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Digging Out

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 EMDRIA.org” (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

1https://www.etymonline.com/word/em-

2https://www.thefreedictionary.com/bouldered

This Post Has 21 Comments
  1. I’m in the middle of a terrible mess and I am totally alone! My husbands brokeness was just discovered 3 months ago.. we have been married 35 years and we are marriage leaders in our church ( I know wow!) I am so isolated we have no one to talk to in our small town

    1. Thank you so much for reaching out Neicy. I’m proud of you for taking the first step by reaching out for what you need – help. We all desperately need support and at times I honestly felt I needed it as much as breath itself. It’s incredibly painful to hold the secret especially when our world is crumbling around us. I totally get the painful embarrassment and shame of being in a long-term marriage and marriage leaders in your church. It can feel so isolating as you look around and say to yourself – “seriously, who can I tell without it making my life worse?” Conner, was a pastor and we were in full-time ministry, so I feel ya sister and hope that you can get connected with other women who “get it” so you don’t feel alone while you’re going through this. Have you gotten my book, Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal? The first chapter is, “You’re Not Alone.” It’s filled with so many resources, hope, and healing especially designed for you. There are some awesome partner trauma groups, many are online, some are face to face. Check out APSATS.org to see what’s available. Please take care of yourself, you’re worth it.

    2. To Neicy
      I am so sorry for what you are going through right now. Please do get Sheri’s book, her information on what betrayal trauma can do to our thinking is priceless. And yes, isolation is the worst! I can truly say connecting with others who have experienced this saved my life. There are many online support groups filled with women already walking this road to healing. Hugs my sister

  2. Thank you so much for this post. Thank you for the hope you mention in this post, “that it’s possible to heal even when we’re deeply buried.” I need to be reminded of that often.

    1. You and me both Zeke. Just recently I experience a trigger that took me out for a couple of days. Seriously, I thought! It’s been 2 decades! I wanted to judge myself and tell myself, “What’s wrong with you?” “Why aren’t you over this?” I find in these moments when I get frustrated with my past, my wounds of sexual betrayal, and even myself……I have a good cry, get mad, get out of the house to go on a hike, take a breath, and remember my story and what I’ve been through. My saving grace is finding compassion for my heart again. For where I am. For where I’ve been. Like returned veterans of war, it makes sense that there might be some hidden and unsuspecting “land mines” in our hearts that surface from time to time. The thing I need most at those times, is a safe place to talk about it, the courage to release my tears again, grace aimed right at myself (self-compassion), and freedom from being judged by myself or anyone else for that matter. If I get these few things I have a different mindset and realize “It’s a moment surfacing that I can honor as a victorious survivor of deep pain.” By doing this I am able to honor my history and healing at the same time. Brave on – you’re not alone!

  3. Sherri, I need a good EMDR therapist in Rhode Island, could you search one out for me that you recommend ? I have been to many counselors, they all have made me worse with there lack of…. getting it !! Getting it meaning that I have been betrayed for 13 years and need some peace inside…. my husband is getting better but I have no trust anymore. Thank you for all that you do.

    1. Thanks so much for reaching out Marjorie. Because I don’t know anyone personally in Rhode Island, I took a peak at Providence, Rhode Island, at what was close to the main city and there are several Consultant level trained therapists. I suggest you find someone on the EMDRIA.org website that is the highest level of training – a Consultant (there is a drop down field for that level of training on the search bar). That’s what I did. It’s like picking an emotional surgeon of the heart that can help you heal. When I was betrayed my brain wired in a belief, “I can’t trust anyone,” “I can’t trust men,” and “I definitely couldn’t trust Conner.” Those trauma-induced shame beliefs kept me fearful about trusting again. I needed to do my own work to free myself up again. My healing took me to a place where “I could choose whom to trust.” Not only in my head, but in my heart. I am so glad your husband is getting better and with that becoming safer. It takes time to know that the one who betrayed us is trustworthy for sure.

  4. 01/31/19 Article

    I needed to hear my thoughts articulated by someone else, as I am learning to exhale and breath again, reading the article helped me to feel hopeful. A little weird at first reading how someone else could feel what I am currently feeling.

    Jean

    1. Hi Jean, I’m so glad you found comfort in my words. Just knowing how you related to my thoughts actually comforted me as well. Isn’t it surprising how the experiences of betrayal trauma are so similar. Just today I sat with a group of partners who’ve been working on their recovery for quite some time. While one woman shared the others could almost finish her thoughts. It’s such a tremendous benefit to being in a group. Stay connected as you continue to brave forward.

  5. It’s been a long journey for me, but just this past year (2018) I learned about EMDR. At the point I learned about it, I had been almost completely shut down by wounds I’d buried in business. These wounds will surface again and again in some form or fashion until they are healed. I thank GOD every day for a trained EMDR counselor! He has literally given me my life back!! This is a great and very true article! Thanks for posting this!

    1. Kim I’m thrilled that you’ve found a therapist who’s well-trained in EMDR. Isn’t it amazing how it’s helping you to get your truth and life back!
      Brave On!

  6. Thank you so very much for your words of empathy and encouragement. It’s is so good to know I’m not the only one that after over 5 years of healing & hard recovery work, I still get thrown by a trigger like a hidden “land mine”! I thought I was over this and healed… your words are so incredibly helpful. They have eased my mind that it is normal to get thrown back!
    I often wonder how long will this betrayal trauma affect me? What more can I do to heal my heart and mind? Is it ever really going to be gone? Thank you so much for all that you do.

    1. Hi Sandy, I’m so glad that my words could help you feel compassion for yourself and that you’re healing and growing in how to manage your triggers. In Chapter 18 of my book Making Yourself a Guilt Free Priority I list some ideas for interventions that can help (pages 280-283). Personally my work with an EMDR Consultant or EMDR Certified Trained Counselor, (EMDRIA.org) was so helpful. It helped me shift from the negative beliefs that were embedded like shrapnel into powerful truths about myself and what happened to me. While I still get triggered today from time to time – I continue to grow better and forward. Brave on girl!

  7. I left a 32 yr marriage to a sex addict in 2000. I didnt find out till the 20 yr mark at which time I spent another 12 years trying to fix him and the marriage. When I finally left I knew I needed to focus on my own healing. I went to a lot of counseling including EMDR which was a God send. In 2017 I met a man who I thought “got it”. At least he convinced me he did. I made it crystal clear that I would never be with a man who indulged himself like that again. I married him 9 months ago and there have been questions for me the whole time. I just was told that I needed to understand that men were built to love looking at the female body…and that these women with their firm beautiful bodies are everywhere and he cant help but look at the ones who are in great shape….but looking isnt lusting and I just need to accept how men are.
    I feel ill…angry….tricked….betrayed…..gaslighted….outraged….never enough ….and want to run as far away from him as I can get….right after I punch his lights out !
    What should I do first ?….we just started marriage counseling….what a joke…no wonder I felt invisable…undesirable….so lonely….and desperate for a encoraging word or sexual pursuit from him.
    I want out….any advice on how to set some immediate and appropriate boundaries with him would be so appreciatted
    Thank you

    1. Hi Sharon,

      It pains me to hear about your husband trying to justify looking at other firm and beautiful women, while missing the deep pain of what you’ve been through. It’s no surprise that his words and behaviors are triggering you. I’m deeply sorry about that. So let me gently state a fact. Yes, men’s brains are wired visually, quite different than most of our brains as women. So I decided to invite a man into our conversation. My husband, Kyle Keffer, is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist and a trained Clinical Partner Specialist in betrayal trauma. He regularly works with men in light of helping them understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy sexuality, sexual integrity, and how to be a loving and sexually responsible partner. When I read Kyle your story he was saddened by your experience and said this, “Justifying his behavior as ‘not being lust’ at the expense of your heart is sending the wrong message, and not prioritizing you as his wife. Defending his behavior could easily send a message to you that “you’re not enough”. In my book, Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, I wrote a chapter called How He Can Help You Heal. In this chapter I list several things a man can do to support us on our healing journey. Here’s one: Listen to what’s been triggered. Ask her gently, “What are you afraid of?” which honors the origin of her pain (page 135). Whether he’s the one who originally betrayed you or not, he’s hurting you now. That’s worthy of being listened to. There are many things a man can do to create safety for us – we long to heal, to feel protected and loved. Trust is built by hearing our hearts – and working to respect us by listening to our most vulnerable places of hurt. It’s what we do when we love someone. It’s what we do when we want them to heal. And it’s what we do when we help them move forward.

  8. I just found out that my husband of almost 20 years has been having an affair with a coworker. I suspected for quite a while and finally mustered up the courage to hire a private investigator and found out the ugly truth. While being gone for a business trip he moved her in to our house! So devastating! Would your book help me heal from this type of sexual betrayal? Thank you!

    1. Hi Teresa,

      What!!!! Unbelievably heartbreaking. I’m deeply sorry about your shock and tremendous pain, especially after 20 years of being married. Yes, my book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal is written with you in mind; so you can find your way and get the support you need and heal. Teresa, please don’t try to walk this out alone. I hope you can stay connected with me, attend my Bravery After Betrayal: It Takes Fierce Strength Retreat, or get connected with other betrayed partners who will get what you’re going through through APSATS.org or IITAP.com.

  9. He still works with her in the rural small town CHURCH. Church, of all places! How do I know it’s really over? How can I trust him when he swears he has no contact with her and stays away from her? There was more than one ongoing at the same time for many years before I discovered it. I chose to stay and 6 years later I’m still wondering if he’s changed, do cheaters ever really change, has he traded that attention and addiction for someone or something else, what is the something or someone else, should I leave, why didn’t I leave, can anyone be trusted? I live in a constant state of anxiety, fear, distrust, isolation from others, anger and rage; One minute rationalizing and the next plotting revenge. What is the right thing for me to do?

    1. Hi Ginger, I can hear you fear, anxiety, and lack of trust. Especially since he is still working with the affair partner. I don’t blame you and don’t think I could stomach that arrangement. What is he doing to assure you of safety and trust – other than saying I’m not seeing her – I’m not doing anything. He is seeing her – he works with her. What is he willing to do? Is he willing to leave the job? What have you asked him to do? It sounds like you might be struggling in two areas, boundaries and truth-telling. In my book, Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal I have two chapters “No is a Complete Sentence” and “To Tell the Truth” that I believe may help you. I talk about something called a Therapeutic Full Disclosure with a polygraph attached to it. There is a process for going from “not knowing” to knowing what you need in order to make a better decision. After betrayal we must move toward getting our sanity back. We need safety and the truth, both of which you are lacking. Also, take a look at my blog, “Have Your Cake and Eat It Too.” My head is still spinning along with other betrayed partners who are reading this around the idea of him still working with the affair partner at the same church. Boundaries sound like, “I need to be safe and protected from the vulnerability of your being around your affair partner. Because of that, I need to have you meet with a CSAT and leave this place of employment – the church.” Yes, there will be losses and difficulties, but it’s about safety for you. We can’t repair trust when we don’t know what’s going on. It’s incredibly difficult and I would say nearly impossible to repair trust when they’re still working together. I suggest you reach out to someone, either a therapist or coach at APSATS.org who can guide you in the right direction. IITAP.com may be another great resource. It’s crazy-making to stay right where you are and I can see why you are so distressed and untrusting. Take care of yourself! Warmly, Dr. Sheri

  10. I found out my husband was viewing porn 9 years ago. I was shocked. I was suicidal for a year. I was lied to and gaslighted for 4 more years with discoveries seems small now. He then was in a picture sending relationship with my younger sister (she was old enough and played a 50% part) I lost my close relationship with my mom. Never even considered divorce. He got help, and we tried again. I was always scared and felt guilty for not trusting although I never had a chance. I controlled so much to be safe that he acted out by getting on a dating website and in the end over the past year slept with 7 women. We are separated now and have 4 children. I’m pursing a divorce. I don’t want to feel this way all the time anymore. It went too far, but I still love him. He is getting help and in the divorce is giving me absolutely everything. It makes me feel guilty, he is being so great and getting help. He had a rough upbringing. It is his fault and his choices, but I feel bad for him. Its been 4 months, I cry everyday. I don’t want to be alone, I want to be married. I know that I need this divorce for my own healing, but everyday I debate should I really do this. He said he will continue to pursue me till I remarry. I just finished your book. It’s like you were watching my life. I wish I had read it 9 years ago, maybe this wouldn’t have happened or at least I wouldn’t have gone through so much hell. I’m going to counseling and doing the EMDR. I’m coming to your workshop. I’m craving healing. I’m just so so sad. How did this happened to me 🙁

    1. Hi Kelli,

      First off I’m heartbroken for what you’ve gone through. The deepest betrayal one can experience is the infidelity with our spouse AND one of our family members, in this case, your sister. Gut wrenching. I’m so sorry, as it also impacted your relationship with your mother. You mentioned several times that he is getting “help”; I’m not sure what that means. The kind of “help” one gets in order to face their infidelities, get accountable to other men in a 12-step SA recovery process and committed to their sobriety is everything. I hear your ambivalence at this point. I’m glad you’re coming to the conference. I look forward to meeting you and providing a safe place for you to continue to sort things out. My desire is you leave with hope – and direction.

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