The pain of betrayal is so heart-wrenching that we are often left dazed and confused as to how to work through all the hurt and move forward. You may find yourself wondering—am I moving in the right direction to get past the trauma that I’ve experienced or am I stuck and will this treachery always leave me vulnerable?

Dealing with this internal turmoil comes with many challenges. And to rise above it entails knowing where we stand and what is in store for us.

I am Dr. Debi Silber, and welcome to A Dose of Dr. Debi. Today, I am incredibly pleased to share a road map that can significantly help in your learning and healing journey. 

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In This Episode

  • A brief recollection of the discoveries I made when studying betrayal
  • A discussion on the proven stages of betrayal trauma and recovery
  • A look into what happens physically, mentally, and emotionally at these stages


Hi there, welcome to another Dose of Dr. Debi I’m Debi Silber. So, in the last episode, I was talking about the three discoveries that were made in my Ph.D. study. One was that healing from betrayal is very different than healing from other life crises like the death of a loved one, disease, natural disaster, so it needed its own name, which is now called Post Betrayal Transformation.

Why is it different? It’s different because betrayal feels so intentional, we take it so personally so the entire self has to be rebuilt; rejection, abandonment, belonging, confidence, worthiness, and trust all need to be rebuilt. When they are, you are in a complete and total state that is different from where you were before, and that state is called Post Betrayal Transformation.

The second discovery was that there’s this collection of symptoms (physical, mental and emotional), so common to betrayal is known as Post Betrayal Syndrome. We have that quiz on the site https://thepbtinstitute.com/quiz/ to see to what extent people are struggling. We’ve had over 18,000 people take it at this point and it’s staggering to see the symptoms left in the wake of this type of experience, but you can heal from all of it. If you’re interested in that quiz you can find it at: https://thepbtinstitute.com/quiz/ .

The third discovery, and that’s what I want to talk about today, is that while we can stay stuck (and so many of us do), for years, decades, even a lifetime, if we’re going to fully heal, (we’re going to, going from that place of Post Betrayal Syndrome to that place of Post Betrayal Transformation), we’re going to go through five now proven predictable stages. What’s really exciting about that is, we know what happens physically, mentally, emotionally at every one of those stages, and we know what it takes to move from one stage to the next. What makes that so great because now healing is predictable there’s a roadmap.

What I’d like to do today is go through those five stages, And what I invite you to do is see where you land. Now before I go into that though, I want to just talk about how betrayal has so many faces. So, here are a few. So a very common one is infidelity, right. And when I talk about betrayal, it’s really the breaking of a spoken or unspoken rule. Every relationship has them. So in a marriage, the rule is that we’re going to be faithful to one another, and when that’s not the case, that’s a betrayal. It could be your coworker taking credit for your idea. The rule was you were going to present something, let’s say to the boss together, they go ahead on their own and do it. Well, that’s a betrayal. It could be that you and your best friend have an unspoken rule; “Your secret’s safe with me.” And then all of a sudden, they tell your secret and they break that that sacred trust.

The way it works is, the more we trust, and the more we depend on that person, the deeper the betrayal. So for example, a child who’s completely dependent on that parent and the parent does something awful, that’s going to have a deeper and bigger impact than let’s say your coworker taking credit for your idea. Not to say that that doesn’t hurt you, but the different magnitude and level of cleanup, that’s needed after something like that. So I want to go through the five stages and pay attention to see which Stage you’re in.

Now, this is what’s so interesting because you may be saying; “Well my betrayal happened, years ago,” watch how even though it happened years ago, most likely, you’re stuck in the most common Stage, which is Stage three. And here’s the thing too. These don’t necessarily have to be the gigantic betrayals, it could be what we call “death by 1000 cuts”. It could be the; “Oh it’s no big deal, betrayal,” oh, yes it is. It’s a big deal to you, so just pay attention to where you land.

So the first stage is like a setup stage and if you can imagine four legs of a table, the four legs being physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, what I saw with every single study participant, me too, was a real heavy lean on two legs and neglecting the other so which legs were those? We’re leaning on the physical and mental and kind of neglecting the emotional and the spiritual. So what does that look like? It looks like we’re really good at thinking and doing and not really paying as much attention to the feeling and being. Why is that important? Because it’s in the feeling and being where our intuition lies, and we turn that down. We turn that down because we’re so busy, and the only way we can get things done is if we become almost machine-like so we can get things done throughout the day. That’s not saying that if you’re busy, it’s a setup for betrayal, it’s just what I consistently saw.

Stage two, by far, hands down the scariest of all of the stages, this is D-Day, discovery day. This is the shock to the body in mind. This is where it feels like that person takes a mask off saying; “This is who I’ve been this whole time.” It is a complete and total shock, and it’s the breakdown of the body, the mind, and the worldview. The minute you’re shocked like that you’ve ignited the stress response. So now you’re headed for just about every single stress-related symptom, illness, condition, and disease. Your mind is in a complete state of chaos and overwhelm — you cannot wrap your mind around what you just learned, this makes no sense. And your worldview is shattered. Your worldview is your mental model (these are the rules, this is how it works, don’t go there, you can trust this person, etc.). In one moment, or series of moments, your entire worldview has just shattered. The bottom has bottomed out on you. And, a new bottom hasn’t been constructed yet so it’s terrifying. But think about it; if you were walking down the street, and the bottom were to bottom out on you, what would you do? You would grab hold of anything and everything you could to stay safe and stay alive and that Stage three, survival instincts emerge.

It’s the most practical of all of the stages; “How will I survive this experience?” “If you can help me get out of my way.” “Where do I live, what do I, what do I do, how do I feed my kids?” “Who can I trust?” It’s that practical. Here’s the trap. Because Stage three, feels so much better than the shock and trauma of where you just came from, you’re like; “Whew! Okay.” You start planting roots here. You’re not meant to be here long, but you have no idea there’s a Stage four and Stage five waiting. So in your mind, you’re thinking; “I’d better find a way to make this work now.” Now a few things start happening.

The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave because the first thing that happens is you start getting these “small self” benefits from being here. You get to be right, you get a target for your anger, you get someone to blame. You get sympathy from everybody you tell your story to, you get a very powerful story, you get to be right. You don’t have to do the hard work of learning to trust again; “Should I trust you? Should I just you? Forget it. I won’t trust anybody.” You see, you start planting roots, the longer you’re there.

Now, the mind starts doing things like; “Well, maybe you’re not all that, maybe you deserved it.” See? The mind starts playing some tricky games with you. Planting deeper roots. Now, because “like energy attracts like energy,” now you’re calling situations and circumstances and people towards you to confirm that this is where you belong! It gets worse. (I’ll get you out of it, don’t worry). Because you don’t like it, you don’t feel good here at all, you don’t like the people coming towards you, you don’t like what your mind is doing, you don’t even like the story you’re telling, it feels bad, but you have no idea there’s a way out, and you don’t know Stage four and Stage five (transformation hasn’t even happened yet which happens in Stages four and Stage five). Because you don’t even know that, here’s where you start using things like food, drugs, alcohol, work, tv, keeping busy, reckless behavior. And now think about it. You do that for a day, a week, a month. Now it’s a habit, a year, Five years 10 years 20 years….

I can see someone 20 years out and say; “You know that emotional eating, or that drinking, or that numbing in front of the TV? Do you think that has anything to do with your betrayal?” They would say; “Oh my gosh, that happened years ago!” But do you see? They’ve put themselves in this perpetual holding pattern since that day!

If you’re willing to let go of your story, grieve, mourn the loss, a bunch of other things you need to do, you can move to Stage four. Stage four is finding and adjusting to a new normal. Here’s where you recognize; “I cannot undo this betrayal, but I can control what I do with it.” I always use that example. If you’ve ever moved to a new house, office, condo, apartment, whatever, all your stuff isn’t there, it’s not quite cozy yet, but it’s going to be okay. When you’re in this space, mentally and emotionally, you’re turning down the stress response. You’re not physically healing just yet, but now you’ve stopped causing the massive damage you were causing in Stages two and Stage three. Here’s what’s so interesting about Stage four as well. If you were to move, you don’t necessarily take everything with you. You don’t take the things that don’t represent who you want to be in that new space. And what I found so interesting to Stage four was that if your friends weren’t there for you, they’re not coming with you through this transformation.

People say to me all the time; “What the heck, I’ve had these friends for years, I feel like I don’t belong. I feel like I don’t fit. is it me?”Yes, it is. It’s you because you’re undergoing this transformation. You’re making all kinds of new rules, new boundaries, reassessing who you want in your life, what kind of relationships you’re willing to have and willing to tolerate. If it was one-sided where you were just giving and they were just taking, you’re not having that anymore. You’re changing.

Now, when you’ve settled into this space, you’ve made it your home, you’ve made it okay, you can move into the fifth most beautiful Stage, and this is healing, rebirth, and a new worldview. In this stage, the body starts to physically heal. You’ve turned down the stress response. So now you want to eat well you want to exercise, self-love, self-care is important to you now. You didn’t have the bandwidth for any of that earlier — you were surviving. Now you do. Your mind starts to heal and you’re making new rules new boundaries, based on the road you’ve just traveled. You have a new worldview, a new mental model based on your entire experience, based on everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve seen. Remember the four legs of the table? We were only all about the physical and the mental. By this point, were solidly grounded, because we’re focused on the emotional and the spiritual too. Those are the five stages.

So here’s what I invite you to do if you haven’t already, it’s all spelled out here in Trust Again: Overcoming Betrayal and Regaining Health, Confidence, and Happiness. If you go to https://thepbtinstitute.com/trustagain/ , you can get the link to Amazon, but I want you to know that link because come on back, enter your receipt and I have all kinds of gifts for you. So this way you can you can enjoy the gifts, along with the book. You can get the book in hardcover, Kindle, and audible and read it. So this way, you’ll hear my story, you’ll, you’ll go through the five Stages with all kinds of experiential activities, I have the four-step trust rebuilding process (which I’ll be teaching you too). I have all of my study participants’ stories in there, so you can read what they’ve done.

When I did this study, I had to write that dissertation, it was about 500 hours of research and 250 studies, and then when you have this research committee, I just did a numbers game and I thought; “I can’t justify all of that research and all of those hours, and only my research committee gets to read it?!” So I made it much more reader-friendly, and that’s what Trust Again is, so you get the benefit of all that research. It’s all in there. You’ll see exactly why the symptoms you have are linked to betrayal, where they came from, why they’re there. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to heal from it.

What I want to leave you with today is this; You’re not crazy, you’re not alone, and you can heal from all of it.

I truly look at betrayal as one of the most painful of human experiences, Like I said, this was the person, these were the people who said; “When all those other people are making you crazy, I got you, you’re safe with me.” And when that’s the very person who shatters that sense of safety and security it’s terrifying. So, we got to, you’re not alone. You’re not crazy, and you can heal from all of it.

So, tune back in again next time, because I’m going to be giving you so many more tools, processes, strategies, solutions, so you can take your trauma, and turn it into transformation. Because when it just stays on you, you know, you were just the recipient of this, it’s like a bad game of hot potato. No, no, no, we don’t do it that way. The experience already happened, you’ve already experienced the worst of it, we’re going to do something really good with it. So that’s what’s coming. Well thank you so much and I’ll see you next time. Bye.


Post Betrayal Syndrome Quiz

Trust Again: Overcoming Betrayal and Regaining Health, Confidence and Happiness.

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