An Interview: Healing from Betrayal Trauma

The following is an interview with a client, Natalie. When Natalie was pregnant with her third child, she learned her husband had been using hookup apps. That was four years ago. The couple have subsequently divorced. Natalie shares some of her experience of recovery from betrayal trauma here.

1. Can you share some of the lessons you learned about grief? The most important thing is to give yourself permission to grieve. That is absolutely crucial. The feelings are going to find a way to come out anyway. So, it’s better to express them, and to go ahead and rant and cry when you feel you need to. That is so much better than repressing your emotions, and having them wreck your physical health. 

Don’t go it alone either. Find someone to share your feelings with. I know not everyone is going to be a safe person. But it really helps if you can find at least one other person you can be totally honest with.

And finally, accept that the grief journey is going to take time. A lot of time. It’s also going to follow its own course. You can’t predict when you are suddenly going to find yourself in a pit again. But that’s OK. You just go with it. Your subconscious minds understands your healing journey, even if feels like a mystery to you.

2. What else helped with the recovery process? Being alert to potential triggers, especially at times when I felt very vulnerable. It helped me maintain some control of my emotions. Also, there are potential triggers I can deal with now that I couldn’t have dealt with early on.

3. What about forgiveness? What are your thoughts on that topic? Forgiving him wasn’t really something I wanted to think about, at least not initially. I put it on the back burner and just ignored it completely while I was working through the grieving process. Maybe I’ll come back to it later. Maybe I won’t.

The most important issue for me has actually been forgiving myself for getting into a relationship with someone who treated me so badly. I think it’s instinctive to beat ourselves up when something like that happens … and we know that other people are going to throw bricks, too.

But you don’t know the person you are committing is going to treat you like that. Honestly, who of us would choose to hook up with someone who was going to damage us so deeply?

Also, my ex was very careful at covering his tracks. I had to forgive myself for trusting him so deeply (but aren’t we meant to trust those closest to us???), for thinking the best of him, and for believing him when he told me his flights into online sex were in the past.

And I do forgive myself.

Yes, I am wiser today … but there is something beautiful in being soft and trusting, too. I don’t regret being that kind of person, either.  

4. How has the betrayal affected your self-worth and self-esteem? At first it devasted my self-esteem. I thought there was something wrong with me. That I was inadequate in some way. Not beautiful enough. Not sexy enough Not …. whatever … fill in the blanks. But I’ve moved beyond that now.

Today, I don’t take any of the blame.  I can see it was his problem. Not mine. Commitment is a choice. Infidelity is a choice. Choosing to use hookups is a choice. Perhaps it took a while to get to this place but I can now honestly say that I treated him well, was probably as good at sex as the next woman. I am also comfortable with myself as person. I like who I am. And perhaps that is the most important thing of all.

“At your absolute best, you still won’t be good enough for the wrong person. At your worst, you’ll still be worth it to the right person.” – Unknown

5. Any final thoughts or comments? Although the pain is intense at the start, it really does lessen over time. The scars begin to heal, and you find yourself again. There comes a day when you can look back and say, you’re in a place when you can start to live once more. And that is a very good day!

I Don’t Deserve to be Loved

I wonder if you ever struggle with that painful feeling … The feeling that you really don’t deserve to be loved.

And when we’re in that desperate place we often move to self-attack. We turn against ourselves and we recite the countless reasons why we ought to be rejected, disliked or even scorned.

But this self-attack is crazy on so many different levels.

It usually has no bearing in reality.

Also, it serves no useful purpose, and it scars and wounds us deeply as we turn against ourselves with loud, self-shaming accusations.

Why do we do it?

There is a voice inside our head that has been nurtured through the years by negative experiences that left their mark on us. The voices of our parents, or of cruel, unloving people, have gathered evidence that now feels hard to contradict. Words like:

“Nobody likes you.”

“No-one cares about you.”

“Who would ever love you?”

“You’re not beautiful; you’re ugly.”

“Have you heard the way you sound?”

“You have nothing to contribute.”

“You’re stupid, and you’re boring.”

“You are worthless.”

“You’re a loser.”

Something to Think About

But that person in our head – the way we’ve come to see ourselves – is just some fantasy. It isn’t really who we are.

We need to shake off that false image, and to search for our true self. The person who went missing when we listened to the lies.

How to do that?

1. The first thing to do is to start to notice every time you ruthlessly attack, or are mean to yourself. Make a note of what you said, and what was happening at that time. Think about how you were feeling, and why you felt that way.  

Usually, a pattern will start to emerge.

2. Think back to other times when you have heard those things being said. Who made those accusations? And why did you believe them? Can you challenge what they said? What could you say to yourself? What would be a reasonable and accurate rebuttal?

Now practice talking back to the voice inside in your head. It will silence that old critic so it starts to lose its power. And you’ll find that, over time, your real self will get much stronger.

3. Notice how your thinking has affected your behaviour. Has it caused you to withdraw. and to isolate yourself? Has it stopped you taking risks, or setting goals for yourself? Has it stopped you being funny, or being natural with new people?

Start to notice these connections. Start to see how you’ve missed out. Then start to change those patterns. One small step by one small step.

4. Think of people that you’re drawn to. Think of why you like that person. You might find them attractive – as you see yourself in them. Because they have some interests that are part of you as well.

“You are standing in the answer. It is when you start to lose yourself that you start to look for yourself in other people … other things. But there is a place and a time in your life that links you to the person you were before all the chaos. All the pain. All the heartache.  Before you looked in the mirror and judged the reflection looking back at you. Find this place. Go back to this place. Because, in this place, you knew exactly who you were. You just got a little lost.”

– April Green

Quote of the Day: Your Trauma is Valid

 

Your trauma is valid.

Even if other people have experienced “worse”.

Even if someone else who went through the same experience doesn’t feel debilitated by it.

Even if it “could have been avoided”.

Even if it happened a long time ago.

Even if no one knows.

Your trauma is real and valid and you deserve a space to talk about it.

It isn’t desperate or pathetic or attention-seeking.

It’s self-care.

It’s inconceivably brave.

And regardless of the magnitude of your struggle, you’re allowed to take care of yourself by processing and unloading some of the pain you carry.

Your pain matters.

Your experience matters.

And your healing matters.”

— Daniell Koepke

Please believe it. Take these words to heart.

Soul Care

Beautiful girl, take care of yourself. No-one else knows what your soul needs.”

Do you actually know what your soul needs just now?

Really figuring that out, can be difficult at times.

First, we need to find a way to successfully detach from the never-ending list of “must’s”, “ought’s” and  “should’s”.

From being the right partner/ mother/ daughter/ sister/ friend.

From that guilt-inducing list of responsibilities.

And often that can be the hardest part of all.

But you really need to do it.

You need to detach.

You need to make it possible to listen to your heart.

And when you do, you will find that your soul starts to speak. It will start to give you hints. It will tell you what you need.

It might be something very simple. Something small and practical like relaxing on your own. Curled up snuggly with a book.

Or it might be something deeper like the need to mourn and grieve for the heartache, disappointment and the pain that you’ve been through.

Or the need to stop comparing. And the need to like yourself. To work harder on self-love, and being comfortable with you.

But whatever it is … your heart and soul already know.

And they’ll share that secret with you, if you’ll listen carefully.

It’s Good to Talk

Tell your story. Shout it. Write it. Whisper it if you have to. But tell it. Some won’t understand it. Some will outright reject it. But many will thank you for it. And then the most magical thing will happen. One by one, voices will start whispering, “Me, too. ” And your tribe will gather. And you will never feel alone again.”

-L.R. Knost 

Can you imagine how good it would be to be able to talk? To be able to share. To have your pain held – like a scared, tender thing?

Can you picture that?

Can you imagine what it would be like to be understood? To feel understood. To know that you are not the only one. To know that others have walked in your shoes, and experienced what you’ve experienced.

Of course, it can never be exactly the same – because everyone’s experience is different. But something similar enough for them to absolutely get it. Without having to defend yourself, or explain yourself to anyone.

Can you imagine how good that would feel?

Can you imagine how the weight would lift from your shoulders?

Can you imagine the relief? The sense of being able to let go – of all the pain, the heartache, the sorrow, the judgment, the deep, deep disappoint and pain.

Can you imagine what a difference that would make to you?

I hope that you are able to take that first step. To find a way to talk, and to share what you’ve been through.  You owe it to yourself. Your story really should be heard.

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” – C.S. Lewis  

What might boundaries look like to you?

“She set her boundaries and rebuilt her life.”

If you are recovering from betrayal trauma, there are boundaries you will want to put in place. So what might boundaries look like to you? Some suggestions include the following:

  • Having your partner or spouse see a counsellor or therapist?
  • Requiring your partner or spouse to have an accountability partner?
  • You being the one who has administrative rights for the family computer?
  • Having all the passwords to his laptop, phone and devices?
  • Having him remove all dating apps and close down any accounts he has with companies like Ashley Maddison or sex.com?
  • Being able to check messages and texts anytime you want?
  • Having access to all bank accounts – and going through statements together regularly?
  • Going through credit card statements together each month?
  • Having him accountable for his time so you know where he is, who he is with, and what he is doing, anytime you are apart?
  • Having him break all contact with (including ‘unfriending’ on social media) anyone he has had a relationship with (while in a committed relationship with you)?
  • Asking that he tell you if someone from a previous illicit relationship ever tries to contact him again?

They are other boundaries you might want to think about. Some boundaries specific to your relationship.

Also, these boundaries might change as time goes by.

The important thing is – you absolutely need to feel safe. Otherwise a secure trust can never be rebuilt.

So don’t be hesitant to ask for what you want. Having boundaries is crucial when you have been betrayed.

Boundaries are crucial. They are at the heart of every healthy relationships.”

Coping with Feelings of Panic

One of the features of betrayal trauma is experiencing overwhelming feelings of panic. This is very normal; you aren’t going crazy.

However, it can be particularly scary when this is new to you, and especially when the feelings hit you unexpectedly. So what can you do to help you cope with the symptoms? The following suggestions have been shown to make a difference:    

1. Remind yourself that what you are experiencing right now are actually exaggerated normal stress reactions. You body is sending out a warning sign. That is all.

2. Although they are unpleasant, these bodily sensations aren’t dangerous or harmful. Nothing worse is going to happen.

3. Take control of your thoughts. Don’t let them run away. Don’t allow “what if scenarios” to intensify the feelings of panic. Those thoughts are usually groundless. They’re extreme, and they’re unlikely.

4. Stay focused on the present and what is happening now. It can help if you describe the different symptoms, and your feelings, as if you’re an observer who is simply taking notes.

5. Be patient and allow the intense feelings to subside.

6. Note that when you take control of your exaggerated thinking, the feelings of panic start to slowly ease as well.

7. Allow yourself to simply experience the terror instead of trying to avoid it, or to run away from it. The intensity will fade if you are brave, and just go through it.

8. Look around you. Pay attention to what is happening in this moment, and engage your five sense in the here-and-now. Describe what you can see, hear, smell, touch and feel.

9. Think about the progress you have made already. You’ve coped, and overcome so many massive obstacles. You are slowly moving forwards (even if it’s baby steps).

10. When you can breathe normally, and you feel more like yourself, slowly start to return to whatever you were doing. The attack is in the past. It is over. You survived.

Taking Care Of Me

“I can cut you off and still love you.

I can stop speaking to you, and still care for you.

I can let you go, and still wish you the best.

If I leave you alone, it’s not to be bitter or petty.

If I leave you alone, it’s for my own good.

If I let you go, it’s so that I can accept still being able to love you

whilst also knowing I can be happy without you.”

These are courageous words.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves, is to withdraw from a relationship. Whether it’s from a partner, a spouse, or a friend … sometimes we just need to walk away.

It can be for a while; it doesn’t have to be forever. But for now, you need your space. You need a boundary in place.

And who really knows want you’ll want later on. It’s much too early to play that guessing game.

Right now, you need the freedom to simply be yourself. To get back in touch with the person you have lost.

You need the room to breathe.

You need the room to just be you.

You are doing what is right: you are taking care of you.   

Ask us – Are you partly to blame if your partner cheated on you?

In this post we will briefly answer a question that was asked by one of our clients. Here is today’s question:

I’m sick and tired of people saying that I must share at least some of the blame for my husband using porn and having online affairs. This is so hurtful me because I honestly believe I tried to be a thoughtful, loving wife. I really did. And I had no idea he was involved in all of this. Am I right to feel this way?”

Yes, you are right to feel this way. These comments are hurtful and undeserved.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard it said: “It takes two tango” … or that both people must have contributed to an affair. But that isn’t always the case.

Let me start by saying, here-and-now that, no: It doesn’t take two to tango.

There are some very caring and committed partners, who truly share none of the blame at all. Of course, they weren’t perfect – for none of us are. We all have our weaknesses and flaws. But there are plenty of spouses who are lovely, decent people. They truly love their partner and they treat them well. And yet they are betrayed and lied to by their spouse. Did they deserve this? No, they did not.

The cheater alone is responsible for this.

We each make our own decisions in life.

Also, in my work as a counsellor, I have talked to plenty of women who didn’t know their husband was addicted to porn, or who had absolutely no idea that another woman was trying to lure their husband away.

In fact, often these women were trying hard to please their husband. They bought new lingerie. They suggested new things. They made themselves available, despite being ignored or brushed off by a partner who had kept turning them down. They made that extra effort. They tried their very best.

But let’s assume, for a minute that the spouse was difficult to live with, or was emotionally unavailable, or was uninterested in sex (or in a different kind of sex). Does that give the partner permission to cheat?

Surely the appropriate thing would be to talk things through. Or maybe to go for couple counselling. There are other options. Other choices. Other possibilities. You don’t have to cheat, or go online.

Also, if your partner’s loyalty depends on you meeting certain criteria, what will happen the next time he or she is sick, or stressed, or tired, or doesn’t want to have sex – for whatever reason? Or what happens the next time one or both of you are caught in a busy cycle, and the stress of life is starting to push you apart? Does this mean “being committed” no longer applies? I’m guessing most people would say “no” to that question.

Because isn’t that whole point of commitment. Doesn’t being committed mean “I can trust and rely on you all the time, and under all circumstances?”

Yes, people change … and sometimes one partner may decide they want to leave the relationship. However, if that happens, wouldn’t the appropriate approach be to be honest about what you are thinking and feeling, and to talk it through together … like mature adults who respect one another? Cheating is not the appropriate response.

So, no, your partner’s cheating was not your fault. And you’re right to be hurt by the accusation. You have been betrayed and traumatized, and you deserve support, not accusations and attack.

Quote of the Day: And that is OK

“Perhaps most of all, though, you deserve to be okay. You deserve to know that a day in which you can just barely get out of bed because you are sad, or sick, or simply not ready to see the outside is not the end of the world. You deserve to know that moments of weakness do not make you fundamentally weak, only fundamentally human, and that sometimes we’re not going to be effusively happy, and that is okay.” – Chelsea Fagan

And that is OK.

Sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves, and to simply accept where we are today.

Perhaps we wish we were stronger inside

Or more able to process, and heal from, the pain.

Our desire and our hopes … they are in the right place.

But we are where are.

And it is what it is.

Healing takes time.

Recovery takes time.

It’s a long, painful road

And it takes a long time.

You are doing your best with the load that you bear.

And today’s a tough day.

It’s been hard.

It’s OK.