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Betrayal Triggers a Trauma Response

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to respond to concerns that the concept of “Betrayal Blindness” (coined by Jennifer Freyd) has pejorative, codependency language and might suggest that the betrayed partner could have prevented or avoided the devastating experience of being lied to, betrayed, or harmed by the betraying partner’s infidelity or addiction.

My recently re-posted betrayal blindness article and the related book are both over five years old. While I believe the spirit of betrayal blindness (and my discussion on it) was never intended to feel blaming or shaming to the betrayed partner, I can understand and respect how it may be received that way. The language and understanding of betrayal trauma are always adapting and changing. Treatment modalities improve as we understand betrayal to trigger more of a trauma-response in partners rather than a “codependent” or “co-addict” response, as previously taught and used in treatment. Currently, a trauma model that may more accurately and appropriately describes what Betrayal Blindness was trying to depict is a concept called the “please and appease” trauma response.

Both frameworks (betrayal blindness and please/appease trauma response) are meant to relieve blame and shame, not contribute to it. If it ever feels blaming or shaming to you, then it is not a helpful treatment modality for you or your healing process. The modalities can provide context to relational dynamics or patterns that the betrayed partner wants to change or improve in order to feel safe again. These concepts can help a subset of betrayed partners (or family members) who—in retrospect after discovery—find themselves beating themselves up and blaming themselves for the betraying partners behaviors. As part of their trauma response, they obsessively pick apart previous arguments with the betrayer, wondering why they didn’t say “x” when “z” happened, or wonder how they could have behaved differently to change the course of the betrayal or nefarious behaviors going on. That state of blaming or shaming oneself for another’s lies and betrayal can be debilitating.

Let me be clear: A betrayed partner is NEVER to blame for their partners infidelity or addiction. They didn’t cause it and they can’t cure it. Unfortunately, they can’t prevent it from happening again, either. Oftentimes, those facts don’t sit well in our brains. While our brains struggle to reconcile that our close, intimate partners can harm us and destroy our lives and families we search for ways to assert some modicum of control over the betraying partner’s choices. That’s where the concept of betrayal blindness can sometimes provide a framework to change future relationship dynamics (how we show up, communicate, set boundaries, etc.).

Similar to diversity biases or other “bias” filters we have as humans, betrayal blindness or the “please and appease” trauma response can help us appreciate and acknowledge POTENTIAL blind spots that may surface in the future. When we are intimately pair-bonded with our partners (which is normal, not codependent), it can alter our perspective, how we view behaviors/choices, and how we want to respond in situations. When we’re aware of these “potential blind spots” or trauma responses, we can work to build more productive boundaries, develop effective communication, reconnect with our instincts and intuition, and push through the discomfort of the vulnerability. The framework is meant to be informational and empowering. If it doesn’t resonate with you or your situation, it’s a useless framework.

There is never anything wrong with loving your partner or being deeply devoted and invested in your relationship. I don’t believe betrayal blindness is suggesting there is anything wrong with that. However, every relationship requires boundaries, healthy communication, honesty, vulnerability, and accountability. Because our bonds run deep and our intimate connections can leave us feeling very vulnerable, we need to remain conscious of our “blindspots” or potential “trauma response patterns”—only IF or WHEN they occur.

It’s never my intention to be a part of the blaming or shaming culture that can further traumatize and isolate betrayed partners. It’s always my goal to create a safe space to share the latest research, current modalities of treatment, and my own personal observations as I work with the community of betrayed partners. Please email me if you have additional thoughts, feelings, or concerns. I read every communication and sincerely consider all feedback received.

Everyone visiting these websites, viewing videos, seeking help from professionals and engaging a support community is taking courageous steps. I honor and admire your journeys toward healing. I, too, am always trying to learn, adapt, and change.


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