Other Betrayal - Cause Of Trauma?

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I’ve recently been diagnosed with PTSD. My psych said that it’s possible that my wife’s cheating / betrayal caused the trauma. Does that make any sense?

* I worked for the MOD and Home Office as a civilian telecoms engineer for a number of years. Deployed to Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Croatia during the Balkans conflict, Iraq and Kuwait for a short stint. Never encountered combat. Never encountered anything remotely traumatic while deployed, although many of my army colleagues were injured.

* Traveled around South America. My wife and I was arrested and held at gunpoint by two masked women carrying Kalashnikovs in Bolivia. Still don’t know why. But we remained calm and I talked ourselves out of it.

* Traveled in North Spain for a bit and got caught up in an ETA gunfight - I was keeping a low profile in the apartment above, whilst the gunfight was escalating below. I ended up getting teargased whilst evacuating and got caught up in the ensuing riot.

* About 10 years ago, in the UK, whilst coming out of a night club, my brother in law and I was set upon by three guys in an unprovoked attack (one carrying a dog chain, another a car jack and another a wheel brace). Outnumbered and with weapons, they took us down and proceeded to (and continued to) beat us up even when we were unconscious. I got away with severe lacerations but they fractured my brother in law’s skull. They only got put away for 6 years - for GBH. Should have been attempted murder.

* Recently I was driving near Shoreham Airport on the south coast of the UK and narrowly missed being hit by a crashing military jet. I was driving towards the aircraft (about 200 meters) when it crashed into the road, killing a number of people, which I witnessed. You know, burning bodies etc…

* Been in a number of near fatal car accidents - two broken ankles, fractured sternum, etc…

* And there’s other things - father recently passed away, I grew up in a tough area (fights, drug abuse, etc), possible narcissistic mother etc…

Yeah, bad luck, but, I don’t delve on those things. They don’t give me the flashbacks etc…

What seems to have sparked this off for me, was my wife having an affair… My flashbacks and trauma seems to be centred on her betrayal and gaslighting, over ten years ago. It’s nuts. It doesn’t add up. It wasn’t life threatening or anything. But for me, that’s my trauma.

I’ve got all the symptoms, and my psych agrees that it’s PTSD. The symptoms have been escalating for ten years but this year they’ve become uncontrollable. And I don’t know why.

Could my wife’s affair really be the cause of my PTSD?

Queen Boudica

You may have PTSD symptoms but no, affairs do not cause PTSD. Some of the other things you've been through sound like they could. The affair lots of stress and anxiety, not good for PTSD. If your psych said that it could cause PTSD ask him where he got that from, because it is a fallacy
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Yes, I’ve discussed everything. He's covered all the traumatic events and is even looking into the possibility that I received some kind of head trauma when I got beat up. But he’s also acknowledged that the affair is my main trigger. That it’s some kind of compulsive trigger that I can’t seem to latch out of.

That it’s likely the cumulative affects of the things that happened are the real cause. I guess I’ve compartmentalised those events as bad things that have happened but where not directed at me on a personal and emotional level.

But I view the her affair as a personal attack on me at emotional level. Because I loved her (actually, I still love her) the betrayal felt (still feels) that it’s directed at me to the core of my being - at my masculinity.

Even though I know (hopefully) the affair(s) is/are over, I can’t seem to shake this panicky, anxiety-ridden feeling. Everywhere I go, there are constant reminders of the betrayal, sparking flashbacks. Sure I do have flashbacks to other things, but it’s primarily the thoughts of the affair that sparks these flashbacks - the affair is primary and the other things seem secondary.

I’ve forgiven her for the affair, although I haven’t forgiven her for still withholding the facts. I go through the same experience as when I first discovered the affair (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) when I'm triggered by the fact that she's still lying to me (by omission of the facts).

Maybe the other things are the real cause. But ultimately I’m trapped on her infidelity.

Ultimately, it’s destroyed our marriage, broken our family and has turned me into a monster. I wasn’t like this before the affair. And many of the traumatic things I mentioned above happened before I even met her.

Sorry for the rant Lizio. It's been a tough night.

Queen Boudica

First of all no-one can make you into a monster, nor can an affair. You are responsible for your actions. And secondly neither does PTSD. Therapy for emotional regulation and anger management is really crucial. I'd also really look at those meds. You should never go off a med like that as that will cause problems. Or you could just be reacting to that med.

She doesn't have to tell you about the details and that is not lying. Why would you put yourself through hearing all of that anyway, seems to me you are angry enough about it without hearing more detail? Did you try marriage counselling? And again, the affair has invoked anger and rage, but it is not the cause of your PTSD. That is just plain wrong.

Have you investigated the head injury further? Got scans etc.


Could my wife’s affair really be the cause of my PTSD?

What it could very well have done, however, is trigger your already existent PTSD.

Once PTSD exists? Just about anything can trigger it. Any added stressor or loss of a coping mechanism. From biggies like infidelity (stressor) or quitting smoking (loss of a coping mechanism), to seemingly meaningless things like not being able to find a rubber band to pull your hair back, or a song playing on the radio you haven't heard for 10 years. People often mistake the trigger as the cause, and that's wrong. In order to create PTSD, CriterionA level trauma (of which you have in spades) is required.

Think of it like C4. Or a cold.

C4 is this really stable substance. So stable, in fact, that you can cook with it by lighting it on fire. But add a detonator? That teeny little detonator all on its own can't level even a single building. But when it's wired to high explosive? Forget the building, It can take out a whole block. The detonator is the stressor that makes the c4 go boom. Now, that's not to say a detonator is no big deal. A detonator can blow off your arm, or in the right situation kill you (stressors can and often are big f*cking deals), but the sheer level of destruction necessary to level a block? Requires the C4 to be there also. In order for PTSD to kick into place, it has to already be there, waiting for the detonator... Or....

Flip side of the coin, a cold? All on its own not a big deal. Might knock you flat for a few days or might just have the sniffles and otherwise be fine... Because your immune system is there, killing off the virus. But remove your immune system? Become immunocompromised? You won't get the sniffles. Wihout your immune system a cold can & will kill you. When you already have PTSD? Coping mechanisms are like your immune system, squaring off with symptoms, and keeping you well. Remove even one coping mechanism, and it can give PTSD symptoms the toehold they need to start a domino effect.

What's worse? Is that we often add stressors at the same time as we remove coping mechanisms.

Betrayal / Infidelity is a prime example of that. First the infidelity (stressor), then the loss of your best friend/ confidant/ helpmeet (coping mechanism)... Even for a short time... All in a single blow. And, if you're like a lot of us? The sudden plunge into grief, rage, depression, jealousy, loss of trust, fear, heartbreak, etc.; means that you don't "just" lose the coping mechanism of your spouse, but often quit doing the things your ordinarily do (gym, meeting with friends, routines of the day, etc.), the coping mechanisms that you have built into your life that keep & have kept you stable... Even for years and decades.

So... Cause? No. Trigger? Absolutely.
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Scott Unique

These answers do not sound trustworthy.
No explanation, just statements without justification or citation.


Although in the literature, betrayal is not a life-threatening trauma, and those other traumas you listed are, more and more people report that betrayal is the most traumatic thing they experience in life. Pauline Boss's "Ambiguous Loss Theory" is about how interpersonal losses that do not have an explanation or closure become traumatic. http://www.ambiguousloss.com/about_ambiguous_loss.php

Because this is a new area of study, I don't think there is a simple answer to your question. Perhaps examining Ambiguous Loss will provide a framework for what you are experiencing and how to best address the being stuck in the grief process as a continuous loop and why that looks like PTSD.

I think that is what you are experiencing is frozen grief, which can cause symptoms that mimic PTSD. Some therapists don't see any need to distinguish grief from PTSD, since they discount the biological nature of PTSD and view it as merely psychological. The fact is, the actual cause of PTSD is not 100% clear, even though it's been decided so far that a perceived threat to life is needed, that is also a grey area.

Most likely you had 'mild' PTSD from those other traumas, but you didn't feel them until this most deep betrayal pushed you into emotional distress and the PTSD was fully felt.

I'm sorry to hear that. This sounds very hard, and I wish you well in your recovery.


@ScottUnique... We're, most of us who have been on the site for awhile, quite familiar with both the requirements for PTSD and the actual day to day. & As @Lizio says, we're a peer to peer support community of sufferers and supporters helping each other, not publishing papers. If you're not familiar with the requirements for PTSD, suggested reading:

Ref. The DSM5
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Note: The following criteria apply to adults, adolescents, and children older than 6 years. For children 6 years and younger, see corresponding criteria.

A. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:
  1. Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s),
  2. Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others,
  3. Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend. In cases of actual or threatened death of a family member or friend, the event(s) must have been violent and accidental.
  4. Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s) (e.g., first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).
Note: Criterion A4 does not apply to exposure to electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless the exposure is work related.

B. Presence of one (or more) of the following intrusion symptoms associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred:

  1. Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s) Note: In children older than 6 years, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the traumatic event(s) are expressed.
  2. Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s). Note:In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.
  3. Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring. (Such reactions may occur on a continuum, with the most extreme expression being a complete loss of awareness of present surroundings.) Note: In children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.
  4. Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
  5. Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidence by one or both of the following:

  1. Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
  2. Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
D. Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:

  1. Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s) (typically due to dissociative amnesia and not to other factors such as head injury, alcohol, or drugs).
  2. Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “no one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous,” “My whole nervous system is permanently ruined”).
  3. Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.
  4. Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).
  5. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
  6. Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
  7. Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings).
E. Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:

  1. Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.
  2. Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
  3. Hypervigilance.
  4. Exaggerated startle response.
  5. Problems with concentration.
  6. Sleep disturbance (e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep).
F. Duration of disturbance (Criteria B, C, D, and E) is more than 1 month.

G. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

H. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, alcohol) or another medical condition.

Specifiy whether:

With dissociative symptoms: The individual’s symptoms meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder, and in addition, in response to the stressor, the individual experiences persistent or recurrent symptoms of either of the following:

  1. Depersonalization: Persistent or recurrent experiences of unreality of surroundings (e.g., feeling as though one werre in a dream; feeling a sense of unreality of self or body or of time moving slowly).
  2. Derealization: Persistent or recurent experiences of unreality of surroundings (e.g., the world around the individual is experienced as unreal, dreamlike, distant, or distorted).
Note: To use this subtype, the dissociative symptoms must not be attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts, behavior during alcohol intoxication) or another medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures).

Specify if:

With delayed expression: If the full diagnostic criteria are not met until at least 6 months after the event (although the onset and expression of some symptoms may be immediate).

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For a detailed look into practical application of each Criterion found on the Diagnosis Tab on this site's home page

For changes made to PTSD in the DSM5 from the DSM-IV... As according to the DSM5
http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/PTSD Fact Sheet.pdf

For the professional overview to PTSD criteria... As according to The National Center for PTSD, with links to the American Psychiatric Association
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Thank you all. That makes sense. I guess I’ve been a potential walking disaster for a while.

Yes, I agree, I am responsible for my actions. I shouted at my wife, called her names and I hate what I did. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’m really sorry for what I did. It’s completely out of character.

At the moment, I do feel like a monster. I’m a nervous blubbering wreck. The guilt is killing me… Quite literally - I think about suicide day and night. I’ve isolated myself. I live in a campervan on the edge of the forest because I don’t want anyone, especially my wife and child to see me like that again. I’ve withdrawn from everyone - and as a result everyone I love has withdrawn from me. I don’t talk to anyone apart from my psych once a week.

The only thing that’s preventing me from killing myself is the harm it will cause my family. But that doesn’t negate the pain I’m in - by living, I’m only prolonging my own pain.

Up until two weeks ago, I was still busy on a prestigious contract. I’m now basically jobless and homeless, but still keep up the facade of a normal life. The basics like keeping clean is almost impossible. I can’t spend any quality time with my daughter but I still drive to the house and pick her up to take her to nursery. I FaceTime her every night to give her a bedtime story. Catch the train to and from central London to do my day job (when i had a contract) to pay the mortgage, bills, upkeep, food…

If no one’s home, I still go round to chop wood, do DIY, take the dog out etc… I’m still battling to face up to my responsibilities. But ultimately I’m an outcast and it’s getting harder for me to try and stay sane. And my world is crumbling at a massive pace.

I’ve only recently been diagnosed as having PTSD, and the meds meant that I couldn’t function at work - I took time off - lost my concentration - lost my contract - something that’s never happened to me before. That’s why I came off the meds. I’m now batting to find a new contract and the meds are going to make that almost impossible. But I guess I have no choice.

Yes, I agree I need to seek therapy. I will be doing that.

I’ve been going to relate and other counselling sessions ever since I discovered her affair (and I suspect there was more than one). She’s refused to go to a single session. Now it’s too late, we’re separated, getting a divorce. I stand to lose everything. I’ve already accepted that. Or maybe I haven't?

Yes, about the time she had the affair I was working abroad, etc. but only because the renumeration was good. She wanted a stable home to start a family. I hated working there. I hated being away from home. I didn’t even like the job. I’m a writer at heart, not an engineer. I did it for her, for us, for my future daughter.

We've been together for eighteen years. She cheated eight years into our relationship. I’ve recently discovered (last July - the night we had the argument) that the affair had been going on for over four months. And possibly (she wouldn’t confirm or deny it) there were other men. There was (is) no honesty, on her part. I believe she might be a narcissist.

Previous to that she told me that it was a stupid one night stand - a mistake. They only kissed, groped, and yes they got a hotel together. But in my mind nothing added up… But she called me “paranoid”. That she “loves” me and would never intentionally do anything to “hurt me”. She wouldn’t even tell me if there was something wrong in the relationship, something wrong with me that caused her to stray. She just said it was a stupid spur of the moment thing. Her mistake. That I didn’t do anything wrong… So I tried to trust, but I guess the brain worm kept getting bigger.

On those assumptions, I stayed with her, vowed to try and make it work, had a child together. Learn to trust, and yes, I needed to verify that trust. I became hypervigilent.

If I had known what I learnt in July, I would have left her years ago, not start a family with her. I would have gone on to lead my life. Maybe find someone else with mutual respect. Find my passion again.

No, you’re correct, she doesn’t need to tell me anything. Legally she has no obligation. But morally, she had no right to destroy my life with her secrets. And withholding truths that affected my life, is a lie. Its manipulative. Gas lighting. She is responsible for the actions that hurt me! And I guess it sparked what was already inside me - this PTSD.

I was never angry before the affair. I dotted after her. Worked my butt off for her… Loved her… Risked and gladly given my up my life for her. I had a unreciprocated passion for her! I liked myself. I had interests. I had friends. I had a joy of life.

But after the affair, that anger grew, turning like a worm in my brain, and that anger has gradually got worse as the years passed. But it was a repressed anger. Internal self doubt. Internal suicidal tendencies. Internal self loathing. My outburst last July was my first visceral outward attack. And yes, I was a monster. And I despise what I have become. I’m not me anymore. I’m a stranger to myself. I’m lost.

Constant nightmares. Constant flashbacks… Constant hell!!!

I need to try and find some kind of coping mechanisms fast.
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Queen Boudica

Ok she's done this. She lied, she cheated, she is a narcissist. Basically not the kind of woman you should be with. But you have a child with her. (Believe me I get your life has been turned upside down - my ex abusive, gaslighter, raped his sister for years and pretended she lied about it, narcissist) But you are letting what she did control the rest of your life and ruin it. Let it go, she isn't worth you. But your daughter is. Your daughter needs a father. You could still be in that relationship with the cheating lying woman and she'd do it again and again. Now you are not. You are free of her and can start a new life. Your daughter is 3 years old, she wants her father. Don't let the anger take over. She is not worth destroying your life, your job, your relationship with your daughter.

And those are really strong meds that will make you drowsy, so effect your job. Not sure why they started immediately with an antipsychotic. Is it because you had sleep problems? Just a bit sceptical if your psych is telling you your PTSD is due to the cheating, he might not be up to scratch on meds either.
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Jeez, Lizio, you certainly now how to put things in context. Sorry to hear about your ex (sorry to hear about his sister). That’s, well, sick…

That’s what I hate about this thing. I get mad and its all me, me, me… Turns me into an arsehole. I’m at it again. Me, me, me…

I actually, don't think my wife is a narcissist, or if she is its mild. Or she didn’t want to hurt me or something… I just go off on one. She made mistakes, don't we all. Just because I didn't cheat, doesn't make me holier-than-thou. I can be right sanctimonious prick. It was ten years ago for christ sake!

I seem be saying a lot of things I regret these days.

I still love her, maybe not as a wife or lover any more, but definitely as the mother to my child. She’s a great mum.

And you're right. I get these flashes of inspiration… Work out. Bike ride. Set up a business plan. Get some passive income. Get a better contract. Play guitar. Be the dad that my daughter deserves. Blah-blah-blah. Then I shit on it all by loosing it again.

The truth is I miss my daughter. I love her so much… She’s over in Perth for 4 weeks and its only been week 1. They’re down in Margaret River for a few days and I guess there’s no reception down that end - been checking WhatsApp constantly over the last few days hoping to get a ping. Just want to wish her good night.

Got another 3 weeks to go. I guess I really lost it again last night - just glad it was only me that heard my crap.

And yeah, hopefully I’ve got it out of my system for a bit. Sort myself out… Focus on getting myself out of this abyss.

The truth is I was going to go off on one after your post… Glad I toned things down a bit.

What I really need is a few more Lizios in my life to kick my butt into gear.

So thanks for the insight, and , err, for kicking me up my butt.

It’s much appreciated.
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