And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anais Nin
"Every problem is just fear." That was a recent tweet I read. And while I don't know if it's factual, I do believe it's true.
Certainly true with infidelity.
Infidelity trips the wire in our brain that unleashes every fear we've ever had. Of darkness. Of loss. Of abandonment. Of craziness. Of unworthiness. Of being revealed as deficient or not enough.
If we've been lucky enough as children to have healthy parents, we learn to trust our place in the world, to feel a sense of belonging, to believe ourselves worthy of others' love and respect. If we're then faced with infidelity, the fear wire may be tripped but, in many cases, we fairly quickly regain our equilibrium and are able to recognize the cheating as reflective of our spouse's character, not our own.
Those of us, however, whose parents were unable to provide that healthy support, often come to adulthood with buried injuries and hidden fears.
Commitment is a huge leap of faith for us. We allow ourselves to jump, trusting tentatively, finally, that there's someone to catch us.
So when our spouse isn't there for us; when, in fact, it's our spouse who pushes us into the abyss, the terror is real. Our childhood fears loom large. Abandonment. Loss. Unworthiness.
For some of us, even coming from healthy homes, the fear wire tripped by infidelity stays tripped. It doesn't reset. It creates in us all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress: hyper-vigilance, a sense of foreboding, anxiety, flashbacks, emotional numbing. In one word, we can pretty much wrap up all those feelings as "fear". The world suddenly feels terrifying.
It's crucial to tackle this quickly. We need someone to moor us to reality before we drown in the stories we tell ourselves about the myriad ways in which we're unlovable, undeserving of kindness and respect, the ways in which we've failed.
A good therapist (or a particularly wise compassionate friend) will help us understand that our stories, which are rooted in fear (I'll be alone forever, nobody loves me, I'm not [fill-in-the-blank] enough, I'm too [fill-in-the-blank]...) aren't reality and get in the way of healing. In fact, that fear-based narrative prevents healing and pushes us towards betraying ourselves for the sake of "safety".
While fear is a reasonable response to the emotional trauma of infidelity, it's a dangerous one if we let it govern our actions. We need to fight hard to understand that infidelity, while it deeply affects us, isn't about us. Infidelity is about one partner's choice to seek outside the marriage what they're missing in themselves. It's about emotional immaturity. It's about escape and fantasy.
Your task is to challenge our cultural convictions around cheating and examine your own beliefs. What do YOU believe your partner's cheating says about you? My guess is that your beliefs about infidelity are rooted much more in fear than in truth. Fear will keep you wrapped tightly in that bud. The truth will allow you to blossom.