Victims of betrayal and emotional abuse may experience severe and debilitating trauma responses. These trauma responses can be especially intense in the aftermath of discovery.
Self-care can be a guiding beacon for victims through the initial traumatic experience of discovery and help them propel themselves into safety and healing.
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, meets with Trish White, a counselor, to empower women to practice self-care during the devastating early stages of betrayal trauma. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.
What Does Self-Care Look Like?
For many victims, self-care makes sense in theory, but in practice it can feel overwhelming and impossible to implement.
As Trish explains, self-care isn’t a complicated concept:
Self-care means really paying attention to your body and what’s going on there.Trish White, coach and counselor
Some simple ways that women can practice self-care in the early stages of betrayal trauma include:
- Nutrition: trying to eat at least one healthy meal each day
- Hydration: taking care to drink enough water to stay hydrated
- Rest: many women suffer from sleep disturbances after discovery; resting during the day when they are tired can help victims cope
- Mindfulness: victims of betrayal and abuse often need to re-learn how to feel peace and relax. Simply focusing for a moment on breathing can help victims train themselves to feel good again
What Can Self-Care Help Me With?
Betrayal trauma affects women in so many ways. A victim’s:
- Physical health
- Emotional stability
- Mental health
- Ability to perform at work
And more may be affected by her husband’s abuse and betrayal.
Incredibly, self-care can soothe and help women heal from every way that betrayal trauma is affecting them.
When I started studying counseling there was a thread that went through everything. It was: if you study trauma, what helps with trauma? Self-care. What helps with childhood emotional neglect? Self-care. What helps with depression? Self-care. Abuse? Self-care. Grief? Self-care. It all comes back to looking after what’s happening with you.Trish White, coach and counselor
Practicing Self-Care In The Highly Traumatizing Moments
Tragically, most victims of betrayal and abuse will continue to be traumatized throughout the discovery process. As these high-intensity moments happen, women can work toward practicing self-care in the moment.
There can be a storm happening outside this airplane, if you focus on this storm, chances are good you’re going down. If you focus on the dials in front of you, that’s your self-care, focus on what’s happening with you, you can keep your nose up and you can get through this storm.Trish White, coach and counselor
Self-care in the midst of a high-intensity and emotion-filled moment will usually be simple. Women can focus on breathing, get a glass of water, step outside, or close their eyes.
Any action that you can take to preserve your health and safety is an act of self-care.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal & Abuse
At BTR, we know the devastation of discovery. The grief, anger, frustration, and fear that comes can feel relentless and overpowering.
Victims deserve a safe place to process trauma, share their stories, ask questions, and make connections with other victims who get it.
That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in multiple time zones. Join today and receive the validation, compassion, and support that you deserve as you begin practicing self-care in the early stages of betrayal trauma.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is going strong. We have multiple sessions a day. When you become a member, you get unlimited live support. We hope to see you in a session soon.
Now for this week’s guest.
I am excited to have Trish White on today’s episode. She told me that she has been listening to the Betrayal Trauma Recovery podcast since the very beginning when I was crying into the microphone in my basement.
Meet Trish White, Self-Care Expert
If you have not heard my very first podcast back in 2016, you may or may not want to do that because I was a basket case back then, but the cool thing is if you listen from the beginning until now you can sort of hear my evolution and my healing. A lot of people have listened, and they have been on the same journey in their healing, and Trish is one of those people.
She is a coach and counselor who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada. She has three amazing adult children, and this past year she was promoted to the esteemed role of Grandma, which is super cool.
Her diverse path has included being a stay-at-home mom, a pastor’s wife, a homeschooling mom, a piano teacher, a custom knitter, an administrative assistant, and owning her own pet grooming business. She embarked on post-secondary education in her 40’s and graduated with a master’s degree in counseling.
Self-Care Helped Trish Navigate Trauma
In her new counseling practice, she has the privilege of walking with people whose Plan A has been derailed and she offers support as they craft a Plan B. That is all of us who listen to this podcast.
In midlife, Trish found herself needing to up her self-care game when her 30-year marriage began to unravel along with her own health as she went through six surgeries in five years. Learning to heal and look after herself has been the gift of this painful journey and taught her to relentlessly pursue peace and joy each day.
A few of her self-care activities include kayaking, knitting, walking her exuberant dog, laughing with friends, breathing deep over hot beverages, and learning to enjoy this fabulous planet that we share.
Trish: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Self-Care And Betrayal Trauma
Anne: We’re going to talk about self-care today, which is my favorite personal topic right now as I am knee-deep, or maybe eyeball deep, into self-care. Now that I am more healed and more stable, and able to really focus on it.
Before we start the conversation, I do want to do a disclaimer to women who are in the middle of really intense trauma. We’re going to talk about how you can practice a little bit of self-care during that time, as much as possible, but don’t feel really guilty right now if your self-care is Oreos and popcorn and Netflix. There is no guilt. No guilt in any phase of your journey.
It’s Okay For Self-Care To Be Gradual
Anywhere that you are is just fine. It’s all okay. For those of you who are thinking, “You know what, I need to add a little bit of self-care. What should I do?” Maybe this can help you.
Let’s talk about that first, finding self-care the hard way, because your bio alludes that you, yourself, learned about self-care the hard way. Would you share a little bit of your journey?
Trish: Yes, and had I been wiser or had there been more podcasts way back when, maybe I would have been smarter. I remember seeing a counselor when things started to unravel, it was probably 15 years ago. At that point, she said to me, “You need to up your self-care.” She might as well have been speaking a different language.
Many Victims of Betrayal Don’t Know How to Practice Self-Care
I had no idea what self-care really was. I thought, “Well, I exercise, and I eat well and if you consider chocolate a healthy food then, yeah, I absolutely look after myself. What’s your issue counselor? I have great self-care.” I honestly had no idea.
Life continued to unravel until I got to such a dark place, and it’s a little bit embarrassing now to talk about, but I have heard it from so many women that I know I am not alone. When you start wanting to get sick or looking for a way so that somebody will look after you or so you could have a day off so expectations could be lifted, there’s something wrong. You need to pay attention to that.
Trauma Can Make Self-Care Difficult To Understand
Unfortunately, I didn’t. I ended up with six surgeries in five years. Honestly, this may sound really bad, but I kind of looked forward to the surgeries because it was a day or two of somebody just looking after me.
They’d bring me food at regular intervals, they’d ask if you wanted anything, water is there, nothing is expected of you, you can read. You can ring a bell, and somebody shows up. That should have been a huge clue that maybe I really did need to up my self-care game.
It got so bad that, before one of the surgeries, I was laying on the gurney in tears and I just wanted to die. That was my prayer at the time, “God take me.” I knew what I had to face in life when I woke up from that surgery and I thought, “I just want to die here, now.”
Self-Care is a Personal Choice To Keep Going
Unfortunately, or fortunately, that’s not a prayer He answered. This is a self-care journey. That learning to look after yourself before you get to such a dark place. There are people that need you alive and well, and we need to look out for ourselves to get there.
Anne: The most important person that needs you alive and well is yourself.
Trish: Yes. Have you ever done one of those body scans? Where you sit and you think about how does my head feel?
Anne: Like a mental body scan? Yeah, I have.
Victims of Trauma May Feel Disconnected From Their Own Bodies & Hearts
Trish: Yeah, as part of this self-care journey I went to a women’s intensive in Minneapolis, and they were doing this body scan. They had us sit there and, I remember, probably for the first time, feeling like, “Oh no, my head hurts. Hey, my neck hurts. My shoulders hurt, my gut hurts, my chest hurts.” I had not been aware that everything hurt before that point.
They finished the scan and said, “Okay everyone, open your eyes,” and they went on with the session. I was like, “Wait, now I’m aware that I’m in a terrible amount of pain. What do I do with this?” I actually put my up hand and asked but there was no really good answer.
Self-Care Helps Protect Victims From Further Trauma
The answer that I’ve found since is that the answer is not to take away the pain immediately. The answer is to learn to live a life so that pain isn’t there.
Anne: Yeah. I’ve had excruciating neck pain. I used to do a lot of extreme sports before I got married and so I’ve actually landed on my head several times violently. My neck hurt during my marriage, but I wasn’t able to do the normal self-care things in order for it not to hurt, so it got worse and worse.
Betrayal & Abuse Can Keep Women From Practicing Self-Care
Now I’m back to my neck don’t hurt routine, and my neck isn’t hurting anymore, but it was like seven years of me focusing on everything else to the point where it just crept back up again and I didn’t even realize how bad it had gotten.
It’s interesting now that I’m able to really focus on myself, I take self-care very seriously, but I would say, during the most traumatic part, it was just what I could do to get out of bed and get myself onto the couch to eat popcorn. That’s about what I could do.
What Self-Care Looks Like In The Early Stages Of Betrayal Trauma
Let’s talk about this first phase of self-care where you are kind of aware of it and you’re trying to do it, but you don’t know how to do it, or you don’t know what to do.
My tip, and then I’ll ask you, is to go outside every day. If you’re just starting this and you don’t know what else to do and you have no plan and you’re super stressed out, at the very least, I don’t care if you’re in your pajamas or what you look like, just step outside and take a deep breath of outside air and then you can go back in. That is my first “try this.”
Simple Self-Care Tips
Do you have any tiny self-care things that somebody could do today that are that simple?
Trish: Oh, absolutely. Just to frame this in a way is that, so often, what ends up happening is when we are in these situations we go into or remember things from the past and we’re triggered. We bring all that hurt and we experience it over and over again. Or the opposite happens and we kind of project into the future and we think about the scariness of it all and we bring that into our present and we feel that right now.
Anne: Yeah, and there are so many women who are listening to this podcast who are doing either of those things, but there are so many who are also currently experiencing some type of abuse so it’s not from the past and it’s not a fear of the future. It’s now, like yesterday, or today, their husband came home and gaslit them or lied to them or they found out about more porn or more infidelity or something. Yeah, it could be any of those things.
Going Into Nature Can Be Powerful Self-Care
Trish: I do have a favorite go-to that anybody can do. I mentioned those things about being out because our brain can be elsewhere but when we pull ourselves back to our senses, we start noticing what we are experiencing at the moment.
My favorite self-care tip, you mentioned about going outside, and that in itself: nature is healing. If you can’t go outside, right now, where I live it’s really cold and I do not like to go outside. I wasn’t meant for this climate, but what you can do is go to a window. What I suggest is that you get a hot drink and have it in a cup that you can feel the heat through, so you can feel the warmth of it and wrap your hands around it, so you have touch there.
Self-Care Can Be As Simple As Breathing Deeply
You have the smell. Make sure it’s something you enjoy the smell of. Take it to a window, look outside at nature, and find something that is living. Look for trees, look for grass that’s moving, look for birds. See if you can hear them and just take a moment and breathe out slowly. You’ll always remember to breathe in, but if you breathe out slowly, that calms our system. Just stand there.
Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time, but often a minute, if you’re just standing, feels like enough time. It can be good enough when you’re just standing there noticing what’s happening outside your window, feeling the warmth of your drink, inhaling and tasting it.
Hum A Song: Practice Self-Care
If you can hum, we know, oddly enough, that humming helps activate the vagus nerve, which provides calming for us and, if it’s there for you, go ahead and hum a song that means something to you.
Just take that moment, and you can do that several times a day. You’re using all five senses and it only takes a minute.
Anne: Yeah, that’s perfect. These are the types of things that I think people need to start out with because after a huge traumatic event, most people are not—well, they might compulsively exercise as a way to numb the pain, but even at that point it’s not really self-care it’s more of a running away from or trying to avoid. The true self-care takes a while to develop.
Why Practice Self-Care When Going Through Betrayal Trauma?
We’re constantly told that self-care is so important, but let’s really dive into why.
Trish: First of all, it’s interesting to note: our body is a gift and it’s amazing. We know that, if we cut ourselves, it’s only a short matter of time before those things start to reach across and bind across that wound. If we break our leg, it all starts to knit itself back together again, which is an absolute miracle. I mean I wish my car did that when I ran into something. That it would just fix itself.
Supported properly, our emotions and our mental health will do the same thing. We are meant to heal. That’s the first thing with self-care. It allows you and gives you the optimum healing space, where you can just let things take their natural course and move towards healing.
Self-Care Is Listening To Your Body
It’s funny you mentioned the running thing or exercise, and I did exactly that, but I have a bigger and better mentality or faster and farther. I ended up running, but then doing too much. I had a naturopath tell me, “Stress on your body is stress on your body. Even if it’s exercise and it’s supposed to be self-care, if it’s too stressful for you, it’s stressful. Just stop it.” Self-care means really paying attention to your body and what’s going on there.
When I started studying counseling there was a thread that went through everything. It was: if you study trauma, what helps with trauma? Self-care. What helps with childhood emotional neglect? Self-care. What helps with depression? Self-care. Abuse? Self-care. Grief? Self-care. It all comes back to looking after what’s happening with you.
Focusing On Self-Care
I like to use the analogy of an airplane. There can be a storm happening outside this airplane, if you focus on this storm, chances are good you’re going down. If you can focus on the dials in front of you, and that’s your self-care, focus on what’s happening with you, you can keep your nose up and you can get through this storm.
Anne: That’s a really good example. Maybe you’ve heard this on the podcast before but you’ve been in a plane accident. It’s not your fault but, in order to survive, because your plane has gone down in the mountains and you’re all alone, you’re going to need to develop some skills. Sure, you can hang out in that plane for a while to rest and eat and make sure your leg is not broken.
Developing Self-Care Habits Is Necessary For Victims of Abuse & Betrayal
Eventually, if you really want to survive, you’re going to have to get out of the plane and build a fire and look at the sun to find a river and follow the river down to a city. You’re going to have to eventually develop some survival skills, and self-care is that. It’s not just a survival skill but it’s a thriver skill. We go from surviving to thriving.
The other thing I like to tell people about self-care is that, when you are injured severely, you’re going to need a critical-systems only phase. Just like in sci-fi movies when the ship is hit by a meteor or alien or whatever and everything powers down and it’s quiet and not all the lights work. You’re in this critical-systems only phase. That is also the self-care phase that I think is really important.
Self-Care is a Gradual Process
A lot of women jump to that, “I’m going to exercise a ton and I’m going to go to every event and I’m going to show him that I can get out of the house,” or whatever, and they don’t realize that, really, they need to go into a powered down self-care critical-systems only phase for a little while. It doesn’t have to be forever, but that phase is really important to feed your soul and to make sure that you are feeding yourself and nourishing yourself before you try to power up all the systems again.
Trish: I have a picture of a bird that’s being held on my wall, and one of the reasons is I quite often compare this to birds that are flying along, and hit a window. Nobody prepared them for that, and they’re stunned, but somebody needs to pick that little birdy up and move it somewhere safe.
Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: It’s Necessary
We often don’t recognize the enormity of the trauma that we’ve faced. Especially when you have children, you just keep going. You just keep life as usual and just hope that nobody finds out or catches on. You’ve been hit. You’ve hit a window. Your plane has gone down. Whatever metaphor you want to use, but you need to take some space.
Anne: Fixing the hole in your spaceship before you go into lightspeed again is a good idea.
What Self-Care Looks Like
Let’s define self-care. What does it really mean?
Trish: Well, for me, I like to keep it really simple. Self-care is whatever works for you, and you are unique. Whatever works for you, to calm your system down.
Anne: So, you’re saying no guilt for my Netflix and popcorn phase? I will say this, my trauma was so intense, I watched all seven seasons of the Good Wife on Hulu, and it gave me a break. I could get a little bit of a break from the trauma and the intensity of it by focusing on something else.
Victims Can Give Themselves Permission To Gradually Practice Self-Care
At the time, I couldn’t read. I had an 11-month-old baby, so I was having a hard time getting out of the house. My injuries were so extreme at that time, that that little bit was all I could do. I ended up adding an anti-depressant to that, then I actually got off the couch and started doing a little bit more and slowly added more over time.
Talk about some things you’ve seen either with your clients or with yourself that worked that people may not think of as self-care.
Self-Care Questions: What Brings You Joy and Peace?
Trish: Oh, it’s really interesting because I go back to what brings you peace? What gives you a moment of joy? We know some things work for humans in general, but I like this to be a journey back to getting to know yourself. So often we have looked after so many others and we are in the middle of raising children and looking after their needs that we’ve forgotten to get to know ourselves and get to know our own system. What works for you to bring you a moment of peace or a bit of joy or calmness to that anxious and overloaded brain?
I find it interesting that I recommend to people that they put a playlist together that is simply for these moments when they need it. It’s not to be played all the time, it’s when you need refreshing and you put songs on there that speak to you. You know those songs that you hear the first few bars of and they immediately do something to your heart in a good way. Those are the songs that you want to put on a special playlist and use them when you need motivation.
Music Can Be Powerful Self-Care
We know that, technically, science tells us that songs at 60 BPM or less help calm our system, but I’ve had people say that their screamo music from their teenage years calms them down because it provided static in the background. Just enough so they didn’t have to think about stuff for a bit.
The whole point is what works for you, and really starting to notice. When we say self-care, quite often, the whole bubble bath thing comes to mind. This kind of self-care that we’re talking about, bubble baths just aren’t going to fix. They’re nice, if you like them and they work for you. For myself, I found my brain was pinging off the wall when I would sit in the tub. I would think that I was doing self-care because I was experimenting, and I could never calm and relax because my brain was pinging all over the place.
Self-Care Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
That’s not self-care for me. Walking my dog is, because I can live in his joy when it’s such a thrill for him.
Anne: I’ll be continuing this conversation with Trish next week, so please stay tuned.
Support the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast
If this podcast is helpful to you, please consider supporting the podcast.
Also, right now, especially where I’m feeling very isolated and missing human contact, I would really appreciate it if you would give us some reviews and go and rate our podcast on iTunes. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us.
If any of you, during this time, are interested in volunteering and interacting with women on our social media channels who are going through this, please email my assistant Kari at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll connect you with our social media director who is interacting with women all the time.
Until next week, stay safe out there.
Thank you for speaking out on such a tough subject! Self-care is easier taught than lived in on-going trauma. I really appreciate hearing Trish’s views and story!
Thanks for your comment. It’s amazing how difficult self-care is when healing from emotional and psychological abuse and ongoing sexual coercion!
I need this support right now and I will keep listening . It is helpful to understand all that I have been through and recovering from right now. I am on the other side of most of the pain and trying to heal. Learning how important self-care is to our health has been monumental. I am still in the process. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for listening!
I also want to say, the pandemic made me stop and realize the hamster wheel of stress that I was on as a reaction to the relationship stress. Jackson McKenzie calls it,” The Protective Self”. I was in survival mode and taking on far too much in my life. It wasn’t what I needed to be doing ( to the extent I had taken my work.) I appreciate this information about self-care so I can decipher what I really need to heal. And so, I have letting myself have some downtime, hiking in nature , etc. It has been so much more effective. And, now, I am seeing how I can create a balance. YES!!!
Thank you for sharing your experience with emotional abuse!
I have been betrayed by a coach from Visible Ministries (found out one of the coaches has been coaching my husband to leave the marriage). How utterly devastating!