February 16, 2018

Betrayal is The New Black

There is betrayal…. And then there is the type of betrayal only a narcissist can inflict

There is no doubt that violence, exploitation, and oppression can have inconceivable traumatic effects on a person. However, traumas that occur in the juxtaposition of interpersonal relationships can be meticulously cataclysmic because this is a form of betrayal that involves a violation of our basic expectations of personal and very intimate relationships. 

What is betrayal?

Betrayal is essentially a limitless thundering grief that touches our souls with dirty hands and there are very few words in the human language that can describe the agony of the experience.  The ways we can be betrayed by a narcissist are limitless and given enough time in your life they will probably end up accomplishing as many forms of betrayal as possible which is why it is important to go NO CONTACT with these individuals. 

One of the key aspects about betrayal in social relationships is that it usually can’t happen with a stranger.  Sure, we can be betrayed by the government or companies we trust but the betrayal that takes place in our interpersonal relationship is a special breed of agony.  We are betrayed by people we know well and love, people we care for the most.   You know…. We are betrayed by our families, our friends, and our significant others.  We are betrayed by people who we consider significant in our lives and then allow ourselves to be vulnerable around and they use that vulnerability to commit acts of emotional treason.  

The reason betrayal is so earth shattering is that is doesn’t happen in a single event.  Betrayal happens in a series of events.  Further, betrayal is persistent AND consistent in that once it starts it does not stop. These events encompass so many transgressions, lies, diversions, and detours that you don’t know where betrayal ends or where it begins.  These are the reasons that betrayal is so traumatizing.  If you didn’t know about these transgressions when they were happening then what else are you unaware of?  How many other people are doing the same thing or worse?  You begin to question absolutely everyone and everything in your life.  Brace yourself, you’re going to be cleaning out your relationship closet because there are people in your life other than the person who betrayed you who were aware of what was going on and possibly actively participated in some way.

There are stages to mentally and emotionally processing betrayal 

The more you value the relationship is going to be equivalent to the damage of that betrayal and the amount of agony you suffer because of that very spiritual violation.  We know betrayal by how it makes us feel which will most likely be a string of emotions over time and all of them are negative.  When we realize or learn the truth of the act that resulted in a breach of trust we are usually shocked, stunned, and in denial.  We try to rationalize the irrational and disassociate ourselves from this gruesome reality. We try to convince ourselves we misunderstood something, we didn’t see what we seen, and there must be a reasonable explanation.

Once the transgression of trust sinks in we start to become anxious, irritable, and angry.  In the initial phase of betrayal these feelings continue to teeter totter with denial as your mind begs you to just believe a lie before going any further down this rabbit hole of pain. Feelings of humiliation and agony commingle like a Zumba class open to the public.  Your insides are going haywire and you are sure everyone can see it because there is no masking the torturous reality that has just been thrust upon you.

The next phase of being betrayed seems to be layers of horrid emotions that you peel away like a fruit roll-up from its plastic sheet only your standing at a stack of them freshly delivered from the warehouse.  Each layer represents a new experience as you emotionally shuffle through feelings of inadequacy, condemnation, torment, rejection, persecution, alienation, isolation, worthlessness, victimized, used, exploited, destroyed, overwhelmed, exhausted, horrified, and then back around to disbelief like an emotional broken record.

Then the grief.  Until we have suffered a major trauma we do not realize that in this life it is possible to grieve a grief other than the one resulting from the death of a loved one.  Grief hits us like a brick wall during this stage of betrayal as we come to the realization that something important has been lost.  

We begin to grieve the loss of the living and all that loss encompasses.  We grieve the loss of what we thought was love.  We grieve the loss of reality and how we thought life would be.  We grieve for the future and we grieve for the past in a bottomless pit of despair and depression mixed with that toxic simmering anxiety.  There are no words for a loss like this one…. Until you are angry again.

What I have found with my own grief is that it really is like an emotional broken record.  The same emotions continue to spin in a circular motion until they have worn themselves out.  However, they never truly go away.  They just keep spinning in an endless loop and the only thing that changes are their intensity in any given moment.   Once the emotional blast of betrayal begins to simmer down then you know you have some real work to do because you have been traumatized.

Healing from trauma

-an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent
-a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury
-an emotional upset the personal trauma of an executive who is not living up to his own expectations
-an agent, force, or mechanism that causes trauma traumatic

Trauma is not something that a person just gets over or bounces back from.  Trauma literally changes you and I’m not just talking about the way you think or perceive the world around you.  After grief spins around a couple times you then start to become hypervigilant and paranoid.  These feelings have cousins and they regularly get together for a reunion with intrusive memories, dissociation, and numbness.  You don’t want to leave your house, answer your phone, or check your email.  It’s not safe anymore.  You are not safe.  The level of feeling paranoid, hypervigilance, and unsafe will be directly proportional to how long your betrayal lasted and how it was drug out. 

Narcissists will drag a betrayal out for years.  They can’t just leave you alone and let you heal.  Narcissists need to continue to pick at your wounds because they love the smell of your emotional bleeding.  So how will they drag this out for you? Well it starts when they infiltrate every aspect of your life to let you know they are going to stick around to make you miserable.  They start with your job and personal relationships.  

They want your boss to know you’re mentally unstable, a drug addict, or a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode!  They want to be best friends with your best friends so you can see how happy they are.  This could also be happening while you get unexpected visits from the police and child protective services (if applicable).  Like a said… the level of your perceived danger to safety will be directly proportional to the intensity of your betrayal so brace yourself for the long road ahead.

Trauma is the shock to the psyche that leads to dissociation: our ability to separate ourselves from parts of ourselves, to create a split within ourselves so that we can know and not know what we know, feel and yet not feel our feelings. It is our ability, as Freud put it in Studies on Hysteria, to hold parts of our experience not as a secret from others but as a “foreign body” within ourselves.
-Gilligan, 2002, p. 6

Trauma permanently changes you.  It changes the way you think, feel, perceive the world around you, and it also changes the structure of your brain.  You are CHANGED.  There is no going back to who you were or your happy former life.  Can you be happy again? Yes!  Will you be the same again? No.  The only thing you can do from this point forward in wake up in the morning and figure out how in the hell you’re going to make it into the next day. 

The reality is that when the bonds of our very close relationships are broken by betrayal the result is a condemnation of isolation which is not the same loneliness of simply feeling or being alone.  We become incapable of human connection or the possibility of making human connections.  

You know how you’re going to make it into the next day?  Getting out of bed, getting showered, putting on your clothes, brushing your teeth, and try to focus on taking care of yourself.  You NEED to take care of yourself.  You MUST take care of yourself and this needs to be done today, right now, in this moment.  Get out of the bed you’ve been laying in for the past four days with the same clothes on and take a shower, you stink.  This article will still be here when you get out of the shower and get back into bed.  Once you begin to take this step, you are on your first step down the long road of healing from trauma. 


 Narcissist Problems

Continue Reading below for excerpts from peer reviewed literature on how trauma affects the brain. 

Emotional and Psychological Trauma and your brain:

“human subjects with lesions of the prefrontal cortex show dysfunction of normal emotions and inability to relate in social situations that require correct interpretation of the emotional expressions of others” (p. 1788). This area of the brain is particularly susceptible to stress since it is not fully myelinated until the third decade of life (Teicher et al., 1997). According to Donnelly et al. (1999) exposure to stress is known to enhance dopamine turnover in areas of the brain including the prefrontal cortex (which has a disproportionate number of dopamine receptor sites), which can result in paranoia and hypervigilance. Altered dopaminergic functioning has been found in trauma victims and researchers speculate that common symptoms associated with PTSD may be a manifestation of dysregulation of dopamine function"

"The amygdala mediates fear response and is sensitive to inhibitory inputs from the medial prefrontal dopaminergic system. This section of the brain is very sensitive, even to mild stressors and long-term potentiation of the amygdala may be related to learning abnormalities and the retrieval, storage, and encoding of traumatic memories."

"State-dependent memories may result in trauma-induced neurotransmitters, amygdala activation, and the development of abnormal neural pathways. Traumatic events may result in a diverse range of symptomology including harmful alterations in behaviors, emotions, and neurobiology.
Many studies now show stress produces hippocampal dysfunction, atrophy (smaller volume as seen on QMRI), and deficits in declarative memory function (Bremner, 1998, Bremner et al., 1999; Nutt, 2000) due to the damaging effects of high levels of glucocorticoids on the hippocampus." 

Glucocorticoids disrupt cellular metabolism and increase hippocampal neuronal vulnerability to a variety of agents. The De Bellis et al. (1994) study found a 7% smaller cerebral volume in children suffering from PTSD (Glaser, 2000). Gurvitis et al. (1996) found an average 26% reduction in the left hippocampus and 22% reduction in the right hippocampus in Vietnam veterans with severe PTSD. Additionally, other studies (e.g. Ito et al., 1993, 1998; Teicher et al., 1993) found left frontal and temporal abnormalities on an EEG in addition to limbic system dysfunction in individuals with significant abuse histories.

According to Perry and Pollard (1998), As with central neurobiologic systems, stress, distress, and trauma alter HPA regulation (i.e., a new homeostasis has been induced by the stress). Abnormalities of the HPA axis have been noted in adults with PTSD. Chronic activation of the HPA system in response to stress has negative consequences. The homeostatic state associated with chronic HPA activation wears the body out. Hippocampal damage, impaired glucose utilization, and vulnerability to metabolic insults may result. Preliminary studies in a sample of abused children suggest similar hippocampal and limbic abnormalities. (pp. 41–42)"

"The long-term effects of chronic stress lead to excessive exposure to glucocorticoids. Studies involving rats have indicated neuronal loss in the hippocampal relates to hypersecretion of glucocorticoids. According to Sapolsky (1992), “a major pacemaker of hippocampal neuron loss appears to be the extent of glucocorticoid exposure over the lifetime; excessive glucocorticoids can be neurotoxic to the hippocampus” (p. 113). In as little as 3 weeks, high glucocorticoid exposure will cause degeneration in neural dendrites. Additionally, excessive glucocorticoids can be neurodegenerative and disrupt normal development."

"Recent studies have indicated that “there is growing evidence of hippocampal volume loss associated with chronic PTSD” (Bergherr et al., 1997, p. 39). Since this evidence suggests neuronal loss in the hippocampus is a consequence of acute stress and traumatization, it is imperative that clinicians identify children suffering from long-term traumatization’s as soon as possible. According to a study conducted by Teicher et al. (1993, 1996), increased limbic system dysfunction is associated with abuse occurring before the age of 18"

"The stress-response of the developing brain results in an increase in neurotransmitter and hormone activity, which affects neuronal migration, synaptic proliferation, differentiation, and total brain development. Immediate response to stress includes the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and acetylcholine in the brain. This, in turn, stimulates the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, which release cortisol. Increased cortisol levels have been linked to brain alterations including thymus gland shrinkage, cell death, and hippocampal atrophy. Other effects include a reduction in lymphocytes in the blood leading to a weaker immune system (Sapolsky, 1996) and neuronal death (Munck et al., 1984). While acknowledging the damaging effects of high cortisol levels, Yehuda (2000) cautions that cortisol also serves a vital role in terminating the body’s stress-response and is necessary to shutdown reactions that damage the brain. According to Yehuda (1997) “the major function of cortisol is to manage or contain the body’s biological stress-response by stimulating the termination of the neural defense reactions that have been activated by stress” (p. 58). Munck et al. (1984) also asserts that cortisol works in a reparative fashion and actually shuts down other stress-related changes before more damage is caused. Originally, researchers thought the release of cortisol was dependent on the level of stressor experienced. Yet, according to Yehuda (2000), because of an increased number of glucocorticoid receptors on the pituitary, the normal stress response cascade is disrupted. Although ACTH stimulates the adrenal to release cortisol, cortisol acts at the level of the pituitary to shut off ACTH release from the pituitary, and ultimately less cortisol is made and released from the adrenal glands. (p. 267)"

Acute Changes:

 “Recent reports suggest that trauma exposure can trigger rapid brain changes within days of the event [15–21]. From two days to one month after trauma, activation to trauma-related stimuli is greater in PFC and right IC, but less in amygdala and hippocampus of trauma survivors compared to non-trauma exposed controls [17–19]. Traumatic experiences acutely alter functional coupling between amygdala and IC or hippocampus during processing of trauma-related stimuli [17] and between frontal-limbic-striatal and default mode network regions during rest [16, 20]. Some early changes in functional connectivity may persist for two years following trauma [20]. Contributions of these acute post trauma changes to PTSD development have received little attention.  This is one of the few prospective studies to examine early and progressive brain changes that may underlie development of PTSD symptoms following a traumatic event. Our findings of cortical activation and volume differences in probable PTSD and non-PTSD survivors suggest potential cortical functional and structural mechanisms for development of PTSD symptoms. Further longitudinal studies on early brain changes may provide a basis for future interventions to prevent or reduce development of PTSD symptoms after trauma and for biomarker identification to evaluate clinical interventions.” (Wang,  Xie, Cotton, Duval, Tamburrino, Brickman, Elhai, Ho, McLean, Ferguson & Liberzon, I 2016).


(Li, Hou, Wei, Du, Zhang, Liu, & Qiu, 2017).

“we investigated the effects of trauma exposure on the structure and functional connectivity of the brains of trauma-exposed healthy individuals compared with healthy controls matched for age, sex, and education. We then used machine-learning algorithms with the brain structural features to distinguish between the two groups at an individual level. In the trauma-exposed healthy individuals, our results showed greater gray matter density in prefrontal-limbic brain systems, including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, than in the controls. Further analysis showed stronger amygdala-hippocampus functional connectivity in the trauma-exposed healthy compared to the controls. Our findings revealed that survival of traumatic experiences, without developing PTSD, was associated with greater gray matter density in the prefrontal-limbic systems related to emotional regulation.”

trauma not only induces an anxious state and emotional arousal but can also impair memory through the amygdala’s interactions with other brain regions [27, 84, 85]. The hippocampus is widely implicated in memory encoding and maintenance, forming and storing memories associated with emotional events [86, 87] and autobiographical memory [88, 89].

Our study revealed that resilient trauma survivors showed greater gray matter density in the prefrontal-limbic systems that were implicated in emotional regulation. The emotional regulation ability plays a critical role in preventing the onset of PTSD in those trauma-exposed nonclinical adults. However, there are two possible explanations for the current findings. One possibility is that these structural differences might be a pre-existing factor and those participants did not develop PTSD due to these biological protective factors. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility that the structural differences are the brain “scar” after the traumatic event

Previous studies mainly focused on the short-term effect of trauma exposure or patients with PTSD, while our study investigated the long-term effects of trauma exposure in a nonclinical sample. Furthermore, our findings revealed the structural and functional differences in brain regions that are usually implicated in emotional regulation. In conclusion, our study revealed that survival of traumatic experiences, without developing PTSD, was associated with greater gray matter density in the prefrontal-limbic systems related to emotional regulation.” (Li, Hou, Wei, Du, Zhang, Liu, & Qiu, 2017).

(Cook, Ciorciari, Varker, & Devilly, 2009).

“An unbalanced catecholaminergic system can influence the brain’s metabolism, slowing or accelerating rates of pruning and myelination . Several studies have found abnormal catecholamine levels in those who have been witness to trauma . 

“If the brain undergoes a prolonged state of hyperarousal during the maturation of limbic system areas, it can develop inappropriate and maladaptive neural networks that may put traumatized children at increased risk of subsequent mental illness ” (Cook, Ciorciari, Varker, & Devilly, 2009).

“Several studies utilizing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in maltreated children have identified structures that appear to be adversely affected by traumatic stress. De Bellis and colleagues have demonstrated in children with maltreatment related PTSD, significantly smaller volumes in the cerebral and prefrontal cortex, temporal lobes, corpus callosum and cerebellum. Specifically, in De Bellis’ 2006 study, cerebellar volumes were positively related to age of onset of trauma; the earlier the age of trauma, the smaller the cerebellar volume of the child. These findings strongly suggest that trauma is related to arrested neural development and growth of brain structures, which in turn could explain the high prevalence of mental illness and cognitive deficits reported in this group.”

“Left hemisphere coherence was found to be significantly greater in the abused group than the controls, and specific asymmetries were identified in areas over the central, temporal and parietal regions of the brain. It was suggested that these asymmetries were due to reduced left hemisphere cortical differentiation of signals, due to ample myelination of neurons and reduced complexity of synaptic specialization. “In conclusion, EEG coherence measures indicated significantly different patterns between those with childhood, adulthood or no past trauma. This adds to the growing body of evidence that trauma can have a lasting impact on neural connectivity – a result which future treatment studies may be able to exploit.” (Cook, Ciorciari, Varker, & Devilly, 2009).


Cook, F., Ciorciari, J., Varker, T., & Devilly, G. J. (2009). Changes in long term neural connectivity following psychological trauma. Clinical Neurophysiology, 120(2), 309-314. doi:10.1016/j.clinph.2008.11.021

Li, Y., Hou, X., Wei, D., Du, X., Zhang, Q., Liu, G., & Qiu, J. (2017). Long-Term Effects of Acute Stress on the Prefrontal-Limbic System in the Healthy Adult. Plos ONE, 12(1), 1-16. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0168315

Wang, X., Xie, H., Cotton, A. S., Duval, E. R., Tamburrino, M. B., Brickman, K. R., & ... Liberzon, I. (2016). Preliminary Study of Acute Changes in Emotion Processing in Trauma Survivors with PTSD Symptoms. Plos ONE, 11(7), 1-15. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0159065

Hippocampal volume deficits associated with exposure to psychological trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in adults: a meta-analysis
Woon, Fu Lye; Sood, Shabnam; Hedges, Dawson W. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry Vol. 34, Iss. 7, (1 October 2010): 1181-1188.

Pretrauma and Posttrauma Neurocognitive Functioning and PTSD Symptoms in a Community Sample of Young Adults
Parslow, Ruth A; Jorm, Anthony F. The American Journal of Psychiatry; Washington Vol. 164, Iss. 3, (Mar 2007): 509-15.

Weber, D. A., & Reynolds, C. R. (2004). Clinical perspectives on neurobiological effects of psychological trauma. Neuropsychology Review, 14(2), 115-129. doi:10.1023/B: NERV.0000028082.13778.14