Welcome to the next post in our series about mindset. So far, we have looked at the importance of mindset in determining the reality we live in and operate from each day. We have seen the vital role that our beliefs about ourselves and others play in shaping our lives and relationships. And we have explored the brain’s bias toward the negative. Now we are going to talk about what to do with all this information and how to help yourself with your mindset every day.
Introducing the Three Trauma Traps of Partner Betrayal
For betrayed partners there are three negative emotional states that tend to dominate the experience of betrayal trauma: powerlessness, shame and fear.
Betrayal brings most of us into contact with an incredible sense of powerlessness. We were powerless to stop the cheating, powerless to stop our partner’s lying, powerless to stop the pain we are now in, powerless to stop the betrayal period.
Because of this profound sense of powerlessness it can become easy to focus on it and to build references that support our powerlessness. References like:
- I must have done something to cause this.
- I am going to make sure this never happens to me again.
- I set boundaries, but they don’t change anything.
- I keep trying to talk to her, but it doesn’t do any good, she won’t _________ (fill in the blank).
These thoughts reinforce our sense of powerlessness and make us feel even more stuck and out of control.
The second emotional state partners can get stuck is in shame. Because cheating involves your partner choosing something or someone other than you and your relationship, it inherently carries the sting of shame. Shame makes us wonder:
- Am I desirable?
- What do they have that I don’t?
- Am I not enough or am I too much?
- What did I do wrong?
- Am I enough sexually? Am I too much sexually?
Shame can also make us flip to the other side of the spectrum where we stridently declare our innocence and the vilify the cheating partner as loudly as we can. We can find ourselves saying:
- He/She is a narcissistic abuser.
- Once a cheater always a cheater.
- Cheaters are empty at the core, and nothing can fill them.
- He/she is an intimacy anorexic and can’t do relationship.
We are doing what I call repudiating shame with these behaviors, because we are trying to attach the shame to the cheater instead of us. However, they are still shame-driven behaviors at the core.
The third emotional state partners can get stuck in is fear. And guess what? Fear is what drives the powerlessness and shame. So, in many ways, the primary emotional state that partners deal with after betrayal is fear.
Fear at its core is always about relational disconnection: either from ourselves or others. We fear the loss of our connection to others, our sense of belonging and our safety in our relationships.
Fear underlies powerlessness because often we will choose to stay in powerlessness rather than set a boundary or ask for what we need. These empowering behaviors create a risk that the cheating partner may pull away from us or respond to our boundary negatively. Staying in powerlessness lets us avoid our fear of loss.
Fear also underlies shame. Shame makes us want to stay hidden because we fear exposure. We fear that if we are seen we will be found deficient in some way. The fear underneath our shame is that maybe at the end of the day we really are unlovable or unacceptable in some way.
These three emotional states of trauma – fear, powerlessness and shame – form the emotional soup that partners find themselves swimming in after betrayal. These emotional states drive the thinking patterns and beliefs that then drive our behaviors as we try to cope with the unthinkable.
Often, we are unaware of the thought patterns we are trapped in. The thoughts and beliefs that we have about our experience of betrayal are unconscious, playing like a tape in the background that just keeps unspooling hour after hour. However, just because these thoughts are unconscious, and we lack awareness about them doesn’t mean they don’t matter. These thought patterns are what shape how we experience betrayal and how we heal (or don’t heal).
The more we focus our attention on thoughts that support these negative emotional states the more suffering we will experience. Because of the brain’s bias toward negative cognitions, these thoughts patterns will often occur almost automatically. Which means that changing this dynamic requires two key things: awareness and intentionality. We must become aware of the specific tapes that play in the background of our minds shaping our experience of ourselves and others and then we must intervene and change these tapes to something different.
If you feel trapped in powerlessness, fear and shame then join us in Braving Hope™ where you will learn the skills to move out of these negative emotional states into the freedom of empowerment and connection to your authentic self. Schedule a call now.