“A partner affected by intimate betrayal experiences a level of pain that is indescribable. The hurt is so profound and complex, partners often wonder if it will ever get better.” Shira Olsen
If you’ve been betrayed then you know that this is true. But why is betrayal so destructive and distressing? Why can’t we just bounce back, and move on with our live? Some reasons for this are summarized below:
1. It comes from people you trust. People you believed were trustworthy. People who had led you to believe that they were trustworthy.
2. It comes from people you have loved, taken a chance with, and made yourself vulnerable to. This is a great privilege. We don’t make ourselves vulnerable to everyone.
3. You were betrayed by someone you treated well. You gave them respect. You gave them your time. You cared about them. You sent the message that they were important and mattered to you. But they sent the message that you weren’t important, and didn’t matter to them.
4. We feel we’ve been taken advantage of. We feel that we’re the kind of people that others think it’s Ok to deceive and treat badly. Perhaps this how others see you – as someone who’s worth less, and as someone who’s not valued. This greatly undermines our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
6. We feel we can’t trust ourselves to judge who is trustworthy – and not trustworthy – in the future. If you can’t trust yourself, and your own intuition, then who can you trust!
7. Betrayal undermines our ability to relax and trust other people in the future. At the back at our mind, there’s always this doubt: “Can I trust this person? Are they really who they seem? Will they mistreat, wound or reject me at some point down the line?” This stops us feeling safe, and destroys our peace of mind.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Bonnie Ware’s book: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. This was based on her work in palliative care.
The fact is, we all make choices everyday which affect the trajectory of our lives. These often feel unconscious and insignificant. And yet, over time, they become significant. They can cause us to miss out, and they can change who we become. It happens very slowly …. But it happens, all the same.
So what sorts of things did the dying regret? And what can we learn from their experience?
Regret # 1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Some questions to ask yourself ….
“What does it mean for you to be authentic, and true to yourself?
“What exactly does that look like?” Try to be as concrete, specific, and detailed as you can.
“What do others expect of you? How is that at odds with the person you were made to be, and would like to be?”
“What is stopping you from living the life you want to live i- so you’re settling for the life others want you to live?”
“What one thing can you do today to move more in the direction of authenticity?”
Regret # 2.“I wish I hadn’t work so hard.”
Some questions to ask yourself ….
“To what extent does this apply to you?”
“Why is work so important to you?” What messages have you received from your family, friends, and society related to work and careers?
“What would happen if you chose to work less, and invest more in your hobbies, interests and relationships?”
Regret # 3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Some questions to ask yourself ….
“How do you feel when you read that statement (Regret #3)?” Perhaps you feel uncomfortable? Anxious? Conflicted? Sad?
“Which feelings were allowed in your family/ social group, and which feelings were not allowed?”
“What are you afraid will happen if you start to express a wider range of feelings, or to express your feelings more openly?
“Are there some people it would be safe to express more emotions with? Can you list them, and say what it is about these individuals that makes them feel like ‘safe people’?”
Regret # 4. ”I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”
Some questions to ask yourself ….
“What do you view as being the advantages of investing more in relationships? How would your life be better?”
“Who, specifically, do you regret losing touch with, or regret not spending enough time with?”
“Who has been moved to the side-lines of your life that you’d like to talk to, or see, a more of? How can you make that happen? What steps would you need to take?”
Regret # 5. “I wish I’d let myself be happier.”
Some questions to ask yourself ….
Try to imagine yourself being really happy. Paint a vivid picture in your mind’s eye.
“What would you be doing? Who you would be with? Where would you be? What kinds of thoughts would you be thinking? How exactly would you be feeling?”
“What stops you from being happy? What messages did you receive from your family, key people in your life, or from society that causes you to put a limit on your happiness?”
“What one thing can you do today in order to allow yourself to more consciously pursue happiness, and to allow yourself to relax into simply being/ feeling happy?”
“There is no reset button in life. You can’t take anything back, and you can’t undo anything. All of your actions have consequences, and the things you say and do today will have a lasting impact on the rest of your life. You have to understand that.”
Proving a negative is really difficult. And especially if he has deceived you before, and you had no idea he was cheating on you.
So how do you know if he’s gas lighting you today? Here are some things you should watch out for:
1. He starts to do unpredictable, and unexpected, things. We usually have a pretty good idea of what is normal for our partner and spouse. We know their different patterns. We know their changing moods. We know the way they act, and their likes and dislikes. This means that even a small change could sound a warning bell for us – and especially if the changes start to mount up over time.
For example, changes in how often he’s away from the home. Changes in the effort he puts into his appearance. Changes in the way he seems to use his phone today (perhaps he’s changed his password, and deletes all messages.)
However, many partners are experienced at keeping up an act, and are great at making sure you don’t know what they are doing.
Note: One in five men has a secret email account they use to hide correspondence from their partner.
2. He’s over-complimentary about your appearance, sense of humour, work achievements and so on. This can happen if he’s trying to throw you off the scent, and it also makes sense if you stop and think about it. If he’s making you look great in the eyes of other people, and it stroking your ego so you feel loved and secure then it’s likely you’ll will be blind to the fact that he is cheating.
Also, if praising you is very out of character for him, then it could be a sign that you need to stay alert. However, there is always the chance that it is genuine as well. Who knows!
3. He appears to be more distant, and less interested in you. You might start to notice that he’s pulling away more, and appears to be more distant from the family in general. You might be getting the sense he doesn’t care about you. This could point to his interest being focused somewhere else. This includes a lack of interest in sex and intimacy.
However, if he’s avoidant anyway, and has generally been poor at being sensitive, caring, understanding, and empathic, you might be hard pressed to notice any change, or difference.
4. He seems to pick more fights with you. This can be driven by feelings of guilt. But sometimes straying partners are more argumentative, sensitive, ill-tempered, and quick to take offense as a ploy to create distance, and throw you off the scent. Why? It gives him an excuse to disengage, and go elsewhere.
5. He hangs out with friends who have cheated on their partner. Often, we choose friends who have similar values, or will validate our actions and the choices we have made. Of course, we can’t control our friends but it can be an indication of how he regards cheating, or pornography.
Note: Research has shown that nearly 80% of men who cheat have a close friend who cheated.
6. You feel unsettled and uneasy. Often, we getting a feeling in our gut when there’s something going on. And a woman’s intuition often senses when he’s lying. He may have covered his tracks well but if your instinct says “watch out” then listen to your instinct – as most often it is right. Take disconcerting feelings and suspicions seriously. You owe it to yourself to check out sinister feelings.
1. Commit to not doing anything for this moment – Despite the fact that the pain is overwhelming, choose to put some distance between your thoughts and your actions. Tell yourself: “I am going to wait for 24 hours. During that time, I will commit to not doing anything I might later regret.”
Your thoughts can stay as thoughts. You don’t have to act them out.
2. Stay away from alcohol and drugs (including non-prescription drugs) – Suicidal thoughts can be intensified if you are using drugs or alcohol. They can increase your feelings of despair and hopelessness. They can also cloud your judgment and ability to think. Don’t risk it.
3. Plan ahead and make your home safe – Think about, and remove any items you feel you could potentially use to harm yourself (knives, razors, bottles of pills etc,) If it isn’t possible to remove these from your home, put them in a place that is hard to access.
If you think you might overdose on important prescription medication, ask someone you trust to give them to you one day at a time.
4. Keep holding on to hope – People who struggle with suicidal thought DO find the courage and the strength they need to get through the hardest, and darkest, times. The chances are you, too, can push through these feelings and find the will to live, no matter how desperate things feel, or how hopeless things look, or how lonely you are, or how much you hate yourself right now.
Please believe it is worth hanging on. Others have made it, and you can, too.
5. Don’t fight this battle alone – Don’t keep your suicidal feelings to yourself. Lots of us have gone through times like this. People won’t think you’re crazy. There are really are people out there who can help you, and who will want to help you. The first step to coping with these thoughts and feelings is to share them with someone you think you can trust. Perhaps a close friend, a counsellor or therapist, or someone you can reach on a distress helpline. Give it a chance. Give it a try. Tell someone how absolutely awful you feel. Don’t allow fear, shame, or embarrassment stop you from getting the help you deserve.
“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.”
People who’ve been deeply hurt and traumatized are, naturally, afraid of their memories.
They want to forget. They try to forget.
But the truth is, the brain isn’t good at denial.
When the feelings and emotions are pushed down and repressed, they can’t be processed, and they don’t go away. They aren’t integrated. They are lying there in wait.
And it takes a lot of energy to keep those memories down – for the past is still alive; you don’t forget the shame and pain.
So we live, day by day with a dark, gnawing sense of dread. And we feel we’ve lost control of our life, and who we.
What to do About it
“People cannot put traumatic events behind them until they are able to acknowledge what has happened, and can start to recognize the invisible demons they’re struggling with.”
To move on with our lives, we must share what we’ve gone through. How terrible it was. How traumatic it has been. We need to feel the pain. And the awful loneliness. The helplessness. The shock. And the utter disbelief.
And one we feel that we’ve been heard, and the horror has been seen, it changes us inside, and we find we start to heal.
When we’re frozen in the past, we feel trapped and paralyzed.
“I used to be someone who loved life, and believed it was possible to go for your dreams. I was a real positive thinker and a real go-getter. However, ever since I learned that my husband cheated on me, I’ve found it impossible to be that kind of person. I know it sounds negative, but I just can’t believe good things will ever happen to me again. Do you have any insights you could share?”
Let me start by saying that I’m really sorry this has happened to you. It’s not the life you wanted, and it’s not the life you deserved either. This should never have been your story.
However, I would also say that where you are right now is absolutely normal when you’ve been so deeply betrayed. Almost anyone who found themselves in your situation would find it hard to hope and dream … because … “What if it all goes wrong again?”
That is an understandable fear.
My guess is that you still have a lot of grieving to do. That you still need to spend time processing what you’ve gone through, and you still need work on slowly recovering and healing.
I would also suggest bearing the following in mind:
1. Although we all wish that bad things wouldn’t happen, the fact is there are no guarantees in life. That means it’s impossible to dodge all of life’s bullets. That’s difficult to hear, and accept … I know.
However, I would also say that – on the whole – terrible things occur less frequently than we expect them to/ or think they will.
2. When something really painful and unexpected happens, it dominates our thinking, and distorts our expectations. It affects our confidence, and how we feel, as well.
It’s easy for our life to be over-run by fear, and to find we are ruled by anxiety. That is something we should fight to overcome.
3. It is stressful to always be on high alert, and to always be waiting for the next shoes to drop. It will drive us crazy; it is truly torturous. It’s debilitating, and it drains our energy.
4. For every bad thing that happens, there are likely to be another 20 good things that happen. Of course, when we weigh the good and bad together, we might feel that one really bad thing equals 18 relatively good things. I get that.
However, over time the good usually does out weigh the bad; and knowing this is true, can help us focus on the good. So, try to notice what is good, and what goes well.
5. Although trauma and heartache can feel unbearable, in reality we usually survive, and make it through. This doesn’t have to be the end. They don’t have to wreak our life.
Also, it’s in the bad times that we tend to get in touch with hidden strengths. We find that we’re resilient. We learn what matters most. It’s also when we find out who our true friends are.
6. My guess is, there are still some really good things in your life. Some things that give life meaning. Those are worth remembering. Because … those are the things that really matter the most.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all the darkness.”