In essence, we describe trauma as a deeply distressing experience, which is why infidelity is hard to heal and recover from.
“For only when faithfulness turns to betrayal, and betrayal into trust, can any human being become part of the truth.”
Trauma is interesting in that it is described not only as an extremely painful event but also a reaction to that event.
In other words:
“Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences.” – Integratedlistening.com
Note: Ellen Evans is a professional Psychotherapist with 10+ years of experience in counseling.
The first steps to heal your infidelity trauma
Of course, people experience various forms and levels of trauma, and each response is subjective.
When healing the trauma from the wounds of infidelity, one must consider the level of betrayal and how each individual responds, which depends on quite a few factors.
As trauma is “defined more by its response than its trigger,” let’s look at how one can best heal from the damaging effects of betrayal by first looking at why some people respond more severely than others.
In short, one’s ability to process and overcome unfaithfulness boils down to issues around attachment.
Those who have grown up in a secure environment with little to no attachment issues will likely recover at a much quicker rate than someone who was betrayed by one’s parents (or other caregivers).
Betrayal in this context refers to parents who fail to meet the child’s emotional and physical safety needs adequately. When young, they depend on adults not only to survive but to thrive as well.
If withdrawn from this fundamental care, insecure attachments can develop – attachments based on trust issues and fear.
When a partner is unfaithful, they have breached lines of trust. As a result, any faith in the relationship (and the partner) has likely been shattered.
If the betrayed partner experienced a similar breach of trust when young, they might be thoroughly triggered.
Here’s a list of things you may experience if you’ve been cheated on:
Signs of Infidelity Trauma
- Guilt or anger
- Loss of faith in others
- Suspicious and hyper-vigilant
- Numbness or shock
- Insomnia or other physical symptoms like stomach issues
- Depression or anxiety
- Decrease in self-esteem
- Overthinking or mulling over the details of the affair
These signs can be amplified by childhood trauma. Crystal Raypole at Healthline lists these critical signs of it. See if any relate to you currently:
Signs of Childhood Trauma
- Stomach issues or other physical pains
- Suicidal intent
- Panic attacks
- Emotional instability
- Depression and anxiety
- Attachment issues
- Eating disorders or the need to control
- Trust issues
- Dissociation: detachment from reality in the attempt to avoid painful memories
- Alcohol or drug abuse
“How can I heal my Infidelity trauma?”
If any of the above signs cause a red flag, it may be wise to seek professional help to process your current distress.
Therapy can be a powerful tool in tackling your infidelity trauma, it can help you greatly diminish or even possibly outright cure your infidelity trauma. You can read more about it here.
There is no sense in trying to cover up your feelings or continue to use unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Through therapy, you may discover that you are being triggered by past experiences. For example, maybe you were abandoned by your mother, who worked all the time.
Or perhaps your father left the family home due to having an affair of his own during your high-school years.
You might realize (and be surprised by the realization) that you want to leave the relationship, but it may be too hard to do so.
Why? It may be due to your unconscious attempts at denying how painful your previous experience of abandonment was.
If denial is the case, any processing you attempt to do might be too superficial and cause little to no positive change.
Or you could lack the social or financial means to exit the relationship.
Instead, you may choose the safety of keeping the relationship intact over the potential emotional safety of a healthier future relationship.
Use pain as an opportunity.
Whatever the case may be, remember that though it may not appear to be so, the pain of going through the turmoil of an affair can be seen as an opportunity to heal old wounds.
Pain is a healer, and patterns repeat themselves until cleared. So, what has your partner’s infidelity brought up for you?
When we enter a loving relationship, even the most secure people enter a world of risk; of rejection (from a partner), of death (of a partner), and so forth.
Relationships make us vulnerable. Love can be given but just as easily taken away – and this can be a scary thought!
Use this opportunity to do some soul searching. Acknowledge what has come to pass. Acknowledge your feelings – all of them.
You are allowed to feel rageful, distrustful, suspicious, or lonely. You are also allowed to give yourself time to heal.
Maybe you need some time away from your partner to process. Or maybe you need them around all the time.
Once you meet yourself and your needs, you can better meet your partner and your relationship.
Communicate and express your concerns and list of “safety” requirements. If you decide to stay committed, how long will it take for you to trust them again?
You may not know this fully, but communicating the steps with your partner will help the process.
It’s all about teamwork.
Of course, your partner also needs to own up and be willing to take the steps necessary to heal the damage caused by the trauma from their infidelity.
As said, post-traumatic symptoms can vary. If you are in shock, care for yourself in the most basic of manners.
Talk to supportive friends, ground yourself by walking in nature, take a deep bath, many deep breaths, and give yourself a big hug.
And remember this important thing about relationships and self-growth: all relationships provide the base for growth and transformation.
The quote from Rumi at the beginning of this article expresses this in full.
No one can love or trust you more than yourself.
So, whether we “lost” love via our parents or past and current partners, realize that true love has never been lost.
It’s been within you all along.
Recommended: Can Therapy Help You Get Over Cheating?