When I was in graduate school we had to go on a day-long silent retreat. I was just beginning to understand that my spouse was dealing with sexual addiction, and I was trying to find material to read that might help me get my head around this fact. At that time, there were very few books for betrayed partners to choose from, but I finally found one. At the retreat, instead of meditating, journaling, or praying – all activities that would have been calming and grounding for me – I made the dubious decision to bring this book about sex addiction along and read it instead. Oy.
I spent that retreat in a fit of screaming (albeit silent) terror. It’s probably a good thing I could not talk. That book about sex addiction scared the living crap out of me. I was full of panic, fear, and anxiety as I read about the horrors the author had lived through and what her process of healing was like. I did NOT want to be dealing with what this book described, and it triggered me into a state of wholehearted terror.
Of course, being the mature individual that I was, when I realized my body and mind were going haywire with fear and panic I quit reading, put the book down, and did a few things to calm and ground myself.
No I didn’t.
I just kept on reading. That book was a train wreck, and I could not avert my eyes. So, in spite of the circus of horror happening in my body and brain, I read on, unable to stop, until I was a shaking unglued mess.
I do not recommend this.
While reading books about betrayal trauma, sexual addiction, and infidelity can be a vital part of your healing process, it can also be incredibly triggering, increasing the fear and pain you are experiencing. As such, when reading or listening to material about betrayal trauma, it is incredibly important that you pace yourself. Taking in more than you can handle in any one sitting is a form of self-harm that is likely to exacerbate the trauma symptoms you are already experiencing.
If you notice that what you are reading is heightening your feelings of fear, anxiety, panic, and pain, you might want to give yourself a break from the material and do something else for a while, preferably something that might help to calm you down. A few suggestions include: yoga, walking, meditation, journaling, calling a friend, taking a bath, deep breathing, and anything else that typically relaxes you.
At this point you might be saying to yourself, “But I already feel fear, anxiety, panic, pain, sadness, confusion, etc. What’s a little more when I’m dealing with this all the time already?” My response to this is that you are in a chronically heightened fear state, and you need to be careful to not exacerbate things more than necessary. Much of your focus in the early stages of recovery is going to be on trying to calm your body, mind, and emotions down – helping your body and mind manage the hyperarousal you are experiencing due to the trauma of betrayal. So reading material that triggers you and increases your hyperarousal, however enlightening that material might be, can do you more harm than good.
One way to help monitor your level of hyperarousal is to think about your feelings of fear, anxiety, pain, and panic on a scale of one to ten. As you go through the day, try to pay attention to your thought patterns as you respond to situations, books, audio material, etc. If something causes your level of hyperarousal and fear to crest past five on your one to ten scale, you need to take a break and do something to calm yourself.
Next week, I will continue this discussion about pacing yourself as you get educated about betrayal trauma. For now, consider slowing down and taking it easy as you pursue information and learning.