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Betrayal Trauma

“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)

betrayal trauma recovery
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 walking through a cross-walk and from out of nowhere comes a huge vehicle that slams right into your body, causing you serious bodliy harm. Now imagine having this happen the next ten times you try to use a cross-walk. Can you imagine the fear you would feel trying to cross the street the eleventh time?

Can you imagine feeling terrified as you step foot on the road, just waiting for another car to come along and smash into you? You might experience nightmares or flashbacks about one of the accidents. You might feel anxious even when you’re not trying to cross the street. Could anyone blame you for being afraid?

When you discover that your spouse or partner has been engaging in secret sexual behaviors, it could easily feel like a betrayla of trust in your relationship, a threat to your sense of stability. Depending on how serious the threat feels to you, you could easily end up experiencing betrayal trauma.

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. Betrayal trauma doesn’t just go away with time. It requires intervention.

What do you need to heal from betrayal trauma?

Working toward trust

Trust is always earned. It is not automatic and doesn't always happen just with the passage of time. If you've experienced betrayal trauma beceause of a partner's sexual addiction, trust only happens as you see your partner making real changes and being truly honest. In therapy, we help you navigate the hard work of trusting again.

Setting boundaries

Boundaries are designed to help you keep yourself and your relationship safe while you are working to rebuild trust again. Your boundaries are how you will respond to your partner yourself, or those around you when you feel unsafe. Boundaries are your way of saying, "If we are going to continue to have a relationship, there are certain things I can't do anymore." We will help you understand and implement boundaries in your life.

Relationship and emotional healing

Even when the secrecy ends and the compulsive sexual behaviors stop, healing isn't always automatic. Your relationship will need careful attention to keep it from falling apart through the healing process. We will also work with you as you heal from the wounds that come from experiencing trauma in your relationship. It can be slow, but we've seen enough people do the work that we feel confident that it's absolutely possible.

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.

The therapist you choose needs to understand sexual addiction and how it affects spouses and partners. But that’s not all.

What else should a qualified therapist be able to do?

  • help you determine when you’re ready to take each step in your healing journey
  • understand how trauma recovery works and take you through step by step
  • engage in a therapy that keeps you from becoming re-traumatized
  • be able to educate your partner about betrayal trauma
  • focus on the healing of each person and the relationship

You can learn about our therapists who are specially trained and experienced in treating betrayal trauma here.