In the aftermath of betrayal, giving away your personal power by hustling for worthiness and offending from the victim position can become amplified and be even more dysfunctional than usual. Basically, our partner’s betrayal feels like a rejection of us, a disconnection from us, a negative statement about our worth and value. If, after betrayal, we react by giving away (or continuing to give away) our personal power to our partner – allowing our partner to determine how we feel about ourselves and whether we are OK with ourselves – the betrayal will knock us to the ground, hollow us out, and leave a screaming void at our center. We will have nothing left because we’ve given away our power – our sense of self – to a person who cheated on us, lied to us, and profoundly betrayed our trust.
For me, learning how to stop giving my personal power to my spouse was the single biggest game-changer lesson that I learned in recovery. Learning how to retain my personal power returned me to myself. For the first time in my life, I belonged to myself. My sense of worth, value, and identity did not rest in the hands of someone else.
When I stopped giving my power away to my spouse, I experienced utter freedom. Freedom to be who I am, freedom to choose how to respond to different situations, freedom to have my own thoughts, opinions, longings, needs, and desires. Suddenly, I was set free from the bondage of constant reactivity that I had been trapped in while dealing with my spouse’s sex addiction.
For years, my spouse’s reality – his mood, his thoughts, his opinions, and what was happening with him and his addiction – had profoundly shaped my reality. Whether I felt valued by him, connected to him, and safe with him ruled my world, creating constant chaos and turmoil. And before him, there were others who ruled my world.
Somehow (and I credit my therapist with this completely), I ‘got it’ relatively early in my recovery process that I could step out of this toxic dance and quit giving my power away. I did not need to let my partner’s thoughts and behaviors control my thoughts and behaviors. My emotional reality (particularly how I felt about myself) was my emotional reality, not his or anyone else’s.
When I got clarity on this, it changed everything for me. It gave me room and space to step far enough away from my husband emotionally that I could start choosing my own thoughts, feelings, and responses to the events that were taking place. This meant that even when he was being awful, I got to decide who I wanted to be. Did I want to be awful right back, or did I want to stay grounded in clarity and operate from my higher self? Did I want to make things worse, or did I want to take care of myself and set good boundaries? For the first time in a very long time, I was able to be thoughtful and intentional about what I wanted for myself, what I would and would not tolerate, and how I was going to approach my life and relationships.
This ability to operate from my personal power center opened me up to a relationship with myself and better relationships with others. I remembered, Oh yeah, I’m freaking funny and a really good time, and out I went to have a blast with friends. I remembered, Oh yeah, I’m creative and love beauty, and out I went to paint my new apartment. I remembered, Oh yeah, I’m service driven and vision-oriented, and out I went to buckle down, finish my master’s degree and start a counseling practice. I remembered, Oh yeah, I’m up for trying new things, and out I went to camp, hike, and bike with my friends. I remembered, Oh yeah, I’m worth fidelity, loyalty, and emotional safety, and out I went to file for divorce.
This did not all happen in a day or a week or a month. It was like finding a new muscle (a great new muscle) and beginning to work out with it, slowly but steadily getting stronger. But even at the start, this newfound ability to know myself, to stay with myself and to recognize my personal power moved me toward becoming the woman I am today. Sure, I still hustle for worthiness sometimes, and I still offend from the victim position sometimes, and when I do this, I inadvertently give away my power to people that don’t deserve it. However, I do this far less than I used to, and I return to myself and the grounded, clear knowledge of my inherent worth faster and more easily as time goes on.
If there is one superpower that I could give you to turbocharge your recovery and change your life, not just today but for the rest of your life, it would be learning how to operate from your personal power center. Alas, I do not have a magic wand (or even a lasso of truth). I do, however, have the experience of walking through this myself and the experience of helping countless other betrayed partners do the same. So, I know it can be done, and I know how powerful it is when we are freed to operate from our true selves.
I invite you to start with baby steps. Begin by asking yourself this simple question:
What is true for me right now?
Do this repeatedly as you go through your day and encounter different situations. As you ask yourself this question, you will begin to rediscover who you are and what is happening inside of you. That will lead you to the next questions, which are:
Who do I want to be in this moment?
How do I want to respond?
What is best for me?
Try practicing these questions for the next two weeks and see what starts to change. As you do so, you will likely be amazed.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.