We are going to spend the next several weeks looking at the six phases that make up the Authentic Hope Process for healing from betrayal trauma. This week and next we are going to focus on phase one: the devastation phase.
In the devastation phase, betrayed partners typically are asking two burning questions: “What is happening to me?” and,” What do I do?” These aren’t the only questions posed by betrayed partners, but they are without doubt the two biggies. This post focuses on the first question: “What is happening to me?”
Learning about betrayal shatters your world. In a single moment, everything you thought you knew and could count on changes. The person closest to you switches from being your deepest source of safety and connection to a wellspring of pain, fear, and emotional danger. In the aftermath of betrayal, you are likely to experience at least a few (and probably all) of the following hallmarks of devastation:
- High levels of anxiety, fear, anger, confusion, and pain.
- Reduced functioning. Inability to focus or concentrate.
- Loss of security and safety in the relationship.
- Feelings of shame, self-blame, isolation, and grief.
- Trauma symptoms and coping behaviors begin to manifest.
- Desperate searching for helpful information.
- Intense need for relief from emotional pain.
- Deep mistrust of spouse, others, Higher Power, and self.
- Burning need/desire to know the full scope of the betrayal.
Betrayal immediately alters your reality, sweeping away everything you thought you knew and understood about your partner and your relationship, replacing that with confusion, uncertainty, and chaos.
In this chaos, a natural and primary way to feel like you are regaining some control is to try to fully understand what is happening. To this end, betrayed partners become amazing researchers. Motivated by their desire to make sense of the unfathomable they become Google masters, gathering and reading information about infidelity, sexual addiction, relationship issues, betrayal trauma, and more, all in an attempt to understand their new reality.
The instinctual need for information that drives you to the computer is a wise coping mechanism. When we experience trauma, the events and emotions feel uncontained and overwhelming. This seeking of information is a way to try to contain your experience.
When you are provided with language, definitions, and concepts that explain the situation in which you find yourself, you immediately feel better. The words and explanations help you begin to contain your experience. It gives it edges and helps you wrap your mind around what has happened.
For betrayed partners in the devastation phase, information is critical. Information about what you are dealing with (there is a difference between infidelity and sexual addiction) and language to help you begin to name and understand your emotional experience are essential to help you move toward healing. This information is what helps you begin the process of understanding and integrating what has happened into the narrative of your life.
Next week we are going to focus on the second burning question that partners ask during the devastation phase: What do I do?