The Road not Taken

ultimately the worst kind of pain

I’ve always been attracted to this poem by Robert Frost. Some verses that invite us to reflect upon our lives, and think about the outcome if we’d taken other roads.

The trails we quickly glanced down at some crossroads on the street. Decisions we had taken when the outcome wasn’t clear.

Perhaps this path is better?  No, perhaps I’d like this more

We cannot tell the future. We don’t have a crystal ball.

But as we look into the past, back to the point where paths diverged, we sometime dream and wonder “How would life be different – if

I’d studied something different, or

I’d taken that great job, or

I’d moved away from home, or

I had travelled overseas.

It’s usually a distraction. Just a way to pass the time. It resurrects old hopes and dreams of how life could have been.

No doubt, there would be problems; but we put those from our mind. It’s just a fantasy. Of course, we know it isn’t real.

Yet …

This question sometimes rises up when things go badly wrong. We learn about betrayal and our whole life seems a lie.

It causes devastation. There’s destruction everywhere. The trauma stalks and haunts us. We are anxious all the time.

Our former life’s in tatters; we’re a shell of who we were. Our heart is full of splinters and our confidence is gone.

That happy, carefree person who would live life to the full, has been replaced by someone who is sad and fragile now.

Yes … I wonder who I’d be if he’d been faithful through the years. If I’d felt loved and cherished, and I had no need to fear.

I wish I was that person. She was happier back then.

But sometimes others take a road that changes our life, too.

Quote of the Day

sometimes you need

Feeling weak and tired is normal. Feeling that you can’t go on is normal. Feeling that you haven’t got what it takes to make it through the day, or make it through the night, is absolutely normal when you’ve been betrayed.

For this moment, choose to take the pressure off yourself. Give your mind a break. Stop struggling for now.

Just believe us when we say, “This is not the end. You’re going to making through. You’ll find yourself again.”

Hang on to our hope when you’ve lost sight of your own.

How can I Recover from Betrayal Trauma?

yesterday is heavy.PNG

I wonder if you’ve heard of Gabor Maté. He’s a Canadian doctor who’s written several books on the interplay between the body and the mind. He’s also worked for many years with trauma and addiction.

Maté distinguishes between traumatic incidents (for example, learning that your husband has a sex addiction) and trauma (the body’s response to this). Thus, traumatic incidents are things that happen to you. Trauma, in contrast, is what happens inside you. These internal responses are likely to include:

  • Dissociating from the present, and what is happening right now
  • Disconnecting from your feelings (either you feel nothing, or you’re hit by strong emotions that seem overwhelming and unpredictable)
  • Disconnecting from your body
  • Seeing the world through a dark, negative lens, and believing it is hostile, uncaring, cold and scary
  • Feeling defensive when you’re with other people, and feeling that you really must protect yourself
  • Having a distorted, negative view of yourself (This is seen in self-talk and beliefs like: “I’m worthless”; “I’m unloveable”; “I don’t deserve good things to happen to me”; “I’m ugly”; “No-one would want me” or “No-one going to love me, and treat me properly”.)

These types of trauma responses can become ingrained. They can come to rule our lives, even when the danger’s passed. Thus, any time that a memory from the past resurfaces, or we encounter a trigger that’s connected to the trauma, we can find that we react in these maladaptive ways.

Thus, though they’re tied in to experiences that happened in the past, it’s like the body won’t forget, and reproduces these responses.

So what can we do to help to free ourselves from this – for the reactions are unconscious and outside our control.

Gabor Maté, would suggest that the way forward here is to learn how to reconnect with ourselves. This is true recovery; the recovery of the self.

It means providing the self with what it needed at the time when it experienced the traumatic, and life-changing, incident.

It is likely to include being supported properly through being provided with the following relational qualities: we need the focused attention of an attuned, compassionate, non-judgmental, understanding and empathic listener. Usually, this will be a counsellor or therapist.

In terms of therapy, the approaches that seem to help people the most are those which reconnect them to their bodies and emotions. Examples include: somatic experiencing, EMDR, emotional freedom tapping, motor-sensory integration techniques, meditation, yoga, and body work

Hence, freedom and recovery are possible for those who’ve known betrayal trauma, and are suffering its effects. It truly is hard work, and it requires time and patience. But progress can be made if you can get the help you need.

 

The Long and Painful Journey to Forgive

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“The work of forgiveness is not easy. It is not an effortless act for any of us, and it does not serve anyone to minimize the complexity involved in the work of forgiving. No, forgiving is not easy, but it is the path to healing.”

These insightful words were penned by Desmond Tutu, Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in South Africa. If you’re aware of the abuses that the people suffered there – false accusations, torture, murder, and so on – then you’ll agree he understands that it’s hard to forgive.

And if you’ve been betrayed, you have suffered beyond words. The damage that it does to your heart, soul and mind are almost unbelievable, and shouldn’t be downplayed. We’re talking about trauma that can resonate for years.

And, of course, you’ve heard forgiving can help you to move on. But that kind of injustice and sorrow grip your heart. They grip it like a vice. How on earth do you forgive? To be honest, it can feel like it’s impossible.

However, The Forgiveness Cycle or The Fourfold Path might be something that could help you with your journey to forgive.  Here’s a summary of what the four steps entail:

STEP 1: Telling the Story – Recall all the incidents that form the narrative. Assemble all the pieces of your experience. These are all the facts. It is shocking – but it’s true. It hurts so much, and it happened to you.

However, if your story can be witnessed and be heard by someone else, then the burden is relieved. You don’t carry it alone.  And that is very healing when you’re deeply traumatized.

“Telling the story is how we get our dignity back after we have been harmed. It is how we begin to take back what was taken from us, and how we begin to understand and make meaning out of our hurting.”

STEP 2: Naming the Hurt – A hurt that is denied or is forcefully repressed will always find a way to resurface in our lives – through depression, self-rejection, or through hurting someone else.

“When we give voice to our hurt, it loses its stranglehold on our lives and our identities. It stops being the central character in our stories.” 

STEP 3: Granting Forgiveness – It is hard for forgiveness to take root in our heart. It requires an acceptance of “You did this to ME.” And you rightly feel indignant for you didn’t deserve this. Your reaction’s very normal … And you should protect yourself. You can’t be used and hurt – for you would end being destroyed.

At the same, you’re aware that you would like to be free, too. You don’t want to stayed tethered to the damage and the hurt.

“We choose forgiveness because it is how we move from victim to hero. A victim is in a position of weakness and subject to the whims of others. Heroes are people who determine their own fate and their own future … But forgiving does not come easy or cheap. We must choose forgiveness over and over again.”

STEP 4: Renewing or Releasing the Relationship – Only you can make the choice to release and walk away, or to renew and reinvest in the relationship again. And releasing is a valid, and a safer, choice at times – especially if you think the person hasn’t really changed. Also, if you choose to reinvest in the relationship with them, it cannot be the same – it has to be on different terms.

“Ask yourself what you need to renew or release a relationship …  Your decision to renew or release may well hinge on whether you get what you need. You may need that person to listen to your story and hear the hurt you have experienced. Also, you may need to know the perpetrator is remorseful before you renew the relationship, and be assured it won’t happen again.”

Let me finish with some truths related to forgiveness. I hope that these will help you if you’re on this road just now:

  • Forgiveness is hard – It takes a lot of effort. It means being willing to hang in there, and keep working on it.
  • Being willing to forgive doesn’t mean you’re weak. It takes tremendous courage, and real strength of character.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t mean “they get away with it”. The facts and still the facts, and they are still accountable.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t mean “you just forget it and move on”. It means recalling all the pain, and all the damage it has done.
  • Forgiveness will take time – usually a lot of time. As with grief, the healing cycle is repeated many times, before you feel you’re free, and are now able to forgive.

Note: All quotes are from: Tutu, D. (2014). The book of forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

What to Expect When You’ve Been Betrayed

comforting words

In previous posts I have talked about the pain, and the various effects of living with betrayal. It will dominate your thinking and take over your life.

And if you’ve been along this path, then you know that it is true. There are no shortcuts. You just have to plow on through. So be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to heal.

Some of things you will struggle with are likely to include the following:

  • A million questions will plague your mind
  • You will want to know all the facts (what, when, how often, with whom etc)
  • You will want to know all the details (even though the research states that details make recovery slower and longer)
  • Every question will lead to more questions
  • You will never be sure that you have the whole truth
  • You will doubt everything your partner says
  • You will constantly ruminate on all the lies they told you; the pain that you have suffered; the way you have been treated; on how this could have happened; and why they didn’t love you
  • You’ll be plagued by anxieties and fears for the future
  • You will constantly be fighting powerful feelings and lies related to not being enough (not being pretty enough, not having a good enough body, not being interesting, smart or funny enough etc)
  • You will struggle with shame and a loss of respect
  • You will feel you have lost your identity
  • You will fear and dread being judged by others
  • You will have poor or broken sleep, or will be wakened constantly by anxiety attacks or panic attacks
  • You will have no energy
  • You will lack enthusiasm
  • You can’t think, plan or set goals for the future.
  • There will be constant triggers – everywhere you look.

However, eventually you’ll start to recover your old self. There will be times when you “forget” and normality returns. But even then, there will be times when the past will hit or haunt you, and you’ll feel that you’re a mess, and “you can’t get over it.”This is all part of the journey, and it doesn’t mean your crazy. And although it is frustrating and discouraging, hang in there, keep believing, and let the process heal you.

Please don’t Tell me to “Forgive” Again

you may have to fight a battle more than once.PNG

Forgiveness is a difficult, and somewhat touchy, topic. It’s something we are ‘told’ that we ought to offer others. But ask anyone, and you’re likely to hear that forgiveness is a struggle if you’ve been hurt and betrayed.  And perhaps its not surprising that this should be the case.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

  1. Feeling that it’s hard to forgive and start again (even if, in your mind, you really want to forgive) is a primal, instinctive, self-protective response. The reason’s not surprising: if we let the barriers down and open up our heart, then our trust could be betrayed. So our brain seeks to protect us from further injury.
  2. We fear that forgiveness – or too quick, or forced, forgiveness – could have the effect of minimising the betrayal, and the extent of the damage and the pain that it has caused. Irritations and annoyances don’t really damage us so it’s relatively easy to move on, and let those go. But betrayal devastates us, and changes who we are. It’s a wound that’s hard to heal, and a serious injury.
  3. When we’ve been wounded by betrayal, it is not a single wound. Yes, there’s a major breach of trust; but there are other losses too. There’s the loss of hopes and dreams, of reputation and respect, the loss of peace of mind, and the life you thought you had. Also, there may be serious risks to health due to unwanted STDs, to PTSD, or stress-related illness. So the losses can feel endless – which makes them hard to forgive. It can feel too overwhelming when you’re in a fragile state.
  4. Related this, there are triggers we are battling, and which stop us in our tracks. They remind us of the fact that our healing’s NOT complete.

Although being able to forgive is liberating in the end, as it means we’re less attached to the emotional pain, it’s ridiculous to think that it should happen “just like that!”

It’s going to be a journey, and will take a lot of time, and it won’t mean that the anguish won’t resurface constantly.

Let me finish with some final thoughts from the book Out of the Doghouse:

Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It doesn’t happen all at once, and it is usually given only when earned, rather than when it’s requested. So if you want forgiveness, you can apologize a million times hoping it will appear, but you won’t get it until you’ve earned it … Forgiveness is not something you should ever expect or demand from anyone, let alone your betrayed spouse. Forgiveness will come when she has done hating you and when trust is restored.

For you, forgiveness may mean, ‘Phew. She loves me again and we are moving on.’ To her, though, it means letting you back into her heart that once again puts you in a position to either love or hurt her. That’s a pretty big difference … You will have to feel the pain you have caused, experience your consequences without becoming defensive, and become rigorously honest in all aspects of life. If you can do that, she will eventually forgive you.”

Maybe …. Hopefully …. Eventually.

Sexual Betrayal and the Trauma Vortex

remembers

Does the term trauma vortex mean anything to you?

This metaphor describes the swirling whirlpool of emotions, reactions, thoughts and instincts that a trauma stirs in us. It’s where sensations, pictures, sounds or some painful memories are triggered unexpectedly, and take us back in time[1]:

Trauma is like a magnet or a black hole sucking us in. Memories of trauma are not like normal memories of something that happened in another time and place, but instead we feel like we are currently in that other time and place. When triggered, our feelings are very powerful and pull us further and further into … a trauma vortex (a whirling mass that draws things towards its centre).[2]

And when an individual’s feels they’re being sucked into this hole:

  1. They are subjected to an onslaught of disturbing thoughts and pictures related to the trauma, or distressing incident.
  2. They feel they’re being pulled into obsessively reviewing, or ruminating over, the traumatic incident.
  3. It’s likely they’ll be struggling with despair and emptiness, abandonment, rejection and a sense of hopelessness.
  4. At the same time, they feel worthless, and battle guilt and shame.
  5. Life feels unpredictable – which makes them insecure
  6. The symptoms that assault them make them feel they’re going crazy.

So how can we help someone who’s in this anguished state? Some possible suggestions might include the following:

– Divert the person’s attention away from painful memories. This can be achieved by:

(a) Helping to ground them in the present. That is, asking them what they can see in their immediate environment (such as a plant, or the sun shining outside the window); or hear (such as a phone ringing); or smell (such as strong coffee, or dinner cooking, or freshly cut grass); or feel (such as the rough fabric on the sofa, the smoothness of a glass they are holding); or taste (such as tea they are sipping, or the gum they are chewing).

(b) Taking the person off to a safe place in their mind (for example, through the use of guided imagery).

– Choosing different channels to process an experience so they’re not focused on feelings or distressing images. For example, if the person is fixated on the way they feel emotionally, you could ask him or her to describe the way they’re feeling physically. This will likely help to lessen their emotional response.

– Suggesting they try to distract themselves by doing something different. This moves the focus away from the traumatic memory[3].

Leaving something, even momentarily, will help decrease its pull on you. Imagine if you stepped out of a movie theatre just as the film was becoming really scary. How different would it be if you left the movie ten times rather than sat through the whole thing spellbound? This is true with internal experiences as well. Give yourself breaks. Oscillate attention.”

In time, these trauma symptoms will generally subside. So hold onto the hope that, one day, your life will change.

 

[2] Cori, J.L. (2009). Healing from trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books.

[3] Cori, J.L. (2009). Healing from trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books.