Healing from the pain of betrayal

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive.
Eliminate the negative.
Latch on to the affirmative.
Don’t mess with mister in between.”

Johnny Mercer

 

 

Intimate betrayal is when someone very close has hurt you by abuse, aggression or constant criticism; or failed to take care of your well-being by deceit, infidelity or abandonment. The betrayal cuts deep because of the broken trust and an expectation of continual love and care. The resultant pain is intense and long-lasting. It is accompanied by the raging symptoms of anxiety, dread, deep sadness, guilt, shame and resentment.

Since my husband left me, many a day I have cried out, ‘please just stop the pain!’

Consider this situation.

Children are playing outside and kick a ball against a window. The window breaks and shatters. Inside, a shard of glass flings out and plunges into your arm creating a deep cut with profuse bleeding and deep pain. What do you do? You may run outside, work out who kicked the ball, then berate that child for his bad behaviour. You could look at the window, consider why it shattered and postulate why the glass cut so deep. You could grab a towel and mop up the bleeding. Alternatively, you may give painkillers to numb the pain.

Meanwhile you bleed to death.

The cure for a deep cut is attending to the cut, not numbing the pain, mopping up the bleeding  or working out who to blame. I know that. Yet when I was confronted with the pain of betrayal and abandonment I spent some time analyzing my ex-husband’s behaviour, my behaviour; and our marriage with its strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to know, why, why, why? Then I spent some time relieving the gushing symptoms of anger, sadness, anxiety, loneliness and resentment. When that didn’t completely work, I spent a lot of time numbing out the pain by living in the joys of today, engaging in pleasurable and / or distracting activities; or keeping busy. More recently I have wondered why the pain had not completely stopped and I had not fully healed.

I had not addressed the pain. The pain went so deep that I had tried to ignore it, cover it up, numb it out or avoid it rather than face it.

Pain is a signal, a call to action.
If you put your hand on a hotplate, it is a signal to remove your hand or it will burn.
If you present to your doctor with a headache, it must firstly be ascertained whether there is underlying stress, migraine, lack of sleep, or brain tumour; before planning a course of action.

Emotional pain is also a signal, a call to action.
It is not a signal to heal the past, it is a signal to heal the present. It is a protective signal that there is something in your current life that you need to change.

While the obvious symptoms pouring out from the cut of betrayal, abandonment and its aftermath were anger, humiliation, resentment, sadness, anxiety and guilt; I gradually learned these were stemming from the emotional pain underneath of feeling disregarded, unlovable and devalued;  losing something valuable (my 37 year marriage); having a sense of dread for the future; and feeling that my own values had in some way been violated.

These signals of emotional pain are a call to action for me. In order to heal from this pain, I need to focus on raising my self-regard; becoming more loveable; increasing my competence; building on my relationships with family, friends and other connections; facing and planning for my future; and abiding by my conviction to live by my values.

This is my action plan: each time I experience any form of emotional pain, I will pause and recognise this as a call to action. I will eliminate any reactive ‘fright, flight or fight’ thoughts. I will remember my core values of courage, kindness and fairness. I will then plan an action response in one of the following areas:

  • Protection
  • Connection
  • Contribution
  • Creation
  • Celebration

These will become my Foundations of Comfort as I rebuild my life.

(Note: I think the last sentence in the quote helps a lot too 🙂 )

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You may want to read Living and Loving after Betrayal. Steven Stosny