Next Friday, August 31, 2012, GoodTherapy.org is thrilled to welcome Dr. Laurie Moore, who will present Healing Betrayal Caused by Infidelity, a FREE CE teleconference for GoodTherapy.org members available with 1.5 CE Credits. We encourage you to join us for this exciting event, so if you have not already, register today!
Working with clients who are suffering from betrayal caused by infidelity is complex, including grieving stages, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), and additional factors. This article refers to infidelity as a breach in agreed emotional and sexual monogamy. Some couples agree to open relationships or polyamory, which is a different situation. Infidelity as defined in Wikipedia is “a breach of an expectation of sexual and or emotional exclusivity.” This involves a lie and broken promise, causing feelings of intense betrayal for many people.
Infidelity has become a common problem. Some infidelity statistics state that over 50% of both men and women engage in infidelity (Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 2012) and others say 30% to 60% (Wikipedia, 2012).
Those suffering from infidelity betrayal commonly go through Kubler Ross’s well-known stages of grief:
- Denial: This didn’t really happen or it’s not really as upsetting as I feel it is.
- Anger: How could you?
- Bargaining : If only I had communicated differently, this would not have happened.
- Depression : I feel helpless. Nothing I can do changes this discomfort.
- Acceptance : I have been hurt and disillusioned but I am at peace with myself.
The experience of grief due to infidelity includes additional factors that are absent from grief occurring from a death. Grief due to death is felt in a finite situation that contains an end. It is understood that the one who is gone is gone from the body permanently. Grief due to a breach in trust has no finite or predictable container. The one suffering finds him- or herself in unpredictable circumstances, which often feel very dismantling and excruciatingly unsettling.
Feelings that challenge self-confidence and worth are more common to infidelity betrayal than loss alone. Death is socially expected. Infidelity is shunned. The one who is betrayed is prone to feel guilt, shame, and embarrassment because the situation remains privately hidden or is condemned by a variety of reactions when exposed.
When death is the cause of grief, a solo journey is required. When betrayal is the cause of grief, two people are involved, so the situation is more complicated. Once one is lied to, the relationship is uncertain. This person can’t tell whether he or she is being lied to or told the truth. The one experiencing this challenge is often upset again in the aftermath of the partner relationship. This is different than the one abandoned by a death whose loss cannot re-emerge in a repeating scenario.
Clients with heartache caused by infidelity and betrayal can also go through fight-or-flight syndrome:
Fight: Arguing with, controlling, or managing the person who betrayed me will solve this.
Flight: Leaving will solve this.
Once fight or flight proves useless, a person will seek comfort in other ways. By assisting this person to fully meet the helplessness, sorrow, anger, anguish, disillusionment, and heartache that has come, peace can be found.
I have found that client-centered talk therapy, hypnotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and the 12-step program are all deeply valuable for clients healing from infidelity. I also use my own Success Love Now (SLN) process effectively in these situations. Here is how and why each of these methods is valuable.
Someone who is suffering from loss and feeling isolated due to the taboo nature of this loss needs to be witnessed compassionately and caringly. This in itself helps to relieve the tremendous burden one carries from feeling alone. When being accepted within the context and emotions one is truly feeling, without being corrected or judged, peace can start to return. Acknowledging your understanding and compassion for a clients’ diverse set of feelings can be a profound help to a suffering client.
Because the shock of betrayal can be extreme, disrupting normal life in many ways, EMDR assists the hurting person to digest the deep emotions that are arising. Just getting through the day becomes a challenge for people who are betrayed. EMDR makes the healing time for this upheaval much faster in many cases.
Hypnotherapy allows the person who was hurt to re-find stability, meet parts of him- or herself that were hurting before the situation occurred, heal parts of him- or herself that are hurting now, and find a new basis for equanimity that is deeper than the circumstances. Taking a client into a deep, relaxed state in which the client can bring in peaceful parts of him- or herself to help the hurting parts enables a client to rebuild self-esteem and strength.
S-Anon Twelve Steps allow people to find the value in surrender, the gift in their challenge, and the support of others enduring similar pain. Twelve Steps also help the one who was betrayed to find out if addiction was involved in the betrayal, as commonly is the case. Letting your client know that S-anon is an option can be a valuable part of her or his healing process.
SLN provides a new framework for the person to feel empowered and at ease within the undesired circumstances. Encouraging the client to focus on what his/her purpose and aim are for him- or herself and gratitude for the good that is occurring within the context of the undesired happenings is beneficial. This will bring a client out of a victim mode and into a creative mode.
Of course, if the person who was betrayed plans to stay in the relationship, couples counseling and counseling for the one who was betrayed are necessary.
When working with clients who have been betrayed due to infidelity, it is important to understand the complexity of loss, mixed with PTSD, combined with humiliation–this situation causes a long period of overwhelm and readjustment. When the client is treated with compassion, the healing can go well.
- Infidelity statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved August 20, 2012, from http://www.statisticbrain.com/infidelity-statistics
- Infidelity. (n.d.) Retrieved August 20, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infidelity
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