Betrayal Trauma – A Toxic Family’s Legacy Getting over your family's meanness requires you to learn how to trust again

Childhood abuse is the betrayal of an innocent’s child’s trust in his/her parents and family. The basic premise of the family is the implicit feeling of being loved and cared for. And that they will never intentionally betray you by hurting you physically or emotionally. You expect that they will be there to protect, support and help you and vice-versa.

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However, being abused, neglected, invalidated by the people close to you leaves you with a deep sense of betrayal. Your core sense of who you are is destroyed. It totally undermines your self-confidence and belief that the world is a loving, safe place. Thus, your trust is shattered.

Childhood trauma profoundly alters our view of the world.   Before abuse, your view of the world was it was basically a safe place. However, after the betrayal, you realize that the world is cruel and you have to be alert to potential danger. Every interaction is the cause of stress.  The world is a dangerous place.

The Shame of Being Not Good Enough

Child trauma not just means abuse, many times it involves the insidious but toxic relational interactions and sometimes non-interactions that happen in the family.  Moreover, when our closest caregivers stop connecting and caring about us, and worse begin treating us like a nuisance to be tolerated our trust and self-esteem slowly erodes. Hurt starts seeping into our core self.  Further, disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears – the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable.

Neurological studies show that parental rejection activates the same part of the brain which is activated by the experience of physical pain.  Abuse destroys the feeling of being part of a loving family unit. It deeply wounds us, the pain of alienation is very real.

And what makes this covert betrayal so much more dangerous is that we can’t point to the source of our pain – there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. You feel you are going crazy. Furthermore, the family denies either rejecting you and claims that they care about you. While their actions show otherwise. Your reality feels like it is on shaky ground. It unbalances you.

The daily rantings of my abusive father destroyed my sense of worth I began feeling I was a worm, creepy and crawly, with no right to anything. And I was ashamed of being treated like this. This shameful secret I kept hidden deep within me.  I was afraid to reveal to people outside how my family treated me. And if I dropped hints, it was brushed aside and dismissed.

Hiding The Pain of Betrayal

Continual childhood trauma damages the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the way we react to certain stimuli or an event that causes an emotion. The brain thus altered affects a person’s perception to threat making him super-sensitive and hypervigilant.

To cover up for the lack of caring and my sense of inferiority feeling I became the super efficient and capable person. I pretended and pushed my needs aside and became the ‘rescuer’, ‘the yes woman’, ‘the people pleaser’ ‘the good Samaritan’ always at sidelines ready to jump to assist anyone.  Furthermore, I did not want to say ‘No‘ because I told myself I was not going to be like them and betray or let anyone down. I slowly filled with anger, hatred, and resentment. Until one day I realized if I don’t take care and protect myself no one else is going to.  Finally, one day I woke up to the reality of my life and stopped taking shit from anyone.

What Is Betrayal Trauma?

Trust and Recovery

Healing from that core sense of betrayal that you are not valuable you need to let go of your expectation. Reading the book by Don Miguel’s The Four Agreements, I realized the truth of his 2nd Agreement  Don’t Take Anything Personally- If you have been abused, it’s crucial to identify with your deepest longing to heal, improve, and create value and meaning in your life. It is far more empowering to recognize that your attachment bond has been betrayed and that you have to take steps to address your emotional wounds.

Self-care and self-love are required in huge doses. You must become selfish and build boundaries. You must give yourself the pep talk that you are important, valuable and wonderful human being. If people in the family, were lacking the capacity to love, the problem was them not you.

Get over the shame and self-blame  Find relationships, people who will honor you and nurture you.  Safe, solid relationships are the only way to heal from the betrayal of not being loved and cared for by your close family. You can start by having a nurturing relationship with yourself. Self-care is the best care.

Further Reading:

The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick Carnes Ph.D. (Author)

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward

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