When I was in the initial shock of dealing with Partner Betrayal Trauma, I barely recognized myself. The competent, funny, focused woman I knew was gone, and in her place was a shattered, anxious, broken stranger. This stranger cried all the time, raged like a maniac, was exhausted and depressed, couldn’t concentrate, and felt desperate. I looked in the mirror and thought, “What is happening to me? How did I become this person?”
In the aftermath of betrayal, it can feel as though someone else has taken over your emotional and physical body. Suddenly you don’t recognize yourself. You’ve never had panic attacks before and now you have them daily. You’ve never screamed at your spouse the way you screamed at them this morning, or felt the kind of rage and hatred you feel since finding out. You’ve never retreated from life before, but now you feel unable to face your day.
This abrupt change in who we know ourselves to be creates a double whammy of loss. Not only are we grieving the loss of who we thought our partner was, we are grieving the loss of ourselves. Unfortunately, it is often the best parts of ourselves that we have lost. The funny, playful, relaxed, open, generous parts of ourselves. What seems to be surfacing is a new dark, anxious side we didn’t even know existed. This can be very disorienting as we no longer feel like we can even count on ourselves. Our normal responses have gone missing and we are left with these unpredictable and unfamiliar reactions.
While this disorientation of the self is very challenging, there is also, unbelievably, a hidden gift inside. The hidden gift is that we get to know ourselves much better. We become more aware of what we are capable of in both good ways and bad. I learned that I can cope with more than I ever imagined. I have reservoirs of strength and resilience that I now know exist and are there for me when I need them. I make great decisions under fire. I have the ability to walk through extremely painful situations with grace and dignity. I am stubbornly persistent. I also found out that I have deep wells of anger I didn’t know about. I can be mean, spiteful, and fight like an emotional street brawler. I can be wounded in ways that take a long time to heal.
We are all capable of glorious bravery and hideous damage. Part of being a mature adult is to be aware of both the dignity and depravity that reside within us. You are in the middle of adversity right now. This means that you are automatically on a journey of imposed self-discovery. While you may feel that you have lost your true self and don’t know who you are anymore, you are also going to gain new parts of yourself in this process that you will treasure for the rest of your life.