Why Betrayal is so Devastating

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.

Coping with Suicidal Thoughts

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts …

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.

Trauma and Denial

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.

But now we’ve been released.

That was then.

And this is now.      

Ask Us: Will I ever Recover and be Happy Again?

Recently a client shared the following with me:

“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.”

Tools to Help Navigate Trauma

The following tools can help you navigate the murky waters of trauma:  

1. First, try to figure out what your triggers are. Sometimes this is obvious (for example, being triggered by weddings, or romantic movies when your partner has been unfaithful to you.). However, we are also triggered unexpectedly as well. When that happens, it can help if you ask:

What exactly happened just before I was triggered?

What kinds of thoughts started rushing through my mind?

What was the narrative my brain created?

Is there evidence to confirm my fears?

For example, if your previous partner cheated on you, you might be triggered when you see your current partner laughing and talking with a woman from his work. That is understandable; you’re not going crazy. However, perhaps – when you think about it – you can also see that your partner is a man of integrity who, as far as you know, has never lied to you (or to any previous partners he had).

Here, the trauma from the past is keeping you on high alert. Your reaction isn’t based on what’s true today.

2. Be aware of what is happening in your body. Pause and reflect on what is happening inside you.

Are your hands and feet tingling? Are you holding your breath? Is your breathing laboured? Are you starting to sweat?

Simply being aware of what’s happening right now, can help to bring you back to the present again.

3. Focus on your breathing. One exercise that help when you are triggered is:

Breath in slowly – to a count of 4.

Breath out slowly – to a count of 6.

As you exhale, try to focus your mind on a calming statement like “Everything’s OK.”

Repeat this exercise several times, until you feel your body beginning to relax.

4. Change your environment. There is something about getting up, and going somewhere else that helps to jolt us back to the present time.

It can be getting up and going to the kitchen for a drink, or putting on your shoes and going out for a walk. This can help you focus more on sights, sounds and smells which are present in this moment, and this environment.

5. Be an outside observer of your thoughts and reactions. Describe these to yourself as you’d describe them to a friend … Like someone who is looking on and giving a report. Also, identify the story you’re creating in your mind in response to the feelings and reactions you have. For example, you might say something like:

“I am feeling terrified. I need to get away. I can’t trust this person. I must take care of myself.”  

Then, notice how your feelings start to ease, and then subside.

If you can get into the habit of using these 5 tools, you will start to find the trauma is lessening its hold. You will start to feel less trapped, and more like your old self, and you’ll feel that you’re much more than “what happened to you.”     

Coping Statements for Anxiety

This is for the ones who are struggling right now. For the ones who fear this will never ever end, and they’ll never get a grip on reality again.

This is for the ones who are in a daily battle. Who feel they cannot cope, and are anxious all the time.

Do this for you. Choose to fight hard for yourself.

Not for your friends or family –

Keep on fighting just for you.

Because you know, deep down inside, that you were meant for more than this. Because the person you will be when you reach the other side, is cheering for you now.

Keep on fighting.

You will get there.”

Anxiety can sometimes hit us unawares. It can be debilitating, and can interfere with life.

But it is possible to manage and control anxiety by actively replacing irrational painful thoughts with healthier, more balanced, and more rational thoughts.

Below are some alternative adaptive thoughts which could replace the automatic ones which often cause distress:

1. “I’ve been here before, and I recognize these thoughts. I’m going to be OK. These are old, archaic feelings. They don’t reflect reality, and how things are today. I’m going to just relax. I’m going to chill and take things easy.”

2. “Anxiety feels bad, but it isn’t dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with me. Everything will be OK. I know I can survive this. If I hold on, it will pass.”

3. “Feelings come and go. It won’t be like this forever. Right now, I might feel bad, but I know it’s temporary.”

4. “This image in my head isn’t reasonable or rational. I need to change my thinking, and focus my attention on something that is healthier, and helps me to feel better. For example _____________.”

5. “I’ve managed to interrupt and change these thoughts before – so I know I that I can do. I just need a bit more practise. Anxiety’s a habit – and a habit that I can break!”

6. “So what if I am anxious. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not going to kill me. I will take a few deep breaths. I know that I can do this, and my feelings: they will change.”

7. “Just take the next step, and just do the next thing. That’s all that is required … I can take one tiny step.”

8. “Even if I’m anxious, and it’s hard to persevere, I’ll be really glad I did it – for I know it will be worth it.”

9. “I can feel extremely anxious and still do a good job. The more I focus on the task, the less anxiety I’ll feel. And other people cannot tell that I’m faking how I’m feeling.”

10. “I won’t allow anxiety to take over my life. I’m working on my feelings. I’m the one who has control. I’m better than I was. It won’t be like this forever.”

Some Things I’ve Learned from Trauma

1. It requires specialist counselling. Although it is essential to talk about what happened, and to have your experienced witnessed by another, a counsellor or therapist needs additional training. They need to know what is normal when you’ve been traumatized, and especially when it comes to managing flashbacks, re-experiencing the trauma, and dissociation.

2. You feel you’re going crazy; you don’t recognize yourself. You fly off the handle at the smallest provocation. You react in scary and unexpected ways; and you no longer live on an even keel.

This is not who you were, or who you want to be.  You feel you’ve lost yourself, and you’ve lost yourself forever.

3. You experience emotions you never felt before; and these feelings can be hard to bring under control. They’re overwhelming, intense and can be hard to dial down. And you never really know “what is going to set you off.”  

4. You feel ashamed and embarrassed at the way that you react, and this further undermines your very low self-esteem … for the trauma has already undermined your self-esteem.

5. So much of what you’re feeling cannot be articulated. Rational thinking is shut down when emotions start to rise. The subconscious mind is driving things, and trying to protect you. You can’t explain to others what is happening to you.

6. There are very few people who will truly understand. They will judge the situation and give you trite advice. Unless you’ve walked this road yourself, then you don’t know what it is like. You don’t understand the terror, the despair and hopelessness.

7. Be careful who you talk to. This is crucial for self-care. If you talk to the wrong person, you’ll only feel much worse. Be hesitant and wise before you risk sharing with others.

8. Other people who have gone through something similar to you are you best supporters (beyond talking to a counsellor). They’ve struggled with these symptoms – all the same thoughts and emotions. They know what it is like, and they can normalize reactions.

9. Feeling safe in our own body, in our environment, and with a few trusted people is a prerequisite for processing the trauma, and being able to recover.

10. Recovery is slow. It’s so much slower than expected. It plays havoc with your sleep, and it can compromise your health. Daily life feels like a minefield; there are triggers everywhere. You think you’re making progress then the past hits you again.

But there is absolutely hope. It won’t be this way forever. One day you will look back, and you will see how much you’ve changed.

The Journey Through Grief

The following is a wonderful description of grief, and how difficult it is to process trauma, pain and loss. Perhaps you’ll find it resonates with your experience.

“As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves.

When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float.

You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float.

After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing.

But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.

You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

The waves never stop coming, but you learn that you’ll survive them.

And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.” – Unknown

Yes, you will survive this experience as well. Right now, the pain is awful, but you’re going to make it through.

Yes, You Can Learn to Love Yourself

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You are fine just as you are. You don’t need to prove a thing.”

Life often feels like one long competition. Who is the prettiest, smartest, funniest, most interesting … and so it goes on.

There is pressure to compare ourselves with one another, and that can often lead to massive self-doubt.

So what can do you do when the internal tapes are constantly saying that you don’t measure up?  

It takes work to ignore, and to switch off, all those voices.

But you need to feel comfortable with yourself.

Think about it … You don’t want to feel that you’ve spent your whole life attacking yourself, and undermining your self-worth.

With that in mind:

1. Prioritize taking care of your health, and celebrate your body for all it does for you. Pay attention to your diet. Make sure you find some form of exercise you love, and can engage in regularly. Try to regulate your sleep patterns. Take care of your teeth. Participate in yoga or practice meditation. This will help you to de-stress, and get life back in perspective.

2. Make time to listen to your inner voice. Is there something you need? Do you feel that something’s missing? Do you feel you’re being authentic and true to who you are? Sometimes we do things others want us to do, or we compromise our values to get others’ approval.  

But at the end of the day, we need to follow our own path; and if we listen to our heart, it will usually lead us there.

3. Make time for those things that bring you happiness. Do you know what makes you happy? Then do more of that. Investing in your interests will increase your confidence, and you’ll also find you blossom … for you truly love your life!

4. Learn to love your little quirks; the things that make you unique. Sometimes we feel self-conscious – or we even ashamed – of certain aspects of our personality.

And that’s really crazy … for they make us unique, and often other people find those quirks fascinating. Don’t hide those parts “you”. Don’t apologise for them. Embrace and laugh about them. See their beauty; they are lovely.

No-one else is you, and that’s your superpower!”

When the Going Gets Tough

“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir

This is reality for all of us.

We form expectations, and we make plans for our life – based on the facts and information that we have.

And those plans and expectations: they are normal and they’re good.

They’re wanted by most people. They are not unreasonable.

But then things happen, and our world turns upside down.

We’re left with broken pieces. It seems unbelievable.

Our dreams are left in tatters, and we don’t know where to turn.

Our guidebook is irrelevant. The map has been ripped up.

But, still, we have resources.

We have hidden depths and strengths.

Although we’re devastated, we can find a way to cope.

We’ll need to take things slowly.

Focus mainly on self-care.

But we can find some meaning, and a few kernels of joy.

It’s not going to be easy.

This is more than a bad day.

But you are not a victim.

And you can rebuild your life.