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.

Understanding Relapse

Relapse is commonplace when someone’s fighting an addiction; it’s something many deal with on their journey to success. Yet, Psychology Today[1] records that more give up addictions than those who stay addicted, or constantly relapse. This should give us hope, and help stave off discouragement.

Also, relapsing is a process that’s predictable and patterned; and recognizing this can help us read the warning signs. That is, we often make decisions which can seem inconsequential … and yet they slowly move us towards a full relapse

Think of the relapse chain as a chain of decisions – made over a period of days, weeks, months, or even years- that together add up to a backsliding in one’s recovery. This makes it hard to say exactly where any one relapse begins.[2]

What are the steps that lead to relapse?

The following links make up the relapse chain:

1.The recovering individual experiences a build-up of stress (related, for example, to problems at work, relationship difficulties, illness or death in the family, parenting challenges, financial difficulties, legal concerns, the resurfacing of painful memories and trauma from the past, and so on.)

2.This causes the individual to experience intense, negative and distressing emotions.

Note: This is because the build-up of stress also triggers painful core beliefs; beliefs like: “no-one will ever truly want or love me”; “no-one is there for me”; “I’m inadequate”; “I’m a failure”; “Nothing ever works out for me”; “I deserve to be rejected”; “I am going to end up abandoned and alone.”

3.When this occurs, the person immediately attempts to suppress the painful feelings (which means that they’re now living in a state of denial.) That is, instead of openly admitting their pain and distress, the person stuffs or buries these problematic feelings.

Note: Often the decision to deny and bury our pain is tied in to the faulty core belief that “others won’t like, accept, love, or approve of me if I admit to having negative emotions.”

4.However, burying their feelings doesn’t make them disappear; for all it does is push them down and hide them for a while. That is, the subconscious mind is still aware that they are there, and this leads to strong cravings as the pain and hurt is real.

5.The person starts to withdraw, and isolate themselves from others – for it’s too hard to act as if they’re “normal and OK.” Instead, they feel that they can’t cope with all the issues they are facing, and wear a mask that looks as if they’re happy and carefree. Hence, this deepens the deception, and it makes them feel alone.

6.Although the goal has been to block out and destroy their painful feelings, the net result is actually the opposite of this. That is, instead of quietening their emotions, they find that they’ve grown stronger. Thus, it’s understandable how this could lead to a relapse.

7.A complicating factor here is when they’re battling feelings – they aren’t paying attention to their real needs and concerns. (That is, the stresses they’d experienced in 1 above.) Hence, the problems are still there; the situation may have worsened; and now the person’s desperate but feels they can’t escape.

8.This knowledge leads to hopelessness and feeling trapped and powerless; but their old friend – their addiction – can promise some relief. They know that it’s effective and will bring them needed solace, and be a source of comfort when battling despair.

9.Because they have withdrawn from those who could help and support them, they find they’re now alone when they are fighting this strong urge. That is, there’s no-one there to tell them they are strong, and can resist this. There’s no-one to walk with them, to offer them their strength.

Note: This is one of the reasons why having a mentor, counsellor or belonging to a group like AA is so important for recovering addicts. 

10.The addict then relapses – and experiences relief; but then the tables turn and they feel terrible again. They wish they hadn’t fallen; they are filled with deep regret; and now they’re battling feelings of guilt, shame and remorse.

Some thoughts on preventing a relapse

One of the best ways to identify high-risk situations and prepare for them in advance is to imagine likely relapse scenarios. If you were to relapse, in what kinds of situations might your relapse occur? Describe how the situation might arise, where you would be, what you’d be doing, and what kind of feelings you’d be having. If you have difficulty even imagining it, review episodes from the past, when you were on the wagon and fell off, noting what high-risk factors were operating at the time.

Once you’ve identified high-risk situations, go over the options that would be available to you today to minimize the danger. What is your action plan? Basic elements of it should be to leave the high-risk situation, talk with someone from your support team, and identify ways to lower your vulnerability immediately (eat, sleep, relax, exercise, go to a recovery meeting, meet with a friend). Role-playing these high-risk situations can be extremely helpful too.[3]

The old adage is true and is worth remembering here: that “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail!” And no-one is exempt from feeling tempted, low or weak. We are frail human beings and have vulnerabilities. Hence, it’s crucial we stay humble, and are honest with ourselves.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200405/the-surprising-truth-about-addiction-0 Retrieved 13th April 2017.

[2] Washton, A.M., & Boundy, D. (2013). Willpower is not enough: Understanding and overcoming addiction and compulsion. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.

[3] Washton, A.M., & Boundy, D. (2013). Willpower is not enough: Understanding and overcoming addiction and compulsion. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.

Betrayal and the Need for Self-Care

I wonder if you’ve noticed there seems to be a link between shock, trauma, stress and developing bad health? It’s frightening to me, and I take seriously.

In fact, here’s a trend that I’ve observed in those women who’re betrayed

  • They repeatedly suffer from minor illnesses (colds, flus, migraines, backache, stomach problems etc)
  • They develop skin complaints (such as eczema and psoriasis) and other more serious autoimmune diseases
  • They suffer from chronic pain, and might be diagnosed with a condition like fibromyalgia
  • They are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases like arthritis or MS
  • They are diagnosed with cancer.

Betrayal could be discovering your partner of spouse:

  • has gifted you with an STD
  • has been addicted to pornography for years, even decades
  • has an online profile that he uses for meeting and sexting with other women
  • is a regular user of webcams
  • sometimes visits strip clubs, massage parlours or prostitutes while away on business
  • has an app for hookups on his phone  
  • or has another woman (or series of women) on the side.

The (almost inevitable) consequences of this are:

  • tumultuous emotions that hit you unawares 
  • feelings of anguish and total despair
  • feelings of shame and worthlessness
  • sleepless nights when you wish your life would end
  • heartache, desolation and emptiness
  • fear for the future, and trusting ANYONE.

Sadly, many betrayed women bear this burden on their own. It’s difficult to share so they do not get support. And it’s this that cause problems with their health over.

It’s, therefore, really crucial that you take care of yourself, and that you make self-care your first priority.

Here are some suggestions to help with this:

  • Don’t isolate yourself; try to get out every day
  • At the same time, try to cut back on responsibilities. You won’t have the reserves to give to others for a while.
  • Don’t feel you have to socialise. You’ll likely feel too drained, too vulnerable and fragile to “act” as if you’re fine. And that’s OK – your own needs should take priority
  • Make sure you exercise as that can help to life your mood  
  • Pay attention to your diet (to balance all the stress)
  • Invest some time and money in that things you enjoy. You’re going to need distractions and things to lift your mood
  • Try to maintain some kind of schedule. Sometimes the only thing that you can do is ‘put one foot in front of the other’ and ‘do the next thing’. A regular schedule can help with this
  • Splurge and treat yourself well – you need to show yourself you matter. This is crucially important when you’ve been hurt and betrayed.

BETRAYAL AND PTSD

PTSD is a response to a traumatic incident, and is frequently experienced when a partner or spouse discovers that their mate has a secret life. Hence, it may be something you have suffered from yourself, even it’s not been formally diagnosed.

Signs and Symptoms

These include re-experiencing the crisis or trauma; experiencing avoidance or emotional numbing; experiencing heightened vigilance or alertness; and experiencing other illnesses or concerns. These are examined briefly overleaf.

  1. Re-experiencing the crisis or trauma

This is the defining trait of PTSD. In most situations, the person will experience intense, overwhelming and recurrent flashbacks of the traumatic incident. Thus, they feel as if they’re actually re-living the event, and will have the same reactions as they had at that time. This may also manifest as nightmares and night terrors.

Note: For many people, the anniversary of the trauma, or being in a situation that reminds of what happened, can unleash intense emotions and feelings of distress.

  • Avoidance and emotional numbing

People who suffer from PTSD will generally do whatever they can to avoid situations which remind them of the trauma. Also, for most individuals emotional numbing is experienced immediately after the traumatic event. As a consequence of this, the person may withdraw from old interests, their work, their family and friends. They will also find it difficult to feel any emotions, and especially those related to closeness and trust. However, intense guilt and shame are, unfortunately, common and the person may struggle with despair and hopelessness.

  • Heightened vigilance and alertness

This prevents the individual from enjoying daily life, relaxing, concentrating and completing normal tasks. There is usually a marked change in their sleep patterns, too – in the form of insomnia, disturbed or broken sleep, wakening early in the morning, or being troubled by night terrors.

  • Other illnesses or concerns

In addition to the symptoms described above, people with PTSD may suffer from depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dizziness, shaking, chest pains, stomach pains, cognitive concerns and memory lapses.

If the above describes you, then it’s crucial that you see a counsellor, doctor, or psychologist.

To Tell or Not to Tell? That is the Question.

One of the most difficult questions people ask is “Should I tell the children or our families, or should it just remain between the 2 of us (my partner/ spouse and me)?”

There is no easy answer to this very troubling question. It is something you must think through, and weigh up, for yourself. Also, it is something I would urge you to consider carefully. Don’t give into the pressure to make your mind up NOW. In my opinion, it is better to be hesitant and cautious than to make a rushed a decision which you regret later on.

Here are a few factors to bear in mind as you contemplate what might be the right choice for you:

  1. Once the story has been shared it cannot be ‘unshared’. If you and your partner recover from this, and manage to build a completely different life, other people won’t forget and it may influence how they see you (both).
  2. Although you can choose to turn your back and walk away, to end your relationship, and find someone new, the person who betrayed you will always be the dad or the mom of any children you have had, and raised, together. This is a crucial point to bear in mind. If you disclose everything that your partner has done it will likely affect their relationship with him (or her), and possibly affect it for the rest of their lives.
  3. It’s worth considering the age of your children. For example, what’s appropriate to share with a 16-year old will not make sense to a 6-year old. Also, timing is important as children get stressed too. They have exams, school anxieties, and numerous other issues. Is this the right time to drop a bomb like this? If you decide you’re going to share it, pay attention to the timing.
  4. Are the children at risk? This is a very important question to ask. Hopefully the answer to the question will be ‘no’, and you can take that out of the decision-making process. However, if you’ve any doubts at all, then you must have the courage to face them honestly and openly. You must protect your children, no matter what the cost.
  5. If you decide to tell your children (however old they are) they are going to need support, and may want to talk things through. Ask yourself: Do you have the reserves to deal with this, or should you maybe wait until you’re less traumatized? Also, they have the right to share how they feel with other people. Hence, it may mean that your family and your social group find out.
  6. You might feel like a fraud if you choose to remain silent. You might feel you’re colluding and are sharing in a lie.
  7. What if the children learn the secret later on, or if they learn from someone else, and they argue ‘it’s not true’? Just think about how shocking that would be for them. They may also think that you’ve deceived them as well, and this could influence their relationship with you.
  8. It could be argued it prepares your older children for real life. Your children may be struggling with the same kinds of things, and this could be a way to talk about its seriousness, or to help them with a battle they are facing on their own.
  9. If you’re open with your children (and especially adult children) it may remove some of the shame and the stigma that surrounds a sexual addiction or dependency. Also, a secret can be powerful and can hold a person hostage. If you choose to be authentic, you might find that you feel freer.
  10. It can lead to more support and accountability. If a partner who’s addicted is committed to being free, then others can encourage them to stay true to themselves, and to keep on working to maintain the ground they’ve gained. Also, the spouse or partner can receive greater support as they seek to come to terms with the devastating news. However, you will need to assess if your family and your friends will genuinely support you, and will want the best for you. Sadly, others may be glad when they learn about your struggles – and this could simply add to the pain you’re carrying.      

As I said at the beginning, there is no simple solution. Peoples’ situations differ. It requires careful thought. And if you feel dazed and confused wait a while; there is no rush. You can always choose to share when you are ready, and are stronger.