Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies, and Secrets is my newest book in which I offer women in relationships plagued by sexual betrayal the care and guidance to create a new path of clarity, direction, and confidence. I show them how to proactively emerge from emotional isolation, shed secrets and shame, and discover their power to incite positive change in their relationships.
Deceived is available at my website
I'm in a support group for women whose boyfriends or husbands are acting out sexually. As I listen to other's stories and their feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment, I wonder what's wrong with me. More than anything, I'm just tired and numb. Shouldn't I be feeling something more?
The challenge with letting go when you're at the end of your rope is that you quickly get in touch with deeper feelings. For women like you, the depth of your pain and anguish or fear may be so profound that you don't know how you will survive. The breadth of anger you feel is so pervasive you are convinced you won’t have any self-control. The natural response is to scramble for any type of control. Think of the adage, "To make lemonade out of a lemon is great, but to refuse to acknowledge the lemon ever existed is denial,"--denial of yourself and your experiences. It is when you own and accept your feelings--whether you feel irritated, fearful, sad, humiliated, or joyous--that you will be able to embrace life, to move forward. To be whole you need to be able to access a range of feelings. Part of your recovery is learning to identify a wide scope of feelings and then learning the healthy expression of those feelings. The following are some initial suggestions to begin this process of owning your feelings:
Journal. Carry a notebook with you. Throughout the day, or at a specific time every day, write about what you've been feeling.
Create a feelings list. Make a list of feelings and carry it with you. Bring it out three times daily and ask yourself what you have been feeling.
- I am feeling guilty about_______.
- I am feeling sad about ________.
- I am feeling afraid about ________.
- I am feeling angry about _________.
- I am feeling embarrassed about _______.
Share what you are feeling with someone you trust.
Affirm your emotional self. Identify two affirmations that will support you in acknowledging your feelings. For example: "I have the right to my feelings" and "My feelings help me identify my needs."
Breathe deeply. People close off their feelings when they take shallow breaths. Check your breathing throughout the day and particularly at times of vulnerability. Take a deep breath in for three seconds, exhale slowly for three seconds; repeat five times. In time expand this to five seconds, five times.
Learning to own your feelings won't be easy because you have probably spent a lifetime not being safe with your feelings. It is likely that you gleaned your understanding of what to do with your feelings from people who denied them, people who contradicted your perception of reality and generally could not express positive or negative feelings in healthy ways. That modeling then became reinforced in your relationship with someone who sexually acts out. He is not there to listen, to validate, or to offer support. In fact he most often discounts, ignores, and denies your feelings. He rages in anger or walks away in silence. He tells you there is no reason for you to feel the way you do. It’s possible he tells you that not only do you have no reason to be fearful, angry, or sad, but in fact you should be grateful. With so many previous negative experiences, it is likely you have a lot of fears of what would happen should you show feelings.
Fears such as:
- Others won't like me.
- People are going to be able to see how bad I am.
- I'll be seen as weak, and that is bad.
- People will tell me I have no reason to feel this way.
- I will be out of control, and that is not okay.
- I will be vulnerable to getting hurt.
- People will take advantage of me.
You may be at a stage where you have difficulty expressing your feelings because you have difficulty identifying them. You may not recognize anger as you stand with your fists clenched and arms tightly folded. I have worked with women who had tears rolling down their faces, and when asked what they were feeling, they didn’t know. Many coaddicts smile broadly through their fear, humiliation, and anger.
Feelings are cues that signal what you need. If you pay attention to your feelings, you will become more adept at knowing your needs. Feelings also help you determine the boundaries you need to set to provide security for yourself. They are your signals to comfort, safety, discomfort, and danger. A mark of recovery is the ability to know what you feel when you feel it; to be comfortable with your emotional self, and then determine whether or not and with whom you share feelings.