In this post we will briefly answer a question that was asked by one of our clients. Here is today’s question:
Why is experiencing sexual betrayal such an isolating experience? It feels there is no-one who really understands. If I’d been bereaved, or in a car accident, I know that lots of people would offer me support. Why is this so different?
There could be a number of possible answers to this question. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter …
1. Committed intimate relationships are attachment relationships. Apart from the relationship we form with our primary caregivers (usually our parents), these are the closest relationships we form.
When we enter into a committed relationship with someone, we automatically expect that person to be trustworthy, safe, reliable and honest. We expect them to love us, care for us, and be there for us. We don’t expect them to hurt and cause us harm.
In fact, we simply cannot function, and lead a normal life, if we’re constantly assessing if our partner’s still trustworthy.
Thus, when we learn that a relative or friend has been betrayed (and sexual betrayal is a serious betrayal), it is deeply disturbing and unsettling for us.
We realize we’re no different – so we too could be deceived. This is threatening and scary – so we want to keep our distance.
In a way, this strong reaction is a form of self-protection.
2. Another factor that might play into the way people react, is a fear of the emotions that a trauma can stir up.
People can imagine how they’d feelif it was them. They can picture the strong feelings, and how they might react. Again, this is unsettling to contemplate.
Hence, the safest thing to do, is to simply walk away. This keeps things superficial, and under their control.
Note: Sometimes our friends would like to help is, but they feel they’re at a loss. They don’t know what to say so they feel inadequate. As a result, they just say nothing, and act like nothing’s changed.
3. A third possibility relates to the fact that many have experienced a trauma in their past. Hence, our pain and trauma symptoms now remind them of their own. And they don’t want to face it. They would rather bury it. Hence, they cope with their discomfort by distancing themselves. That way, they can pretend that everything in life is fine (at least for them).
“Trauma reactions are normal reactions to abnormal events.”
There are no right and wrong ways to respond to a trauma; and your symptoms may include the following:
– Shock, numbness, disbelief, or even denial
– Difficulties with focusing, paying attention, concentrating and remembering
– Powerful unpredictable mood swings
– Anger and rage
– Irritability/ having a short fuse
– Intense fear and anxiety
– Panic attacks and anxiety attacks
– Guilt, shame, and (inappropriate) self-blame
– The desire to isolate yourself
– Sadness, sorrow and regret
– Hopelessness/ an inability to see anything good in the future
– Insomnia, nightmares, and broken sleep
– Hypervigilant/ hyperalert/ agitation/ being on edge
– Racing heart
– Difficulty breathing, and regulating breathing
– Tingling in hands and feet
– Pain and muscle tension.
Some of these symptoms point to PTSD, where your nervous system’s stuck in a state of constant shock. This prevents you from processing the trauma properly.
It is best if you can get professional help to deal with this, so you slowly start to heal (thought it’s going to take time.)
However, there are also some things that you can do as well – some tips to help with your trauma recovery. They include:
1. Get moving. Trauma dysregulates the body’s equilibrium so you’re stuck in a state of high arousal and fear. Often, exercise can help to repair the disruption, and especially if modulates your breathing and heart rate. (Yoga, and activities like walking, running, dancing and swimming are thought to be especially helpful for this.)
2. Fight the tendency to isolate yourself. Connecting with others helps you slowly start to heal (even though you’ll likely feel that you’d much rather withdraw). You don’t have to share your feelings, or to talk about what happened. Just engaging with others helps to normalize your life.
However, you will also need a person who will listen without judgment (a therapist or counsellor, a friend, or family member). This is absolutely crucial. You can’t bear this on your own.
Also, many people find it helps to join a group for survivors who have shared the same experience and, therefore, understand.
3. Prioritize self-care. This includes doing your best to get some quality sleep (although PTSD often makes this difficult); making sure your diet’s healthy; spending time in nature; and doing things that help you to unwind and relax.
“Take all the time you need to heal. Moving on doesn’t take a day. It takes a lot of little steps to break free of the past, and heal your broken self.”
In this post we will briefly answer a question that was asked by one of our clients.
Here’s today’s question …
“Why do I struggle with shame over my partner’s betrayal? He was the one who broke his promises, yet I feel completely worthless and ashamed. Why is that?”
There could be a number of answers to this question. Here are a few possibilities:
1. Think about bullying, or abuse in general. When we’re singled out for some kind of mistreatment, we pick up the message “I am not worth treating well.” (Note: You are worth treating well but this is the faulty message we believe in response to being mistreated.) That message is especially powerful if it comes from someone very close to us – like a parent or spouse.
2. If we think highly of someone, and their attention or approval means something to us, then we treat them with great respect and care. Think of the way royalty, celebrities or CEOS are treated.
In contrast, if we are ignored or treated badly, we feel that we don’t matter. That we’re not important. That we’re not worth respecting or caring about.
3. We honour our partner by being faithful to them, and treating them as someone who is special to us. After all, we’ve deliberately chosen to enter into a exclusive relationship with them, and them alone.
Hence, when our partner betrays us, it communicates the message “You’re not really that special after all. I don’t just want to have sex with you”. Hence, we feel inadequate, as if we have failed, as if we are faulty, and not worthy of love (and not certainly not exclusivity).
This affects our self-esteem, and our identity. Here’s what Brene Brown has to say about shame:
“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling, or experience, of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
Note: You could substitute faithfulness for connection, here.
If you have been betrayed by your partner or spouse, then this sense of shame is absolutely not deserved. You need to resist it with all your might.
Don’t let the lies become your own beliefs.
Don’t let that person define your worth.
“Know your worth. Know what you deserve. Don’t ask for it. State it.”
Everyone has heard of the word eureka. That sudden, unexpected insight into a tough problem.
Finding the solution that has always seemed elusive. The magic missing piece that changes how we look at things.
Eureka’s been attributed to Archimedes, a leading scientist in classical antiquity. But did you also know Eureka’s California’s motto? I guess they used to shout it when the diggers found some gold.
An Aha! moment
In daily life, we often talk about an Aha! moment. That wonderful experience when the scales fall from our eyes. The lightbulb flashes on and what was murky fog, or darkness, now suddenly makes sense and seems quite clear and obvious.
The Brain and Trauma
Our brain is changed by trauma. We become a different person. We’re on a roller coaster and we’re triggered constantly. We struggle with anxiety. Our sleep is often broken. We’re always sensing danger, and we’re hypervigilant.
We find it hard to trust, and we feel lost and isolated. We cannot trust our judgment, and we think we’ll be deceived. Our self-esteem’s been damaged and we think we have no value.
We’ve lost our map and compass for a balanced, normal life.
Is There an Answer or a Remedy?
I wish there was an answer, a straightforward quick solution. A sharp click of the fingers. A eureka, Aha! moment.
Yes, there are bursts of insight, and occasional moves forward. But often we feel stuck, and thus unable to move on.
Coming Face-to-Face with Reality
The fact is, Aha! moments are unusual and uncommon.
But you can make real progress, and recover over time.
It takes great perseverance – but it’s worth the work and effort.
For bit by you’ll start to heal, and find yourself again.
“Recovery is a process. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes everything you’ve got.”
When your partner is battling a sex addiction, establishing boundaries is absolutely crucial. They are not going to silence all your doubts and fears, but they do give a sense of accountability. They are a fundamental part of re-establishing some trust (although, let’s be honest, that’s going to take years).
Essentially, boundaries are important as they help protect our relationships from becoming unsafe.
So, what might boundaries look like to you?
– Insisting that your partner or spouse regularly sees a counsellor
– Insisting that your partner or spouse has an accountability partner
– Insisting that you are the person who has administrative rights for the family computer
– Having all the passwords to your partner or spouse’s laptop, phone and devices
– Having your partner or spouse remove all dating apps from their ipad and phone, and insisting he deletes any accounts with companies like sex.com or Ashley Maddison
– Insisting you have the freedom to check your partner or spouse’s messages and texts anytime you want
– Having access to all his bank accounts – and going through statements together each month
– Going through credit card statements together each month
– Having your partner or spouse be accountable for his time – so you know where he is, who he is with, and what he is doing, anytime you are apart
– Requiring your partner or spouse to break off all contact with anyone he has had a previous relationship with
– Requiring your partner or spouse to tell you if someone from a previous relationship ever tries to contact him.
Some of these suggestions might seem a bit extreme, but it all comes down to your peace of mind. And there are other boundaries you might want to put in place, specific to your relationship. (These different boundaries might change as time goes on.)
Don’t hesitate to ask for what you want.
“Boundaries are crucial. They are at the heart of every healthy relationship.”