Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Naming Your Pain Can Heal You

Regardless of whether an injury is physical or emotional, what keeps us from healing is that all wounds that don’t heal are burdened with a foreign body that needs to be cleaned out, at the root of the problem, says Wendy Strgar in this post on her Good Clean Love site. 

We're often trained to minimize our pain. Well-meaning parents (or some not-so-well-meaning) urge us to "stop crying", "it's not so bad" and "get over it." We learn that our tears, indeed our pain, make others uncomfortable. So we stop crying, telling ourselves it's not so bad but rarely do we get over it that easily.
That's because what caused the wound is still there, like a sliver in a finger that, if left, will simply fester as the body rallies to destroy the foreign object.
Emotional pain can be harder to deal with than physical injury because there's nothing to point to, no blood, no broken bone. The culprit himself, our husband, is often so busy deflecting blame and minimizing the damage that he simply compounds the problem. He too urges us to "stop crying", tells us "it's not so bad" and insists that we "get over it." Or he accuses us of staying "stuck in the past", insists that we're "dwelling on the pain." But the past, unless effectively dealt with, is our present.
Dealing with it can be so painful, however, that we avoid it, staying in a some sort of limbo where we can't move forward, but we also don't deal directly with our injury.
Naming that injury is crucial. I resisted calling my husband's affairs "betrayal" or agreeing with a friend that what I was experiencing was "post-trauma". It all seemed too dramatic. Trauma was for war veterans and rape victims, not run-of-the-mill wives of philandering husbands. But finally admitting – and naming – my pain was a pivotal point for me. It was sweet relief to acknowledge the depth of what I'd been through...and to be able to point the way forward. What's more, my response to what happened began to make sense. I no longer thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn't "get over it", I understood that my pain was so deep and so profound that I needed self-compassion not criticism.
There is no "right" way to deal with this. There is only our own truth. For many, many of us, betrayal is trauma. It is an emotional injury that, left untended, will fester and continue to infect our relationships with others and with ourselves. It will manifest itself in unhealthy behaviours...and in poor health: headaches, ulcers, anxiety issues, GI problems.
When we treat our injury, and our response to it – guilt, rage, shame, resentment – like a foreign body that threatens our well-being, we become more willing to go deep to remove it. It's frightening to go to that place where our darkest feelings rest...but there is no other way forward. At least no other healthy way.
And know this: When you shine a light on that darkness and name the injury, your heart cracks open enough to let the sun in.


  1. a year after my husband's affair, i'm still hurting. i feel lost, nothing matters. everything seems false and forced. i don't know how to heal and be "me". i don't even know who "me" is.
    i was a devoted wife, butterflies and all, still, after 10 years. i wasn't good enough, apparently.
    i'm stuck and i don't know how to get out of this awful hole.

    1. I've no doubt messages like "I wasn't good enough" are a big part of the problem. It seems counter-intuitive, but his affair had absolutely nothing to do with you. He's probably told you as much...and you've likely dismissed this as bull. Of course, it's about you, you think.
      But it's not.
      His affair was about his own insecurity, boredom, whatever. No matter how perfect you were (and none of us are!), men who are broken will seek what they're missing in someone else. And when that doesn't work, they'll try someone else. And so on.
      Please be careful of what you're telling yourself about his affair.
      In the meantime, is your husband doing what he can to make your marriage feel "safe" again? Is he remorseful? Completely transparent? Aware and apologetic for just how deeply wounded you are?
      Even if he's not willing to help you, you can be kind to yourself. Are you in any sort of counselling? Have you read the posts here and on survivinginfidelity.com? I've written posts on exactly what you're describing: feeling "fake", worrying I'll never get past this, not knowing who "me" even is/was. In fact, most of us have been exactly where you are. Seeking wisdom for those of us who've been there can go a long way toward getting clear on how to heal. You are responsible for your part of the marriage. You are NOT responsible for his painful choice to go outside your marriage. That's HIS stuff...and if he wants to keep his marriage, he needs to be honest about what stories he was telling himself that made it okay in his mind to commit adultery.
      One year out might seem like a long time, but in healing time, it's not so long. It took me at least three years to really believe I would get past this...and a full five before I felt like it was well and truly behind me. Even now -- almost six years out -- I have my moments when it looms large. Usually when I'm tired and/or depressed, and beating myself up.
      Hang in there. And please, feel free to share your story and enjoy the compassion and wisdom of others on this site.


  2. thank you.
    he is remorseful and transparent and kind and loving, and doing all the "right" things. i've read on survivinginfidelity and we read "not just friends" together.
    i just feel like because of what he did, i have to suffer.
    he had an affair with a girl at his job who was a better ego-stroker than i. because they worked together, both lost their jobs. because of that, we were evicted. we've been living in his mother's basement ever since. while he does have a new job now and we are saving for our own place, i still feel punished.
    it's like i can see the happiness (especially when my toddler does something funny) i just can't feel it, and i so want to....i just can't.
    how can i close this horribly large hole and start rebuilding my soul? how can i be in love with him again? what if i spend the rest of my life miserable, and die realizing i did nothing or accomplished anything amazing?
    for the past year i've been going through the motions of life.
    everyone says "you're so strong", but i don't think that getting out of bed every morning makes me strong. it makes me a mother. you shouldn't get rewarded for doing what you're supposed to do.
    i miss my best friend. i miss those butterflies. but all the while i was missing him, he was telling her how he missed her.
    does that mean my whole marriage up until D-Day was false?
    i just can't wrap my head around this. i hate this so much.

    1. Nikki,
      so many of us have been exactly where you are, including me. I sooo remember that sense of being numb, of watching life go on but not feeling anything. It's a survival skill, of course, because the pain is so deep that we fear feeling it will swallow us whole.
      And yes, it's not fair. There's no way around that. You are paying for his stupid choice. But life isn't fair. And wishing it was doesn't change a thing.
      Start by reminding yourself that you ARE strong. It takes courage to get out of bed when I'm sure you'd rather pull the covers over your head. It takes strength to give your child stability when you're tempted to fall apart. It take enormous courage to even try and rebuild a marriage. So, please, give yourself credit for that.
      As for wondering if your marriage was false...been there, done that. In my case, my husband's sexual acting out pre-dated my relationship with him. So I REALLY had to wonder if my whole marriage was a ruse. But after years of working through this, I've come to understand that my husband loved me the best he could. And that last part is key. Just because his "best" sucked doesn't mean it wasn't still his best. It was what he was capable of at that time. Now that he's done a lot of work to get a handle on his own issues, he's able to love me better. To trust me better. And to be more honest not only with me, but with himself.
      It sounds as if your husband is doing his best to make amends for his stupid choice.
      Each day, you get to decide if you're willing to give him the chance to rebuild your marriage. Don't worry right now about "ever". Just worry about right now. If you're willing to give your marriage another day, then let it go. Focus on taking care of yourself and getting clear on just what pain his betrayal triggered in you so that you can ensure that you're moving forward, not dwelling in the past. So often a spouse's betrayal triggers all sorts of childhood issues in us -- fear of abandonment, of not being "good enough". And, of course, betrayal puts many of us in a post-trauma state, fearful, anxious, unsafe, unable to trust our reality.
      Hang in there. It really does get better. As Churchill famously said, "When you're going through hell...keep going."


    2. ((Nikki)) Elle gave you some good things to think about. I just wanted to add that MANY of us get it, so let this be a safe place for you to find support.
      You can also try http://afterthebetrayal.com/
      This forum was started by another very compassionate, blogging betrayed wife. You will find friends there.
      We have been exactly where you are. It took me over a year to begin to heal, to start to believe my marriage had a chance.
      I'm now 22 months post DDay and though I still think about my husband with HER everyday, I have learned to push it out of my head. I am healing, so is my marriage. A year ago I would never have believed what I'm about to type...I am happy. My marriage is solid. I have learned so much.
      One day at a time is such a cliche', but that's the only way to recover from trauma like this.
      Hope & Hugs, Shawn

    3. We love you back. You are one of the true pioneers of recovery out there in cyberspace. I, for one, am very grateful.
      Hope & Hugs, Shawn

  3. I am a huge believer in feeling the pain---i mean really feeling it. not just the pain but feeling the happiness in life too....really feeling it.

    Feel it! be real!

    and to nicki---it's a terrible place to be and seems like an impossible path to walk, but these women here know what they're talking about. They've been there and done that. Its ok not to feel strong and to want to stay in bed all day. in fact, i say "do it" take one day and stay in bed all day----but don't get lost there.

    I'm sorry this has fallen to you. it sucks

    1. EMS,
      Thanks for weighing in. I used to be like you -- felt EVERYTHING so deeply. Now...not so much. It's slowly coming back and I think it comes down to allowing myself to be afraid. To hold back out of fear (of rejection, of failure...) just makes life...bland.
      But I'm curious, on behalf of myself, Nikki and I'm sure many others, HOW did you get to a place where you could really feel not only the pain but the good stuff too? Did you never lose that? Or did you get it back? For me, it was about allowing myself to truly acknowledge the little things that gave me joy – sunlight sparkling on snow, for example. But I'm not completely there yet, where I can trust in happiness for even a day.

    2. Lots of thoughts!

      Emotions can be so crazy, can't they? For me, post dday was the most difficult phase to get through. It's like you say, bland. I felt lost and numb. Like residual Novocaine spreading into my gut and through my limbs. A coma.

      I remember spending lots of time on my couch in my sweatpants with a bag of cheesy popcorn. Staring at the ceiling, comatose. This isn't wrong. There is a time for wallowing and grieving our losses.

      I remember the day I decided to get up. The thought had to come to my brain and then I told my brain to tell my heart and then my heart told my feet to get up and change my life and be happy.

      There have been many phases since that day, anger, bitterness, loss of hope, loss of respect, hatred, nothingness...

      I can create a peaceful life around me even though Mr Scabs life may be hectic and hellish. It's not my life. Sure it's part of my life, but it's NOT my life.

      My friend made a list about this very thing. She outlines 8 things that made her accountable for her own happiness even after her husband of 6 weeks left her with no explanation:

      -Only engage in relationships that make you feel uplifted. Let go of the people who pull you down.

      -Make better use of your time. Minimize your obligations to the most important tasks and get rid of all time-wasters.

      -Train your mind to think positively and look for the good in yourself and in the world. Purge your mind of toxic thoughts and stop being self-destructive.

      -Try to improve your better habits and minimize your poor habits. You will feel better about the person you are.

      -Be courageous! Don't be afraid to walk against the crowd if your values don't align. Live what you think is good!

      -Be emotionally independent. Don't let yourself rely on another person for happiness. Be in control!

      -Think more compassionately! Imagine what it's like in another's shoes. Be patient with people.

      -Serve. Be completely bold and sincere when loving and caring for other people.

      I believe thoughts are more tangible and real than we think. Not that we can actually touch them, but that our thoughts become real. Focusing on MY happiness, on my life makes me happy. I had a hard time with this because i felt like it was selfish, but it isn't. It's our gateway to freedom.

      Plus, as we can see, giving anyone the the power to make us happy/or unhappy seems like a loss of my own free agency. Does this make sense? Am I rambling?

      I know we feel numb from this trauma---but if we start the seed of happiness in our minds, we will be able to feel passionately again.

      Numbness is part of grieving and then as time goes by it seems like numbness just became a habit of protecting myself. I remember being afraid to take the leap and start feeling again---it's like a step into the unknown.

      Opening ourselves to feel is scary---but life will become more full when we do open. And when the bad comes our way (no one is exempt) we will be able to feel it and it wont destroy us. We will know how long we can "wallow in it" (which i like to do for a bit) and then we will know when it's time to stand up, choose happiness and move on.

      Pain scars all of us. It may come in a million different ways, death, disease, betrayal, loss, addiction...but it feels intensely our own. We need each other. Sharing our pain lightens the load.

      I guess, ultimately, I want to feel joy, so my brain starts to think of joyful things and my body starts to feel it and then before you know it I'm happier than a bird with a french fry.

  4. Someone just posted a comment on a post I wrote about feeling...flat. And it reminded me of Nikki's comment. So I'm putting it here for anyone who didn't see it the first time...or who needs reminding (including me!!).
    Brené Brown is brilliant.


    1. yes, i think vulnerability is key. As Nike says, "Just Do It."

      Pain will come our way again, but it wont break us. My therapist used to say, "When you're ready, put your whole self into healing your marriage. If he goes off the deep end and cheats again, you will be ok. You will be able to move on."

      I believe that is true. And I guess, I'm willing to take the risk

    2. Hey there! I totally agree with the "when you're ready, put your whole self into healing your marriage", well as long as he does equally too! The thing that I have learned is that I am so much more empowered now than I was before, so much more aware, so much more prepared .... if it were to happen again, well I have the tools now to understand and focus on me .... I will be more prepared to move on and survive!

      It's hard to not try and predict the future .... and when we worry about it too much ... it actually paralyze & suffocate us ... but the only way we know if we can heal as a couple is to try. And throwing yourself in, both of you allowing yourselves to be vulnerable I think is the only way it can truly heal and learn to trust again. The healing can be painful AND it can be beautiful too!

      I love the Nike slogan ... Just Do it! Love the discussion on this post!!!!

  5. Hello BWC;

    I'm casting for the third season of a documentary-style series that focuses on infidelity among couples.

    In my research, I came across your blog, so I wanted to reach out to you and the readers regarding any couples (including themselves) whom you/they know that may be a good fit for our show. We are looking for couples who are either still married or now divorced as a result of infidelity. Both parties must be willing to participate.

    Our show explores the psychology of infidelity. This is NOT a talk show; it is a documentary series and takes an impartial approach to the content. The show uses first person interviews with couples and therapists to educate the viewers on the deep internal issues involved with having an affair.

    Please let me know your thoughts and if you have any questions. I look forward to speaking with you soon. Please feel free to contact me: deborahl.correa@gmail.com

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for reaching out.Certainly not all shows treat infidelity with curiosity and compassion but rather exploitation. And when you're already vulnerable, it's crucial to keep yourself in an environment of compassion. Can you be more specific re. the show/network?

  6. Nikki you are a strong woman. As for me, its just not long ago where I discover the affair of my husband. Its just been 8 months. I really wanted to fast forward it but I can't. The things that I hold on to are my ( supposed to be our but I like it to call that way at the moment, their mine =) children and my faith. Although my husband has been very remorseful but I still cannot trust him. There still this big hole in my heart but I am trying to fill the hole with hope and future not for him but for myself. Although he is part of it as well but I felt that I need to heal myself first. Everyday I still feel the pain but I just close my eeyes and pray and do something to distract my thoughts. As for you Nikki, you have gone a long way..so carry on..

    Yes, you are right Elle, naming the pain can be helpful. I guess I am just blessed to have completed a degree of social work where our practice is strengths base approach. This whereby pulling the strenghts of an individual and supporting him/her to develop his strengths. We are taught on not to name problems or issues or even using the word " problem".I even thought of my degree was part of Gods plan for me to take the course for He will be entrusting me with this pain that I am currently experiencing. Most counsellors nowadays in NZ have been practicing strengths perspective. It helped me bounce back. I have to admit I was depress for a few weeks thats if we look at the psychology world. But I view it as my "healing" process as I am trying to cope my emotions which led to crying, self pity, not valued, etc.. I also dont call it "affair" but I call it "inappropriate relationship" which would remind me that my position is the 'right" or "approriate" one.

    I know for some of us who are still in the process of "healing", it may not be today or tomorrow but one day we will be happy again and find joy to continue the coming days/months/years. Who knows probably we could re write our happily ever after (which I kind of looking forward to it but still very early to say) just like the other wives who have survived and their marraige are much better than before.

    Brave wife



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