In the aftermath of betrayal, your body and mind are struggling with an ongoing trauma response. As we have discussed elsewhere, betrayal is something that unfolds over time, and your understanding of your altered reality, what it means for you, and what happens next will unfold over time as well.
This means that for some weeks and months, you are not going to be functioning the way you did before learning about the betrayal. Your energy is going to be different (probably lower); your body may have symptoms (illness, headaches, stomach problems, twitching eyes or limbs); your mind will likely be scattered, and your ability to concentrate, focus, and track information will be impaired.
This can be disorienting. Not only have you lost the relationship you thought you had with your partner, you have lost yourself. Who you were and the parts of yourself that you depended on seem to have gone missing. Instead of the competent, organized, dependable person you are used to being, you are suddenly disorganized, forgetful, unreliable, confused, and uncertain.
One of the important things to remember when experiencing these types of trauma symptoms is that they are temporary. They may last weeks or even months, but they will eventually subside and you will return to your usual self. Your disorientation is not a permanent state of being, and it is important to remind yourself of that. Otherwise, you may start to worry that you will never feel normal again. But you will. It is just a matter of time.
The biggest kindness that you can give yourself during this period is patience and realistic expectations. You are not going to be able to do the same number of things you were doing before. You are not going to be able to do those things as well as before. You are not going to be able to tolerate the same levels of normal daily stress (stress from juggling your job, kids, house, husband, etc.) You are going to expend enormous amounts of energy and emotional resources processing the betrayal, and that will inevitably affect you in significant ways. You will not have a lot of focus and energy left over for a while, and life will need to change so you can give yourself the space and time you need to heal.
This means that you will need to learn the word “no.” No, I cannot take on an extra day of driving carpool. No, I cannot bring cookies to the classroom for that event. No, I cannot take on an extra project right now. No, I cannot have your parents come to visit this weekend. No, I cannot meet that deadline. No, I cannot volunteer for that position. No, I cannot read you one more story tonight. No, I cannot make love right now. No, I cannot cook dinner this evening. No, I cannot run that errand for you.
That said, you are going to have to keep functioning. Very few of us can go to bed for two months, two weeks, or even two days without creating issues in our lives–even when we’re dealing with a crisis. You are not likely to be an exception. Rather, you are a grown-up, and that means you have responsibilities and obligations that cannot be ignored. Adulting is hard work all the time, doubly so after a trauma.
So, if you can’t crawl in bed for two weeks but I’m suggesting you learn to say no, how do you find the balance? The balance is found in accepting that life is going to need to change for a while. Anything extra that can be taken off your plate should be taken off. To this end, you need to think about what is essential for you to do and what is extra that you can say no to. And you are going to want to check in with yourself regularly each day to see how you are doing and what your energy level is, adjusting your expectations accordingly.
This may mean that your family eats more takeout that you would typically care to feed them so you can go to work and function while still managing to get your kids where they need to be on time. You just might not have the energy at the end of the day to also cook a meal, and that is perfectly OK. Nobody is going to die from eating takeout for a few weeks. Rather than pressuring yourself to do what you used to do, you need to extend kindness, grace, and patience to yourself and know that everyone will be alright while you work through the crisis you are in.
Being kind to yourself in this way might also mean that invitations from friends and family are more selectively responded to as you determine what you can and can’t add to your schedule given your current emotional and energetic resources. It may mean that the extra project you and your boss have been talking about needs to be pushed back a few weeks so you can focus on your regular work duties and responsibilities and keep those in good order while you work through the crisis. It may mean you are more tired, more forgetful, need more time to get things done, and need more breaks, more naps, and more rest.
So many of my clients expect the same level of performance from themselves despite the crisis they’re in, and when they can’t meet their expectations they are mean to, judgmental, and critical of themselves. They would never treat a friend who was going through betrayal that way, but they talk to themselves with a drill-sergeant tone that demands far more than they can realistically give.
One of the biggest kindnesses you can give yourself after betrayal is to set realistic expectations and extend enormous amounts of patience and grace to yourself. While it may seem counterintuitive, doing this will actually help you to heal faster, as you will have the emotional space and time you need to tend to the enormous life-changing process of healing.