I remember well my first flashback. I vividly “saw” my husband standing beside our house months after we had separated. It was terrifying. The only problem was, in reality, he was about thirty miles away. But tell that to my sweaty palms and racing heart.
Betrayals of the heart often induce trauma (which is, after all, a very strong stress reaction). If you consider that betrayal feels like it comes out of nowhere, that our response is emotionally reactive, and that we perceive fear through loss of control – we’re ripe for the picking. What's more, our brain automatically filters memories from our relationship history and throws in childhood experiences.
For some of us bouncing between detachment and hyper-vigilance felt completely normal. It was far from it – but my childhood experiences conditioned me believe this state was reasonable day-to-day functioning. Chronic low-level stress (lasting for more than 90 days) can also induce a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd).
My concentrated efforts in trauma therapy helped me more than anything else ever had. I finally found the simple tools to cope that I had been looking for my whole life.
•Grounding strategies were key for me. I asked someone I trusted to be my "grounder" for awhile. The feelings you experience can be extreme (panic attacks, anxiety, hypervigilance) and these emotions block logic so it’s necessary to calm them in order to think logically. The one thing I needed to hear repeatedly was that I was “safe", that most people were good, and that I would be okay in the long term.
•Doing a cognitive behave workbook was another simple exercise (simple in that it’s available at any bookstore. I suggest Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook For Dummies by Rhena Branch and Rob Willson). I still occasionally use the exercises.
•And EMDR helped the most. I found something similar online I could do on my own called emotional freedom technique – for me it wasn't as good but it still worked.
It’s a good idea to seek professional help if a betrayal has left you:
- Having trouble concentrating
- Suffering through moments of severe fear, anxiety, or depression
- Overly cautious/suspicious of people when you weren’t before
- Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
- Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma or gave you pleasure before
- Feeling emotionally numb and/or disconnected from others
- Using alcohol or drugs to feel better