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When you think of the word TRAUMA what images come to mind? Maybe your mind steered you toward natural disasters. You might be thinking about what people had to endure during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or those impacted by the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. You might even be thinking of the volcano eruptions in Hawaii where over 2000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes. It is also common for people to think of acts of violence or terrorism when considering what it means to experience trauma or to be “traumatized.” Many of us still remember where we were, what we were doing, and maybe even, what we were wearing as our nation was traumatized by the events of 9/11. What about school shootings? Many of us remember the Columbine Massacre of 1999, or the Sandy Hook shooting of 2012. We think about how horrifying these experiences were for the kids and all involved. We grieve for the families who had to lay their children to rest. We would all say, that THAT is trauma.
But, can trauma be experienced in families and relationships? “Of, course!!” you might say. “Physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence…..all of these can be traumatic.” I cannot agree more! The lingering question, though, is – Can we experience TRAUMA from BETRAYAL?
~What is Betrayal Trauma?~
Betrayal trauma is most often associated with relational infidelity in couple relationships, whether it be an emotional affair, a sexual affair, or chronic infidelity as seen in sex addiction. However, there can be other types of events that create betrayal trauma (e.g., financial infidelity, other addictions, etc.). Despite the context from which it manifests, secrecy and deception are more than likely involved in the experience. When this occurs, the world of the one betrayed often gets tipped upside down. It creates a deep wound, not only in the one betrayed, but also in the couple relationship. It is important to note, that when the word “trauma” is used to describe these experiences, it is not being used for effect; it truly is TRAUMA in every sense of the word!
~How do I know if I’ve been traumatized by betrayal?~
There are many symptoms that can manifest when one has experienced betrayal. For example, you might have heightened feelings of anxiety and/or depression, intense feelings of anger, broken trust in the relationship, intense personal insecurity, and more. These are important symptoms to pay attention to, but, in my opinion, the most important symptom to pay attention to is the DEEP PAIN you are experiencing. Many people who have experienced trauma from betrayal describe the pain as having a depth to it that they have never experienced before. And if they are familiar with it, it usually is because they have experienced this type of betrayal before. So, if you have experienced betrayal and the pain manifesting feels almost unbearable, then you possibly are dealing with a deep wound that needs tended to right away.
~What do I need to do now?~
The first step is to SEEK HELP. Tackling this problem in solitude will often result in an exacerbated wound. My encouragement is to find a professional therapist trained to work with betrayal trauma so that s/he can help stop the bleeding. Then, s/he can help you and your partner/spouse develop a plan for healing and recovery. Here are some quality therapist directories where you can find therapists in your area:
- Directory for Infidelity & Sex Addiction Recovery Therapists
- Directory for Somatic Experiencing Therapists
- Directory for EMDR Therapists
- Directory for Therapists (general listings)
~Can my spouse be involved in my healing process?~
This is a question that my colleagues and I are commonly asked from the betrayed partner/spouse. The question is quite understandable given the fact that their partner/spouse is the one that created this deep wound they are suffering from. Think about it, if you were healing from an injury caused by a drunk driver, would you want that person involved in your healing process? The answer seems obvious; but, when it comes to relational traumas, it’s different. In my practice, we not only think it is a good idea, we encourage it. The reality is that the one suffering from betrayal trauma does not NEED their partner to participate in order to effectively heal, but the relationship does. When the betrayer is a willing participant in treatment, yes, it is often very difficult and emotionally painful in the beginning; but as the couple progresses in treatment, this effort toward healing and recovery can become a very intimate and bonding experience.
Experiencing betrayal in a committed relationship is often very painful because it IS traumatic. However, it is important to note that these relationships can survive and even thrive after the experience. In other words, although we could never guarantee the relationship will recovery, for many couples this is often the beginning of a new type of relationship built on a foundation of honesty, transparency, and integrity – because that is the type of relationship they deserve. And so do YOU!
Below are some resources we offer here at FSC:
- Betrayal trauma groups for the BETRAYED and the BETRAYER
- Betrayal trauma therapy
- Affair Recovery & Sex Addiction Recovery Couples Intensives
Check out these videos on our YouTube channel #RecoveryTV:
- The 5 Myths of Infidelity
- A Message to The Betrayed
- Trauma Therapy
- Is there Hope after Infidelity (about couples intensives)
- Making Sense of Infidelity
Don’t stop with this article, take the next step toward healing. Contact us TODAY!!
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
There are many ways infidelity can impact a relationship – a single affair, an emotional affair, an online relationship, and even sex addiction. However, despite what form it takes, it typically creates a deep wound in the couple relationship. Left unattended, this wound likely will fester, creating more problems and conflict in the relationship. We hope these videos will help give you more insight and direction as you navigate the wounds of betrayal. Please contact us for more information on our services regarding affair recovery and sexual addiction.
VIDEO 1: Making Sense of Infidelity [webinar]
In this 40 minute video, Carrie and Josh, discuss several important aspects that a couples often experience after impacted by infidelity.
Video 2: A Message to the Wounded Partner
In this brief video, licensed therapist, Joshua Nichols, has an important message for spouses or partners that have been wounded by a cheating spouse/partner.
Video 3: 5 MYTHS of INFIDELITY
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE OVER!! In this video, licensed therapist, Joshua Nichols, addresses a few misconceptions people often have concerning infidelity.
Video 4: Affair Recovery Couples Intensive
In this video, licensed therapists, Carrie and Josh, discuss this unique service for couples who are suffering from the impact of infidelity, chronic infidelity, and/or sex addiction.
We, unfortunately, live in a shame-based culture when it comes to sex and sexuality. You may be tempted to challenge this notion considering that we can’t even drive down the street without seeing a billboard with a nearly nude man or woman, or a woman making a provocative face, as to say “I want you!” (note: I am simply keeping it clean if you catch my drift). Sex is everywhere. It’s in magazines, newspaper ads, television programs, etc., etc., etc.
It may seem, in some ways, that our culture has “no shame” when it comes to this issue. I can see how one might assume that; but, I believe that these public displays of sex and sexuality are so prevalent because of the intense presence of sexual shame in our culture, not the lack thereof. Think of it this way. Human-beings are drawn toward the forbidden. In our culture, sex and sexuality have become extremely taboo topics, which gives it more power than it was ever intended to have. The more we avoid this topic, the more we approach it with awkwardness and embarrassment; then, the more desirable it becomes in its forbidden form. In an article by expert therapist, Rob Weiss, he writes:
“…sexual shame is among the most powerful and devastatingly painful forms of shame. As Patrick Carnes has often said, sexual secrets are often the cause of our greatest emotional shame, yet they are the secrets we are least likely to reveal.”
C.S. Lewis addresses the spiritual element of this phenomenon in his thought-provoking book, The Screwtape Letters. This work is a series of letters written from master demon (Screwtape) to his demon apprentice (Wormwood). Here is small glimpse of this dark, but fascinating work:
[Screwtape writing to Wormwood] “All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula….”
If I were to ask you “do we, as a culture, have an overall healthy relationship with sex and sexuality?” My guess is that I would receive a resounding “NO!” in response. If I were to ask you, PARENTS, “Do you want your children to have a healthy relationship with sex and sexuality?” I am certain I would hear, in response from you, a resounding “YES!” But, where to do we begin?
In this article, I am going to address 4 common parenting practices that, if adhered to, will, no doubt, perpetuate the legacy of sexual shame with one’s children. In preparation for this series, I conducted a non-scholarly poll concerning these parenting practices.
Please note that these polls were conducted through my personal Facebook page; these are NOT empirically validated studies; but instead, a simple effort to illustrate my thoughts and insight on this topic of sexual shame.
Common Practice #1: Parents often use slang terms in reference to the male and female genitalia
This is one of those areas where I get accused of making a mountain out of a mole hill. “What’s the big deal?” people often ask. It may not seem like that big of a concern for you, but think of the message it sends to your children. Using slang terms to reference the “penis” and “vagina” (and other parts of our sexuality) communicates a message of shame. It’s almost as if we are saying, “It is such a dirty and disgusting part that I cannot even bring myself to say it out loud.” If you still are skeptical of these thoughts, then consider this – How come we don’t refer to all body parts with slang terminology? Why do we ONLY limit it to our parts associated with sex and sexuality? #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm
So, what do we do? My encouragement for all parents is to use the proper terms for male and female genitalia (i.e., “penis” and “vagina”) and all other body parts associated with our sexuality. It’s never too late to start! And if your kids ask you why you are saying these new terms, then all that does is present to you another opportunity to fight against sexual shame by having a conversation with your child about the importance of using proper terms when discussing body parts.
Common Practice #2: Parents often minimize how much sex is talked about or discussed among the family.
Many of you reading this have experiences where your parent(s) did not discuss sex with you at all. Others of you may have had one or two talks on the matter. But, very few people experienced the topic of “sex” as an ongoing conversation in their families that, eventually, was carried over into their own families.
As humans, we are designed as sexual creatures. Our bodies are sexual vessels. Our sexuality is a very large part of our existence, but many families will avoid discussions on this matter like the plague. This, again, sends a message to our children that there is something inherently wrong, dirty, and/or shameful about our sexuality.
So, what do we do? Parents can start by being intentional with discussions about sex and sexuality from a very early age. Often this naturally begins by discussing body parts (remember to use proper terminology; no slang), then, as the child grows, this progresses into deeper topics of sexuality. You’ll need to gauge what your child is ready for based upon their age and developmental stage. Here are some topics to get you started:
- Body parts – boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.
- Respecting your body – a discussion on hygiene and cleanliness
- Sexuality in media – respecting yours and others sexuality; a discussion about porn.
- Masturbation and touch – what is sexual nurturance?
- Intercourse – the birds and the bees; how babies are made.
- Safe-sex – discussion on pregnancy and/or STDs.
- The beauty of sex – enough said.
Common Practice #3: Parents sometimes shame children for sexual touch.
The reality is that children discover their genitals from a very early age. This should NOT be feared; It is simple biology. The penis and vagina have more nerve endings than any other part of our body. Thus, when we touch our genitalia, it tends to feel good. Well, kids, often within their first year of life, discover that they have certain body parts that, when touched, feels really good. So, naturally, their hands often go to those areas when the opportunity arises.
Unfortunately, many parents are terribly uncomfortable with this (shame-based culture at play); thus, they will harshly correct and sometimes scold their child when they are caught with their “hands down their pants.” This type of response further exacerbates the message of sexual shame.
So, what do we do? It is perfectly okay to correct your child about the appropriate times and/or places for such exploration. You just want to do it in a gentle and loving way. Don’t yell at them; and please don’t embarrass them in front of others (as they often don’t even know they are doing it). Calmly grab their attention and then politely and respectfully instruct them. If you do feel the need to incorporate consequences, then be sure they are aware that they are NOT in trouble for touching their genitals, but they are instead facing consequence for NOT following your instructions on appropriateness of that behavior.
What about masturbation? YIKES!! This is a question I often get from many parents of adolescent children. The trouble with this question is that it is often a question of morality. People aren’t just asking, “Is it healthy to masturbate?” They are also asking, “Is it wrong/sinful to masturbate?” Unfortunately, I cannot answer the morality question for you. That is something each of us have to work out for ourselves. But, I would have you consider this series of questions: Do you believe that we are created or built as sexual vessels? If so, then do believe that we should take care of and nurture our sexuality? If yes, then what is that supposed to look like? And what does that look like for the single person? for the adolescent?
Sexual nurturance and keeping our sexual vessel healthy involves much MUCH more than one might think. My best advice here is to educate yourself, then educate yourself some more. A good place to start is with a book by Patrick Carnes, Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred; in particular the chapters on the 12 dimensions of healthy sexuality.
This common practice is very unfortunate as it can certainly create lasting negative effects in our adult life when it comes to sex and sexuality. Think about it. If all you ever heard growing up, nearly two decades of some of the most important years of your life, was “don’t have sex; don’t have sex; wait until you’re married; wait until you’re married,” and there were no serious conversations about the beautiful nature of our sexuality and the gift that sex is to our marriages……..well, it’s not a stretch to imagine the negative impact that can have on a child as they enter adulthood.
“Sex is dirty. Sex is bad. Save it for someone you love.”
This, unfortunately is the message carried into adulthood and into committed relationships. It is important to note that the brain doesn’t simply accept that sex is now a beautiful, wonderful thing because you and your partner exchange vows and say your “I do’s.” As a marriage counselor, I have worked with many couples who were suffering from the negative impact of growing up with these types of messages.
So, what do we do? As parents, we have to change the dialogue with our children. We need to stop addressing the issue out of fear and shame and start addressing it from a position of beauty and wonder. This doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind. Of course, you can talk about the misuse and abuse of our sexuality if not handled with care and respect. In fact, protecting one’s sexuality through boundaries and good decision-making is one way we preserve its beauty and awe, which makes it all the more special when we share it with someone else.
I encourage all of you, parents and future parents, to stop beating yourself up when you find yourself “falling short.” Remember, there is no such thing as perfect parenting, but you are also contending with a culture that is very flawed and misinformed in a lot of areas in life, especially the realm of sex and sexuality. So, go ahead and start making changes today, but be kind to yourself in the process. Feel free to contact me if you need more direction. Blessings.
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addictions Therapist
“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”― Margaret Thatcher
Many people who are in recovery for various reasons – drug addiction, infidelity, alcoholism, sex/porn addiction, etc. – are having a hard time experiencing success in their efforts. They often feel discouraged because they continue to relapse and/or simply struggle with an ever present darkness that had made its home within you; kind of like a parasite that has embedded itself within your flesh consistently causing discomfort and disarray.
If this describes you, then, when it comes to your recovery efforts, you are probably experiencing feelings like discouragement, helplessness, hopelessness, and maybe even despair. From my experience as a licensed therapist that specializes in helping people be successful in recovery, the main obstacles that are preventing people from having success in their recovery are (1) the lack of structure, and (2) the lack of focus. It’s important to note that the lack of focus is often due to not having the appropriate structure or direction in place. THAT STOPS TODAY!!
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”
― Zig Ziglar
In this article, I will address what we, at Family Solutions Counseling, call THE 5 PILLARS of RECOVERY SUCCESS. When you implement these pillars in your recovery, I believe you’ll find yourself progressing in ways you haven’t experienced.
PLEASE BE SURE TO READ THE BONUS TIP AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE!!
PILLAR #1: Individual Therapy (and Couples Therapy if in a relationship)
This is often a hard step for people to take, but it is an important one. It is often very hard to see the forest for the tress when you are in recovery. A professional counselor is trained to pull you out of the forest and help you take a look from above you can see bigger picture, which will help you develop points of intervention.
Yes, if you are married or in a relationship, then you’ll eventually need to consider couples therapy. We highly believe in treating all entities involved; thus, when a client that’s in a couple relationship enters into recovery and takes part of our program, we consider there to be 3 entities that need to be tended to – the client (e.g., the addict), the wounded spouse (e.g., partner of the addict), and the couple relationship.
“Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don’t go there alone.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry
Don’t let this overwhelm you (see bonus tip at the end of this article), simply begin with finding a therapist that specializes in the recovery issue you are specifically dealing with.
PILLAR #2: Group Therapy
There is a strange magic that is involved in group therapy. It is HIGHLY important for recovery success in my opinion (article: The Magic of Group Therapy by Joshua Nichols, LMFT, CSAT). After you find a therapist that you feel comfortable with, ask him/her to help you find a quality, well-ran group that you can be part of. In my practice, we specialize in sex addiction treatment and recovery; thus, we run several groups for our clients (and clients of other therapists’). As a facilitator of these groups, I, personally, have seen progress and change in ways that I simply have not seen with clients in individual therapy.
PILLAR #3: Support Groups
Support groups are different than therapy groups. The biggest difference is that they are peer-led group, while therapy groups are facilitated by a trained therapist. Also, most recovery support groups follow a 12-step model. These groups include, but not limited to, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, S-Anon, Recovery Couples Anonymous, and Celebrate Recovery.
This is often where most people start their recovery journey, but sometimes they fail to add in the other pillars. Support groups are highly valuable and should be a part of your recovery plan; but support groups alone often don’t provide you with the structure and focus you need to be successful in your recovery. Therefore, DON’T give up your support group, but simply look at adding another pillar to your plan.
PILLAR #4: Accountability
The great thing about the first three pillars is that accountability is built in to those processes. You are scheduling counseling appointments and attending your groups (therapy and support), doing your homework assignments, implementing your newly learn skills, and actively developing new habits. You can see how the first three pillars can hold you accountable to your recovery. However, more is needed. You’ll need to ask your therapist to help you develop accountability outside of these meetings or events. You need to understand, for example, the differences in slips and relapses. You need to understand what boundaries should be put in place to help you in your recovery as well as your couple recovery. I know this sounds overwhelming (again, see bonus tip), but a trained therapist can help you develop this as part of your recovery.
PILLAR #5: Psycho-Education
Information is power. Start reading quality literature on the issue of concern. When you can see there is a science behind the development of your struggle, and there is a science behind the patterns you, yourself, are caught up in, then you’ll begin to see there is a science behind successful recovery. THERE IS A WAY OUT!! Here are some reads I recommend for recovery of sex addiction, which is my specialty in working with recovering clients:
For the Sex Addict:
Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes
Always Turned On by Rob Weiss & Jennifer P. Schneider
Sexual Anorexia by Patrick Carnes
Wired for Intimacy by William Struthers
Stop Sex Addiction by Milton Magness
For Partners of Sex Addicts
BONUS TIP: Add ONE iron in the fire at a time!!
This is very important. From my experience, people tend to drop out of recovery because they feel overwhelmed with all that is involved in successful recovery. I can’t express it enough – START with ONE PILLAR; once that is established, then move on the next. If you try to implement ALL FIVE PILLARS at once, then you will likely get overwhelmed and over-worked. Please be kind to yourself as you start this process.
“No man needs sympathy because he has to work, because he has a burden to carry. Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
I wish you well in your recovery journey. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about this article and/or the recovery program we have developed for sex/porn addiction treatment here at Family Solutions Counseling. Blessings.
~ Joshua Nichols ~
Licensed Martial & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist