her past sexual behaviors. Knowing the truth is an important starting point for emotional healing.
Who can help me heal?
When you’re ready to start healing from betrayal trauma, you’ll want to do it right the first time. Having to start over isn’t an option.
You’ll want to choose a therapist who understands how pornography or sexual addiction can lead to betrayal trauma in partners. But this is only a starting point.
What else should a qualified therapist be able to do?
- determine when you’re ready to take each step in therapy
- understand how trauma recovery works
- be compassionate and skilled enough to avoid re-traumatizing you
- be able to educate your partner about betrayal trauma
- teach your addicted partner how healing works