Note: Since Coach Cat is from the UK, you will find British spellings throughout:).
Betrayal Trauma Symptoms
So, what are the trauma responses most often seen in female partners of sexually addicted men?
- Overwhelming emotions
- Unusual/uncharacteristic behaviours
- Sleep difficulties – too much/too little
- ‘Brain fog’ – inability to think clearly, memory loss, getting lost easily
- Eating problems – inability to eat/overeating
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Rumination/obsessive thoughts and intrusive images/flashbacks
- Difficulty caring for self or others
- Obsessive need to check the internet history, GPS, email accounts, text message history etc for signs that the danger is still present
There will be many more trauma responses to those listed here, this is an attempt to outline the more common responses post discovery/disclosure.
Omar Minwalla writes the following in a blog for nationalpsychologist.com:
Partners often present with a set of symptoms that match symptoms similar to rape trauma syndrome (RTS) and complex post-traumatic-stress disorder (C-PTSD), including psycho-biological alterations, re-experiencing of the trauma, social and emotional constriction, constant triggering and reactivity, significant anxiety, emotional arousal and hyper-vigilance. Sex addiction-induced trauma is a highly specific type of trauma that involves nuanced symptoms that can include fear and panic of potential disease and contamination, fear of child safety and potential of child molestation, social isolation, embarrassment and shame and intense relational rupture and attachment injuries.
Betrayal Trauma & Abuse
The work of Minwalla, Steffens et al, reveals some added dimensions to the trauma suffered by partners of sex addicts in the vulnerability they experience to behavioural abuse, treatment induced trauma and spiritual crisis. Many sex addicts accompany their secretive sexual behaviour with a number of mind bending tactics to conceal their secret lives. Many are experts at gaslighting and demonstrate an impressive array of narcissistic traits, all designed to confuse the partner and render her incapable of trusting her reality and thus incapable of challenging the addict’s behaviour.
Many women report aggressive and violent behaviours from the addicted person after their secret world is discovered.
Spiritual Trauma Symptoms
Many experience spiritual abuse with their religious beliefs exploited as a means of control or minimisation. Sadly some women experience this outside of their relationship, by other members of their religious communities. Many are thrown into a spiritual and existential crisis as they grapple to understand what has just happened to their life, who they actually committed to and the knock on effects of who that makes them in this relationship, nay, ALL relationships. They are prone to question God’s presence in all this and can feel as betrayed by God as by their partner. Add to that some of the well meaning but misguided advice of some professionals and ‘lay-helpers’ and you have a recipe for compounded trauma, confusion and terror for the partner.
There is also the issue of the circumstances surrounding the discovery/disclosure of the issue. Most often this happens by discovery, the addicted partner is ‘found out’ by some means or another. In the most dramatic of cases this can be after an arrest for illegal behaviour which of course creates a significant crisis. Looks messy, doesn’t it! Tell me again how I’m supposed to tell this broken woman that she created this?!
So, clearly this is a very complex issue with a whole load of possible nuances, symptoms and responses. When written out like this, it is not hard to see why this condition is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. A single, ‘cookie cutter’ approach to healing will never work for this diverse group of women, each bringing their unique selves to this experience. That is why you should expect an approach uniquely tailored to you. That said, when we come back to conclude this series next week, we will take a look at the proven approach to trauma that has been adapted for those nuances we have discussed by APSATS in their Multi Dimensional Partner Trauma Model.
If you haven’t yet, please read What Is Betrayal Trauma?