'Will he do it again?': How to overcome 'betrayal trauma', according to a therapist.

Katie* and her boyfriend Michael* were holidaying in Europe to celebrate their second anniversary when she discovered he had been cheating with multiple women. 

"One girl called whilst we were having dinner in Paris. His face said it all when I questioned who it was. However, he was quick to tell me it was the wrong number and there was a big part of me that just wanted to believe what he was saying."

"I realised that this was a familiar feeling in our relationship but for the first time, I listened and trusted what my gut was telling me. Deep down, I knew he was lying and so I confronted him. After several attempts, he finally confirmed my worst fears - that he had cheated many times during our two-year relationship. We immediately returned home to Australia. I cried myself to sleep every night for a month and every morning before I even opened my eyes it would remind me of the betrayal. There seemed to be no respite even during sleep as I would have recurring nightmares of the affairs that he was having," Katie tells me.

"I felt as though I couldn't live with him but also couldn’t live without him and was in limbo with deciding if I should stay or go. 'What would my friends and family say if I stay?' 'Will he do it again?' 'What's wrong with me and why couldn't he love me enough?' I felt as though I was going crazy and my head was going to dark places."

As a therapist, I see dozens of clients with stories like Katie. When someone we trust breaks that trust, it can send us into a downward spiral and leave us questioning ourselves.


What is betrayal trauma?

Betrayal trauma is a common type of trauma and occurs when a trusted person (friend, family member or partner) violates your trust. Betrayal in an intimate relationship usually takes the form of an infidelity, although betrayal trauma can occur from a financial betrayal or from the betrayal of one's experiences when a partner has been gaslighted because they are trying to cover up an addiction.

While you're here, watch Clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula shares the signs someone may have experienced betrayal trauma. Story continues after video.

Video via MedCircle.

Discovering a partner’s cheating behaviour can make you feel you’re losing your mind and control. You may find yourself flooded with images of what you may have seen or have been told and the images your mind creates can be far worse than the reality and more graphic.

You may ask yourself:

“Did he or she bring them to the house?”

“What kind of sex did they have?”

These are just some questions and images that violate the betrayed partner's mind, driving them to a breaking point.


When a person who you thought you could rely on, violates your trust, it can trigger feelings of insecurity, abandonment and have a devastating impact on a person's self-esteem, self worth and sense of their own reality. The long-lasting effects of such a betrayal can leave the emotional scars of not only distrusting others, but not trusting themselves. Betrayal trauma can also have similar symptoms as PTSD, where the betrayed experiences lead to recurring nightmares, hypervigilance, constant intrusive thoughts related to the events and deceptions, along with other trauma responses.

Betrayal from an intimate partner's infidelity includes three types of traumatic injury:

1. Attachment injury

2. Emotional and psychological injury

3. Sexual injury

For healing to occur these three wounds need to be attended to.

Overcoming betrayal trauma

If the betrayed stays in the relationship with the partner it requires both parties to do the work necessary to rebuild trust and intimacy.

The betrayed and the betrayer who may identify with a sex addiction, often suffer in silence because of the shame attached to infidelity. The secret is part of the injury which often continues because of the betrayed partner keeping the secret out of fear of judgment. Often the betrayed will experience feelings of shame, not understanding how they did not see the red flags or that they saw them and out of fear of abandonment either consciously or unconsciously ignored them. 

People who have childhood trauma where their reality was denied as a child can be more susceptible to gaslighting. When we are taught to not trust our gut as children we grow up into adults who are more likely to deny our own reality. Regaining the trust we have in self is a vital step in recovering from betrayal trauma. 


For people who have been betrayed from repetitive cheating, the sexual wound that is left behind needs to be healed. Sexual betrayal cuts to the core and makes us question our sense of worth, desirability and self-esteem.  

Recovery from betrayal trauma takes time. The initial shock can feel you have been hit by a truck and that your whole world has fallen apart. It is important to not isolate yourself and instead reach out as much as you can to people who will hold space for you throughout your recovery journey. Practice self care, set boundaries, take care of your physical needs, allow yourself to actually feel your feelings, find a good therapist and join a support group. Don't feel pressure to decide whether you stay or go before you are ready. Most importantly, be kind with yourself.

Tori McCarthy is a senior therapist at South Pacific Private - Australia’s leading treatment centre for addiction, trauma and mental health. 

*Names have been changed for privacy.

Feature Image: Canva.

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