She’ll either go into hyperdrive, or she’ll shut down.
Either way, she may be advised to practice self-care.
But what exactly is self-care?
How could she possibly practice self-care in the early stages of betrayal trauma?
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, and Trish White, Shero, coach and counselor from Saskatchewan, Canada, define self-care and discuss simple ways to practice self-care in the early stages of betrayal trauma.
Trish has been a stay-at-home mom, pastor’s wife, dog groomer and, most recently, post-secondary college graduate. As a counselor, in her new practice, she has the privilege of working with people whose lives have taken them in a different direction than they had planned. Trish is an excellent support as she helps them create their Plan B.
What Is Self-Care?
When the betrayal is first discovered and the trauma hits, self-care is the last thing on a woman’s mind.
It’s the last thing she wants to think about.
She pours herself into her life.
Whether it’s the kids or work or school, she keeps herself busy.
Anything to keep her mind off the betrayal.
Her life comes to a screeching stop.
If she gets out of bed, it takes everything she has.
If she eats, it takes everything she has.
If the kids are dressed, it takes everything she has.
If the kids make it to school, it takes everything she has.
Just doing one thing the whole day, wipes her out.
She’s emotionally and mentally spent.
But she’s numb.
If she does anything, it hurts more than if she does nothing, so she does nothing.
Whether she’s going, going, going or stopping, stopping, stopping, she’s doing the best she can to avoid the emotional and mental pain of the betrayal.
Her body, on the other hand, hasn’t stopped processing the pain.
Trish White found out the hard way that pushing herself too hard to avoid the pain, only causes more pain and suffering.
Trish had to learn what self-care really was.
“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.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
When Trish’s 30-year marriage started falling apart, so did her health.
After multiple surgeries and sinking so low that she prayed for God to take her, she realized that things needed to change.
Trish started learning about self-care.
As she started her journey learning about self-care, she attended an intensive. At one point, they had the audience do a body scan.
As she did hers, Trish noticed that she was hurting everywhere.
Aware of the pain she was experiencing, she asked what she was supposed to do next.
“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.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
As she started her master’s degree in counseling, she noticed a trend in the solutions for almost every issue.
“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
What is self-care? Trish says it’s simply taking the time to listen to the body and finding out what it needs.
“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. Supported properly, our emotions and our mental health will do the same thing. We are meant to heal.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
Self-care is one way to help the body heal from the inside out.
Practicing Self-Care In The Midst Of Betrayal Trauma
Once Trish learned what self-care really was, she had to learn what it was for her.
“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.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
Trish compares the body to 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 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
Trish has discovered that her dials don’t consist of bubble baths, but they do consist of walking her dog.
She loves when her dog finds such a thrill in a simple walk.
Trish recommends women ask themselves some questions to find out what their self-care dials are.
“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.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
For some, it may be running or just getting outside. For others, it may be reading a good book or writing.
Trish recalls that when she was in the early stages of trauma, she went running.
For some people, running is good self-care, but she would push and push and push herself, which added stress to her body rather than calming it.
Trish says it’s important to learn what works, but until a woman does figure it out, she recommends trying an activity that incorporates all five senses.
“Our brain can be elsewhere, but when we pull ourselves back to our senses, we start noticing what we are experiencing at the moment.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
Practicing mindfulness can also help a woman figure out what self-care works best for her.
Self-Care In The Early Stages Of Betrayal Trauma
In the early stages of betrayal trauma, self-care really does seem non-existent.
However, as Anne points out, it’s at that point that just getting out of bed may be the best form of self-care a woman can do.
“When you’re severely injured, 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, it’s quiet and not all the lights work. You’re in this critical-systems-only phase. A lot of women don’t realize that they need to go into a powered-down self-care critical-systems-only phase for a little while.”-Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Anne states that this doesn’t last long but it is vital to healing.
“It doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s really important to feed your soul and make sure that you’re nourishing yourself before you try to power up all the systems again.”-Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Trish agrees, this phase doesn’t last forever, but it is important to remember that healing takes time and it is a process.
“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 do life as usual and hope that nobody finds out or catches on. I often compare this to a bird that’s flying along, and hits 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.”-Trish White, coach and counselor
Like the bird that hits the window, recovers and flies again, every woman eventually learns to survive, but Anne says self-care does more than that.
“Eventually, you’re going to have to 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.”-Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
For the woman who has felt like giving it all up, she isn’t alone, many women have been there and many have survived.
Anne says, if not for anyone else, hang on for just one person: YOU.
Many women who have been betrayed and abused, have difficulty practicing self-care and navigating the path to healing.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery wants all women to have the skills necessary to practice self-care and find healing.
One way we can help is by providing a safe place to share with other women facing similar circumstances.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is that safe place to share. With UNLIMITED access to more than 15 live sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a BTR Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Before I introduce this week’s guest, I just want to check in with everyone and see how you are doing. Some of you may be under stay at home orders or quarantine. Some of you may have gotten sick or you may just be sick from something else. My heart goes out to all of us right now.
It has been a really stressful and difficult time. Many of us are homeschooling children and it’s difficult for them to focus. It’s just a hard time, so let’s send everyone grace, love, and support right now, that you need, and you might not be feeling. Hopefully, you can feel it, if only for a moment, during this podcast.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is going strong. We have multiple sessions a day. When you become a member, you get unlimited live support. Go to our website btr.org, and you can talk to women today live online, face-to-face, and get some support from women who really understand what you’re going through.
The other issue is for those of you where the abuse has escalated because they don’t have the excuse of work anymore to throw around so now, they’re irritable. Most likely during this time, there is more emotional abuse and gaslighting because they don’t have the outlet to blame work for everything because they are at home, some people are in that boat. Our coaches can help you navigate how to set some boundaries to keep yourself safe.
If someone keeps stepping on your toe, what are the steel-toed boots that you can buy and put on so that if they step on your toe again it doesn’t hurt? Those boundaries are those steel-toed boots that we are looking for.
When you join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group you can talk about possible options for boundaries. You can talk about the safety violations that are happening in your home, and how to navigate all of that.
If groups make you nervous or if it’s not your thing right now, then you can always do an Individual Session with any of our coaches. They are available and ready to help you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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