How to get over betrayal: An Internal Family System approach (IFS)

How to get over betrayal: An Internal Family System approach (IFS)

“How to get over betrayal?”. This is a question I get asked often. 

Betrayal feels like a knife in the back from someone you thought had your back. Trusting others after enduring mistreatment can seem like an impossible mountain to climb. Maybe you’ve been let down or hurt in the past, and now the idea of trusting someone again feels daunting, even terrifying. 

Maybe you’ve been in a relationship where your trust was shattered by infidelity. The pain and betrayal cut deep, leaving scars that still ache with every thought of opening up to someone new. Or perhaps you’ve experienced emotional abuse from a parent or caregiver, leaving you with a deep-seated fear of letting anyone else in, afraid they’ll hurt you too.

In situations like these, the idea of trusting again can feel like willingly stepping back into the lion’s den, knowing full well the potential for more pain and heartache. It might feel like a constant battle between your desire for connection and the fear of being hurt again.

Here’s the thing: healing is possible. Just because you’ve been hurt doesn’t mean you’re doomed to carry that pain forever! With the right support and guidance, you can learn to trust again, to lower those walls and let people in.

And that’s where Internal Family Systems (IFS) comes in. The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model offers a path to healing and rebuilding trust. It’s like having a roadmap to guide you through the mess of emotions and fears within your internal world. With IFS, you learn to understand and communicate with all those different parts of yourself—the hurt ones, the scared ones, the ones that are still holding onto anger. It’s like giving each part of yourself a voice and a chance to be heard. 

How to get over betrayal: An Internal Family System approach (IFS)

How to get over betrayal: A step-by-step IFS Guide:

1. Acknowledge and understand the hurt parts

Let’s face it, getting betrayed sucks! One of the first steps in rebuilding trust is recognizing and listening to the parts of ourselves that have been hurt. For instance, you might have a “protector” part that is hyper-vigilant and constantly on the lookout for potential harm. This part may create walls to prevent further hurt. A therapist can help you identify and listen to this protector part without judgment, understanding its fears and the ways it tries to keep you safe.

2. Self-compassion and befriending inner parts

When you’ve been hurt before, it’s natural to feel pretty rough, right? It’s like carrying around a heavy backpack full of all those painful memories. So, instead of ignoring or pushing away those feelings, it’s important to acknowledge them and treat yourself with kindness, like you would a good friend who’s going through a tough time. By being gentle with yourself and recognizing that you deserve love and compassion, even when things have been rough, it’s like taking the weight off your shoulders and giving yourself some much-needed relief from all that internal turmoil.

3. Differentiate between the past and the present

IFS therapy helps individuals distinguish between past experiences of mistreatment and current relationships. You might learn to recognize when a protective part is reacting to old wounds rather than the present reality. This awareness allows you to assess current situations more accurately and discern who is safe and kind.

4. Building internal trust first

Trusting others starts with trusting yourself. A therapist might help you build trust within by resolving conflicts between parts. For example, if a part feels angry and another feels scared, mediating between these parts can create internal harmony. This internal trust fosters a sense of safety, making it easier to extend trust outwardly.

5. Experiment with safe relationships

Taking small steps in building trust with others can be very beneficial. This could involve seeking support from friends or family members who have consistently shown kindness. By experiencing positive interactions, your protector parts can slowly learn that not everyone will mistreat you.

6. Reframe betrayal as a reflection of the other person

Through IFS, you can understand that past betrayal was more about the perpetrator’s issues than your own worthiness. A therapist might help you reframe your narrative, seeing yourself as deserving of kindness despite others’ actions. This reframing can diminish the power of past mistreatment over your current life.

7. Mindfulness and presence

Integrating mindfulness practices, a therapist might teach you to stay present and notice your immediate reactions and feelings. When interacting with others, you can practice being aware of your parts’ responses without being overwhelmed by them. This presence allows you to make conscious choices about trust and kindness.

IFS parts work book recommendation

IFS Book Recommendation: Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life

For further exploration of the concepts discussed here and practical guidance on working with your internal parts, I recommend "Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life." This insightful book provides accessible explanations and exercises to help you deepen your understanding of your inner world and foster healing and integration.

Practical steps and exercises to heal from betrayal trauma
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Practical steps and exercises to heal from betrayal trauma


Inner dialogue journaling

Write conversations between your inner parts and protective aspects to understand their fears and needs.

Safe relationship inventory

Make a list of people who have been consistently kind and trustworthy. Reflect on positive interactions with them.

Gratitude practice

Regularly acknowledge and appreciate moments of kindness from others, reinforcing positive experiences.

Visualization

Visualize your protective parts in a safe, comforting environment where they can relax and feel secure.

By applying these IFS principles and practices, you can gradually rebuild your ability to trust and allow others to be kind to you. The journey involves compassion, patience, and a commitment to internal healing, supported by the guidance of mental health professionals.

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