Betrayal. At this point in your life, you’ve probably felt betrayed at one time or another. But what does it really mean?  Dr. Debi Silber defines betrayal as “the breaking of a spoken or unspoken rule.” While every relationship has them, the more we trust in someone, the deeper the betrayal. I talk with Dr. Debi about the five stages of betrayal that can take you from devastation to total transformation, and how you can actually use betrayal to completely reinvent your life.

Dr. Debi Silber, founder of the PBT Institute (Post Betrayal Transformation) defines betrayal as “the breaking of a spoken or unspoken rule.” The more we trust and the more we depend on someone, the deeper the betrayal, Dr. Debi says. When a child feels betrayal from a parent, or a spouse feels betrayed by their partner, the betrayal can rock us to our very core. But while it may feel like your world is ending, Dr. Debi says betrayal can actually can help us transform our lives in completely unexpected ways. But first, it will knock us down and out.

According to over 40,000 participants who’ve taken her Post Betrayal Syndrome quiz on her website, the effects of betrayal can be universally devastating, with no regard to country of origin, gender or age. In fact, 78% of those who took the survey constantly revisit their betrayal experience and feel a collection of physical, mental and emotional symptoms that fall under the diagnosis of Post Betrayal Syndrome.

  • 81% feel a loss of personal power
  • 80% are hyper-vigilant
  • 94% deal with painful triggers

Most common physical symptoms

  • 68% have sleep issues
  • 71% have low energy
  • 63% have extreme fatigue (Those are your adrenals. They crashed.)
  • 47% have weight changes (In the beginning, maybe you can’t hold food down. Later on, you’re using food for comfort.)
  • 45% have a digestive issue (Crohn’s IBS, constipation, diarrhea, diverticulitis, etc.)

Most common mental symptoms

  • 78% are overwhelmed
  • 70% are walking around in a state of disbelief
  • 68% are unable to focus
  • 64% are in shock
  • 62% are unable to concentrate

Most common emotional symptoms

  • 88% have extreme sadness
  • 83% are very angry
  • 82% are hurt
  • 80% have anxiety
  • 79% are stressed
  • 84% have an inability to trust
  • 67% prevent themselves from forming deep relationships because they’re afraid of being hurt again
  • 82% find it hard to move forward
  • 90% want to move forward, but they don’t know how

If you’re thinking betrayal symptoms will go away given some space and time, think again. “We’ve all been taught, time heals all wounds,” Dr. Debi says. “When it comes to betrayal, that’s not true.” In fact, post betrayal syndrome can last decades if left unhealed.

According to Dr Debi, “There’s a question on the survey that reads Is there anything else you’d like to share? And people write things like, My betrayal happened 35 years ago, I’m unwilling to trust. My betrayal happened 15 years ago. It feels like it happened yesterday. So we know betrayal hits us in a very different way.”

So what about betrayal actually holds us back and how can we heal? Dr. Debi says it’s possible to move from Post Betrayal Syndrome to what she calls Post Betrayal Transformation. But she says it’s going to take some work… and five proven, predictable stages. “What’s exciting about that is we know what happens physically, mentally, and emotionally at every one of those stages, and we know what it takes to move from one stage to the next. So healing truly is predictable.”

Stage 1

The first stage is like a setup stage. If you can imagine four legs of a table, the four legs being physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What I saw with everybody was a real heavy lean on the physical and the mental, the thinking and doing; not really prioritizing the emotional and the spiritual, the feeling and being. So imagine that table with only two legs, easy for that table to topple over, and that’s us.

Stage 2

Stage two is, by far, the scariest of all of the stages, and this is shock. It’s the breakdown of the body, the mind, and the world view. Here’s like where you get the news; we’ve just ignited the stress response. You’re headed for every single stress-related symptom, illness, condition, disease. Your mind is in a complete state of chaos and overwhelm. You can’t wrap your mind around what you just learned; makes no sense, and your worldview has just been shattered. Your worldview is your mental model, the rules that prevent chaos and govern you; you don’t go there, trust this person, this is how life works. And in a moment, every rule you’ve ever known to be real and true is no longer. The bottom is bottomed-out, and a new bottom hasn’t been formed yet.

Stage 3

If you were walking down the street, and it were to bottom-out on you, what would you do? You’d grab hold of anything and everything you could to stay safe and stay alive. That’s stage three; survival instincts emerge. It’s the most practical out of all the stages. If you can’t help me, get outta my way. How do I survive this experience? Where do I go? Who can I trust? How do I feed my kids?

But here’s the trap. Once you’ve figured out how to survive, because it feels so much better than the shock and trauma of where you just came from, you think it’s good. And because you have no idea there’s a Stage Four or Stage Five, transformation doesn’t even begin until Stage Four. So because you don’t know there’s anywhere else to go, you figure, ‘okay, I better make this work’, and you start planting roots here you’re not supposed to, but you don’t know that. And then four things happen. The first thing is we get all those small self-benefits. You get to be right. You get your story. You get someone to blame. You get a target for your anger. You get sympathy from everybody you tell your story to, right? So you start planting deeper roots here. You’re not supposed to, but you don’t know that. Now, because you’re here longer than you’re supposed to be, your mind starts doing things like, Well, maybe you deserved it. Maybe you’re not really that great. So you plant deeper roots. Now, because these are the thoughts you’re thinking and you’re here a while, like energy attracts like energy.

So now, you’re attracting people in circumstances and relationships towards you to confirm, yep, this is where you belong. Because it feels so bad, but you don’t know there’s anything better. Right here is where you resign yourself, this stinks, but I have to make this work. It’s so painful, and you don’t know how to remove yourself from it. So right here is where you start using food, drugs, alcohol, work, TV, keeping busy to numb, avoid and to distract yourself from what’s so painful. So think about it. You do that for a day, a week, a month. Now, it’s a habit; a year, 10 years, 20 years.

I could see someone 20 years out and say, “That emotional eating you’re doing, or that drinking you’re doing, that numbing in front of the TV… do you think that has anything to do with your betrayal?” And they would look at me like I’m crazy. They’d say, “It happened 20 years ago,” but all they did was put themselves in Stage Three and stay there. So most people land, and if they’re unaware, stay in Stage Three. You can just see it. Then you have the people confirming this is where you belong. You have relationships in this space. Your health takes a dive. It’s just this big downward negative spiral, and you don’t know there’s anything else. That’s where most people stay.

Stage 4

If you’re willing to let go of the small self-benefits, you move to Stage Four. Stage Four is finding and adjusting to a new normal. So here’s where you acknowledge; I can’t undo my experience, but I control what I do with it. If you’ve ever moved to a new house, office, condo, or apartment, maybe your stuff is not all unpacked. It’s not quite cozy yet, but you know it’s going to be okay. And when you’re in that mental space, you’re turning down the stress response. You’re not healing just yet, but you stop the massive damage you were causing in Stage Two and Stage Three. What’s also interesting about Stage Four is like if you were to move, you don’t take everything. You don’t take the things that don’t represent who you want to be the minute you’re in that new space. And what I found was, if your friends weren’t there for you, you don’t take them with you. Here’s where you’ve outgrown them. People say to me all the time, “What the heck? I’ve had these friends 10, 20, 30 years. Is it me?” Yes, it is. You’re undergoing a transformation. And if they don’t rise, they don’t come. You don’t bring them.


Stage 5

When you’re in this mental space, and you make it cozy, you make it home; you move into the fifth, most beautiful stage. And this is healing, rebirth, and a new worldview. The body starts to heal; self-love, self-care, eating well, exercise. You didn’t have the bandwidth for that earlier. Now, you do. Your mind is healing. You’re making new rules. You’re making new boundaries based on your experience. And you have a completely new worldview based on everything you’ve just been through, and the road you see so clearly now.

And the four legs of the table in the beginning, it was all about the physical and the mental. By this point, we’re solidly grounded because we’re focused on the emotional and the spiritual too.

If you’re reading along thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah, but she doesn’t understand my pain,” keep reading.

Here’s the gift. Healing is always a choice. Whether you rebuild yourself and move on, and create this rock solid version of yourself that never would’ve had an opportunity to show up had that not happened. That’s what I did with my family.

It just wasn’t an option to heal with them. Or if the situation lends itself, if you’re willing, if you want to, you rebuild something entirely new, like, I’m talking ‘from the ground up new’ with the person who hurt you. That’s what I did with my husband. So not long ago is two totally different people. We married each other again, new rings, new vows, new dress — four kids is our bridal party. Here’s the thing, betrayal will show you who someone truly is, or will wake them up to who they’ve become. It is a beautiful opportunity on their end as well. Oh, trust me. If I wasn’t totally different, and for sure, if he wasn’t totally different, the, the deal was done. That was the deal-breaker. But people are so afraid of that death and destruction of the old, but that’s the only way you can birth the new. I see people trying to patch it up, patch it up, patch it up. It doesn’t work.

Why do some people just never reach that place of healing?

Dr. Debi says she discovered during her study that there were three groups who did not heal.

  1. This was the group who just refused to accept their betrayal. They had their story, they were sticking with it.
  2. This was the group that was numbing, avoiding, and distracting. It may have made the day a bit easier. They ran to the doctor who put them on a mood stabilizer or anti-anxiety medication or whatever, but they didn’t heal.
  3. This was the group where the betrayal had very little consequences. So whether it was out of fear of change, not wanting to break up a family, financial fear, religious reasons; they just tried to put it behind them. I saw two things with this group. The first was a further deterioration of the relationship. The second; this group was the most physically sick. Your broken heart can’t handle that, but they think it’s easier that way.

How do we find the balance between personal responsibility, while also acknowledging we’re a victim of someone else’s actions?

Even though it happened to you, it’s not about you. This was someone else’s lack, someone else’s issue, and you were the unlikely recipient. And if you have to say that to yourself a hundred million times until you believe it, it’s worth it because it’s true. Of course, we want to take responsibility, but we do not want to take the blame. We should not. You never need to take blame for someone else’s actions.

However, there is an amazing opportunity here to learn something profound that is about us; you are worthy, deserving, lovable, and you need better boundaries in place. Until you get that, you will keep having opportunities in the form of people to teach you. That’s the part where it’s our responsibility.  So there’s no reason to keep repeating it. It’s not your fault. It’s your opportunity.

Download a Transcript of Episode 144

Mentioned in this episode:

Take the Post Betrayal Syndrome Quiz

Take the Hardened to Healed Quiz

About Our Guest:

Dr. Debi Silber is the founder of the PBT (Post Betrayal Transformation) Institute and is a holistic psychologist, a health, mindset and personal development expert, the author of Trust Again: Overcoming Betrayal and Regaining Health, Confidence, and Happiness, and is a 2-time #1 International bestselling author of The Unshakable Woman: 4 Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind and Life After a Life Crisis and From Hardened to Healed: The Effortless Path to Release Resistance, Get Unstuck, and Create a Life You Love. Her recent PhD study on how we experience betrayal made 3 groundbreaking discoveries that changes how long it takes to heal. In addition to being on FOX, CBS, The Dr. Oz Show, TEDx (twice) and more, she’s an award-winning speaker and coach dedicated to helping people move past their betrayals as well as any other blocks preventing them from the health, work, relationships, confidence, and happiness they want most.

Connect with Dr. Debi Silber on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

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