Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pain Shopping: How to Stop Seeking Out More Hurt

I've written on this blog before about The Dead Zone, or what some call the "plain of lethal flatness", that stage of numbness where you don't really feel much of anything.
It can be a nice place to stay for awhile, to catch your breath after the wild ride of D-Day. But feeling nothing is no way to live.
But nor is feeling nothing but pain. And that stage also carries with it the danger of sucking you in and keeping you there.
It seems counter-intuitive. Who would deliberately seek out pain? Well...someone who has been so traumatized by the betrayal that they simply can't stop obsessing over it for fear that it will blindside them again.
I confess I did a bit of pain shopping myself in the weeks following D-Day. My husband would no sooner be out the door than I'd be rooting through his drawers, his suit pockets, his files -- looking for something, anything, to confirm what I already knew.
And that's the rub. I already knew. What difference did it make if I found yet another restaurant bill? Or another phone bill detailing the length of the zillion phone calls?
So why was I doing it? I could plead insanity quite convincingly. But, in some weird way, I felt afraid of getting past the betrayal. Not that I was even close -- I still had a long way to go. But as I inched closer, a small part of me worried that if I put this behind us, it could sneak up on me again and knock me down. And I wasn't so sure I could survive it again.
And so, on some level, it made sense to me to keep it in front of me. To be so focussed on the betrayal that it couldn't be behind me. As long as I was raking my husband over the coals for his affairs, he couldn't possibly think that it wasn't such a big deal. Or that I had handled it fine. There could, quite simply, be absolutely NO mistake that this was NOT okay with me. And would never be okay with me.
The thing is he already knew that. He watched me crumble and it devastated him. He told me once that my eyes looked dead and he knew that he had done that to me.
What the pain shopping was doing was keeping my eyes dead. It was preventing even a glimmer of light from re-entering because the long shadow of the betrayal was still there, casting a darkness over everything: my joy in my kids, my delight in my pets, my love of my work. I still had all that. But not as long as I only focussed on what had caused me pain.
So I issue this caveat: When you're rooting around for bills, or a cell phone, or checking his Web history, ask yourself: Are you looking for necessary evidence to confirm what you suspect? Or what he's denying? Or to get answers to questions he refuses?
Or are you, like I did, pain shopping? Focussing on the pain to ensure that it can't blindside you again...

22 comments:

  1. Wow. You spoke right to me. I spent many hours "pain shopping". And unfortunately when you're shopping for pain, every once in a while you're going to find something. I found things my husband said he deleted. However, when he deleted them, the computer put them in a deleted items folder...and he didn't delete that. Photos of the two of them. A heartfelt poem he wrote for her expressing how he would love her forever and ever, and how their time together was "never enough". A shopping list which seemed innocent enough until the last item. It read "find a new wife".
    Pain shopping. I've definitely done that. :(

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  2. Unfortunately, sometimes digging is necessary to confirm what we suspect. But once we know, we need to stop picking at the wound or it will never heal. Staying focused on the past and what our husband's "did" to us also prevents us from recognizing the power we have to stop and move forward. I had to visualize a huge red STOP sign anytime I found myself snooping, or deliberately seeking out a reminder of the affair(s). It worked...and got me to a place where I could stop myself before I was about to do something...and ask myself whether I really wanted to proceed. The answer, inevitably, was "no". There's the pain our husbands create...but then there's the damage we do to ourselves on top of it. The second we can control.

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  3. Wow, your insight in this post really helped me understand myself and my continuing desire to find out and remember EVERYTHING--and it's been 8 YEARS since I discovered the betrayal. (I've since gotten divorced.) Just to add one little detail to your very valuable perspective: I also want(ed) to find out every last detail because then he would no longer have kept any of his secrets to himself, wouldn't have fooled (deceived) me any more--and I would thus regain SOME pathetic sense of control over his manipulation and deception and lies.

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  4. I know that feeling well. Won't be fooled again, fool me once, etc. etc.
    It's worth working – for yourself – to get to a place where his secrets don't have the power to hurt you anymore. They're evidence of a sick mind and a sick man. They, really, have nothing to do with you. And the fact that you didn't see the lies doesn't make you anything other than trusting. And just makes him a liar.

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  5. "They, really, have nothing to do with you. And the fact that you didn't see the lies doesn't make you anything other than trusting. And just makes him a liar."

    This is I have to keep reminding myself of everyday! I had a friend of mine say basically the same thing......

    So far, my "detective" work is what uncovered his cheating with the 3 women I know of. They all confirmed their relationships to me once I contacted them. Yes, I keep wanting to dig to see if there's more and to see if he's stopped. But like my therapist said, you now know he's been cheating on you...there's no point to keep hurting yourself by finding out more. I'm so conflicted though.........Since he's lied to me for a good year and a half and he's still denying the other 2 OW, and he tells me now he's stopped, how can I believe him?

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  6. Pain shopping...what a great way to put it. I actually told my husband to go find someone else and I wanted a divorce so it wasn't a surprise that he did, but he ended up having a two year affair with a 400 pound woman who was obsessed not only with food but with hurting me. She called and emailed me to tell me the graphic sexual details of my husband's "love" for her. In one of her conversations, she said they were both "dripping wet" and he was like a "hungry dog" and "went down on her for hours at a time". My husband finally broke it off and we never went our separate ways because of financial reasons and now everytime I look at him I see him in one of these sexual positions with this 400 pound woman. I want so badly to move on because I know in my heart if I don't have to look at him, I will forget him and what he did with whom. I believe in forgive and forget. Forgive him and forget him...

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    1. I have to ask...why did you listen to her? Why did you read those e-mails? That was definitely pain shopping.
      That said, we tend to be masochists sometimes. I hope, however, that you recognize how unhealthy that was for you. What a freak this woman was.
      Do you want to rebuild your marriage? If so, you both need to commit to the work required. Simply trying to move on, especially with those images haunting you, is nearly impossible.
      If you don't want to rebuild, then make a commitment to yourself to get into a financial position where you don't have to stay together. Be honest about whether you're using that as an excuse to stay in a co-dependent relationship. It sounds, without the commitment to rebuilding, that you'd be better off without him.

      Elle

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  7. I am a few months past D-day and sometimes I feel lkke I am pain shopping. I get emails and texts from the ex ow that claim my husband is still in love with her ad is only trying to make things work for our son and that he knows it won't work. I have to admit that these emails and texts really get to me and sometimes I believe them and her that they are still in contact. I am very insecure right now. She is really physically fit and attractive. My husband claims she is self absorbed and he doesn't like the way she interacts with her kids, and that I am more beautiful than she is and on all levels better than she is. However, I can't help but think that I don't know who to believe. He is a known habitualn liar and she obviously is a liar and dillusional since she claims that she is everything I am not, not a slut, and a great person. How did you get past this? I don't want to be in this place any longer. I am so afraid of getting hurt like that again and having this woman in my sons life.

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  8. I'm glad to finally have a name for this psycho behavior I've been exhibiting lately. At least it seems a little less crazy. I'm sick of thinking of my husband's affair, but that doesn't keep me from bringing it up constantly, or crawling through his stuff with a fine tooth comb. I'm so sick of pain-shopping, but if I don't feel pain, then I don't feel anything at all.

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    1. Hi Catherine,
      I think it helps to have a name because it raises awareness when you're actually doing it.
      That said, I know exactly how you feel about that horrible numbness. At least pain reminds you you're alive.
      I ended up doing EMDR. It struck me as some sort of hocus-pocus so it took some convincing to get me to finally go. But damn if it didn't work. And quickly. The idea is that it helps you refile memories into long-term so that you don't re-experience them as trauma. Actually that's a really small piece of what it does. But, like I said, it works. I went in with to my first session saying "I feel nothing and I'm sick of feeling nothing."
      Might be worth a try.

      Elle

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  9. I have been doing this for the last 3 year's. I feel the fine line is when is it shopping and when is it valid. am I to just assume he has been honest...how will I find out?

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    1. Do you have access to all computer accounts, e-mails, phones, and any other device? Do you have access to VISA records, etc.? Is he totally transparent about where he is? With whom? When he'll be home?
      The truth is we can never truly know whether someone else is being honest with us or not. But we can certainly do our best to verify, in the short term, if what they're saying is true.
      Three years is a long time to feel as though you still don't know if he's being honest with you. Is there some reason you don't feel you can trust him? Has he done anything to support you as you heal in this? Has he taken steps to ensure that he won't make that choice again?
      Healing from betrayal involves both partners rebuilding a relationship based on mutual trust and honesty. It's not simply the absence of cheating.
      Hope that helps.

      Elle

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  10. It has almost been a year since he has spoken to the OW. I still feel great pain by him reaching out to her. I do check his everything and no I do not want to have to. It was from a post on her FB account regarding a married man wondering how she was doing that led me to snoop further. I also read the blog about obsessing over the betrayal and the OW. After a very heated arguement about me not feeling supported during a recent lapse, his concern was not that when I checked I found some disturbing things, it was that I felt the need to check...that I tracked him to her house...does that sound like a man who is being supportive? How do I move through this lapse, stay married, and feel supported when his deep true feeling is that I should not have been searching for the truth...

    (Background...this is someone who he dated for about 3 months, broke up with her to be with me...and periodically continued contact with her throughout our separations. we eventually got married, was in counseling and seemingly on the right track. just before our wedding I asked my husband to not marry me if he could not refrain from communicating with her...well he lied and I am traumatized)

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    1. I confess I'm a bit confused re. the timeline. It has been a year since he had any contact with her? What was the contact? How long did it go on? Was it emotional? Physical?
      I think what he doesn't understand is that this feels raw to you. You feel as though you made it clear that, if he wanted to marry you, he couldn't be in touch with her. And he violated that.
      While I'm not sure what that violation entailed, it seems as if the two of you have some stuff to work out (if you choose to stay with him). You're clearly very threatened by this ex. And he's clearly willing to lie to you. So what exactly is going on with him? Is he a commitment-phone? Hoping to keep her on the back-burner? Why, after a year, do you still feel the need to check?
      I think you're right in that he's being unsupportive. He either doesn't get how traumatizing a violation of trust is...or he doesn't care.

      Elle

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  11. we have dated for years, and the last 4 years is when we had a huge breakdown.. we broke up and went on to date other people. He had only known her for about 3 mos and we decided to try to work things out. it was during this time he did not break things off neatly. (From things that I have read, she felt he led her on to think he was just closing up loose ends with me.). We moved forward she would sporadicly pop up, once we had separated and he would go back to her and when we would resolve things I would have him call her to let her know it is over. Fast forward 2 years, we are engaged, seeking counseling and took the advice of our counselor on how to deal with her. The counselor felt like he was dealing with the loss of his job and needing validation as a man. I just knew that repeated exposures was something I could not handle. He agreed. we married and I saw a call to her when I went on a day trip, then there was an email sent so the OW now had his new work number and email address. I tracked him after I saw a post from her, and eventually saw where he had visited her. he states it was for conversation only. I don't believe him, however we were going through a rough patch financially and that led to us not really communicating. since then I have no calls or emails or visits...but it is and was EXTREMELY traumatic for me. it is something that I realize more when I find sites like this.

    I guess the question is...should I be over this by now?
    Granted a day later he came back and apologized for the argument...

    I just wonder how do I just trust his word, and does not looking say that I am okay with missing the lie

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    1. Okay...that's for clarifying.
      There is no "should", as in "should be over this". That's a tool of manipulation that others use on us...and often we use on ourselves. This clearly devastated you. As long as you believe you're working to get past it, then forget the "should"s.
      Now...what my therapist often says to me, is my response to something out of proportion to the event/situation itself. If you're wondering if your response/trauma is greater than the situation warrants (ie. should I be over this), then that's often an indication that your response is at least in part about past hurts than simply this latest one. So ask yourself if you already have issues around trust, abandonment, worthiness, etc. that his betrayal has triggered. If that's the case, then get thee to a counsellor so that you can tend to those old wounds.
      As for whether to trust his word, ask him what he recommends. Explain to him how each time you check...and it turns out that there's no betrayal...it continues to rebuild the trust that was destroyed when you DID find something. So, rather than viewing it as an invasion of his privacy, it's the price he's paying for having shown himself untrustworthy in the past...and showing you that he's changed.
      That said, there will come a time when he has re-earned your trust...at which point, it's reasonable for him to expect that won't be checking his e-mails. But, within the context of a calm, reasonable conversation in which you outline that you don't WANT to feel as if you can't trust him, ask him what he thinks is reasonable, outline what you think is reasonable and see if you can reach a compromise.

      Elle

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  12. I still pain shop--and I don't know when I'll ever be able to stop. See, for me- I've been burned and burned and burned. No, my husband didn't sleep with anyone but instead carried on some very graphic and very inappropriate sexting conversations with a co-worker. He still works with her too. The first DDay was in Dec of 2012, then I find yet again more texts in Feb. 2013, then again in March, and that was it for a while. (all the while I was pregnant with our 3rd child) So it seemed like every time I would get my barrings--I would find something new. So on Sept 15, my get a FB message from HER boyfriend letting me know he had found the same thing-only it was the first time for him. Well now what? I made him leave for a few days. He has nobody but me, so he stayed in a tent for about a week before I let him come home. I know he is grown man and ultimately if he betrays me again, I don't care if I'm the last person he knows on earth, I'll let him go for good this time. He has broken my heart over and over in the past year. Every promise after promise he has made inbetween all the times there has been more evidence brought forward somehow it just ruins everything I have put into it as well as any good intentions he might have had. So yeah-I pain shop constantly! I'm still looking for more-because inevitably there always is more...Of course, there has been a way different approach to repairing our relationship this time. We know its obvious that what we have been doing isn't working, so we are making an even bigger conscience effort to communicate, be transparent for me, and he has also tried to give me more comfort and is really trying to make a difference in helping me feel more secure, slowly. While all these things are all well and good-I can't escape the trauma, the flashbacks, the movie reel, the wondering if now he is just REALLY good at covering his tracks! I'm hardened by all of this-maybe its the numbness we all talk about. I take a lot of what he says with a grain of salt because his words really mean nothing to me anymore. Its all about actions. He gets puzzled when we will have a few good weeks in a row and then out of nowhere I go back to square one again. I'm certainly not trying to go back to it, but when you lay down in bed at night and try to go to sleep and BOOM there's the movie reel again-well it takes you back to the darkness again. I'll go a good time frame without pain shopping, but then I can't resist the urge anymore and I give in. Then I feel like I am basically starting all over again:( So, I try to look at it this way, and I take a spiritual approach-I did last time and it seemed to work for me. I would say a prayer..."Lord, I'm not going to look for anything anymore because I know that if there is truth to come out you will let it be known at the right time." Well I went for a long time without shopping, and what happened? The truth came out without me finding it...the OW boyfriend contacted me...So maybe if I sit back, be still, and just let it go a little-but not entirely-I'll be ok? I don't trust him. I do love him. I know that he loves me but has a "problem". I'm trying to do my part in this-Niether of us can say that I never tried-I'll go out knowing I gave it my best shot. BUT, if I do have something else come up again, ever, even if its months, years...I will go or he will go. I'm not sticking around to be hurt over and over. I'm just not going to do it. I'm worth more than that and so are my kids. I don't know-that's all I got I guess. I just thought I would throw my frazzled mess out there and see what kind of response , if any, I would get. I feel for everyone here. I hope WE ALL find out ways in this life-find our way to happiness for good.

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    1. justAgirl,
      What you're going through is pretty normal, under the circumstances. But that doesn't mean there aren't things that each of you could be doing to help you heal.
      Transparency is a good start...but is he in any kind of counselling for his compulsion? Are you in counselling? What you're experiencing is post-trauma. And you're right, it takes you right back to that horrible moment when you found out. And each time you find out something new, it will trigger that fear.
      He needs to tell you absolutely EVERYTHING so that you can at least feel as if you know the worst of it. If something new comes up, it becomes a matter of "yep, already know" so it loses some of its power.
      And you also need to take some responsibility for seeking out pain. You know what he's done. You know what your next step is if you find out he's at it again. Have a clear plan in place. Does he leave? Do you? Where will he/you go? Can you support yourself and your kids in the short term? The more you feel on solid ground no matter what he does, the better able you'll be to move forward. You need to get yourself to a place where you trust YOURSELF to handle this, no matter what. That's your place of safety in the world -- yourself.
      You'll get there. And even when you feel as if you're back at zero, you're not. It's kind of a two-steps-forward, one-step-back sometimes...but ultimately you are moving forward.

      Elle

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  13. Good afternoon. I have commented on this site before on 2 other blogs. I am almost 5 months after D-day of an affair which happened 2 years ago between my husband and a colleague who has since moved away. We have now been married for over 11 years but have been together for over 20. We have a son who is 8 and a daughter who is 6. I am in a much better place now than I was just 2 months ago, although I periodically still take 1 step forward and 2 steps back. I hope I'm moving closer to acceptance.

    Immediately when I found out I felt a whole range of emotions, but I also knew in that instant that I wasn't going to divorce him. I just didn't know what form our marriage would take. Sites such as yours have helped me immensely. He does not want to go to counseling because he is afraid the therapist will tell me to leave him. So many websites make us feel weak for staying and warriors (as you put in another article) for leaving. But he is my best friend, a great father, and a good person who has done some very bad things, much as I and I would dare to say all humans have. I don't want to break up our family, leave the home we built together, give up the life we have together (we are a great team and have become very close in the last 4 months). I work full time and his mom lives with us to take care of the kids. Very soon after D-day I read an article by a woman who stayed, saying years later her kids asked why did she stay and she replied because I loved and I was loved. My husband has been very remorseful and has done everything that the books say he should.

    So why then last night at 3 am when he was fast asleep did I go through his phone. I know this is pain shopping to a certain degree, looking to uncover evidence of what I already know. But I have to admit that I was almost disappointed that I didn't find anything. I know that sounds crazy. There have been many times that I feel almost as though I am purposely ripping the scab off my own wound, for many reasons: to keep showing him I am in pain, to test him and see if he really wants to stay (if he'll stay through all the emotional outbursts, anger, and bitterness, then maybe he really is genuine when he says he loves me and he never wants to be the cause of me feeling like this again). If he does it again I still won't divorce him; I have told him I will stay for the family, but things would change. I started this plan when I initially discovered the affair: I told him we would live in the same house and he could live his life the way he wanted and I would live mine the way I wanted. But neither of us wanted that--we wanted to be a great team again of best friends. Maybe last night I was hoping to find something so that I could put this plan into action. If we lived separate lives then there was no need to try to trust him again and thus I would be protecting myself from possibly being hurt again.

    Has anyone else felt anything like this or am I just crazy?

    -Sam

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    1. Hi Sam,
      I just spotted this post of yours. You're not crazy. You're trying to make sense of a nonsensical situation. It's so, so hard.

      Elle

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  14. Nice name, pain shop, I like shopping.....he told me 6 months ago and it has been destroying me. We don't live together...we didn't when he told me...I had a few weeks off so I went to see him last summer, military family, I stayed to let my son finish his senior year. The problem is I stayed 5 years ago for my daughter to graduate and let him go, he let go. He reached out to someone else when I stayed with my kids. I knew he was not in good shape...post a really bad deployment and I let him move by himself. He had already disconnected from us and I cut the cord. I don't really blame myself.. I still think I made the best choice for my kids. Now 6 years later, I am faced with do I tough this out (which is what he says he wants) or throw away a 25 year relationship. I love him, but this has made me crazy, I have spent the past 25 years adoring him, I still adore him. I am just so angry. I am obsessive, needy and every aspect of my life is a mess. Usually when I am a mess, I look to him for support, right now, neither one of us seem to be capable of support. I wish we were together, then maybe I could heal. I feel so stuck. We live separate lives, we have been forced to live them for years. I just want to live our lives together. But I am afraid because I pain shop and he is spooked. I told him I wanted us to go our separate ways and I thought I had convinced myself that it would be better than hurting him over and over......as I pain shop...but he wants me to wait to make the decision. I told him I would. I also told him that I don't want to be without him. But its like I feel guilty to myself for wanting to stay. This sucks. Oh and I haven't told my family, especially my kids. That to me is the hardest part. I am falling apart at the seems. I am afraid I can't contain it much longer...I can't get a hold of it. It is destroying me.

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    1. Anonymous,
      It sounds as if you've made the best of a lousy situation over the years...so of course you're furious that, after all you've done, he made such a horrible choice.
      Why did he tell you? Given that you can't un-do his choice, how would you like to proceed? Will you be able to live together soon? I know that so, so many military are dealing with the effects of PTSD -- could that play a role in his choice?
      In the meantime, can you get your pain shopping under control? It honestly serve no purpose and is likely a response to your own trauma. We think that we can't take our eye off the ball or else we'll get blindsided again. But what we're really doing is keeping ourselves living the trauma over and over. You have to let it go for your own sake. You have to trust that you have the resources to keep yourself safe, no matter what he does. You're clearly a strong, capable woman. You can handle this. Doesn't make it easy, but it does make it possible.
      But it starts with you making the choice to NO LONGER engage in behaviour that is hurting you. He's already hurt you. Don't now do it to yourself.

      Elle

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