GroupsHealingMarriage 5 minutes to read

Why do I need to add another commitment to my already busy schedule?

Why do I need to pay for a group when it’s not my addiction?

Why would I want to reveal painful events to strangers?

Why would I want to do homework and commit 10 months of my life for something I didn’t do? 

Why can’t he just stop?

These are the questions I asked myself when I was told I needed to seek help for myself after finding out about my husband’s sexual addiction.

What I didn’t understand is that betrayal trauma is real. When someone we love has been deceitful, unfaithful, neglectful, or has put our health or livelihood in danger, it turns our world on its head. It can be hard to make sense of what’s going on or have any direction. The pain is excruciating. You feel like you can’t trust anyone; and the sense of danger and needing to self-protect is almost palpable.

  • You want to run.
  • You want to cry.
  • You want to scream.
  • You want revenge. 
  • You want to understand.
  • You want to wake up from this nightmare!

None of it is fair. In the same way that we would need to seek treatment if we were in a bad accident caused by another person, we need to seek treatment for this trauma. It’s not our fault but it did happen to us and now we have to take care of ourselves.

Betrayal trauma changes our brain. The Center for Relational Recovery describes it this way:

As if that is not enough, when betrayal occurs, your brain begins to operate in a different way. The fear center fires up and stays fired up, creating hyper-vigilance, restlessness, anxiety, and a sense of being perpetually on guard. This alters your ability to regulate your mood, to calm yourself, to think, to reason, and to make intelligent decisions. Your fear center hijacks your normal functioning, and you find yourself in a world where every task feels challenging, your mind will not stop racing, your emotions feel out of control, and your coping skills are stretched to the limit. This is the experience of Complex, Dynamic, Multi-Dimensional Betrayal Trauma.

And betrayal trauma brings with it a host of real symptoms.

  • Helplessness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Immobility
  • Reliving the event
  • Hypervigilance
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive images
  • Withdrawing
  • Avoidance
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Flashbacks
  • Denial
  • Oversensitivity
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Dissociation
  • Inability to eat
  • Overeating
  • Rage
  • Health problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Immune/endocrine system problems

When we experience trauma, our bodies are responding to a threat. This response can cause our normal body functions to slow down in order to direct more attention to keeping ourselves safe. I had no idea that my autoimmune disease was being exacerbated by my trauma. It wasn’t until I stepped out of my trauma and found some true healing and peace that I was able to clearly see (and feel) when I would enter back into a trauma response. At that point, I had the skills to intentionally work on regulating my body. I wondered how I could have lived in that heightened state for so long. 

Joining a group helped me become aware of what I was feeling, thinking, and how my body responded to betrayal. Being part of a group gave me the tools to process my experiences and keep my mind and body as healthy as possible. As I began to use the tools, I realized my outbursts toward my kids lessened. All my bottled up hurt and anger was now being taken care of in a way that didn’t harm the people around me.

Another reason joining a group is healing for a betrayed spouse, is the opportunity to walk with others who have been where you are. It’s hard to view things outside of our own lens. God instructs us to seek wise counsel. This is especially true when we are going through extremely difficult times. Having others speak the truth and encourage you is empowering.

Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.

Proverbs 19:20 NLT

I know when I found out about my husband’s sexual addiction it was easy for me to put the blame on myself. 

  • If only I was more sexual.
  • If only I didn’t gain weight.
  • If only I didn’t voice my opinions and stir up trouble.
  • If only I created a more welcoming home.
  • If only I took on more of the parenting responsibilities so he wouldn’t be so stressed.
  • If only I didn’t go out of town.

Then on top of putting the blame on myself, I would swing between trying to “be perfect” and hide our troubles under the rug (make him like me more) or I would withdraw, shut down, and cope in very unhealthy ways; lashing out at my kids, binge eating, crying for hours and neglecting my kids, throwing things, keeping busy to try and outrun the thoughts. 

Being in a group gave me permission to feel ALL of these things. To be okay with being great one day and feeling hopeless the next. But I wasn’t alone. I was with people who told me what I was feeling was normal but they wouldn’t let me stay stuck there either. I will always be thankful for the people who surrounded me in the first months of my journey and helped me move forward. 

Having the right tools, and a process you can trust, is something you can continue to fall back on when you feel like you are literally going to lose your mind. I used to say that I felt like my nerves were on the outside of my body, my brain was going to disintegrate, and a whole slew of other crazy things. But guess what? The women in my group understood what I was describing and then they helped me out of it! 

Addiction lands on everyone close by. Even if you feel you do not need a group, I would encourage you to try it. Allow yourself 10 months and see if it helps. If you are feeling stuck, angry, hopeless, or numb then joining a group might be your next step.

Ashley Jameson

Ashley is the Associate Director of Women's Groups for Pure Desire. She is a certified Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional (PSAP) through the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) and has been trained in the Multidimensional Partner Trauma Model (MPTM) through The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS). She helps churches around the world develop sexual integrity groups. Ashley oversees all women Regional Group Advisors (RGAs) and is involved in training men and women to facilitate recovery and support groups. She is a speaker and a contributing author to Unraveled: Managing Love, Sex, and Relationships.

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