We are taking a break this week from our Attachment Shame blog series to share some reflections about our recent Sex After Betrayal Intensive and to announce the fall intensive dates. We will continue our Attachment Shame series next week.
In June we held the first Sex After Betrayal: Reclaiming Your Sexual Self therapy intensive at the Center for Relational Recovery. It was a transformative five days of learning, growing, stretching, hoping and risking. As we wrapped up our time together and I reflected on all that had happened, there were several things that struck me. Below are some of my musings as a result of spending time with the amazing group of women who participated.
The Shame and the Responsibility
One of the key exercises during the intensive is designed to help participants identify and reduce carried shame. Carried shame is shame that we carry for someone else. When someone else is behaving shamelessly toward us, their shame often spills over onto us and becomes something that we carry. Betrayed partners are often carrying enormous amounts of shame about the cheating and sexual behaviors. Shame that does not belong to them.
What struck me as we worked through the exercise and each woman took her turn was how frequently we also had to have participants give back responsibility for the addiction and sexual acting out behaviors to their significant other. So many partners shoulder responsibility for the cheating, believing that if they just did something differently, said something differently, looked different, the cheating wouldn’t have happened. And they shoulder responsibility for the recovery, for their partner’s emotional state, the list goes on. Helping these women to recognize where they were taking on responsibility that did not belong to them and helping them release it to its proper place was powerful.
The Mental War
The final hours of the intensive were spent together reclaiming sexual rights. Part of this exercise also included granting permission: giving yourself permission to experience and have what you long for in terms of your sexual experience. One of the major rights that was reclaimed during this exercise was the right to have a mind free of haunting images, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. I wish you could all have seen the power in these women as they claimed their right to have their minds back. It was amazing to me how that right resonated through the room and the awareness that swept through as the women realized that they could reclaim their mental space as their own. The ability to take back parts of yourself that have been hijacked by the betrayal is such an intrinsic and important part of healing and I was awed by the power and agency that these women displayed.
Your Own Sexuality
One of the biggest shifts that I was hoping to see as a result of the work we did together was a true reclaiming by each participant of their sexuality for themselves. I have written in other blog posts about the way that the compulsive pursuit of sex by one partner (whether inside or outside of the relationship) creates a lopsided dynamic where that partner’s sexuality becomes the dominating sexuality in the relationship. For the betrayed partner, it often feels like they have spent years trying to sexually please their significant other or on the flip side trying to get their significant other to have sex with them. All of this leaves them hyper-focused on their partner’s sexuality and completely disconnected from their own.
During the intensive, I saw each participant have their own unique aha moment about the fact that their sexuality belongs to them and that they are allowed an equal sexual voice within their relationship. This aha moment often resulted in a movement out of powerlessness and stuckness into an empowered awareness of their own ability to choose and to bring their self-owned sexuality to their relationship in a whole different way.
The work to reclaim your sexuality after experiencing the intense wounding of sexual betrayal is so vital. It requires intentionality and a willingness to take risks – everyone was nervous the first evening! But the benefits of venturing into new experiences that create opportunities for growth and transformation are enduringly powerful.