Can victims of betrayal and abuse find safety, fulfillment, and even joy after experiencing life-altering trauma? Absolutely.
Dr. Debi Silber joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to empower victims as she shares the five stages from betrayal to breakthrough. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Betrayal To Breakthrough: Are You Numbing Out?
To go from betrayal to breakthrough, victims can begin to identify areas in their life where they are “numbing out”, or using unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid reality and healing.
Dr. Silber expounds:
Ask yourself: am I numbing and distracting if so, how? Be honest with yourself. Do you walk into a room and turn on the TV because you’re desperately trying to distract yourself from your own thoughts? Do you walk into the kitchen and you reach for the cabinets for something in the cabinets? You’re not the least bit hungry, but you stuff yourself to stop the pain? Call yourself on it. Are you doing that?Dr. Debi Silber
When women choose to face reality and make healthy decisions based on the truth rather than numbing out, they can begin their journey to healing.
What Is Keeping You Stuck In Betrayal Trauma?
The trauma of abuse and betrayal can make women physically ill. Staying stuck in betrayal trauma is something that many victims experience. But what is keeping victims stuck? Dr. Silber shares:
- “Forgiving” the abuser without well-established trust and safety
- Numbing out the pain
- Denial of reality
- Living life as if nothing happened and not setting boundaries
Can You Go From Betrayal To Breakthrough?
Your situation is not hopeless: you can find healing, hope, and even joy again.
You can go from betrayal to breakthrough.
Read the full transcript below and listen to Anne’s interview with Dr. Deb Silber to learn the five stages from betrayal to breakthrough.
Victims of abuse and betrayal need support. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone. Join today and find the community that you need as you begin your journey to healing.
What has helped you find healing after betrayal? Please share in the comments below!
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Dr. Debi Silber on today’s episode. She is a friend and has been on the podcast before, but before we get to her, remember that Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is here for you. We never take a break, we’re always here, you can always get in right away, usually within a few hours of an abuse episode. We’d love to see you in a session today.
Here is a five-star review we received on Apple podcasts: Thank you for truth. The episode “You Can’t Change Your Abuser” is my entire life. I had no idea what I was up against as a child and I grew up and married into subversive abuse. I’m learning day by day, trying to heal, trying to gain strength. Thank you for enlightening me further and for understanding the horrific tangle that poor choices can bring.
It’s Not Your Fault That He Abuses And Betrays You
Thank you so much for that review. A lot of us made really good choices. We were looking for a specific set of characteristics. We really were very careful, and it still did not work out, we still married an abuser because he groomed us. It’s really interesting that it’s sort of a crapshoot. I know some women who have made some poor choices, but they married wonderful men. We can never blame the abuse that we experience on ourselves. A person can choose to be abusive, regardless of the choices we make. We do know though that we can set boundaries around abuse to get to safety, and also, it’s good to make healthy choices for ourselves just for the sake of being healthy, obviously.
If you’re so inclined and you haven’t already, we really appreciate all of you who have taken the time to review this podcast on Apple podcasts or your other podcasting apps. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us.
Dr. Debi Silber on the BTR Podcast
I have a friend on the podcast, Dr. Debi Silber, she is back today because she has a new book out so wanted to catch up with her again. Debi is the founder of the Post Betrayal Transformation Institute and is a Holistic Psychologist, a health, mindset, and personal development expert, the author of the number one best-selling book The Unshakable Woman: Four Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind and Life After a Life Crisis, which we have on our books page. We have a curated list there of all the books we recommend and yours is one of the ones that are on there and her newest book Trust Again.
Her recent Ph.D. study on how we experienced betrayal made three groundbreaking discoveries that change how long it takes to heal. In addition to being on Fox, CBS, the Dr. Oz Show, TEDx twice, and more. She’s an award-winning, speaker, coach, and author dedicated to helping people move past their betrayals, as well as other blocks preventing them from the health, work, finances, relationship, confidence, and happiness they want most. Everything we would ever want right, Debi?
Dr. Debi: Yes, absolutely. It is so fun to be back with you.
Am I Numbing Out?
Anne: I’m so grateful that you came on today. So, let’s just jump right into it. What are the questions that we can ask ourselves to see if we’re numbing, avoiding, and distracting ourselves? And I’m going to ask two questions at once here. What’s the difference between numbing, avoiding, and distracting ourselves and giving ourselves a much-needed break from the trauma or the grief that we’re feeling?
Dr. Debi: I love that question. There’s a big difference. One is purposeful and this is what you’re doing to help you heal. You’re in so much pain you know what this is what happens we’re betrayed we’re in so much pain. We do need healthy distractions. What is a healthy distraction? What I’m talking about are the unhealthy distractions, and that’s when we’re using food, drugs, alcohol, work, TV, keeping busy, reckless behavior, because the pain is so great that we don’t want to face it and in not facing it, we don’t heal. So, one is as a way to help us get through a troublesome time as we’re working towards our healing, and one is to avoid the healing.
Is It Numbing Out Or A Healthy Coping Mechanism?
So, two very different things. It’s so interesting because, and I will get to those four questions, but what I’m seeing more and more is that we use these tactics; one of the discoveries that were made in the study that I did was that there are these five stages we go through if we are to completely heal. This is classic to a stage three, so I’d love to go through the five stages so people will know if they’re doing this and why they’re doing this in this particular stage.
Anne: So, we’re going to get to those five stages, which will really help us understand where we’re at, which will be really helpful. Let’s talk about the questions we can ask ourselves to know if we’re numbing or avoiding or distracting or if it’s a healthy coping mechanism.
Dr. Debi: Absolutely. So, I invite everybody to write these questions down, that’s my way of saying write these down. The first question would be, am I numbing and distracting if so, how? Be honest with yourself. Do you walk into a room and turn on the TV because you’re desperately trying to distract yourself from your own thoughts? Do you walk into the kitchen, and you reach for the cabinets for something in the cabinets? You’re not the least bit hungry, but you stuff yourself to stop the pain? Call yourself on it. Are you doing that?
“What Am I Pretending Not To See?”
Number two, what am I pretending not to see? And this can really be for anything. Am I pretending not to see the trouble in my relationship? Am I pretending not to see that health issue that needs my attention? Am I pretending not to see I hate my job? What am I pretending not to see?
The third question. What’s life going to look like in five to ten years if I do nothing? Play it all the way out. Keep ignoring that relationship issue for five to ten years, what’s going to happen? Play out the health issue, five to ten years, what’s that going to look like if you do nothing? The same thing with a job, play that out five to ten years. If you do nothing, what does that look like?
And the fourth question is, what could life look like in five to ten years, if I change now? Now I’m not saying that that’s easy, but change begins and transformation begins when we tell ourselves the truth.
Betrayal Can Make You Physically Ill
Anne: I could not agree more. I think so many women are stuck in the emotional and psychological abuse also because their vision of what would happen in five years is not necessarily reality. They might think, I’ll be alone and sad and my life will be terrible. They may play it out, but they may not play it out accurately. I don’t know if that makes any sense?
Dr. Debi: I’ll tell you that brings up a really interesting point because there were three groups in my study, who did not heal, and one of them was the group where the betrayer had no consequences. So, whether this was out of fear, religious reasons, financial fear, not wanting to break up a family, whatever it was. They did their best to turn the other cheek to put it behind them. And I’ll tell you. Not only did I see a further deterioration of the relationship. This was the group that was by far, hands down the most physically ill. This was because your broken heart can’t handle that, you know, this is so painful. We need to move through this, and we really need to take on these painful emotions. Face it, feel it, heal it and that is the way through it.
When The Abuser Has No Consequences
Anne: So, wait a minute, I think this is super important. So, I want to really state this clearly. In your study, the women who did not heal, you’re telling me their abuser had no consequences? In other words, there was no separation, there was no divorce, there were no boundaries set. Is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Debi: Yeah, unless there’s a complete and utter death and destruction of the old, the old you, the old relationship, the old rules, the old boundaries, whatever. It is impossible to birth something new where there’s so much fear. We just keep trying and trying and hoping and without any real change. And it is so exhausting, so debilitating. It doesn’t have nearly the same impact as when there is that complete shock. I mean listen, there was a shock when the betrayal happened. That’s enough to shock up on our end, but unless there’s really the consequence on the betrayer’s end, it’s hard for those changes to really take hold. Now, there are other reasons why people didn’t heal but I saw this consistently with the group where the betrayer had no consequences.
“Working On Yourself” After Betrayal
Anne: That is very interesting. It really harkens to this group of victims, I would say of betrayal, who want to, I don’t want to throw 12-step under the bus, per se, but who want to just work on themselves and sort of stay on their side of the street, but not necessarily rock the boat. Do you know what I mean? They want to just focus on themselves and let him focus on himself, but they don’t really make any way to safety in terms of some really concrete boundaries that keep them safe.
Dr. Debi: And I don’t want to knock anyone’s program or what anyone is doing, but I mean I’m just talking about what the study proved and what I see in my community. And as you know I’m a huge proponent of, yes, working on yourself and in our community, our focus is on the betrayed. When we’re talking about reconciling, under what conditions are you reconciling? You know I remember reading a study and it was about forgiveness, and I believe we should forgive anyway because it is for us and the study was it said, if you feel safe and valued, and you forgive, you feel better. If you do not feel safe and valued and you forgive, you feel worse.
Forgiveness Without Healing Can Lead To Numbing Out
So, when I wrote the book Trust Again, I upped it a notch and I said, you know, let’s take that study and instead of using the word forgive let’s use the word reconcile, and it would sound like this. If you feel safe and valued and then you reconcile, you feel better. If you do not feel safe and valued and you reconcile, you feel worse. And that was really the result of what I saw with that group that did their best to just put it behind them, and it just didn’t work.
Anne: Yeah, we see that in and out here so it’s consistent with what we see anecdotally on a daily basis.
Trauma Mama, Husband Drama
We’re going to take a break for a second to talk about my picture book for adults, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. When you purchase Trauma Mama Husband Drama please circle back to Amazon and leave a five-star review. Here’s one that we received recently. She says: Simplifies the complicated trauma you experience from a spouse’s pornography addiction. And then we had another one that says: This is exactly what I feel like I’m going through, and being able to see it explained with pictures makes it so much clearer.
Okay, now back to our conversation.
Victims Don’t Heal As Well When They’re Numbing Out
Dr. Debi: And there were two other groups that didn’t heal too and one of them was the group that was numbing, avoiding, distracting. Maybe they ran to their doctor who put them on mood stabilizers or anti-anxiety medications or maybe they were drinking or, you know, emotionally eating. I get it, it may have made the day a bit easier to get through, but they did not heal nearly as well as the ones who said that’s it, I’m gonna slay all my dragons and face these fears and I’m just gonna put my head down and move right through it. They healed, much, much more dramatically. And then there was the third group, and this was the group who just refuse to accept their betrayal. They just, they just weren’t having it. They just were not accepting it. They didn’t heal as well.
Anne: Interesting. Well, I guess I’ve got to lay off the snack-size Almond Joys so that I can heal a little better, right.
Dr. Debi: You know that’s a one-sided relationship too.
Anne: Oh, Debi.
Dr. Debi: You see.
“We Love It, It Doesn’t Love Us Back”
Anne: I think I might have just had a breakthrough. During COVID I’ve been so stressed out. I was doing so good, like with my eating and everything and then COVID hit, and it’s just been a disaster. But if you’re like set boundaries around this because it’s a one-sided relationship.
Dr. Debi: Right, because think about it, we love it, it doesn’t love us back, it’s not fair.
Anne: That was perfect. I love it. Okay, so tell us about betrayal. Why does it hurt, what does it impact, and what does it create?
Dr. Debi: Yeah, before I even go there, everybody really needs to know that I’ve been through it. You don’t study something at the Ph.D. level, if you’re just interested in it, you know. I mean I studied this because I was desperate to understand how the mind works, why people do these things, and how I can heal. So, I had a horrible family betrayal and thought I really learned all the lessons I was meant to learn, and clearly I didn’t, so I had another opportunity. This time it was, it was my husband and blindsided, devastated just like anybody else who’s been through this.
Healing From Betrayal
I got him out of the house and then one of the first things I did, I’m not sure this would be everybody’s first choice, but I enrolled in this Ph.D. program. And I just was truly looking for answers. It was just time to do the study, so I studied betrayal, what holds us back, what helps us heal, and what happens to us when the people closest to us lie, cheat, and deceive, and that led to three groundbreaking discoveries. But the reason why it hurts so much is because these are the people we trusted the most. These are the people that when everybody else is driving us crazy, these are the people who supposedly have our back, this is our circle of trust, our nest of safety, and these are the very people who shatter that sense of safety. You know that sense of belonging, that sense of security is completely shattered, and it’s terrifying.
Anne: And in that case, it creates a lot of anxiety, depression, fear, anger, right. All of these justifiable, negative, I don’t even want to call them negative emotions. Just like, what else would you be feeling? I mean you would have to feel that if you didn’t, you’d be a robot or something, right?
Understanding Post Betrayal Syndrome
Dr. Debi: Absolutely, and you know we have the post betrayal syndrome quiz to see to what extent someone struggling, and Post Betrayal Syndrome was one of the discoveries. We’ve had about 8700 people take the quiz in the last year and a half or so, and what we’re learning as far as the physical, the mental, the emotional symptoms, and how long they last if we don’t proactively move towards changing, it not only as mental, emotional, it’s physical, too.
Anne: So, talk about what some of those symptoms are.
Dr. Debi: Every once in a while, I pull the stats from the quiz, and I would love to read you some because it shows you how profound this stuff is. Now, keep in mind this is based on about 8700 people. 81% feel a loss of personal power. 80% are hypervigilant. 94% deal with painful triggers. Here are just some of the physical symptoms. 71% experienced low energy. 68% have sleep issues. 63% extreme fatigue, so that means you’d have trouble sleeping, and you wake up and you’re exhausted. 47% experience weight changes and 45% experienced digestive issues.
Betrayal Hurts Our Bodies And Minds
You know what I think is so interesting about the digestive issues is think about this. Think about what the digestive system does. It absorbs, digests, and processes. I mean, isn’t it hard to absorb, digest, and process a betrayal? Like is it any wonder why the gut would be acting up. Here are some mental ones. 78% are overwhelmed, 70% in disbelief, 64% in shock, and 62% unable to concentrate. So just mix a gut issue with an inability to concentrate and you’re supposed to raise your kids and do your work, right. And now let’s add in the emotional. 88% Sadness, 83% experience anger. You just mix anger with sadness, and that’s exhausting, right. 82% feel hurt, 80% are anxious, 79% are stressed. Here’s why I wrote the book: 84% have an inability to trust, 67% are preventing themselves from forming deep relationships because they were afraid of getting hurt again, 82% find it hard to move forward, and 90% want to move forward but they don’t know how to.
Dr. Debi: Yep.
Anne: I’ve experienced all of those things. I don’t know if I’m there now, but all of those things, there has been a period of my healing where I have felt all of those things.
“You’re Not Alone And You’re Not Crazy”
Dr. Debi: Right. Right, so that’s the thing. I mean everybody listening, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy. This is real. The good news is there’s a way to heal from all of it and that’s what the five stages proved.
Anne: So, let’s go there. What are these five stages from betrayal to breakthrough that were discovered in your study?
Dr. Debi: This was the most exciting thing because not only did we learn that there are these five stages if we are to fully heal, but we know what happens physically, mentally, emotionally at every stage, and what we need to do to go from one stage to the next. So, when that was discovered healing from betrayal just became predictable. Here they are.
From Betrayal To Breakthrough: Stage One
The first is like the set up stage, and I saw this with every single stage participant, me too. If you imagined four legs of a table, the four legs being physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What I saw with everybody was a real heavy lien on the physical and the mental and really kind of neglecting the emotional and the spiritual. So, what does that look like? It looks like we’re really good at thinking and doing and not really prioritizing the feeling and being, but it’s in the feeling and being, that’s where our intuition lies, and we turn that down.
Stage two: here’s where we’re blindsided. D-Day, discovery day, scariest stage. This is terrifying, and this is the shock. So, this is the breakdown of the body, the mind, the worldview. Here you’ve ignited the stress response, you are headed for every single stress-related symptom, illness, condition, disease. Your mind is in a complete state of chaos and overwhelm. You cannot wrap your mind around what you just learned, and your worldview has just been shattered. That’s your mental model, those are the rules. These people are safe, don’t go here, this is how it works, and in one moment it’s just all shattered. So, here’s truly where the bottom bottoms out on you, and it’s terrifying.
Betrayal To Breakthrough: Stage Three
One of my study participants said, “You know what it feels like? It feels like every negative emotion you can experience, getting punched in the gut, and losing a child in a crowd all at the same time.” Right! Like, imagine that visual. So that’s stage two. Now, if the bottom were to bottom out on you, what would you do? You would grab hold of anything you could to stay safe and stay alive, and that’s stage three. Survival instincts emerge. It’s the most practical stage. If you can help me get out of my way. How will I survive this experience? Who can I trust, where do I go? But here’s the trap right here. Once we’ve figured out how to survive our experience, because it is so much better than the shock and trauma we went through, we’re like, okay, I’m good. And we settle here.
Then what happens is, this is not a place to plant roots, but what happens is, the longer we stay here in this stage three, the harder it is to leave, and here’s why. The first thing is we start getting these small self-benefits from being here. We get to be right, we get someone to blame, we get a target for our anger, we don’t have to do the hard work of learning to trust again. Do I trust you? Do I trust you? Ah forget it, it just won’t trust anybody. See, now we’re here, and now our mind starts doing things to us, like we start thinking, well, maybe I deserved it. Maybe I’m not all that. Maybe I’m not worthy, loving, deserving, or whatever.
Numbing Out From The Pain Of Betrayal
And now it gets even worse, and it goes one step further, and here’s where because we’re not happy, we’re not happy with our relationship, we’re not happy with our health, with our body, with our finances, with our life. Here’s why we start using those avoidance tactics. So, now we’re using the food, the drugs, the alcohol, the work, the TV, the keeping busy because we’re not happy right here. So now, not only are we stuck in this stage. Now, our behaviors are keeping us stuck and making us sick.
So that’s why this is the most common place to stay stuck, and people could say well, but no, but I’m not stuck; my betrayal happened you know, 10, 20, 30, 40 plus years ago. But I’ll tell you, I see it all the time. Very often, it’s just they are in this perpetual holding pattern from a painful experience, it could be decades ago. So, let’s say you’re in this stage three, If you’re willing to give up those small self-benefits and all the things that go with it, you, you need to grieve and mourn the loss and do all of these other things, you can move to stage four.
Stage Four: “Where Transformation Begins”
Stage four, here’s where transformation begins, by the way. Stage four, this is finding and adjusting to a new normal. Here’s where you acknowledge you’re okay with the idea that you cannot undo the betrayal, but you can control what you make of it, how you allow it to control you. And I always liken this to, if you’ve ever moved to a new house, office, condo, apartment, or whatever your stuff isn’t all there it’s not quite cozy, but it’s going to be okay. And when you’re in this space, you’re turning down the stress response. So, you’re not feeling just yet, but you’re not causing the massive damage to your body and your health that you were causing in stages two and stage three, but this is what’s so interesting about this stage too.
From Betrayal To Breakthrough: Outgrowing Toxic Relationships
If you are moving, you don’t necessarily take everything with you. You don’t take the things that don’t represent the version of you that you want to be in this new space. This is where I saw changes in friendships. If your friends weren’t there for you when you were going through your trauma, you don’t take them with you. Moving from stage three to stage four, you’ve outgrown them right here, because people say to me all the time, “Oh my gosh, I had these friends for all this time and I just, I don’t know, I don’t feel like I fit anymore. Is it me?” Yes it is and it’s because you’re changing and it’s beautiful. This is transformation. We’re in stage four, we’ve settled in, we’re good here.
Then we can move to stage five, and this is healing rebirth and a new worldview. The body starts to heal. You didn’t have the bandwidth for eating well, exercising, self-love, self-care. You were surviving. Now you do. So, you’re taking better care of yourself, and you’ve turned down the stress response so that your body begins to heal. You’re making new rules, new boundaries based on where you are now and who you’ve become because of your experience, and you have a new worldview based on where you’ve been. And the four legs of that table at the beginning that was only physical and mental, we’re solidly grounded because now we’re focused on the emotional and the spiritual two, and those are the five stages.
“You’re Resonating At A Different Level”
Anne: I haven’t thought about that till you just said that. There have been a few friends who have been lifelong friends, who I’d say in the past year have gone our separate ways, and I don’t see us reconciling. I’m like, I don’t know how that would work. And so that’s good news for me. Maybe I’m moving from stage three to stage four, maybe?
Dr. Debi: Yeah, absolutely, that’s what that is, but when you don’t understand it, we just get so discouraged and so down on ourselves. We’re like, what the heck? I’ve had these friends forever. What is it? Is it me? Yes, it is, but in the best kind of way. When you’re truly healing, when you’ve left those stages two and three and you are on the road to transformation, you’re creating a new identity. You’re resonating at a very different level. While you can love your friends for who they are, this is the point where you just may outgrow them.
Support the BTR Podcast
Anne: That’s really interesting.
We’re going to pause the conversation right here and Debi and I are going to continue this conversation next week, so stay tuned.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.