One of the most devastating aspects of betrayal trauma, are the terrifying, heart-breaking, and ever-persistent torrents of emotions that make many victims ask, “Will I ever be okay again?”
When women are betrayed and emotionally abused by their partners, they experience a deep, soul-disrupting trauma that can make life feel very bleak for a period of time. However, with healthy practices, victims can, over time, experience Post-Traumatic Growth.
Tracy, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to empower women to take the steps to begin their journey to Post-Traumatic Growth. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?
After finding safety from betrayal and abuse, women can experience a powerful change within themselves that leads them to a strong sense of self that propels them to keep making healthy decisions.
Tracy explains what her Post-Traumatic Growth feels like:
It’s a genuine self-compassion. It’s loving ourselves enough to set boundaries. It’s allowing ourselves the time and the patience to move through the hard painful work of healing and coming out the other side with a new appreciation for life, healthier relationships with others, an optimistic view of new possibilities in life. We feel stronger, we feel changed.Tracy, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
I Feel Stuck In Trauma: How Can I Experience Post-Traumatic Growth?
Many victims who feel “stuck” in their trauma are still being abused, though it may not be easy to identify the abusive behaviors. Some women feel that something is “off” in their marriage, but don’t have evidence or proof to support their gut instinct. Others may believe that their partner is in recovery, but there is still underlying covert abuse present.
Tragically, these victims often blame themselves, believing that they are just “choosing not to forgive” or so traumatized that no matter how safe their partner is, they will never heal.
Most of the time, if you feel “stuck” in your trauma, you are not safe.
You’re currently in the worst-case scenario (which is an abusive relationship) and nothing is going to feel good. There is nothing that is going to feel peaceful. There is nothing that’s going to feel right when it comes to an abusive situation. Every effort you make to work towards safety is going to feel like, “ugh, I don’t really want to do this,” because you don’t want to set that boundary. You don’t want to make your way to safety because that’s not the ideal situation. The ideal situation is a non-abusive situation, and that’s not the situation that you’re in.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Safety Is Essential For Post-Traumatic Growth
The bedrock foundation for Post-Traumatic Growth is safety. At BTR, we believe that every woman deserves to live a life of emotional, sexual, spiritual, physical, and mental safety. By setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries, women can begin their journey to safety.
Boundaries are not requests, statements, or ultimatums. They are courageous actions that women take to separate themselves from abusive behavior.
Tips To Help You Find Post-Traumatic Growth
Tracy shares some helpful guidance for victims of betrayal and abuse who want to experience Post-Traumatic Growth:
- Be patient and gentle with yourself.
- Incorporate self-compassion into your life.
- Learn about abuse, trauma, and vulnerability.
- Accept reality: you are a victim of betrayal and abuse.
- Find a safe network of support-people.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
At BTR, we understand the utter devastation of betrayal, the anxiety and fear that comes with boundary-setting, and the eventual peace that accompanies safety and self-compassion.
All victims deserve a safe place to ask questions, process trauma, and share difficult feelings. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers women validation, support, and answers. Join today and begin your journey to Post-Traumatic Growth.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Tracy is back this week. We’re going to continue our conversation about New Age Bypass, but we’re also going to transition into talking about post-traumatic growth and the difference between post-traumatic growth and the platitudes that people say, like, “Well, everything happens for a reason” and you’re like, “This doesn’t happen for a reason.”
Thank you to all of you who have rated the podcast. I really appreciate reading your good wishes and your reviews, and thank you so much for your support. If you haven’t already, and you’re so inclined, please rate the podcast on Apple Podcast or other podcasting apps. Every single one of your ratings helps women find us.
Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Today
A shout out to our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group members. They are able to talk to our coaches and other women who are going through this life every day. We have sessions multiple times a day in every single time zone.
Now we’re going to jump in with me talking about what some people call “hopium”. This hope that he will change, or he can change, and how that type of thinking can keep women stuck in an unsafe situation.
When you say, “work for the outcome that you want”… of all women that I’ve talked to, I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t feel this way, everyone wants a happy safe marriage. So, women have already been operating on that for years. Where they’re like, “Okay, he can change, I will be patient as he changes, I believe in Christ’s atonement”; they might say that or bring some spiritual things into it. So, they’re saying I will be patient, right, because I want this positive outcome. The problem with that is in that space of patience they don’t realize that they are unsafe that whole time.
Prioritize Safety Instead of “Hopium”
It would be better to say the truth of the matter is that I’m currently in an abusive situation and I need to get to safety. The outcome that I want is a happy peaceful marriage. So from a safe distance, I will wait and observe to see if his behaviors change, but don’t tolerate the abuse under the guise of trying to have a positive outcome that you want or the best outcome. That would be the best outcome, but when it comes to abuse, you’re currently in the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is not divorce. You’re currently in the worst-case scenario, which is an abusive relationship, and nothing is going to feel good. There is nothing that is going to feel peaceful. There is nothing that’s going to feel right when it comes to an abusive situation. Every effort you make to work towards safety is going to feel like ugh, I don’t really want to do this because you don’t want to set that boundary. You don’t want to make your way to safety because that’s not the ideal situation. The ideal situation is a non-abusive situation, and that’s not the situation that you’re in.
The Truth About Abuse Always Hurts
Tracy: Right. Well, it’s also painful. Truthful thinking is often painful thinking. The reality of our situation hurts oftentimes. The human experience is not always rainbows and butterflies, I don’t think it was meant to be. So, it is tempting to minimize the pain of it and pretend it’s not as bad as it is.
Anne: Yeah, it gets really bad. It’s really bad. I try to tell people how bad it is and they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to know how bad it is. So, in talking about these new-age things like, “it’s all for the best” or “there are no coincidences”, there might be some overlap with something called post-traumatic growth, although I think post-traumatic growth is something completely different.
Tracy: It is.
What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?
Anne: So, let’s talk about what post-traumatic growth actually is as opposed to just thinking, “this happened for a reason and there are lessons to be learned”. What would post-traumatic growth mean for a victim in an actual meaningful and useful way?
Tracy: So, post-traumatic growth, first of all, is not an escape. It’s not transcendence. It’s not this arrival to this happy place where nothing bothers me anymore. It’s, rather than “escape it”, it’s an embrace of ourselves. It’s a genuine self-compassion. It’s loving ourselves enough to set boundaries. It’s allowing ourselves the time and the patience to move through the hard, painful work of healing and coming out the other side with a new appreciation for life, healthier relationships with others, an optimistic view of new possibilities in life. We feel stronger, we feel changed. We feel genuinely changed. That’s what it’s going to look like.
Anne: For me, the post-traumatic growth that I have felt, I think, has helped me feel more vulnerable and more human and humbler. It has truly humbled me and broken me to the point where now I feel very equal to my other fellow humans on this Earth. How has that felt for you?
Vulnerability Paves The Way For Post-Traumatic Growth
Tracy: I love what you said about broken. For me, allowing myself to feel as broken as I was, to not be in denial about it but to just admit I’m broken. I am broken, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s a starting place, and then diving into healing, into education, into learning to have more compassion for myself and giving myself grace for the things that I’d been through where I had been victimized. All of that and then integrating the story. So, it’s like I can think back on my story, even the story that I’m in right now still, and not feel ashamed of it and not feel this intense pain about it. It is what it is; it’s part of my story. It’s part of my life. It’s part of who I am now, and I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t been through that so I’m at peace with it.
Then just everything that you said too. This humility, this new humility where because I feel so much compassion for myself it naturally extends out to others, and I just feel a compassion for all of my fellow human beings and whatever struggles they’re going through. It’s changed my perspective on almost everything. It affected basically every part of my life.
New Age Bypass Stunts Post-Traumatic Growth
Anne: I think that post-traumatic growth isn’t possible, the growth part, with bypass because bypass doesn’t lead to growth.
Tracy: Bypass leads to a temporary escape. It can feel like we’ve grown because we feel different temporarily, but our circumstances don’t change and things are still acting on us in the same way – we may just be in denial about it, and we can do that for days or weeks or years. People can do that for years, but eventually, our humanity is going to catch back up to us and we’re going to fall hard. For me, as we talk sometimes about an addict or an abuser needing a rock bottom to change; I think that works. That can apply to anybody, and for me, when the trauma was so bad, it was essentially a rock bottom for me. I just realized, I’m broken. I’m on the floor helpless, bleeding, and broken. Hitting that kind of a low, I think that the harder that bottom is the more potential for growth there is. They just are correlated that way.
Read Trauma Mama, Husband Drama
Anne: I’m going to pause here for a second to talk about Trauma Mama, Husband Drama. It is a picture book for adults to help them understand the trauma that victims of emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion when pornography is involved or betrayal is involved.
When you buy the book, please do a verified review on Amazon. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us. If they find it on Amazon, there is information about the podcast (which is free to everyone). So, it really helps women find our free resources.
Now back to my discussion with Tracy.
How Do I Experience Post-Traumatic Growth?
Anne: What would you say to women who have not yet felt that post-traumatic growth and they’re in the middle of the trauma about what their future can look like as they take the time to heal and go through the stages of grief?
Tracy: Be patient. Just be so patient and gentle with yourself, so patient and gentle. There are books you can read on self-compassion. There are things you can do to try and practice that. For me, my belief is that self-compassion really is just opening ourselves to feel the love of God. It’s feeling a portion of his unmitigated love for us and seeing ourselves the way that he sees us. That to me is what self-compassion is, and if we can truly tap into that.
Studying Brené Brown can help because she researches shame and she teaches shame resilience. Shame, I believe, is the opposite of self-compassion. It’s essentially self-loathing. Brené Brown can give you actual tools on helping to practice shame resilience in your life. When we can see ourselves in that compassionate way then we will be gentler with ourselves. We’ll be patient with ourselves.
Surround yourself will safe people who can be patient with you, who can tolerate your experience, who can see it up close and personal and not turn away because it’s too uncomfortable for them. They’re not going to rush you through it.
Accepting Reality Is Key To Post-Traumatic Growth
Anne: Also recognizing that you literally were a victim.
Tracy: Oh absolutely.
Anne: I think when women realize that they really were a victim, genuinely, that they can grow. They don’t have to “go to 12-step for the rest of their lives or it will happen again”. There is nothing that they did or can do that would have avoided it. Learning new skills, learning new things about themselves, learning all kinds of things. This can be a reason to learn and grow more, which can be exciting, but there are no shortcuts to it.
Tracy: Exactly, and it’s not a straight and narrow path. It’s a long winding loop-de-loop kind of path, and that’s where the patience comes in and that’s where the self-compassion comes in as we just move through that.
I wrote something that I think expresses post-traumatic growth well. I wrote it a couple of years after a big D-day. So, this was about 2 years after my worst D-day. I wrote this and posted it in a recovery group, and I put a trigger warning on it. The trigger warning is “positive post”. So, I’ll just read this.
A Victim of Betrayal and Abuse Shares Her Post-Traumatic Growth Journey
When I was in deep trauma it was very difficult for me to hear overly positive reflections on betrayal trauma from people at the other end of the tunnel. I wanted hope, but I wanted it couched in reality, otherwise it felt painful and unrealistically optimistic. Like I couldn’t trust that these women were actually at peace with all that had happened, and I resented that they were not giving justice to the pain that they had endured, and that’s okay. For me, for hope to feel legitimate, I have to hear and feel how dark it was before. If I just see an after-picture, then I doubt the reality of the before-picture. I have to see them side-by-side to fully appreciate and trust the miracle of the healing that has taken place. So, that’s why I put a trigger warning. Not everyone knows my story or has witnessed the depths of the pain and trauma that I have experienced. The hopelessness, fear, confusion, paralysis, anger, loneness, anxiety, depression, and deep sorrow. I do not ever want to minimize the pain and trauma of anyone by glossing over the struggle and only celebrating the healing, because the struggle is real and it is hard. I believe in honoring the moment that we are in and the emotions that we are feeling, because doing that is a key part of finding genuine peace and healing, but it’s hard to accept and honor where we are at from a place of self-compassion and love if we feel that others are not honoring it with us and patiently allowing us to struggle and heal at our own pace. So, please know that I still hold a place for those of you who are in the depths of the struggle. It’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling, and I don’t judge you for any of it. The struggle is where the learning and the growth happens. I see you and I love you.
Post-Traumatic Growth Occurs When Women Are Safe
So, after that lengthy disclaimer, I can finally say that I am grateful for my betrayal trauma. I woke up at 5 am after a disturbing dream and couldn’t go back to sleep. I was lying in bed and began pondering what I’ve been through and I realized that I’m actually grateful for it. I never thought that I would get to this point. I wasn’t sure if I ever even wanted to get to this point, and that’s okay, but I am here, and I am glad. I am grateful for the person I am becoming because of what I’ve experienced, and I like me. I have learned things and grown in ways I’m not sure I could have without experiencing the trauma of sexual betrayal. Does this mean that I would go back and choose to do this again? I don’t know, I’m not sure. Does it mean I’d be okay being retraumatized with another D-day? No, absolutely not, which is why I have a boundary around that. Does it mean that I have come to a place of acceptance with my husband’s addiction? No, I will not accept active addiction or abuse as part of my marriage; that’s why I have boundaries. Does it mean I would wish for anyone to be blessed with betrayal trauma? Hell no, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Does it mean that God predestined me to be betrayed by my husband, assigning this trial to me? No, I don’t believe that for a second, but He allowed it to happen after gently warning me over and over again that something was not right.
Denial Thwarts Healing & Post-Traumatic Growth
He hasn’t condemned me for missing those warnings. He has loved me and helped me to learn from the experience. And through the experience, I have learned that He wants me to be safe and to know happiness, and I have learned how to trust and rely on Him to keep me safe and at peace, and if I miss another warning and fall into darkness again He will be there to lift me up and guide me back to light and healing. None of the good that has resulted for me through this trauma takes away from the bad. I view them side by side. If I didn’t give full validation to the bad, I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the good. Why would I want to cheat myself of greater joy by glossing over or denying the darkest parts of my journey?
I don’t know what the future holds. My husband could relapse. I could be thrust back into deep trauma and we could end up divorced, but that’s not going to keep me from feeling gratitude or joy today because today I am safe, and I am feeling gratitude and joy. Acknowledging that the future could hold anything, rather than boxing myself in with a firm resolution to only ever stay in this marriage no matter what, or to only ever allow myself to feel happy and positive forevermore, allows me to appreciate today for what it is. I will take things one day, one week, one year at a time, and I will do my best to honor whatever moment that I am in. Knowing that things can and will always be changing and I am not defined by any one moment. I don’t have to feel sad or lonely or angry forever, just as I don’t expect to feel happy and positive all the time for the rest of my life either. The beauty is in the flow.
Gratitude Can’t Replace Safety Boundaries
Anne: That is so good. That’s how so many women feel. Although, as I said about that lady at lunch, being grateful isn’t the solution per se, but now that I’m on the other side I actually do feel grateful, but it wasn’t the solution. It’s how I feel now that I have space, that I have safety, that I have security, that I’ve been able to process things from a safe distance. Now I feel grateful.
Tracy: Right, and I think the gratitude and the joy that we can feel if we allow it to come naturally as opposed to chasing it is more genuine. That’s my experience. It was not helpful for me growing up as a child in a culture, in a family, where I was constantly being told that I just needed to choose to be happy and that I just needed to choose not to let things bother me, and that I just needed to smile more. All of these things were not helpful. It didn’t help me to be a happy kid, and in trauma when I was legitimately a victim of a terrible thing, it was not helpful at all. It was retraumatizing, and therefore, actually stunted me a little bit until I was able to recognize what was going on and set boundaries around people who were not safe. It was not helpful at all hearing messages like that. It’s not trauma-informed to do that, and that’s the thing. We have to be careful about timing. We have to be informed about trauma so that we can best help people and ourselves.
Anne: We are going to continue this conversation next week, so stay tuned. Tracy and I are going to talk about the book Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, which I recommend everyone read.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.