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There’s nothing more discouraging or frustrating than to be stuck in a strait jacket of pain. It makes us want to send out an all-points bulletin to the bewildered department for HELP! We’re bent over in despair and embouldered (I’m making this word up) in hurt. The prefix em means to be “put into, put in, or bring to a certain state”1 and the word bouldered means “abounding in stones, rocky fields, or bouldery breaches.2

In other words, we’ve been put into a situation by someone else where our personal boundaries have been violated. But, we’re the ones left with the job of digging out – from the inside out.

It doesn’t seem fair.

I often asked questions like, “Why is it that the one who’s been wounded, betrayed, or abused, has to be the one left holding the shovel to dig out?” It seems unjust and even a greater burden. Yet, painfully, no one can do the work for us. What I have come to understand in this whole ugly mess is that “embouldered” people, hurt people. Simply put, our wounds that haven’t been dealt with or healed – hurt others.

The one who betrayed us: There hasn’t been one man I’ve met with who is acting out sexually that doesn’t have a history that includes some kind of abuse, abandonment, hurt, or pain. Not one. Please know, I’m not making excuses for them, but I’m highlighting that most of them are embouldered too. They’ve not dealt with their hurt and instead tried to meet their needs in a deceptive and harmful way – at our expense.

Our Wounds: We’ve been impacted by sexual betrayal. Our wheels spin in the aftermath of it all often causing depression, anxiety, and negative thoughts about ourselves. We instinctively want to pull away, isolate, and hide. We feel ashamed.

  • What have I done?
  • What’s wrong with me?
  • I should have known better.
  • How could this have happened?

For some of us, we too have grown up with painful wounds from our past.

  • Our parents may have divorced at an early age.
  • We might have experienced abandonment, been raped, or had breaches of trust.
  • We may have experienced sexual, emotional, physical abuse, or neglect in our past.
  • One of our parents may have had an affair. We discovered it and felt we had to keep the secret.
  • We may have grown up with a family member who struggled with some type of addiction.

Any of these experiences can impact how you navigate your journey with the one who’s betrayed you. It’s easy to think that our past should stay buried in the past. Right? Why should I look at those old boulders (painful memories)? Can’t I just be over it? When the past is leaking into our present and influencing how we’re walking through our pain today, it’s not really gone. It’s just been buried. This present situation can unearth an opportunity to heal what’s in there, so you can ultimately become stronger.

We need all the strength we can muster.

When we’re struggling, our friends and family don’t know how to help us, so they attempt to say “something” to get us out of our stuck-ness. They might offer a forced smile or a pat on the back in an attempt to lift our mood with their rah-rah cheer attempting platitudes. Most often we’re left feeling emotionally raw-raw instead. Phrases like these would send me through the roof:

  • “Listen, it could be worse.”
  • “C’mon Sheri, you can do it.”
  • “Can’t you forgive and let it go?”
  • “Tomorrow’s a new day.” (really?)
  • “Just get up in the morning and focus on the positive.”
  • “It’s not always going to be this way.” (easy for them to say)
  • “Maybe you can just stop thinking about it, it makes you feel so bad.”
  • “I know it’s hard right now, you just need to put on your big girl panties.”

Even more lethal, is what we say to ourselves when we’re frustrated by our embouldered state:

  • “I’m crazy.”
  • “I’m stupid.”
  • “I’ll never get this.”
  • “I’m so screwed up.”
  • “What’s wrong with me?”
  • “I’m broken beyond repair.”

Sound familiar?

In my book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal in chapter 5, “It’s a Cryin’ Shame,” I share from my own story how our mind can be restored by reminding ourselves of the truth:

The good news is – “There’s a reset button in our brain that’s wired to change its mind. What you believe today can be turned around. As a trauma specialist, I have come to understand how painful events change the way we think and feel about others, our future, and ourselves. These negative beliefs are thoughtfully and emotionally wired in with the intention to protect us from further pain. The problem is, what initially colors our view becomes a straitjacket over time.” (page 75).

We don’t have to stay embouldered. Here are a few things you can start with today:

The 180° Turnaround – I share 5 simple steps of the 180° Turnaround that may help you find your way to truth (page 78).

Weekly Partner Recovery Group – Regularly attending a support group (either face-to-face, by phone, or online) creates a place where you can be heard, validated, and self-reflect with safe people who “get it.” It’s how we heal (pages 309-311).

CBT or EMDR – For some of us, once we’re more stabilized and can look at doing some deeper trauma work. These techniques can help address the “rocky ground and bouldery breaches” we’ve experienced. First, it’s important that we’re out of crisis, feel supported, and have established some boundaries. At that point, we can focus on healing ourselves and restoring our wholeness. This can be done by working with a counselor who does cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)—We have all experienced being vulnerable to stressful or unexpected painful events to some degree in our lives. EMDR focuses on helping the brain get unstuck from the negative shame beliefs and emotions that get stored in our mind and leave us with low self-esteem, anxiety, fears, and depression. It does this by helping the brain safely resolve distressing memories and replace them with a more honoring, truthful conclusion about yourself, giving you a stronger sense of who you are. Not only does EMDR help to change our beliefs, but because we are releasing what has been stuck in our mind, our body and brain begin to quiet down. I suggest people find a certified– or consultant level–trained EMDR clinician at” (page 281).

Now, please take a big breath.

I know I’ve given you a lot to think about. The last thing I want to leave you with is a greater burden in your healing process. What I’d rather leave you with – is the hope in knowing that it’s possible to heal even when we’re deeply buried. We can dig out – it takes time, self-care, patience with ourselves, and the tenacity to keep looking inside. We can’t grow what we don’t know.

When I saw this photo, it took my breath away and reminded me – of me.

We heal by clearing away one stone at a time

I had extensive wounds from my past and betrayal trauma in my relationship with Conner. I had become so weighed down that my soul felt irreparably broken and beyond repair. Each stone represented a discovery, a lie, a shame belief about myself, and wounds from both my present and past. What I didn’t know back then, is our body, brain, mind, and spirit are designed to heal. Don’t lose heart or become overwhelmed in the fallen rubble. I believe in you and I know that you can grow into someone stronger too.

Brave On!

Dr. Sheri



With 22 years experience as a marriage and family therapist, Dr. Sheri specializes in individual, couples and family therapy at her private practice. She believes in looking at issues from a psychological, biological and spiritual perspective. She's the author of "Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal," founder of the BraveOne Community and the Bravery After Betrayal Retreat... Continue Reading