The Role of the Nervous System in Rebuilding Trust After Betrayal

Betrayal can shatter the foundation of trust in any relationship, leaving emotional scars that are often difficult to heal. Rebuilding trust after such an experience is not just a matter of willpower, betrayal can impact our nervous system’s capacity to feel fully safe and secure in our relationship.

Understanding Betrayal and the Nervous System

Because humans our deeply relational creatures with emotional needs, our relationships can deeply impact our sense of safety and security. This is reflected in the way that our nervous systems respond to betrayal. Infidelity, a particularly painful type of betrayal, has been found by one study to result in PTSD symptoms in up to 45.2% of unmarried adults who experienced a partner’s infidelity. 

Our nervous system interprets and responds to the experience of betrayal as a threat to our emotional safety and relational security. This threat activates our limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates our fight/flight/freeze survival responses. This nervous system activation can manifest as heightened alertness, anxiety, and a readiness to protect oneself from further harm. This state can make it difficult to trust again, as the body remains on high alert, wary of potential threats. This response may be particularly intense and prolonged in individuals who already have a history of relational trauma, making the process of rebuilding trust even more challenging.

The Role of the Nervous System in Healing

Healing from betrayal and rebuilding trust involves calming the nervous system and re-establishing a sense of safety. In the context of relational betrayal, both partners play an important role in re-establishing a sense of emotional safety and supporting nervous system regulation.


Self-regulation is when we use internal or external resources to regulate. This can include mindfulness and meditation, breathing exercises, and grounding skills. Self-regulation requires that we build awareness of our internal experience so that we are able to identify and respond to our nervous system dysregulation when we are reminded of the betrayal. 


As they begin rebuilding trust, individuals who experienced betrayal may begin to seek emotional support from their partners. Creating new, positive relational experiences can foster a sense of safety and reinforce nervous system regulation. 

Consistency and Reliability

For trust to be rebuilt, there needs to be consistent, reliable behavior from the person who committed the betrayal. This consistency helps to reassure the nervous system that it is safe to trust again.

Open Communication

Honest and transparent communication is crucial. Transparency from the partner who committed the betrayal can support the betrayed partner in re-establishing a sense of predictability and trust and reduce anxiety. Open, empathetic communication from all partners also allows for greater opportunity to process emotions and fears as they arise and creates more opportunity for the couple to re-establish emotional connection, both of which are critical to rebuilding trust.

Attachment-Based Therapy

Therapy approaches such as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can help individuals understand and change their attachment patterns, promoting secure attachment and trust.

Rebuilding trust after a betrayal can feel like a monumental process. By calming the nervous system and creating new, positive relational experiences individuals can gradually restore trust and heal their relationships. 

If you are looking for professional support around rebuilding trust in your relationship, schedule an appointment with me today. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with our highly trained therapists.

maria dimachkie therapist sacramento california

Hi, I’m Maria Dimachkie, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.

I help​ individuals and couples who have overcome difficult, painful times that have left them feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and fearful of the future. You can experience more fulfillment in your life and relationships! I’m here to support you.

You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Maria

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