In my last post, I talked about the importance of mindset in healing from betrayal trauma. We looked at the way that our brains are often biased to amplify the negative and undervalue the positive. This week, I want to continue focusing on mindset and look at the way that betrayal can impact our mindset, reinforcing limiting beliefs and negative patterns.
Our brains experience betrayal as a survival-level threat. Betrayal induces an extremely high-level perception of danger, activating the threat center of the brain and pushing it into hypervigilance and unbridled defensiveness. And because most partners experience not just one betrayal but a series of unfolding betrayals as the infidelity is uncovered and comes to light in drips and drabs, the threat center is activated repeatedly around the same basic experience of betrayal.
For many betrayed partners, this state of hypervigilance can become chronic. The brain stays in a state of threat preparedness because each time the threat system stood down and relaxed, a new betrayal showed up and walloped the system all over again. The brain is now convinced that the safest thing to do is to simply stay activated and alert, assuming that danger is coming.
See how a mindset is developing? A mindset about your partner as a source of danger and threat? A mindset about whether you can ever relax and feel safe again? A mindset about sex? A mindset about your relationship?
Your brain is now biased to interpret interactions with your cheating partner as potentially dangerous. It is actively looking for and interpreting events as threatening, even when there may not be any threat present. Because the safest bet is to assume you will get hurt again, your brain is now hovering while it waits for the next big hit to happen.
Even if you have left your relationship with the cheater, this phenomenon may still be happening. The chronic sense of danger can transfer to any person you’re romantically interested in, and even to friends and family. The negative bias is still there, scanning for danger and trying to protect you from more harm.
This chronic hypervigilance is why so many betrayed partners report that their ability to trust others is compromised after experiencing betrayal. Once you are chronically in an alert and activated state, your brain has a hard time being discerning. Everyone starts to look like a potential threat, so you experience a decreased sense of safety and trust in all your relationships.
What this all adds up to is that betrayal trauma impacts our mindset enormously. If we already felt unworthy, less-than, undesirable, insecure, uncertain, too-much, or not-enough, betrayal trauma swoops in and provides us with the biggest negative reference point imaginable. And because our threat center is chronically activated, and our brains are wired to privilege negative over positive, we now are living in a washing machine of negative references that continually reinforce our deepest fears and insecurities.
We think: If I were loveable, my partner wouldn’t have cheated on me. If I were worthy of loyalty and fidelity, my partner wouldn’t have cheated on me. If I were able to have the relationship I really want, my partner wouldn’t have cheated on me. Each time there is a relational conflict or disappointment, it reinforces these core doubts and beliefs.
In addition, our threat center now expectantly perches on its branch, just waiting for our cheating partner to do or say the next dangerous thing. Even when the cheater is trying to move toward us with kindness and right actions, the brain is biased to interpret that as negative or threatening because, again, that is the safest bet.
This threat-based response to trauma creates a negative feedback loop that can go on and on. The brain’s bias toward privileging the negative over the positive makes you much more likely to interpret events in a manner that reinforces negative core beliefs about yourself and your cheating partner. Each time events are emphasized or interpreted in this manner, it reinforces the need for the threat-system to stay activated and in hypervigilance. Around and around we go, further embedding our negative core beliefs with every perceived negative event.
This is how betrayed partners can get stuck inside their trauma symptoms, feeling like there is no way out of the repeated rounds of triggering and activation. What betrayed partners need is to begin, right away, to work on calming and soothing their activated threat center while also changing the patterns of negative interpretation that are taking root. This is where mindset work comes in.
Next week, I’m going to share a bit about some mindset work of my own that I’ve been doing and the emotional ride I’ve been on as I my own learning has deepened.