Dear Suzie, Although it’s been more than five months since I discovered the affair, everyday I still wake up feeling like I’m drowning in these painful emotions. I feel like I will never be normal again. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to stop wondering how I’m ever going to get over this type of hurt when it was so unfair. How do you heal a hurt you never deserved?
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: Do you fall asleep thinking about what happened, only to wake up thinking about what happened? Does it feel like you’re going through the motions of life but not really living? Are some days better than others? Do you tell yourself to just get over it, and yet, you can’t seem to think of anything else? Do you find yourself constantly wishing it had never happened, imagining how your life could have been so much better if it hadn’t?
And what about your moods?
Have you noticed you’re more prone to angry outbursts than ever before? Are friends and family using words to describe you like moody, irritable, and hypersensitive? Are the kids tiptoeing around you for fear they might set you off?
Have you noticed how certain things trigger the hurt?
For example, you can’t listen to certain songs, watch certain movies, or do certain things because they trigger so much hurt and painful feelings. Do you find that you’ve had to throw out anything that reminds you of what happened? Do you try to avoid any place they went or avoid doing anything they did?
And what about at night?
Do you find it hard to quiet your mind? Do you find that your thoughts churn, turn, and return to evidence over and over again? Do you find yourself replaying the conversations, the lies, the stories, and the contradictions, hoping beyond hope to discover some new thing that will help you make sense of it all?
If any of this sounds familiar to you…
…then, chances are, you’ve been caught in the backlash of the negative stress that comes in the wake of betrayal. Some people refer to it as heartache; others see it as a milder form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Call it what you want, but don’t call it painless.
What makes betrayal so hurtful?
The hurt is caused by the influx of negative stress. How did all that negative stress come into your life? You guessed it. It came through the backdoor left open by your partner’s deception. In other words, a big part of the hurt and pain you feel is a direct result of your boundaries being violated.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are the line in the sand between what is OK and what is not OK. It’s useful to think of boundaries like the borders of a country — invisible and yet very real. And like borders of a country, our boundaries have very important protection and security functions.
What do boundaries protect us from? Healthy boundaries keep out the majority of negative stress. This is why it’s often said that people with healthy boundaries are generally happier. (Happiness can be described as the absence of negative stress, or peace.)
However, since infidelity is an inside job, you didn’t have the usual protective layer of your boundaries to block the incoming hurt. So, even the people with the healthiest boundaries can find themselves blindsided. And even the strongest people sometimes fall apart.
What Does Negative Stress Feel Like?
Here are some examples:
- Burning resentment about the affair
- Fantasies of getting revenge
- Wishes to punish or get even
- Anxiety about future affairs
- Anger about unwanted consequences and inconveniences
- Loss of love, respect, and trust
- Recurring questions like “Why is this happening to me?“
- Preoccupation with images of the affair partner
- Rehashing the details
- Reopening old wounds of past betrayals and past hurts
- Disgust towards our own naïveté or innocence
- Self-blame, self-loathing, and guilt
- Resistance to having to deal with change
- Denial of reality (This isn’t really happening.)
Did you notice something?
As you look closely at each of the examples of negative stress, you’ll discover they all have one thing in common: They’re rooted in some form of fear. So while painful feelings and negative stress can come to us from many places and have many names, it always has the same source — fear.
What is fear?
You could spend all day trying to define this word. However, here’s a definition that I’ve always found useful. Fear is the positive expectation of a negative result.
Here’s something surprising:
Negative stress is caused by the expectation of future negative results. What this means is that it’s not the past betrayal that is causing most of the hurt, as much as it’s your worry of future betrayals. Keep this in mind: Fear (your negative expectations) don’t have to be rational. They don’t have to be logical. And they don’t even have to make sense to create negative stress. However, know this:
If you’re hurting, you are in fear. And if you’re in fear, you are hurting. The two are attached like Siamese twins. You can’t have one without the other. This tells you that if you release the fear, you also release the hurt. And if you want to release the hurt, you must be willing to release your negative expectations.
What is healing?
All healing is a release from fear. It’s a shift from negative expectations to positive expectations… from fear to love… from pain to peace… from anger to compassion… from unhappiness to happiness. Notice the word “shift”. This is a key word here. Because when you heal, you’re not being asked to do something that causes you strain, but rather something that allows you to relax. And here’s another thing about healing: You don’t create healing, you allow healing to happen. This means healing is a decision. It comes by your invitation. It cannot be forced on you; it must be welcomed by you.
So, to answer your question, “How do you even begin to heal the hurt you didn’t deserve?” Step one is overcoming the fear of healing.
It might surprise you to discover that although betrayal is painful, many people are actually afraid of healing that pain. This is a totally irrational fear… and yet, it persists. So rather than asking how to heal, I find that it’s more useful to ask how to overcome the fear of healing. And to help you do that, let’s take a look at the six major reasons why people fail to heal.