How to Feel Safe Again in or Out of Your Relationship PART II
How to Heal & Feel Safe Again After Betrayal Trauma
Once you develop a better understanding and language for what your mind and body are going through during your relationship crisis, it’s important to explore how you can feel safe again. Safety is paramount to healing and establishing a new reality. A reality where you come to terms that your trusted love one has harmed you deeply but you will still survive.
Is the Threat Still There?
Betrayal trauma refers to the damage that is caused when someone experiences a betrayal in their primary relationship that damages the trust, safety, and security of the bond they have with their partner. Simply put, one cannot experience betrayal where there wasn’t first a deep sense of safety and trust. Infidelity and addiction destroys trust and safety as they often occur with severe acts of dishonesty, “gaslighting”, denial, and minimization. Therefore, it’s important to explore—ideally with a trained professional—if you feel like you’re still in an environment fraught with dishonesty, denial, and minimization? Is your partner following through with his/her commitments to change or end damaging behaviors? Are you receiving the help and support you need? Are you receiving validation of your concerns or do you continue to feel gaslighted?
As long as you’re experiencing incidences of betrayal, your emotions and body will respond as if it’s under threat and in crisis. If you’re in a state of crisis due your partner’s infidelity or addiction, explore what your partner is doing to repair the situation. Is your partner taking part of the responsibilities in managing this crisis? Is he/she making necessary appointments, seeking healthy support such as his/her own therapy or 12 steps? Has he/she expressed willingness to change jobs, social circumstances, or engage in more transparent behaviors.
Do You and Your Partner Have the Right Kind of Support & Help?
Explore if you are surrounded by loved ones and professionals who are stabilizing, safe-feeling people. Clients struggling with Betrayal Trauma have reported feeling re-traumatized by some mental health professionals or loved ones that make them feel as if they are predominantly to blame for the marital issues or that the client’s “emotional instability” is an instigator for the addicts’ acting out behaviors.
With your support system, you and your partner need to develop “Rules of Engagement” to help manage the high emotional reactivity that often exists after uncovering an addiction or infidelity. Use the help of a professional to explore topics like:
When and where do you and your partner discuss adversarial issues and conflicts that surface? Do you wait to for a therapist to be present?
Will there be a separation? For how long?
What behavioral changes must occur to help you feel safe again? A phone tracker? A polygraph test? Regular drug testing? A guided/supported therapeutic disclosure? What happens to social media accounts or financial accounts?
What do you need to feel safe sexually? Is STD testing necessary? Does sex need to be taken “off the table” till you feel safe again? How do you feel about sex now?
Normalize, Don’t Stigmatize
Betrayal trauma is so complex with so many various facets. The more you can educate yourself and pay mindful attention to what you’re experiencing (physically, emotionally) and why you’re experiencing it, you may find your symptoms to be more manageable. The following are some things you should keep in mind while you are walking through the healing process of betrayal trauma:
Know Your Shame Triggers—uncovering a partner’s addiction or affair can set off a tidal wave of shame (i.e. How did I not know? Maybe if I was more attractive/a better partner/more successful/whatever my partner wouldn’t have done this. I “chose” to be with this person and look what he/she turned out to be, etc.). Explore these “shame voices”, identify them, figure out where they came from, filter out guilt or fear versus shame. I would encourage you to do this with a mental health professional.
Help Your Partner Understand What You’re Going Through—Hopefully, your partner is also seeing a mental health professional who is educating him/her on the many facets and consequences of betrayal trauma. Still, share what you are feeling and experiencing. I often like the communication format of “When you do this/say this, the story I tell myself is ____.” This helps your partner understand what you’re going through. You may also want to add in what you need from him/her to feel safe. Every time you’re struggling due to betrayal trauma, its an opportunity for your partner to turn toward you and show empathy.
Give Yourself Some Grace—While we are trying to make sense of the betrayal, we could experience further trauma or shame from not behaving or coping as well as we expect ourselves to behave or cope. For instance, if we pride ourselves on being a good parent but the recent trauma has caused us to disengage from our children or have less patience with our kids, that can cause further emotional damage. Our work-ethic, emotional stability, rational thought-process, religious practices, and other relationships may suffer greatly. Show yourself some grace. You are in a very serious crisis. You’ve never done this before. It’s going to be messy, and scary, and uncertain. That’s okay.
Reclaim Parts of Your Life
Experiencing betrayal can do a number on your self-esteem and the crisis that insues can tear apart your identity and everyday life. It’s important that you take the steps to reclaim these aspects of your life, once the immediate crisis subsides. Explore on your own and with supportive friends and professionals, what you need and want from this “new life” you’re now living. What brings you joy? Are there aspects of your life that you once loved that you might have lost due to the crisis or relationship issues (i.e. a spiritual practice, certain people you would spend time with, self-care activities, or hobbies/passions). These are deep, complicated questions to explore but they’re extremely important parts of your recovery and healing.
Heal Your “Trauma” Brain
I hope you were able to see from Part I of this article that trauma can have a significant, long term effect on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. There are a lot of involuntary neurological/physiological reactions that you’re exposed to when dealing with stress and crisis. Part of your healing and recovery is often incorporating trauma therapy that helps you “heal” your “trauma/survival” brain. Types of treatment that might help include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing (SE), neurofeedback, meditation, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and more.
Rekindle Your Intuition
Experiencing betrayal and lies at the hands of your trusted loved one can be the most debilitating experience in your life. The very nature of betrayal trauma involves your partner manipulating, gaslighting, and lying to you regularly, often over a long period of time. The destroyed trust, safety, and security contributes to victims losing confidence in their basic decision-making abilities and questioning their identities, values, and intuition. Our intuition is a primal drive that helps keep us safe and avoid further victimization. Therefore, it is imperative that part of your recovery and treatment includes step to rekindle and reconnect with your instincts and intuition.
Rekindling your intuition is a complicated process of shame resilience, trauma treatment, and reconnecting with your instinctive—often subconscious—thoughts. Because your “gut” is often subconscious, you must slow down, pause, and often explore what “its” really saying to you. At first, you’re not going to be good at “hearing” your intuition. You may continue to let others gaslight you by telling you what your reality “should” be, rather than honoring your own experiences. Sometimes you can over-correct to self-righteousness and an unwillingness to accept outside influence or feedback. Realize you’re not going to have a perfect balance. Be prepared to make amends for over asserting your instincts. You may be wrong sometimes.
Knowledge is power. The more you can educate you and your partner during your relationship crisis, the more navigable and hopeful the process can get. Ask for help. Seek out professionals. Educate yourself. You will survive this.