Trauma Of Infidelity
Infidelity Shatters Self-Esteem
Assigning Blame To The Betrayed
Betrayed Spouse Cycle
Character-logical Self Blame
Behavioral Self Blame
Lies Of Omission
Shifting The Blame
What Is Respect?
You Are Not To Blame
Infidelity As Emotional Abuse.
How Do I Heal After Infidelity?
Is Infidelity A Deal Breaker?
Infidelity is more than betrayal....it is traumatic! Some people think it unfathomable that someone could experience severe trauma following the disclosure of a spouses infidelity They can imagine how natural disasters, accidents, robberies or war could cause PTSD because the threat of physical harm and horror are imaginable. People can visualize dead bodies, mangled limbs, having your possessions taken from you at gunpoint, yet it's very hard to visualize trauma to the heart.
Infidelity wounds are invisible to the eye, so those who have never experienced infidelity see the torment of the betrayed spouse as an overreaction. They have a hard time fathoming how the horror of powerlessness and helplessness can be felt in a situation that hasn't caused any physical damage. Damage that can be measured in some form or another, weather it be possessions lost, limbs lost, bruises acquired, body counts or number of stitches - these are all things that one can put a value on. Crimes, natural disasters, wars, and accidents are not personal. Though those events are traumatic, they do not feel like a personal attack, singling you out exclusively. There is an "in the wrong place at the wrong time" nature to them. Infidelity feels like a malicious ambush targeted toward you, the unaware recipient. As your spouse plots, plans and hides behind lies, waiting for the moment to pounce. The moment they can release all their fury upon your heart. It feels designed to willfully inflict a mass amount of pain - an undercover operation to steel your dignity, pride, and dreams. It's as if your spouse is waiting for just the right moment to set the bomb off. It's an ambushing, robbing and murdering of your soul. The moment you realize you are under attack, it's to late to do anything. The fireball of hurt has already ripped through your heart. Compounding the hurt is an attitude of, "it just happened." "No," you say, "it didn't just happen. Car accidents just happen, broken bones just happen, infidelity is a calculated set of lies and choices - a covert operation, planed, controlled, directed and orchestrated by you!"
Infidelity feels like intense hate that is intentionally meant to agonizingly carve the love right out of your heart. A sadistic and vengeful way to say, "I despise you like no other person on earth." It is the combination of evil and hate that rips at your heart spitting a venom of condemnation, from someone who feels like the devil, only this time the devil is wearing your spouses face. From an enemy you may expect such ruthlessness, but not from your spouse. It is the ultimate rejection of your very being from the person who knows you the most. It is horror that terrorizes every moment of your life as it kills your dreams of what your life is, was and will be. The shock of the assault feels no different than if your spouse plunged a knife deep into your heart, while you let out a bloodcurdling scream of destruction to your self-esteem and safety. It is mocking of your love, a statement of reprisal. The confusion so overwhelming and dismaying - How could this person who claimed to love you, dispose of your affections so ruthlessly, tearing them from your heart one vicious and bloody slash after another. Once the extraction is complete, leering at your anguish, as if now, you understand their disgust for you, and sneering with achievement as you accept their hatred. No respect is given to the gift of commitment upheld by you. It is implied as burdensome and irritating. Infidelity is torture of the heart, callous, calculated and cruel. It feels like acid eating through the depths of your soul, burning away the innocence of hope. In it's place the scars of cynicism wrap themselves around the belief in truth and justice. The phantom pains of love give rise to an inferno of rage, reopening the wounds of injustice. As the pain from the mutilation of your innocence assault every moral value, you judge yourself in blame. Infidelity says, my toleration of your inadequacy has reached an end. Yet these things are immeasurable to those who haven't experienced the pain. Only those who have experienced infidelity have a perceptible point of reference.
Our self-concept is a system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person believes to be true about his or her personal existence. The self-concept is gathered from self-esteem and self-efficacy. When infidelity occurs, we perceive a threat to our status, and our concept of self-value is threaten. When our belief that we are of value to our partner is shattered by infidelity, a threat to our status in the romantic relationship reeks havoc on our self-esteem. Self-esteem is the value or respect that a person has for oneself - discovering infidelity shatters the value we place on ourselves. If we are so invaluable to the one who was supposed to love us the most, we conclude we must not be as important as we thought. When a spouse has constructed their lives around the development and maintenance of the marriage relationship, and suddenly finds out that the main part of their lives is a false reflection of their reality, this causes a great deal of embarrassment, anger and shame. This reflection is based on their spouses betrayal in comparison to their own expectations and agreements of the relationship. This shattering of self-esteem leads to a negative evaluation of oneself and character-logical self-blame creeps in. The hurt at finding out your spouse sees you as disposable and replaceable produces a pain like no other. Compounding this wound is the sum of other negative life experiences that verify negative beliefs about the self. Infidelity touches on our sensitivities like no other life event. We personalize the infidelity and experience physical, emotional, and cognitive arousal, leading us to hyper vigilance in attempts to repel more pain. Infidelity is so alarming, confusing and ripe with powerlessness that we respond by shifting into self-blame to give us the illusion we have control over the infidelity.
Of course just like every instance of infidelity isn't the same, neither is the reaction of the betrayed spouse the same in all cases. I think most would agree though, that it is very traumatic and shatters beliefs about love, fidelity, truth, fairness, justice and dreams.
Rationalizing that the betrayed spouse must have done something to cause the infidelity, the belief in the fairness of just world, allow others to assign blame to the victim.We are often taught that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to those who make mistakes. The belief in a just world is crucially important for people to maintain their own well-being and to believe in their own invulnerability. Though this approach allows others to calm their own fears by diminishing the perceived threat of infidelity to their own marriages, (by turning infidelity into something that can be controlled) - instead of acknowledging to themselves that innocent people can be victimized. This belief is reinforced by confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or "myside bias") is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about infidelity, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. These societal views compound the trauma a betrayed spouse goes through. Not only has their spouse betrayed them, but they are slighted by a broad "blame the victim" attitude that exists. Outside sources invalidate the extreme emotional trauma to the betrayed as overreaction, not that bad, incapable of being traumatic, and discredit the real emotional damage done to the betrayed spouse. These views result in an intense sense of humiliation for the betrayed spouse.
Humiliation is the result of internally disagreeing with the injury that has been inflicted upon you, it is the feeling of being put down - being made to feel less than one feels themselves to be. Humiliation means to be placed, against ones will, in a situation where one is made to feel inferior by stripping away ones pride, honor or dignity. Humiliation is personal; "you have attacked me, my being, my self, and made me feel foolish about who I am." The humiliation of infidelity is degrading, confusing, paralyzing, and assaulting. The attack is personal and credible enough that someone has caused you to doubt your own worth, and thereby induces shame. Humiliation is the belief that we have failed to live up to the expectations of others. In a 'Just World' the expectation is, those who are good spouses are able to keep their husbands and wives from cheating. Those who can't live up to that standard have failed to live up to the expectation. This perceived failure causes betrayed spouses a great deal of shame. The humiliation of being perceived as having failed to keep a spouse faithful translates into self-blame. Humiliation is a profoundly violent psychological act that leaves the victim with a deep wound to the psyche. Many betrayed spouse feel humiliated when others find out about the betrayal, not because they perceive themselves as valueless, but because they internally disagree with the perception that they were of so little value that betrayal is justified under any circumstance. If one believes they deserve the decrease in status, there would be no humiliation. Humiliation is an image change, reflecting a decrease in what others believe about your stature. A spouses infidelity is often interpreted by others as having been a reflection of your worth or value to your spouse and they look at you differently. A sense of pathetic pity for your inadequacy permeates others understanding of your current value. In other words, societal understandings of infidelity are to interpret the betrayed as deserving of betrayal because of some act, character flaw, behavior (or lack there of), that made the wayward spouses actions understandable in committing adultery. The just world view also allows a betrayed spouse to begin blaming themselves for the infidelity. The self-blame calms their anxiety over their own vulnerability to victimization. The fact that our culture has turned "victim" into a dirty word, only compounds the unfairness and trauma of infidelity. The "don't be a victim" movement that has swept through our nation has turned being a "victim" into something shameful. Not having control over what happens to you, has been summarized by society as willfully allowing it to happen, because you did nothing to prevent it.
In cases of infidelity, most often gaslighting (a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity) is employed to keep the deception going. If this has been a longterm pattern in the relationship, hyper vigilance is most likely already in place for the betrayed spouse. The wayward spouse uses with increasing frequency, systematic withholding of factual information from the spouse, and/or provides false information. This has the gradual effect of making you anxious, confused, and less able to trust your memory and perception. When it’s done for a long enough period, you become convinced you are loosing your mind. “Gaslighting plays into one of our worst fears – of being abandoned – and many of our deepest needs: to be understood, appreciated, and loved." - The Gaslight Effect . The gaslighter may insinuate that you have a mental illness, you’re overly sensitive or you should see someone for that depression. They may even accuse you of cheating. Pretty much anything to throw you off the trail. The goal is to put the blame on you and make you doubt your own perceptions. If someone is trying to get you to doubt the validity of your own experience (the information you receive from your own senses) then chances are you’re being gaslighted.
Betrayed spouse begin to feel extremely confused with all the different messages being thrown at them through ill-advised councilors, friends, books, media, etc. They think, "Wait, I am to blame because I didn't see it coming, I should have known my spouse was unhappy, yet how could I see it coming when I was being deceived into believing everything was fine" Betrayed spouses blame themselves for not knowing what their spouses were thinking or feeling, disregarding the fact that this information wasn't being shared, and it isn't their job to be a mind reader.
Betrayed spouses are caused to feel ashamed and/or foolish because they didn't detect the deception that was going on. If they did detect a shift in the relationship, addressing it, but being lied to, they are shamed for ignoring the warning signs, or accused of wanting to be in denial because they weren't emotionally ready to handle it. Betrayed spouse feel very confused when purposeful deception, used to make them doubt their own intuitions (being told their feelings were illusionary) are used against them as weapons for partial blame because they did nothing to prevent the infidelity, implying that they had control over the situation. They somehow in other's views, allowed or participated in the deception because they were unable to coax the truth from their spouse. Their trust in their partner's word is used in accusatory fashions to imply that they weren't in tune with the relationship, their partner or themselves. These views perpetuate the character-logical self-blame by allowing betrayed spouses to berate themselves with statements such as, "I'm so stupid for being trusting, I should have seen this coming! I'm such and idiot!"
Character logical and Behavioral self-blame, hyper vigilance, triggers, guilt and shame combine resulting in PTSD for the betrayed spouse.
The immense shame, guilt and self-blame that follows a spouses infidelity renders you helpless by making your life and world seem hopeless.Character-logical and physical self-blame assaults the betrayed spouse, feeling as if there is something inherently wrong with them. If the person who promised to love, honor and cherish them could betray them in such an unbearably painful way, they attribute this to some atrocious character defect within themselves, and this cause shame for who they are as they begin devaluing themselves their own positive and negative character traits. This is often perpetuated by cheating spouses insistence that the infidelity was caused as a result of something about the betrayed - this attribution is usually ascribed to some imagined or exaggerated character, physical or behavioral imperfection in the betrayed spouse.
Character self-blame makes the future seem helpless, unchangeable and uncontrollable. The betrayal shatters self-esteem by diminishing personal value and minimizing the status of the betrayed in the relationship. Spouses begin to believe that their actions will not make a difference, because the problem is an irreversible fault within themselves. They beat themselves up with statements such as
- " I'm too trusting, I can't believe I trusted my spouse to be honest. Im such an idiot! "
- "I'm so naive. I don't understand how I let myself be duped."
- "If I just looked younger, thinner, happier, fitter, my spouse wouldn't have cheated"
- "I'm not as good looking, smart, outgoing or interesting as the affair partner."
- "I'm so gullible. What a fool I've been. How did I let this happen?"
- "What kind of jerk would let their spouse treat them this way. I must be really pathetic."
- "If only I had know what was going on. I can't believe I didn't see this coming. I'm a real moron."
- "I'm not an idiot for trusting my spouse. I have no control over whether they choose to be truthful. All I can do is trust myself to listen to my intuition. If my spouse chooses to lie, that is a reflection of them, not of me."
- "I won't beat myself up anymore. I did not "let" this happen. If I had a choice in the matter, it wouldn't have happened."
- "If my spouse does not appreciate me for my strengths and weaknesses, I guess they really don't deserve to be with me. I am not perfect, and I am okay with that."
- "My spouses infidelity is not a reflection of my inadequacy, but a reflection of theirs."
- "I did feel something was not right. Not knowing what that something was, does not make me a moron. It means that I am "not" crazy or delusional, my intuition was right on. I was completely in touch with my spouse. They were the one hiding and deceiving, and that I have no control over."
For the majority of betrayed spouses, this shift takes about 2 years.
In cases of infidelity, the amount of emotional pain the betrayed's proof of how awful they must be perceived by their spouse. If the person whom you thought loved you, could willingly and deliberately cause you this much pain, they must then find everything about you intolerable. Character logical self-blame is associated with higher levels of depression and self-esteem loss. When the powerlessness becomes unbearable - to gain a sense of control over the helplessness - the betrayed spouse moves into behavioral self-blame.
Behavioral self-blame makes betrayed spouses feel as if they should have done something differently to avoid the betrayal.Trauma survivors have the tendency to believe that they brought the trauma upon themselves. Behavioral self-blame reduces the perception of vulnerability. The belief that a change in behavior will reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence of infidelity is seen as an adaptive coping method. Behavioral self-blame also promotes the belief in the ability to control, change and avoid negative outcomes. Believing that the future can be different, promotes positive feelings of control and motivation warding off the helplessness felt. Thoughts are invested in strategies spouses can apply in the future and/or similar circumstances. These strategies can help avoid re-victimization, but gives the spouse a false sense of control. Behavioral self-blame can also raise anger and hate towards the self. Anger rises due to the thought that one could have done something to prevent the infidelity, and yet did nothing. Intense self-hate reduces the ability to cope, adapt to the trauma, and increases the risk of suicidal behavior. Behavioral self-blame is perpetuated by theories that a betrayed spouse is partially responsible for an affair. Betrayed spouses minds flood with thoughts of "IF ONLY", "I SHOULD HAVE", "WHY DIDN'T I". Betrayed spouses think that if they could have stopped it before, then changing their behavior now can stop it from ever happening again in the future. "At least if my lack of vigilance was the problem, I can prevent a future tragedy by watching more closely." The guilt and anger generated toward the self keeps the mind looping in an endless search for the defect, behavior or circumstances that they can control.
If you claim you are a victim, you are accused of not taking responsibility in the role you played in being victimized. Essentially perpetuating the behavioral self-blame so often seen in victims as the result of trauma. Behavioral self-blame is control related, and involves attributions to a modifiable source (one's own behavior). It is associated with a belief of future avoid-ability. This belief that we can control the outcome of someone else's behavior by modifying our own leads the victim of infidelity to hyper-vigilance. Hyper-vigilance is one of the hyper arousal symptoms of PTSD and refers to the experience of being constantly tense and "on guard." A spouse experiencing this symptom of PTSD will be motivated to maintain an increased awareness of their surrounding, including a spouses activities on cell phones, computers, car milage, social networking and environment. Frequently scanning the environment to identify potential sources of threat - people resembling the affair partner, spouses arriving home late, phone calls from unknown persons, spouses being secretive or aloof, etc. Betrayed spouses believe that had they been aware of these things before, they could have stopped the infidelity from occurring, in so believing this, they make attempts to intercept any warning signs of impending infidelity.
Pavlov's Dog in which a conditioned stimulus (trigger), comes to signal the occurrence of a second stimulus (pain, horror, rage, etc.) the unconditioned stimulus (biologically significant stimulus such pain, that elicits a response from the start). Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs through associations between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. Triggers (the stimulus) may appear in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, films, dates of the year, tones of voice, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof. The betrayed spouses mind has associated a stimulus (such as above) with the horrific event of infidelity. Once triggered, the betrayed spouse is involuntarily flooded with the immense pain, horror, helplessness, anger, rage, etc, as the now conditioned stimulus has triggered the emotional response. These emotional triggers perpetuate the cycle of hyper-vigilence, as the betrayed struggles to gain control over another instance of infidelity and avert the helplessness felt. Emotional triggers are also a symptom of PTSD. The cycle perpetuates itself until a betrayed spouse comes to the realization that behavioral self blame is an attempt to control the circumstances in which they have no control - their spouses choices.
When a betraying spouse is not willing to make their lives an open book to the betrayed, yet claims that they want to save the marriage, but continues behaving in a self serving manner, hyper-vigilance escalates. The constant need of the betrayed to protect themselves from being deceived again, leads to days consumed with attempting to find evidence that they are, if fact, being told the truth. Their lives begin to revolve around policing the activities of the betraying spouse. Their whole sense of safety in the relationship has been shattered and the continued unwillingness of the cheater to be accountable to their spouse is crazy making. The behavior and verbal claims of the cheater are inconsistent, often serving up lies to appease the anxiety of the betrayed spouse and maintain control over their illusion of intentions. When the anxiety and hyper vigilance of the betrayed spouse reaches a tipping point, demanding answers - often, blame is once again thrust upon the faithful spouse when confronting the betrayer about their lack of accountability. They are accused of being too controlling, crazy, untrusting and then guilted into backing off the pressure, shamed into forgoing accountability because they are the ones driving the cheater crazy. The inability of the betrayed spouse to control the behavior of the betrayer throws them back into feeling helpless, returning to character logical self-blame, and the PTSD cycle continues, looping over and over again. The betrayed begins to doubt their own sanity because their intuition does not match up with the illusion they are being fed. Not "always", but most often, refusal of accountability is a sign that the affair has not ended, and the betrayed continues to be gaslighted. This cycle of infidelity abuse follows closely the domestic abuse cycle.
Compounding the confusion of the betrayed are messages that to save the marriage one must let go and choose to trust again. As the patterns of deception from before disclosure haunt the betrayed, they have a hard time articulating the crazy making behavior. Things that were framed as being benign misunderstandings are now seen as malicious attempts at deception.
"Wait a minute, your telling me, I'm partially to blame because I didn't see this coming, I'm not the innocent victim here! I was doing ,or not doing, something that caused my spouse to cheat. When I then become hyper vigilant to avoid being deceived again (because I perceive I have some control to stop it), I'm then told I can't control another persons behavior and I must open myself up to risking being hurt and deceived again. Are you crazy, you want me to be a doormat! You really don't understand! My spouse just wants to deceive me! All my spouses lies were intended to pull the wool over my eyes! There is NO WAY I'm letting that happen again!"
Patterns of deception before the affair was uncovered are often hard for the betrayed to explain in words. The crazy feeling of knowing in your gut you're being deceived, but not having any tangible proof. Lying by omission is part of this crazy making process - it's lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception.I also like to call this "playing dumb". If this has been a long term pattern in the relationship, the receiving spouse has been somewhat conditioned to except rational explanations and ignore their "gut instincts" for fear of appearing irrational, controlling, or crazy. Being unsure of your status in the relationship makes you feel insecure and uncertain. It appears as though there are two sets of rules in the relationship, one set for you and one set for your spouse.
- Your spouse calls to tell you they have a meeting and will be home late. You may ask some questions about who the meeting is with and what it's about. Your spouse serves up a perfectly valid explanation. You say, "Okay, I'll see you after work." and don't think any more of it. Later you find a receipt that indicates your spouse was actually out at a restaurant during this so called meeting (not necessarily having an affair, but being deceptive none the less). When you confront your spouse about being lied to, they say, "Well you never asked me where the meeting was. It's not my fault that you assumed I would be at the office, I didn't know that's what you thought (playing dumb). How was I to know that's what you thought? You never asked me if I was having the meeting in the office." Your gut tells you your spouse was perfectly aware of your assumption, but how can you prove it? You're accused of being troubled if you think there was any ill-natured intentions. As you apply logic to the situation, you wonder if you are just overreacting. You tell yourself, "Well I didn't ask if s/he was going to be at the office. Technically I guess I can't call it lying, because I never asked where the meeting was. I guess next time I'll ask more questions." As you examine the facts, it appears that the explanation made sense and was rational, your feelings then begin to look irrational. You drop the subject and chalk it up to a misunderstanding. The next time, you start asking more specific questions, you are then accused of being overbearing, insecure or jealous. You think, "Gosh, I don't want to be 'that person', the controlling, stalker type."
When the explanations just don't add up, and pressure is applied to the spouse, their intent to to be less than honest, becomes a side-effect of either, a defect in you, your inability to handle the truth, or, a display of your spouses concern for your feelings.
Often, whichever angle is chosen, is dependent upon the betrayed spouses emotional approach to the situation.
If you approach them with indignation at being deceived, their omissions become a reaction to your inability to handle the truth, or their uncomfortableness with your inappropriate reactions:
- If you didn't get your feelings hurt so easily, I wouldn't have to withhold the truth.
- If you weren't so controlling I'd feel comfortable being honest.
- I can't handle your anger when I'm doing something you don't like, so I lied because your so angry.
- This approach of course implies that the defect is in you and your inability to handle the truth, not in their inability to be honest, conveniently shifting the blame for their behavior onto the betrayed spouse.
- I knew it would upset you, so I lied to spare your feelings
- I didn't want you to worry, so I thought it best you didn't know
- I thought you'd be sad, and I can't stand to see you like that! I thought I was protecting you.
- This approach implies that their lying is justified, and in your best interest. Excusing the lying as done out of love.
You understand that honesty demands you tell your partner the truth every time you open your mouth, but also that you open your mouth every time there is something your partner needs to know (or would want to know). Relationships are built on trust, and if you keep something from your partner, you are damaging trust - You understand this, yet you can't seem to understand why you are always getting information in bits and pieces. Often, those pieces only come once pressure is applied by you. You begin to think - maybe your spouse really didn't think that thing they omitted was very important. If they thought it was important, they would have made a point to tell you, right? You begin to wonder how you can argue with someone else's perception. If they say, "I didn't think it was important enough to mention" , how can I argue with that? I can't go back and make them think it was important. It seems as though you are constantly explaining the importance of not omitting parts of the story, yet they still don't seem to "get it". You eventually reach a point where, it seems pointless to even bring it up. You feel emotionally exhausted from always trying to explain your feelings and not being understood.
Rarely do spouses look at these interactions and break them down into smaller parts. All they know is the interaction has them feeling as though they are the problem, and their feelings are an overreaction to benign event. Yet, their gut tells them the event wasn't as innocent as portrayed, it feels like intentional deception, but they accept the explanation given. They want their point of view respected, so naturally they will respect their partners point of view. When these types of interactions become frequent and common, the spouse becomes accustomed to believing that their perceptions are off, and loose faith in their ability to recognize deception. They look to the spouse to help them understand what is really going on, but are served the same blueprint of the betrayer's interpretation. They accept the reality served up as truth, yet have this nagging doubt in the back of their minds. Spouses begin to wonder if they are crazy. Their inability to clarify the interaction convinces them the problem lies with them. As they try to pinpoint the uneasy feeling, verbal explanations of the event seem confusing and impossible to unravel. That's because there were several things going on during the interaction that would confuse anyone. Lies of omission - put the responsibility of truth onto the other person. Invalidation - implies that our feelings aren't valid and an overreaction, because of fundamental flaws. Shifting of blame - makes someone else's actions a side-effect of some fault of our own, or justified because of some weakness in us.
Defensiveness and Invalidation
"All invalidation is a form of psychological attack. When we are attacked, our survival instinct tells us to defend ourselves either through withdrawal or counter-attack. Repeated withdrawal, though, tends to decrease our self-confidence and lead to a sense of powerlessness and depression. On the other hand, going on the offensive often escalates the conflict or puts us in the position of trying to change another person.
One sign of both high self-esteem and high EQ is the absence of either of these defensive responses. A healthier response, one which is both informative and assertive, without being aggressive, is to simply express your feelings clearly and concisely. For example, you might respond, "I feel invalidated," "I feel mocked," or "I feel judged."
How the other person responds to your emotional honesty will depend upon, and be indicative of:
(a) how much they respect you
(b) how much they care about you and your feelings
(c) how insecure and defensive they are
(d) how much they are trying to change or control you
All of this is information which will help you make decisions which are in your best interest."
The disgust of society toward being victimized, has instilled in our psyches , that only those who are weak and irresponsible would take no responsibility in being a victim, thus it is our failure to predict the outcome of someone else's choice that has left us powerless and without control.Asking a victim to take responsibility in their role of victimization, is essentially telling them that they are responsible or partially to blame over something which they had no control. Self-blame is difficult because there is nothing faulty in you that CAUSED your partners infidelity. If you are constantly searching for that fault, you will never find what your are looking for. Understanding you were a victim releases you from the control you never had and allows you to stop the perpetual self-blame that accompanies the trauma of infidelity. It allows you to see that though you were a victim, you don't have to perpetually be one. Giving up the illusion that our behavior can control weather our spouse cheats or not, frees us to focus on how we are willing to be treated by them, from this point on. This very act is what turns us from victim to survivor. Responsibility for ones own behavior is not something that can be dumped on others, responsibility is about our responses. Being an unknowing victim is not shameful. However being willing to share the blame for an event in which you had no knowledge of, and were powerless to make your own choices as to it's outcome, is remaining the victim. When we free ourselves from being responsible for our romantic partners choices, we also empower them to change and take responsibility for how they are behaving. This is a very scary feeling of powerlessness, because we are not able to "make" someone treat us in a loving and respectful manner. We fear if we let go, and allow them to take responsibility for their own choices, we may find out that they don't really love us, or only want the relationship if it's on their own terms. Part of taking responsibility is changing dysfunctional thoughts and various misconceptions we've developed and heaped upon ourselves.
- If I try harder or do more they will love me and stop hurting me
- Believing that the success of the relationship is yours to shoulder, and totally up to you
- Thinking your spouses love is something you can earn by being who they want you to be
- Believing that they are entitled to boundaries to maintain their freedoms, disregarding your boundaries and need for safety.
- My spouses needs are valid, because they cheated, my needs are invalid because I'm too needy
In dysfunctional relationships there is an imbalance in the way that each person is considered. A betrayed spouses hyper vigilance is an attempt to gain equal power, but often backfires because of the intense desire to save the relationship. The backfire comes into play when the cheaters accuses the betrayed of having issues with control, overreactions, emotional instability, etc. The overwhelming desire to save the relationship causes the betrayed to get these "issues" under control. They perceive that if they can be who their spouse wants them to be, their spouse will return their love. Bending themselves into pretzels to accommodate the cheaters wishes, and burring their own needs in order to preserve the relationship. In equal relationships, based on equal value, everyones needs are considered and matter equally. In other words, the onslaught of self-blame only stops once you realize that your own feelings of disappointment are legitimate enough to be heard and responded to with behaviors and not just words. (See healing your marriage, for specific steps to look for). It's when you tell someone you feel hurt or upset by their behavior—and exactly what they can do to help you feel better—that you truly learn whether or not they care enough to change what's hurting you. If your need for safety, reassurance and accountability in your relationship is being disregarded in the name of your spouses autonomy, there is an imbalance of power. The power struggle will only stop once you are willing to give up control over weather the relationship survives or not. I think often, women especially, feel an immense responsibility to protect their children from the pain of divorce, and feel they must hold the relationship together at all costs. This is not your responsibility alone, and once you release yourself from this faulty belief, you will find out if your partner is willing to have a balanced relationship. When a spouse withdraws their love, it is immensely painful and personal. It can make you feel as if the defect is in you, because you didn't measure up to some standard desired by your spouse.
What Respect Is
"On a practical level respect includes taking someone's feelings, needs, thoughts, ideas, wishes and preferences into consideration. It means taking all of these seriously and giving them worth and value. In fact, giving someone respect seems similar to valuing them and their thoughts, feelings, etc. It also includes acknowledging them, listening to them, being truthful with them, and accepting their individuality and idiosyncrasies.
Respect can be shown through behavior and it can also be felt. We can act in ways which are considered respectful, yet we can also feel respect for someone and feel respected by someone. Because it is possible to act in ways that do not reflect how we really feel, the feeling of respect is more important than the behavior without the feeling. When the feeling is there, the behavior will naturally follow."
Being responsible for something implies that we have control over that event; in charge of, in control of, controlling, managing, leading, Being the primary cause of something, and so able to be blamed or credited for it.
Given the above definition, you can not be held responsible for your spouse choice to cheat. As a betrayed spouse you were being deceived into believing your relationship was something that it wasn't. Your spouse was in control of this illusion. You were led to believe the relationship was not in danger, by use of manipulation and lying. Your spouse's series of choices caused the infidelity, and managing the illusion was the primary objective in continuing the affair.
The truth is you can not take responsibility for your spouses actions if you were not included in the active analysis process occurring in your spouses mind.Your spouse made a choice to cheat and you have no responsibility for that choice. This isn't to say that you were a perfect spouse and you never made any mistakes in the relationship. Yet, you lived in the same marriage and your choice was to remain faithful. Ilusory correlation is the phenomenon of seeing a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviors) even when no such relationship exists. David Hamilton and Terrence Rose (1980) found that stereotypes can lead people to expect certain groups and traits to fit together, and then to overestimate the frequency with which these correlations actually occur. In other words, the misconception about infidelity is that it is causation based: meaning two events that occur together are taken to have a cause-and-effect relationship, thus the cheaters infidelity is caused by the circumstances outside themselves. This view is nothing more than the shirking of responsibility for personal choices, in attempts at trying to explain away hurtful behavior, as being caused by something outside of the self. When in actuality the cause was something inside of themselves, weather it be unhappiness, ego, hurts, entitlement, anger, lust, etc. Trying to attribute personal actions to outside sources as the causation is nothing more than blame. This doesn't mean that whatever your spouse was feeling is invalid, or that you didn't contribute to those feelings. It does however, mean that you can not be held responsible for how someone chooses to respond to their own feelings - you are not responsible for someone else's choices. Thus when it comes to personal choices, contribution does not mean causation.
Taking responsibility is about what we do now, not about blaming ourselves for being victimized. Taking responsibility means for ourselves, not for the affair.One error in thinking is - to take responsibility for our contribution, we must blame ourselves for our past actions, making ourselves the cause of the victimization, in essence implying that our spouse was justified in committing infidelity because we were not perfect. When we can look back on our imperfections in the marriage without labeling ourselves, "good, bad, stupid, superior, etc." and see ourselves as imperfect, and accepting that imperfection without judgement, that is when we stop being the victim. Taking responsibility means we have control over what WE do NOW. We don't have to wait for our spouse to change to take responsibility for ourselves. Taking responsibility means we will not wait for our spouse to come around and see the error of their ways. It means making the choice that we will no longer be treated in such a disrespectful and degrading manner. Taking responsibility means making choices for "yourself", not for your "spouse". You can't force your spouse to treat you well, but you can stop taking the bad treatment. If you've put all the responsibility for the success or failure of the relationship on your shoulders, and want to save marriage, this is the very hardest part, because we can't force someone to change. We want our spouses to love us and treat us with respect, but what do we do if they won't? We stop trying to change their behavior and change our own. Before we can do this we must reach a point where we are truly willing to let go of the relationship, with the belief that our needs ARE valid and we deserve the respect of feeling safe within the relationship. Letting go of trying to control someone else's love and behavior is excruciatingly painful. It is giving them the freedom to reject us if they choose. Some betrayed spouses interpret this to mean, we allow our spouse to treat us any way they want, but that is not what it means. It means, we allow them the freedom of that choice, but WE CHOOSE if we will stand for that treatment.
The self-blame cycle keeps us immobile, because we think we created the situation, yet we aren't sure how, so we keep looking back to try and figure it out, believing that we will find the magic answer, and this will allow us to control our spouses choices and make us feel safe once again. This is because we have put the importance of keeping the relationship first on our list, when we should be putting our emotional well being and safety first. When we keep focusing on where we went wrong, we fail to see what is happening in the present. Of course the need to understand the affair is a very important part of your healing, but looking back and blaming yourself will only keep you stuck. Until you have completely removed any doubt in the back of your head that says, "Maybe I am the cause of my spouses infidelity", and hoping that if you scold yourself enough, maybe it won't happen again, you will not be able to move forward in your own healing.
Why do I think it is important that this abusive behavior is pointed out as such? Because spouses erroneously believe that their partners have their best interest at heart, and often don't see the contradiction between words and behaviors. They just can't understand why someone would continue to point out all the problems if they no longer want to be in the relationship. With the shifting of the blame, the focus is being taken off the behavior of the betrayer and focused back onto the betrayed spouse. Our natural response is to defend ourselves from the on slot of accusations. Conveniently, this shift of the blame, removes the focus from the betrayer to the betrayed. This blameshifting is insidious, because the trauma of the infidelity has made spouses question everything about their perceptions. Betrayed spouses start down the road of self blame, because it gives the illusion that we have control over the future outcome of the marriage and/or future infidelity. If we did something to cause it, we can do something to stop it! That is precisely what the cheater wants betrayed spouses to think, "that we are the cause of all the relationship problems and if only we would change to accommodate them, then they would be happy."
To minimize the impact of what they have done, betraying spouses gaslights the betrayed. If the cheater can convince the spouse that their perceptions are off, and the reality is, it wasn't that bad, they can control the impact upon themselves. Thus sweeping the facts under the rug and dodging the logical safeguards (boundaries) that should be put in place to deter it's reoccurrence. Wanting and expecting to be exempt from personal (self or spousal requested) boundaries, because those are seen as a hinderance to personal freedoms. Because betrayed spouses often can’t find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other person is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves. Remarks intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed their bad behavior, is emotional manipulation—pure and simple. Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction—whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness—in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal. The act of gaslighting does not simply affect those who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive people are vulnerable to gaslighting.
Betrayed spouses are often so shattered, they no longer trust their own judgements and they are looking for someone else to tell them what they should do. Of course they always have their own choice, thus they are not helpless, but in times of crisis they look to others to help them see more clearly. By normalizing the abusive behavior - giving it names like, "the affair fog" is implying a betrayed spouse should expect to be treated in such a manner. "The Fog" may be a common response to infidelity, but justifying abusive behavior as "common" and or "normal" is an irresponsible way of implying condonation.
Finding out about an affair is a very traumatic and confusing time, often ripe with symptoms of PTSD for the betrayed spouse. Rational thinking is overrun with emotional thinking, as PTSD symptoms of self-blame, shame and guilt take hold, they are only prolonged by the abusive blame-shifting and gaslighting often employed by a cheating spouse. I, for one, feel that if we didn't normalize this abuse as "par for the course" and called a spade a spade, betrayed spouses would be spared undo suffering by giving them the push to say enough is enough. Pointing out the "affair fog" may give betrayed spouse hope that their spouse may eventually come around, but it also suggests that being blamed for someone else's behavior is normal and should be expected and/ or accepted. It's often not until the betrayed spouse has figured out on their own (maybe months or even years later) that this behavior is abusive, that they are willing to draw the line in the sand.
Instead of implying this behavior should be accepted, pointing out the abusive nature may help betrayed spouses snap out of the self-blame game that is part of the trauma reaction. The point being, instead of experts, therapists, clergy, etc. normalizing this behavior, why not point out the (sometime not so obvious) fact that it is abusive?
While the tiptoeing around a cheaters fragile and/or inflated ego is an attempt to disarm their defensiveness and denial, for the traumatized spouse, stuck in the self-blame cycle, this approach is seen as validation of the cheaters actions. Feeling blamed by their spouse, therapists and society, it feels as though their pain is being minimized, and their spouses pain is being maximized. There must be a reason the cheater cheated, and that blame seems to fall squarely on the betrayed spouses shoulders.
It's important to remember, healing from infidelity is a process - you cannot will yourself into healing. It is okay if you feel angry or upset reading about the process of healing, especially if you are in the crisis stage. You may have an idea of how things "should" be and feel an overwhelming sense of injustice that they are not.
Post-traumatic growth refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. These sets of circumstances represent significant challenges to the adaptive resources of the individual, and pose significant challenges to individuals' way of understanding the world and their place in it. Post traumatic growth is not simply a return to baseline from a period of suffering; instead it is an experience of improvement that for some persons is deeply meaningful. Post traumatic growth occurs with the attempts to adapt to highly negative sets of circumstances that can engender high levels of psychological distress. Growth does not occur as a direct result of trauma, rather it is the individual's struggle with the new reality in the aftermath of trauma that is crucial in determining the extent to which post traumatic growth occurs.
You can take the POST TRAUMATIC GROWTH INVENTORY from the American Psychological Association to assess your current growth.
Stop the self-blame cycleUnderstand that blaming yourself may give you a sense of control, by believing that if you change something about yourself, infidelity will never happen again. This is very hard when your spouse is most likely saying you are the cause of the infidelity, so you start taking inventory of every part of your character and behavior. Your character and/or behavior CAN NOT CONTROL how your spouse CHOOSES to behave. You can not be held responsible for how someone chooses to respond to their own feelings - you are not responsible for someone else's choices. Release yourself of the self-blame burden.
Stop labeling yourselfYou are not stupid, naive, too caring, etc. You are the accumulation of your life experiences, this is what makes you uniquely you. No one is without faults, embrace yours as part of who you are, and do not shame yourself for them. If you have a flaw you're not proud of and it causes YOU disappointment, set out to change it for yourself - not for your spouse.
Grieve the loss of who you wereTrauma changes us, it steels a part of our innocence and is a death to part of who we are. This, is one of the very hardest parts of infidelity because it is so unfair. Through someone else's choice, your life has been profoundly effected, yet you are left holding the consequences of those actions.
- The Loss Of Innocence: With infidelity, the abuse of trust (a key element of innocence) is redefined from a positive quality that blesses a relationship, to a dangerous activity that is now akin to naiveté. When that happens something precious is lost, but we often view this experience exclusively as a wound to be healed and overlook that it is also a loss to be grieved. Many betrayed spouses wish they could go back in time to recapture their trust in people that existed pre-affair. Before we were assaulted by an affair, many of us believed that people acted according to their words, and trust was, blind faith in that word - trust was something that was given. That sort of innocence was effortless and uncomplicated. After an affair, our assumptions about trust are shattered. We feel ashamed for being so gullible. Reframing how we evaluate trust is part of our healing process. See Is Trust earned, given or built?
- The Loss Of A Dream: Infidelity affects how you see your future. The loss of your dreams is part of how you built the future in your mind. You may feel hopeless about the future because your dreams have been shattered. You feel robbed of the way your life was supposed to unfold. See The Death Of A Dream
- Loss of Safety and Stability: If the loss of innocence is past tense grief, and the loss of a dream is grief for the future, then the loss of stability is grief for today. With the loss of stability, the idea of our own “identity” has been lost. (Please listen to the podcast below "How Trauma Transforms You" , to understand how to regain your identity). To acknowledge the loss of stability often requires a significant change in self-perception. However, unless you are careful this change can be a time when many lies and self-deprecating concepts enter our sense of identity. This is when we need to be especially careful not to enter the self-blame cycle.
Regain Your Identity:See this article: Who Am I
- Establish Boundaries: Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves, what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her, and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They are built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.
- Assess your world view: The World View is our standard of how things are or should be in the world we live in. If you've lived your life believing in the fairness of a just world, convinced that being a good person and doing the right thing will keep you from suffering, you may feel especially resentful and hopeless. The world is an unfair place, there are innocent victims, and your behavior can not control the choices of others. In the beginning of this paradigm shift (a world view that controls the way we understand the world in which we live. A paradigm shift occurs when the dominant paradigm is replaced by a new paradigm), you may want to cling to your old belief system, as it feels safe and predictable. It is natural to want to believe you can control the world around you. Slowly, as you release yourself from trying to control the world around you, you feel a sense of relief that you are the only one you can control.
Work On Self Esteem:
- Assess your behavior toward yourself. When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed-out your self-talk is likely to become extreme, you’ll be more likely to expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation.
- Identify yourself based on skills and abilities: Instead of identifying yourself by achievements and failures.
- Identify Your Worth: Many of us have identified our worth based upon the love of the people in our lives. The more you make your psychological identity dependent on your job, your wealth, love or any external object, the more likely you will lose this identity when you lose that external object.
- Work On Resilience: When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge. It is a belief in yourself that you can get through any challenge. Resilience is the ability to overlook what should have been and accept what is. When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain, but you're able to keep functioning — both physically and psychologically. Resilience isn't about toughing it out, being stoic or going it alone. In fact, being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient.
(2) to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems
(3) to accept circumstances that cannot be changed
(4) to develop realistic goals and move towards them
(5) to take decisive actions in adverse situations
(6) to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss
(7) developing self-confidence
(8) to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context
(9) to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished
(10) to take care of one's mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one's own needs and feelings.
Transform trauma into something meaningful:
- Depending on where you are in your healing, this statement likely makes you very angry. You may say to yourself, "I will never assign positive meaning for something so immensely painful!" Don't mistake this statement to mean - giving credit to the trauma. It means giving credit to yourself, for overcoming the trauma. Using your hard earned lessons to give some meaning to all that you've been through. Transforming undeserved hurts and suffering into something that you went through -not in the name of nothing, but to turn the senselessness of it all into something that you can think of as "useful knowledge". Weather that knowledge benefits you or someone else. If you skip the step of grieving the loss of your innocence, you cannot move into this stage of healing.