Facing Heartbreak – Learning To Make Grief Count
How To Heal From Betrayal Trauma Through Individual Sessions
Grief is such a difficult thing to process in the context of betrayal and abuse. I do individual sessions with clients on grief.
One of the things I love so much about coaching women through grief is using the workbook Facing Heartbreak if the clients wants to. This workbook doesn’t swing in the dark, hit or miss, lucky to make contact with a few randomly common experiences. On the contrary! One of the best features about Facing Heartbreak is its strategic, sequential and specific lineup of recovery steps. When helping my clients decide which group or workbook might suit them best, I often tell them, “With Facing Heartbreak, you take one brave step onto a fast-moving freight train… then you hold on tightly, stopping at station after designated station, riding the rails of cross-country recovery.” Because, let’s face it: for most of us women, recovery is stressful enough without needing to chart our own independent roadmap through the process!
There’s something truly special about a book that ONLY asks you to crack open the cover, then continue taking the next indicated steps, one after another—fully KNOWING that, along the way, you’ll visit all the important, crucial and time sensitive issues that comprise our communal experience of sexual betrayal trauma recovery.
Discovering Your Husband’s Sex Addiction and Abuse
Speaking of trauma? That’s precisely where Facing Heartbreak begins, with Chapter One, “The Trauma of Discovery.” Within these opening pages, you’ll find a number of key self-assessments, allowing you to identify and rate your own symptoms of emotional, physical and spiritual trauma. Immediately following that, Facing Heartbreak invites you to create your own Partner’s Shield of Safety, asking you to identify four quadrants of proverbial refuge for yourself along this journey, including S = support, A = affirmations, F = areas of focus, and E = sources of encouragement. Together, these four quadrants spell out the word “SAFE,” and as your coach throughout this workbook, I’ll frequently remind you to USE your Shield of Safety when the process gets tough—which again, if your recovery’s anything like mine? You’ll have your fair share of days that aren’t easy.
Having customized your Shield of Safety, Facing Heartbreak digs deep into the good stuff, with Chapter Two, entitled “Manage The Crisis.” And here we find one of the next things I love so much about Facing Heartbreak: this workbook has its priorities straight! In the interest of establishing safety and stability in facing the trauma induced by our loved one’s sexual betrayal, “managing the crisis” is all about BOUNDARIES—the limits we conclude are absolutely necessary to protect ourselves within our relationships: emotionally, physically, sexually and environmentally.
This chapter provides a straightforward process for each area of self-protective boundaries, including the challenge of defining consequences (or as I prefer to call them, “responsive actions”) in the event that these boundaries are violated by our intimate partners. In addition to managing our crisis through self-protective boundaries, this chapter also addresses the important topic of what, when and how much to tell others, regarding the sexual betrayal and our subsequent trauma. Readers are prompted to create a detailed communication plan, one that honors our need for safety and privacy, balancing that with concurrent needs for support and community.
As you might imagine, both these areas of crisis management lend themselves to particular challenges. So I’m gonna tell you something I’d tell you even if I WASN’T a betrayal trauma recovery coach: self-care boundaries—including boundaries that determine what, when and how much to tell others—is NOT an area most women successfully navigate all by themselves. I certainly couldn’t, back when I was new to this whole overwhelming experience!
Which makes Chapter Two a prime example of something you’ll get from me as your BTR coach through this workbook: I’ll provide as much back and forth Q+A as you NEED while drafting your own unique boundaries; you won’t need to face one single element of it without my training, experience and support to back you up.
Discovering The Behaviors Related To Abuse: Lying, Porn Use, Sex Addiction, Gaslighting, And Narcissistic Behaviors
Chapter Three: “How To Deal with the Emotional Aftershock” tends to get heavy. In this section, we come face-to-face with some of our most painful “aha” moments, and we highlight some of our most significant and retrospective hindsights, through exercises that help us to identify our guys’ deceptions, manipulations, gaslighting and other forms of relational and psychological abuse.
Together, we document our discoveries, record a chronological timeline of memorable events, make an inventory of losses we’ve suffered as the result of sexual betrayal, and envision making peace with the pain of those specific losses.
We spend time learning to distinguish anger from other emotions, and we explore features of shame, denial, distraction and emotional numbness. Finally, we each write a personal letter expressing the weight of our unfiltered feelings toward porn and sex addiction—and trust me when I tell you that this letter is, without question, one of the most productive and empowering exercises many women in trauma have ever experienced.
As the coach for this group, I’ll have your back each step of the way; I’ll hold space FOR YOU as YOU hold space for your own “sometimes fierce, yet sometimes fragile” selves.
Healing From Betrayal Trauma Takes Support
Now at this point, I have a theory about something: Having made it through the intense “emotional aftershock” work of Chapter Three? I think the authors of Facing Heartbreak did us a favor and gave us a much needed break from staring down our own emotional overwhelm.
Because in Chapter Four, we shift gears a bit, turning our attention to the chapter entitled, “The Nature of Sex Addiction.” Up to this point, while we have—very appropriately, I might add—prioritized the ways our guys’ compulsive and problematic sexual behaviors have impacted US, we pivot here, for a few compassionate moments, to better understand how sex addiction impacts THEM.
This is our chance to explore several common preconceptions about sex addiction, including statements like, “It doesn’t exist,” and “If he cheated, he’s automatically a sex addict,” or “Every sex addict was molested as a child.”
We share about the ways we may (or may not) recognize factors that contributed to our guys’ problematic sexual behavior, including issues like gender abuse, childhood trauma, sexual exposure or other kinds of unhealthy influences.
In Chapter Five, we come back to us, and this chapter is a favorite for many women, as we begin to explore the section entitled, “How to Communicate our Feelings”—in this case, within a relationship wounded by sexual betrayal. First, we identify some of the unspoken rules from childhood—and while those issues are NOT the cause of our betrayal trauma, understanding them goes a LONG way toward helping us communicate our pain within our wounded intimate relationships.
Equipped with newfound keys to initiate productive and empowered communication—even about our most dreaded “hot button topics”—we close Chapter 5 by writing an Emotional Impact Letter to the addict himself.
Much as we a letter to sex addiction in Chapter Three, this statement invites us to articulate the depth, severity and specificity of our betrayal trauma. Facing Heartbreak prompts us to describe the thoughts, feelings, pain and fear we’ve suffered since discovery, including the cumulative loss of our emotional, sexual, relational and spiritual safety.
In some cases, women do either read or deliver their Emotional Impact Letter to their sexually addicted loved ones. In other cases, women choose not to communicate the content of their letters—instead, they consider it an “inside only” job, choosing to retain the value, effort and personal affirmation they’ve poured into that letter for themselves, close and safe at heart.
And this is when I invite participants to pause to take a VERY deep breath… or two… or three. Because having written that emotional impact statement? Most of us feel like we’ve let some serious trauma weight roll off of our shoulders—which makes it an ideal time to stretch, to reach, to reorient and to breathe again, often for the first time in a very long time.
By this point in the book, we’ve only got one month left in our 4-month Facing Heartbreak coaching group, as we move into Chapter Six, the one entitled, “Make Empowered Choices” This chapter is one of my personal favorites, as it encourages us to take ownership of any issues or coping mechanisms that may actually be harming us more than they’re helping us.
Several tools and exercises invite us to deeper levels of self-awareness, and self-introspection—and it’s within this chapter we refresh our opening themes of self-care, self-focus and self-support. Encircled and empowered by one another, we even tiptoe—slowly—into the topic of forgiveness, in conjunction with ownership, restoration, growth and empathy.
Just FYI… at this point, you probably want to keep taking those deep cleansing breaths… because here we come to Chapter Seven, the one entitled “Reclaim Your Sexuality”—and the like other deeply challenging, intimidating and sensitive themes, Facing Heartbreak handles this one beautifully.
With yet another series of simple self-assessments, we women are invited to reflect upon our own awareness of sexual hurt, sexual health and sexual hope. This chapter prompts us to ask questions like, “If your body could speak to you, what would it say?” and “What parts of my own sexuality do I want to heal and explore in the future?”
Like other parts of this book, this topic isn’t easy or automatic for most of us. However, in the company by other women, asking the same difficult personal questions? We find it’s exponentially easier than it would be if we were having this conversation in isolation, all alone.
Releasing The Pain Of Betrayal Trauma
Which brings us to the Eighth and Final Chapter of Facing Heartbreak, the one entitled “Choosing Your Next Steps.” As we cross this finish line, representing four whole months of deep inner work? This is where our communal efforts become undeniably and expressively obvious. Together, we plan a special, ceremonial, virtual “workbook burning party.” (Don’t worry, you can totally keep yours intact if you want to!)
But bottom line, we pause to stop the spirit of companionship and sisterhood that’s escorted us through this journey, and we communally vow to pay it forward—forward into the future of our own yet-unlived lives. We celebrate by leveraging the confidence we’ve developed from facing our heartbreak together, putting it to work on behalf of our own BRAVE and beautiful SELVES.