partners of sex addicts

Questioning Reality: Gaslighting and Emotional Manipulation in Relationships

title_questioning_reality_gaslighting_and_emotional_manipulation_in_relationships_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

It’s happening again.

Your suspicions about your spouse’s behaviors are increasing.  The late nights at the office, not answering his phone when you call, strange text messages.  You could’ve sworn you smelled perfume on him when he came home last night. 

But when you bring it up, he immediately lashes out.  “Seriously?  I’ve told you a thousand times that I’m not having an affair!  You’re seeing things that aren’t really there.  Just because your dad cheated on your mom doesn’t mean that I’m doing the same thing!  Who knows, you bring this up so often it makes me wonder if you’re having an affair and feeling guilty about it.  You’re crazy.”

Once again, you walk away from the conversation wracked with guilt and self-doubt.  Maybe I was reading into something that wasn’t there.  It’s probably nothing.  He’s right, I’m just acting crazy.

As the weeks and months go by, the evidence keeps stacking up against him.  You catch him on his phone late at night talking to another woman.  There are charges on your credit card for dinners you didn’t attend.  Several nights he doesn’t come home at all.

And yet he keeps denying that anything’s wrong and dismissing your concerns.  What at one time would’ve been convincing evidence that he’s doing something suspicious now becomes more fodder for you to doubt yourself and believe that you’re crazy.  His emotional manipulation tactics are working: he’s perfected the art of gaslighting.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation in which the individual being questioned denies the truth and leads the questioner to doubt their own perception of reality.  The term comes from the story in the 1944 film Gaslight, in which the husband gradually and systematically convinces his wife that she is insane. He does so by changing small details in the home, including the dimness of the gas lights, and denying any difference.  The more he denies, the more she believes him and buys in to his assertion that she’s going crazy.

This process is slow and gradual, almost imperceptible.  The questioner eventually believes he or she is misperceiving reality, learning that they can’t trust their instincts.  Gaslighting influences the balance of power in relationship in favor of the one who denies any wrongdoing.

Gaslighting is commonly present in addiction.  Typically the partner can intuit that there is a problem with the addict’s behavior, but when questioning him or her, receives a response of denial.  Eventually the partner believes their spouse’s lies and doubts their own self-worth.  However, when the partner discovers the addiction and begins to see the past in light of this new awareness, they realize they weren’t crazy after all.  Yet prolonged conditioning to doubt their own perceptions can lead to difficulty learning to trust their gut moving forward.

How do I know I’m experiencing gaslighting?

If you find yourself confronting an issue with your spouse consistently and getting nowhere, pay attention to how you feel in response.  If you leave those conversations feeling as though you were in the wrong for bringing it up, or questioning your perception of reality, you may be experiencing gaslighting. 

Gaslighting also has a strong effect on self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.  As your spouse or partner denies evidence that indicates deception or an issue with addiction, you might notice yourself using negative self-talk, beating yourself up, or doubting yourself more often.  Your confidence may suffer.  Pay attention to how your self-esteem has been affected since you entered the relationship with this individual: did you have self-doubt or issues with self-confidence beforehand?  Have they increased or worsened since being in this relationship?

“Crazymaking” is a synonym for gaslighting that gets at another symptom: feeling like you are crazy or losing your mind.  This is often a defensive denial strategy of the gaslighter.

Notice if your partner turns your accusations against you: for example, if you bring up concern about his alcohol use, notice if he or she flips it around and begins accusing you of having an addiction.  Often the gaslighter will project whatever issues they’re dealing with on their partner in their defensiveness.

How do I stop the gaslighting?

The first step toward change when you’re facing gaslighting is owning your own reality.  Slow down and acknowledge the information or data you’re seeing.  Be open to possible alternate explanations for the data, but realize that if enough evidence points in a concerning direction, there’s likely some validity to it.  Don’t allow your partner to twist your reality and lead you to believe you’re seeing something that isn’t really there.

Learn to recognize the signs of defensiveness in your partner.  If you bring up a concern to your partner, see if they turn back to criticize you or lash out.  Often defensiveness is a sign of insecurity or weakness, and it can indicate denial or deception.

Explore and build up your self-esteem apart from your partner.  If you accept their negative words and assumptions about you as truth, then your confidence will likely suffer.  Instead, empower yourself by owning that you have value and worth.  Learn that your perspective matters and your intuition is valid.  Pursue your own self-care and support to build up your confidence and boundaries.

Remember the old adage that actions speak louder than words.  Addicts are great at making promises, but not always skilled at follow-through.  Instead of basing your trust on your spouse’s words, look at their actions and behaviors as representative of the truth.  Gaslighters can easily persuade you with their words, but their actions often tell a different story. 

If you know you’ve experienced gaslighting before, as when you’ve recently discovered a spouse’s addiction, use your feelings of self-doubt or crazymaking as red flags to ask yourself if the gaslighting is happening again.  Go back to reviewing the data to see if there is evidence of deception or denial.  If so, detach from the gaslighter, build up your own self-esteem, and set or enforce appropriate boundaries for your own safety.

pinterest_questioning_reality_gaslighting_and_emotional_manipulation_in_relationships_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

Are you wondering if you’ve been subject to gaslighting in your own relationship?  Do you feel like you’re going crazy in your relationship?  Have you found out about your partner’s addiction and are wondering how to learn to trust your intuition again?  At Restored Hope, I offer specialized counseling for partners of sex addicts who are reeling from the discovery of their spouse’s behaviors.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or email me to schedule your first appointment and hear how I can help.

Finding Your People: Social Support in Addiction and Trauma Recovery

title_finding_your_people_social_support_in_recovery_from_addiction_and_trauma_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor-michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

In an early season of the television show Grey’s Anatomy, Christina, one of the main characters, has to undergo a medical procedure.  To do so, she needs to designate an emergency contact who can help her out if needed.  (If you’re a fan of the show, you know which scene I’m referring to.)  She writes down the name of Meredith, leading to an iconic phrase the show repeats through the seasons: “You’re my person.” 

We all need our “person.”  Or, in all honesty, our “people.”  We need those who can support us and help when we’re facing crisis.  But what if the biggest crisis you are facing is your own or your spouse’s struggle with sex and love addiction?

Maybe your spouse has just found you out and the behaviors you thought you could keep hidden from everyone are now coming to light.  Maybe you’re on the other side, discovering your spouse’s addiction, and you feel isolated and alone because of the shame tied to revealing his or her secret to others.  Having people to turn to and rely on when battling against sex and love addiction and trauma can be incredibly difficult, but it is essential for effective recovery.

Why is it so important?

For the Addict

We know that addiction thrives in secrecy, and accountability to others is a necessary component of maintaining sobriety.  Fear of feeling ashamed or rejected can keep you quiet.  But when you have people who know, they are more likely to hold you accountable for your actions because you’ll have to talk with them about it.  Honesty with your therapist is a great place to start, but you’ll also need to talk to people you can access more easily when you’re experiencing craving or wanting to act out. 

Speaking up about your addiction releases you from shame, paradoxically enough.  When you hear others’ stories and find similarities with their experience, you know experientially that you’re not alone.  Addiction is isolating because you can feel as though you’re the only one who struggles, and yet knowing others’ stories helps you rely on them for reassurance and validation when shame threatens to take over.

Talking to other individuals who have struggled in this area can be a helpful way to get feedback on what’s worked for them in their recovery.  When you’re on your own, it’s difficult to know how to stop.  But you can learn so much from people in recovery and notice your experience change as you integrate that new information.

For the Partner

Partners of sex and love addicts need to break through the feelings of isolation that come with discovery of a spouse’s addiction.  The pain and agony of finding out can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, grief, fear, and hurt.  These can be overwhelming when experienced on your own.  You might feel guilt or fear about sharing about your spouse’s addiction with others because of how it reflects on you or your self-esteem.  And yet you need to find a place where people can support you and help you not to feel so alone on this side of the trauma.

This support also allows you to have accountability for self-care and boundary setting.  Sometimes hearing from others about their experiences setting boundaries with their addicted spouse can help you have a better picture of what boundaries feel right for you.  These people can also connect with you if you’re having a hard day, listening to your difficult emotions or even offering practical help like taking care of your children.  Talking to others can remind you of your right to stand up for yourself, give yourself a voice, and practice self-care.

Another reason for connection is to find a safe place for yourself.  Lack of safety and stability in the home is a symptom that crops up often for partners in the wake of addiction.  Triggers can send your mood swinging back and forth as you relive the past years of your life in light of the addiction.  Finding a place where you can be with a friend or group on a regular basis can ease that burden by providing a consistent safe space in your life.

For Both

Sex and love addiction is an intimacy disorder often related to attachment wounds from earlier on in life.  Partners in trauma may also experience triggers related to their attachment style.

Attachment is a word that describes your experiences with caregivers at a young age.  These early attachments influence how you see others and the world around you, and they affect later relationships in life.  If your parents or caregivers were comforting, nurturing, and responded to your needs such that you felt loved, you’re set up to have a secure attachment.  But if your caregivers were unable to comfort and nurture you effectively, either by offering too much attention or not enough, you may have grown up with an insecure attachment style.  This is common if your caregivers dealt with their own experiences of addiction, depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles. 

The good news is that these attachment styles aren’t permanent.  You can “earn” secure attachment through involvement with safe individuals in your life who offer nurture and comfort to you through their relationship with you.  Creating secure attachments in your adult life is a major reason why social support is so essential in the recovery journey for both the addict and their partner.

How to Find Support

12 Step Groups

12 Step groups are an effective starting place to find community with other people who understand what you’re experiencing.  Find a group that’s a good fit for you by attending at least six times and seeing if you feel connected and supported.  The best groups for sex and love addicts are Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA).  If you’re local to Michigan, these fellowships are particularly active and have several meetings in the Ann Arbor area.

There are also 12 Step groups for partners of addicts to address their own trauma.  COSA and S-Anon are great options for finding a safe place to talk about your experience and receive support.  If you aren’t comfortable attending a group specific to sex and love addiction, or there aren’t options in your area, Al-Anon is another great resource as a recovery program for friends and family of alcoholics.

Church-Based Support Groups

Finding a support group at your local church is also a helpful option.  If you’re a Christian, a church-based support group can be a helpful way to integrate faith into your recovery journey, as well as find support systems and accountability. Celebrate Recovery is a Christian 12-Step based program in churches around the country.  In the Ann Arbor area, churches such as NorthRidge and Oak Pointe offer groups for addicts and partners of addicts.

Therapy Groups

Many therapists offer group therapy as an additional option for extra support in your recovery.  There is often an extra layer of safety in these groups because they are run by therapists who maintain confidentiality and manage group dynamics.   

Existing Relationships

As an addict, you may struggle with telling anyone you are close to due to the shame of how their opinion of you might change.  But part of recovery involves coming clean in all areas of your life, including with people who are important to you.  While early in recovery, identify the people who are safest for you: those who are least likely to judge you and who you would trust to hold you accountable or support you.

As a partner, safety is incredibly important, as you are likely experiencing intense emotions and may be deciding whether to stay or go in the relationship.  Telling someone who’s going to bash your spouse or, alternatively, try to convince you to stay isn’t always helpful.  Instead, look for people who would be supportive of you no matter what you decide and share with them.  Consider your motivation to tell and the long-term ramifications of telling others. 

In Intimate Treason, Claudia Black and Cara Tripodi recommend using the image of a stoplight to decide who might be safe to tell.  Make a list of people you’d like to tell and rank them in terms of the three lights: red, yellow, and green.  Green individuals are supportive, safe people who you can trust with just about anything.  People in the yellow category may not feel safe to turn to for emotional support, but need to know for logistical reasons.  Those in the red are people who are unlikely to be supportive, will toss around blame, or may minimize the behaviors.  You might find, in this process, that family aren’t always safe to rely on emotionally at first, but may need to know for logistical reasons, such as when you are separating.

Have a conversation with your spouse and decide together who you will tell about the addiction and the corresponding trauma.  For the addict, you might feel challenged and uncomfortable by being asked to share your story, but openness is key to recovery.  For the partner, having a conversation allows you to feel free to talk to people without feeling guilt about telling your spouse’s story.  For individuals who are in the “yellow” group listed above, write out a short script as a letter informing them of the necessary information without going into too much detail and agree upon this together before sending it or talking to them.

While recovering from addiction is one of the most painful experiences you will likely go through in your life, the gift of lasting and supportive friendships that can come from that experience is one that can’t be matched.  Lean into this chance to build connection and community.

pinterest_finding_your_people_social_support_in_recovery_from_addiction_and_trauma_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor-michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

Are you feeling isolated and alone after finding out about your spouse’s addiction? Are you an addict who is struggling with feelings of shame and having a hard time opening up? Have you felt disconnected from others as a result of your struggle with trauma? At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help you work through the roadblocks that are in the way of recovering from addiction or trauma, including the experience of isolation and loneliness. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

Fairy Tale Farce: A Review of The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor Payson

title_fairy_tale_farce_a_review_of_the_wizard_of_oz_and_other_narcissists_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_christian_sex_and_love_addition_ann_arbor_michigan.png

What comes to mind when you hear the word “narcissist”?  The word gets thrown around a lot today as a synonym for selfishness.  The millennial generation gets stereotyped as narcissistic because of increased focus on the self or use of social media to present an image.  But narcissism in its truest form is more insidious and damaging than the stereotype we assume.

In her book The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, Eleanor Payson outlines how to recognize both the overt and covert narcissist, different relationships you might find yourself in with a narcissist, and how to set boundaries to keep your sense of self intact.

According to the DSM-5, someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by:

  • Grandiosity and self-importance

  • Need for excessive admiration

  • A lack of empathy

  • Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, love, beauty, or brilliance

  • Belief in personal uniqueness or specialness

  • Sense of entitlement

  • Envy of others

  • Belief that others are envious of him/her

  • Arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes

  • Manipulative behavior with others 

For a narcissist, his excessive self-absorption is a protection against unconscious but powerful feelings of inadequacy.
— Eleanor Payson

While a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder requires at least five of these criteria, someone with narcissistic traits can have milder symptoms.  You might notice that he or she is sensitive to criticism, has rigidity and criticism toward others but leniency toward the self, and projects his or her own issues on others. 

NPD individuals can never admit wrong and are expert manipulators to convince you that they are right.  They can often be dismissing of your needs, leading to a non-reciprocal relationship.  If you don’t serve a purpose to the narcissist, they don’t give you the time of day.

Addiction, by its very nature, is narcissistic.  While sex and love addiction doesn’t necessarily correlate to NPD, many narcissistic traits are present in addiction, such as lack of empathy, manipulative behavior and gaslighting, entitlement, fantasy, and a sense of uniqueness.

What I Learned from This Book

Overt and covert narcissists are different, with the covert narcissist more difficult to detect.

Overt narcissists are what we would typically imagine: someone who is charismatic, engaging, and loves the spotlight.  You often feel special at first when this individual pays attention to you, but they become less interested in you when the spotlight is off of them.  They have many friends, usually at a superficial level.  They crave admiration and support, which their charm allows them to receive.

Covert narcissists are less showy, drawing you in by being attentive and listening, but eventually becoming controlling and detached when you disagree.  They express anger in passive-aggressive ways, and you struggle to determine where you stand with them because they are aloof and indifferent. This type of narcissist blends in well with helping or service professions, such as church involvement or counseling.  They gain a sense of power or value from association with their “cause.”

Relationship with a narcissist involves loss of the authentic self.

The inadequacy the NPD individual feels is mitigated by seeing others as an extension of the self.  Thus, when you are in relationship with the narcissist, it becomes easy to lose awareness of your true self.  You might not be aware of your own emotions and have intense negative beliefs about yourself, stemming from the criticisms of the NPD.  You can end up developing codependency and caretaking for the NPD.  You might focus more on the expectations of others instead of your own desires. 

The confidence we so desperately need comes only from our authentic self.
— Eleanor Payson

Understanding your own strengths and value is the path to getting to know your authentic self.  Learning who you truly are can help you see the flaws in the NPD’s thinking about you more clearly.  This will then lead to more resilience to negative messages about yourself.

Notice early and get out if you can.

The major takeaway this book offers is education on how to recognize a narcissistic person.  If you aren’t already in relationship with an NPD individual, or if you’re in the early stages where you still have the freedom to leave, this book offers you the opportunity to learn about warning signs and take action.  Payson emphasizes multiple times that believing you can change a narcissist is risky behavior: the best way to deal with narcissists is to set boundaries or leave while you still have the chance. 

Boundaries and self-care are essential.

Yet once you’re entrenched in a relationship with a narcissist, assertiveness becomes indispensable.  When I work with partners of sex addicts, boundaries and self-care are the first areas I target as necessary for empowerment.  Therapy can help you as you explore how to set effective boundaries with the goal of giving yourself a voice and speaking up for yourself.  Know that this will likely require practice with safe people first, as the narcissist is a master manipulator that can twist the conversation.  You’ll also need to learn new strategies for setting boundaries.

Your primary work involves developing the ability to validate your thoughts, feelings, and needs along with an ability to stand up for yourself in the relationship.
— Eleanor Payson

Your reactions are a clue to discerning the narcissist.

When you are always trying to please someone else or gain their approval with a corresponding loss of self-esteem, you might be dealing with a narcissist.  You may notice yourself becoming the primary giver, ending any reciprocity in the relationship.  You might find yourself caught in lose-lose situations regularly.  The pain associated with these reactions is like a light turning on in the dashboard of your car: it’s an indicator of the need to change.

There are a variety of situations where you might have contact with a narcissist.

In particular, the parent-child relationship is explored at length in the book, likely because it can lead to repetition of patterns from childhood in adult years, or addictive tendencies that arise as coping strategies from a traumatic childhood.  If you are a child of a narcissist, you must to understand that the parents’ behaviors aren’t your fault.

Beyond the parent-child relationship, you might see a NPD individual in a romantic relationship, friendship, work relationship, or even service professional.  In the workplace, Payson recommends communicating everything in writing, getting emotional support outside of work, and involving a third party in discussions.  If you’re in the process of looking for a therapist, she recommends interviewing your mental health professional and checking out a few options before making a final decision.

Ultimately, this book offers both warning and empowerment.  Payson gives you the skills to recognize the narcissist in your midst before you become established in relationship with him or her.  Yet she also offers empowerment to learn about your authentic self, practice assertiveness, set boundaries, and stand up for yourself.

pinterest_fairy_tale_farce_a_review_of_the_wizard_of_oz_and_other_narcissists_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_christian_sex_and_love_addition_ann_arbor_michigan.png

Are you dealing with the ripple effects of having a narcissistic parent?  Are you currently in a relationship with an addict who is showing narcissistic tendencies?  Do you see some NPD qualities in yourself?  If so, there is hope.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help you lean into more of your authentic self, learn how to set effective boundaries, and release the your insecurities.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

Understanding Ambivalence: How Recognizing the Push-and-Pull of Your Desires Can Set You Free

title_understanding_ambivalence_how_recognizing_the_push_and_pull_of_your_desires_can_set_you_free_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

Think of the last difficult decision you had to make.  Maybe it was as simple as where you’d like to go out to eat or as significant as a change in career path.  What makes the decision difficult is the tension between the options: you might desire some more than others, or fear the downside if you make the wrong decision.  Eventually, the choice is made when one benefit outweighs the other and you feel confident enough moving forward.

But what happens when you get stuck between two desires?  Or worse yet, when you feel two opposing emotions about something at the same time?  Have you experienced loving someone and hating them in the same instant?  What about wanting closeness and intimacy, but pushing others away by your actions or words?

In these examples, what you’re experiencing is a phenomenon called ambivalence. 

What is ambivalence?

Ambivalence is often thought of as apathy or indifference, meaning you don’t care much about something or that it doesn’t matter to you.  On the contrary, ambivalence involves strong desires or emotions in opposition to one another.  You may feel pulled in two different directions at the same time, or you might flip-flop back and forth between two feelings.  This can take place in both simple decisions (where should we go for dinner?) as well as major desires (is this the person I want to marry?).

As time passes and you struggle to resolve these opposing emotions, you might find that you do experience a form of apathy.  The indifference is a numbing response to exhaustion from the tension of trying to balance both sides at once.

What in my story might cause ambivalence?

Ambivalence is common for survivors of sexual abuse or assault as they deal with the aftermath of their abuse.  In many cases, the abuser is someone with whom the survivor has a close relationship.  Positive memories and experiences with that person get mixed up with the abuse, and the confusion of feeling drastically different emotions toward the abuser can be overwhelming. The survivor may also struggle with aspects of sexual abuse that felt good when they confront the damage it has done in their lives.

Similarly, many partners of sex addicts experience the addict’s behaviors as a sexual violation against the partner.  Confusion around staying in the relationship to work things out or leaving is common as they try to reconcile the person they love with the addiction that has destroyed their relationship.

For addicts, shame is a major factor in ambivalence.  Addicts live a double life, attempting to balance the addictive thoughts and behaviors with the normal, everyday self.  Breaking off into these two versions of the self helps to ignore or deny the tension of ambivalence around the double life.

Ambivalence can appear in depression and anxiety as well.  If you’re anxious, you may hate being alone but feel terrified of breaking into a group or connecting with others.  In depression, ambivalence can appear when you lack the motivation and energy for self-care and yet know that the way to feel better is through exercising, spending time with loved ones, or other activities to take care of yourself.

How can I recognize my ambivalence?

One common characteristic of ambivalence is all-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking patterns.  The rigidity of thought patterns requiring a choice between two extremes is what makes the tension between them feel so difficult.  Sitting in the gray area of wanting two things equally and being unsure of what the right next step is can be stressful.  Often, that leads to a desire to escape.

That desire to escape is where apathy and numbness come in.  When alternating back and forth between the two desires or emotions becomes too much, you feel defeated by the struggle.  Rather than staying with the tension, you might just throw in the towel and numb out with addiction or distraction. 

How can I deal with my ambivalence? 

Acknowledge that there are gray areas.  Instead of the rigidity of black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, allow yourself to recognize that you can (and are!) feeling or desiring two seemingly opposite things at the same time. 

Press into that knowledge and explore your ambivalence with God and others.  Talk about it with a therapist or trusted friend and explore what might be coming up with each of the desires.   

As a Christian, ambivalence leads to greater intimacy with God.  So many Psalms contain ambivalence: lament, pain, and crying out to God; followed by reminders of the goodness of God and his character.  Often the Christian life involves suffering while also seeking to place hope in God.

Name your desires, even if it hurts to put words to them.  The naming of desires is painful because it involves grief, in understanding that your desires aren’t met yet and you may never see those desires realized.  But recognizing and working through that grief leads to life rather than numbing or escapism.  Addicts in particular struggle to know their true desires, as addiction has offered immediate relief or numbing from desires in the past.  In owning and acknowledging desires, addicts receive freedom to seek out other ways to meet that need instead of through addictive behaviors. 

Learn to practice acceptance. Acceptance isn’t settling for the status quo or pretending that things are okay when they really aren’t.  Instead, acceptance involves recognizing the reality of where you are right now in this present moment, and reminding yourself that you’re okay.  If you aren’t satisfied with what you’re experiencing in the present, acceptance invites you to explore what you might like to change in the future.  Accepting your ambivalence helps you to begin to be curious about it and seek out the story behind your ambivalence.  Understanding your story opens you up to change.

pinterest_understanding_ambivalence_how_recognizing_the_push_and_pull_of_your_desires_can_set_you_free_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

Do you struggle with ambivalence often in your life?  Have you gotten to the point of numbing and indifference after a long struggle with ambivalence?  Or do you notice rigid and inflexible thinking patterns that make it difficult to make decisions or practice kindness toward yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help you understand your personal story of ambivalence and how you can move forward into greater acceptance and awareness of your desires.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

Power Dynamics in Love: How Understanding the Karpman Drama Triangle Can Save Your Relationship (Part 1 of 2)

title_power_dynamics_in_love_how_understanding_the_karpman_triangle_can_save_your_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

Here we go again.

The familiar scene plays out as you hear your spouse’s voice rise in anger.  They’re targeting you and criticizing you again for something you’ve done wrong.  Why is it always my fault?  I never see other couples fighting like this.  You feel beaten down, exhausted, and maybe even a little ashamed.

But as your spouse’s criticism digs deeper, your tone subtly starts to shift.  You raise your voice in response: “You think I’m the problem?   It’s not like you’re helping!”  You then launch into your own volley of criticisms, anger causing you to yell and berate your spouse, saying things you know you’ll later regret.  In your rage, you might even break things or throw an object across the room.

As you unleash your anger, you notice a look of fear cross your spouse’s eyes.  Suddenly you get hit with a wave of guilt.  What am I doing?  I shouldn’t be yelling.  Why did I let my temper get out of hand?  You start to backpedal, looking for ways to make your spouse feel better.  You make promises to change, to be more loving and kind, to help out around the house more often, whatever it is to appease the situation.

And perhaps you succeed at this for a day or two, but eventually you feel taken advantage of once again.  You see yourself trying to change, but your spouse hasn’t changed at all.  As your annoyance rises, you decide to bring it up again, and your spouse reacts in anger.

And so the cycle begins again.

The Karpman Drama Triangle

Does this sound familiar to you?  The scene above describes the power dynamics at play in the Karpman drama triangle.  Stephen Karpman (https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/) a psychiatrist specializing in transactional analysis, developed this model to describe the constantly shifting power dynamics in relationships.  These dynamics are common in addictive relationships.   

Image Source: https://www.lynneforrest.com/articles/2008/06/the-faces-of-victim/

We all play each of these three roles in our relationships, but you may tend to start your spiral around the triangle in one of the three types: victim, persecutor, or rescuer.  Where you join the triangle stems from your experiences in your family-of-origin.  You might even find yourself experiencing all three roles internally, as you use internal criticism to try to motivate yourself (persecutor), only to become exhausted and overwhelmed (victim) and attempt rescuing yourself from your pain through addiction or numbing behaviors (rescuer).

Taking on any one of these three roles provides a distraction from your own issues that need to be addressed or the true problem.  While these patterns are learned in childhood from watching others interact and communicate, they may no longer be serving you. Eventually, all roles lead back to the victim, which adds to feelings of powerlessness to change.

Let’s learn about how these three interact.

The Victim

The victim is the “one down” position in the triangle.  In the victim role, you feel like a child or overly needy.  You might feel targeted or blamed with accompanying feelings of shame.  This shame often originates in past trauma.  The victim has unrealistic expectations of others and therefore is often disappointed when others don’t come through.

Often these expectations have to do with nurture or care, which victims feel incapable of providing for themselves.  In fact, the victim tends to feel unable to handle any stress or negative circumstances, as their shame-based low self-esteem and negative beliefs about themselves limit them from any agency to change.  Their lives happen to them rather than due to any power of their own.  However, they still feel resentful from always being “one-down” and incapable of helping themselves. 

An important note: the victim role is NOT equated with being a true victim of harm or abuse.  Many victims (or as I prefer to say, survivors) or trauma or abuse in childhood or adult years are empowered, responsible, and strong individuals who are taking ownership of their lives in mature and assertive ways.  If you are a survivor of trauma, abuse, or a spouse’s addiction, you ought to be treated with compassion for your experience of trauma.  You did not ask for the harm done to you, nor did you deserve it in any way.  The word “victim” here is meant to represent a role that is played in a relational dynamic that serves a protective purpose but ultimately doesn’t allow you to live into your true, authentic self. 

The Perpetrator

The perpetrator role, in contrast with the victim, feels and acts like a teenager.  They act out to deal with their discomfort or pain and protect themselves from the world, which they have learned is harmful and dangerous.  Experiencing abuse in family-of-origin can often lead to learning to bottle up anger in a way that comes out int he perpetrator role later.  Their behaviors are tied to feelings of shame, worthlessness, and fear.

This role is constantly defensive and has to be right, living in survival mode and lashing out at others.  Their defensiveness is a way of regaining power when they’ve been victimized or harmed, as they fear being powerless in situations like they experienced in childhood. Viewing themselves as the true victim, the perpetrator’s behaviors are motivated by a desire to have the other person feel their pain.  They often view the individual in the victim role with contempt and believe that their retaliation toward the victim Is simply giving the other person what they deserve.  Perpetrators may think, “I have to hurt them before they hurt me.”

In a relationship with addiction present, this is often the addict.  They are caught up in denial of their behaviors and have a difficult time admitting to their own experience of harming others.  This can be understood in light of the shame they feel: to admit that they are the perpetrator would be devastating to their need to be strong in the face of feelings of powerlessness.

The Rescuer

The rescuer is the “one up” position, typically characterized by feeling like a parent and superior to the two other roles.  Another way of categorizing this role is as a caretaker, which is often where many rescuers find their identity.  In addictive dynamics, this person is the enabler of the addict.  They often don’t like conflict or confrontation, and would rather smooth things over.

The rescuer’s “help” is meant not to truly benefit the other person, but instead to assuage their own anxiety and allow them to feel valued.  They believe that if they don’t help, everything will fall apart.  The rescuer can related to the victim in a codependent manner as they try to fix or save others.  In fact, they need to have someone to save, and can assume others can’t handle something and then take over. 

Rescuers don’t have needs – or at least, they deny that they do.  Since they are the one who helps everyone else and their value comes from this identity, they either don’t admit to their own needs or don’t see them as important.  Similar to the other roles, this tendency begins in childhood.  Eventually, however, the endless helping turns into feelings of resentment and bitterness, as they expect affirmation and appreciation for all they’ve done for others.  Yet they believe that if they are needed, they are loved, and are fearful of being abandoned if they stop helping.

In the next part, we’ll go into more depth about how to escape from the drama triangle through taking responsibility for yourself and your choices and setting boundaries.  For now, notice these patterns in your interactions with others.  How did your family interact with one another while you were growing up?  Where have you seen examples of these dynamics play out in your life or in the lives of others?

pinterest_power_dynamics_in_love_how_understanding_the_karpman_triangle_can_save_your_relationship_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

Are you exhausted from helping others all the time, but find yourself unable to ask for what you need?  Are you always feeling like the victim of your circumstances or of others’ actions?  Or maybe you’re recognizing the addictive patterns in your life that cause you to harm other people.  Wherever you find yourself on this drama triangle, I can help you learn to break free from the trap of these power dynamics.  I offer counseling services to overcome these patterns at Restored Hope in Ann Arbor.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment today.

Learning to Be Yourself Again: A Review of Codependent No More by Melody Beattie

title_learning_to_be_yourself_again_a_review_of_codependent_no_more_by_melody_beattie_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

If you’ve been the spouse, child, sibling, or in another connected relationship with an addict, you know the havoc it can wreak on your sense of self and peace.  It can affect your self-esteem and make you feel like you’re crazy or out of control.  You may begin to feel like your life is dictated by the addict’s using and your efforts to manage the aftermath of his or her addiction.

With sex and love addiction, particularly for spouses of the addicts, this takes its own unique toll.  Partners can feel responsible for their spouse’s behaviors because the issue is sexual.  Sometimes addicts will blame their spouses for “not getting it at home,” so they seek sex out elsewhere.  Even if the addict isn’t blaming the spouse, he or she may still deal with insecurity about body image, sexuality, worth, and value.  This can lead to behaviors that could be deemed codependent.

What is codependency?

Codependency, or co-addiction, is the name derived from early models of helping those married to addicts.  Codependency is a word that describes dysfunctional relationships where there is an over-dependence on another individual to provide you with security, safety, sense of self, or value.  It involves losing yourself in someone else.

A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.
— Melody Beattie

Unfortunately, in recent years, codependency has gotten a bad reputation. Spouses felt blamed or held responsible for their spouse’s acting out, as this communicated they had to change for their spouse to stop using. This does not sufficiently address the reality of the trauma caused by a significant other’s addiction.  While codependency may exist for some of these individuals, the pain of the trauma needs to be addressed and healed before looking at the possibility of codependency.

Codependency is still worth exploring, however, because it can shed light on how behaviors can change as a result of trauma.  Understanding codependency can help men and women feel empowered to change their lives through understanding the dynamics of control in a relationship.  In particular, if you find yourself in these types of relationships repeatedly, it is beneficial to take a look at some of these characteristics and see if you might benefit from a change.

Codependent No More

Melody Beattie, the author of the book Codependent No More*, began writing about codependency in 1986 when there were very few resources available to the public about codependency.  Her pioneering work in the study and treatment of codependence has paved the way for healing for many spouses and significant others of addicts.  This book and its corresponding workbook* have helped many men and women learn the skills they need to overcome codependency and learn the skills to take care of themselves. 

What I’ve Learned

You don’t need to define yourself as “codependent” or find yourself in an addictive relationship to benefit from the lessons of this book.  If you are in these types of relationships, however, or if you are a partner of a sex and love addict, then the following words will have particular resonance for you.

The only person you are in control of is yourself.

This is one of the hardest lessons to live by practically.  You know what’s best for others and you want to help them see what you see, but often that leads to controlling behaviors and obsessive thoughts.  Detach from the problems you aren’t in control over and allow yourself to focus only on those circumstances that are within your control.

When we attempt to control people and things that we have no business controlling, we are controlled.
— Melody Beattie

Understanding your own emotions is key.

Often in codependency, you can become reactive and not always know what’s triggering your anger.  Understanding the variety of emotional experiences you are having can help you learn more adaptive ways of coping.  Know that your emotions are not bad in themselves: how you react to them can have negative consequences, but welcome your emotions as indicators that something is not right. Explore how your ability to name and feeling emotions has been impacted by past trauma, either from your family-of-origin or from your relationship with an addict or other dysfunctional individual.

Moving from victim to victorious empowers you to make the best choices for yourself.

Viewing oneself as a victim of circumstance or of the addict is often justified in some way, but it keeps you feeling trapped and hopeless rather than empowered to change.  You might feel paralysis because you don’t think you have the power to make decisions to take care of yourself.  In her book Moving Beyond Betrayal*, Vicki Tidwell Palmer identifies the importance of both communicating needs and setting boundaries to get your needs met.

The surest way to make ourselves crazy is to get involved in other people’s business, and the quickest way to become sane and happy is to attend to our own affairs.
— Melody Beattie

Notice when you’re feeling like a victim and/or your needs aren’t being met and explore that further.  What might be leading you to feel that way?  What ways might you be acting in a way that reinforces the message that you are a victim (ie. through rescuing or enabling)?  What are your needs?  Can you meet them on your own or do you need help?

Break the value-based messages of shame, being “good enough,” or faulty Christian teaching.

Codependent thoughts and behaviors can be intensified by feelings of shame.  Perhaps you learned lessons as a child that you were only valuable or given attention when you served others. It could be that denying your own needs and caregiving was how you demonstrated that you were a true Christian.  The Biblical truth of serving others may have been twisted such that you think you ought to accept abuse and harm without complaint because that’s the “Christian” thing to do.

Identify what messages of shame are driving your tendency to care more for others than for yourself, whether coming from your faith background or from family relationships.  Understand how those are influencing your present day and seek to affirm the reality of your value outside of what you can give to others.

Self-care is more than just a trend.

Beattie defines self-care as an attitude or perspective toward yourself and your life that reminds you that you are responsible for yourself and your own well-being.  It is a reminder that you cannot depend on the object of your obsession to take care of you perfectly and without fault.  Self-care involves kindness and grace toward yourself with corresponding loving actions.

Practice self-acceptance and remind yourself that you are okay in this present moment.  Identify your needs and set goals for self-care to learn that you are capable of making decisions to care for yourself.  Include fun and play in your self-care as you get to know the inner child within you that may have been harmed by past caregivers.  Exercise and take care of your physical health for the added mental health benefits.

Acceptance doesn’t mean settling.

Practicing acceptance is a helpful add-on to releasing control of others.  When you acknowledge that you are the only person you can control, it requires you to admit that you are powerless over others’ behaviors.  But acceptance doesn’t mean you have to be okay with the way things are.  Instead, use acceptance to acknowledge the truth of where you are right now and assess the reality of what it will take to change.  Practicing acceptance is for you, not the other person, because it allows you to experience peace.  It may require moving through stages of grief before you can adequately feel acceptance.  Meet with a trusted friend or counselor to help you move through this grief to a place of acceptance. 

pinterest_learning_to_be_yourself_again_a_review_of_codependent_no_more_by_melody_beattie_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_christian_sex_and_love_addiction.png

Do you find yourself trying to control the behaviors of your loved one who is struggling with addiction?  Are you feeling hopeless and trapped, without any sense of how you can change?  Do you have a hard time living your own life because it seems like your spouse’s or significant other’s sex and love addiction rules your life?  At Restored Hope, I offer specialized treatment for partners of sex and love addicts to help you heal from trauma and feel empowered to make choices that are the best for you.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to learn more and schedule your first appointment.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

Finding Your Power Center: How To Leave Victimhood Behind and Own Your Power

If you’ve been on the receiving end of a spouse’s betrayal through an affair or sex and love addiction, there are times when you feel completely powerless and out of control.  Your partner’s behaviors and decisions baffle you.  Oftentimes the behaviors affect you directly, and it can be maddening to feel out of control.

Moments like these lead you to feel like the victim of someone else’s chaos or poor decision-making.  You may feel trapped, angry, or afraid of confrontation or change.  You’re probably also exhausted from trying to manage the emotional upheaval from dealing with the fallout of someone else’s actions, questioning whether or not you can trust them, and doubting your own self-worth.

How do I know I’m not in my power center?

When someone else’s actions or the circumstances around you leave you feeling like a victim, here are some symptoms you might notice:

  • Reacting rather than responding

  • Feeling trapped and stuck: “I just have to sit down and take it.”

  • Intense and overwhelming emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or anger

  • A sense of hopelessness: “Things will never change.”

  • Powerlessness: “There’s nothing I can do about this.”

If you’re dealing with a partner’s sex and love addiction, here might be some other symptoms you notice:

  • Denying or ignoring your partner’s addiction

  • Avoiding signs that addiction is continuing

  • Obsessively checking on your partner’s whereabouts and actions

  • Enabling addictive behaviors by taking ownership/blaming yourself

  • Attempting to control the addict’s behaviors

  • Feeling like you’re the addict’s parent rather than partner

How do I reclaim my power center?

The biggest shift needed to reclaim your power is defining yourself as someone capable of creating change, rather than a victim.  This is difficult because it may be true that there are things outside your control.  The actions, thoughts, and decisions of others are not something you have the power to control.  However, you can choose how you think and act in response to these behaviors and meet your personal needs within difficult circumstances. 

Vicki Tidwell Palmer, in her book Moving Beyond Betrayal*, does a great job of outlining how to find your authentic personal power by moving from victim to victorious. She invites you to take a step back from chaotic situations to identify what you need and choose appropriate steps to get those needs met.  Be kind to yourself in this process, and don’t heap shame on yourself when you find yourself feeling like a victim again. Instead, feel empowered to make a different choice rather than feeling like your emotions are taking over.

At times, taking back power can be as simple as naming that you are powerless.  In the Twelve Steps, Step One involves admitting that you are powerless over the addictive behavior.  In truth, you are powerless over your partner’s behaviors, and admitting this truth frees you to make decisions that are best for your well-being.  This process can teach you to meet needs through supportive relationships and friendships, self-care, and spirituality.

In particular with addicts who are either in denial or in active addiction, it can be easy to get caught up in the cycle of feeling like a victim or enabling their behavior.  Instead, admit that you are powerless over the denial itself.  While you can communicate the effect your partner’s behaviors have on you, you will need to support yourself with appropriate boundaries.  Setting boundaries to protect yourself and meet needs in healthy ways will allow you to reclaim power over your own life.

Practical Next Steps

Practice grounding exercises when you’re experiencing intense emotional responses.

Grounding exercises are a way that you can reconnect with the present moment when your emotions threaten to take over.  Sit in a comfortable spot and pay attention to your breathing.  Place your feet flat on the ground and notice the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.  Hold an object that has a unique texture, such as a smooth rock or a soft toy and connect with your sense of touch.  Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 breathing exercise (outlined in this article) where you connect deep breathing with noticing sensory information around you.

Pay attention to your body to identify what you need.

Check in with yourself emotionally by noticing the physical sensations in your body.  Identify previous times you have felt those physical sensations.  Ask yourself about those memories: what did you need at that time?  Safety?  Comfort?  Time alone?  Love?

Journal and reflect on these needs and identify healthy ways you can meet each of them.  For example, you might give yourself safety by removing yourself from situations that feel unsafe.  You can find comfort by calling or visiting a friend and talking with them about your experience.  You can feel love by spending time with a beloved pet or practicing self-love through kindness toward yourself.

Set a boundary or Make a request to move closer to what you need.

Some needs aren’t as easy to meet on your own.  In that case, you can make a request of your partner or others in order to get that need met.  Keep in mind that this request needs to be made with acceptance of the other’s response.  They have the right to say yes or no, and you will need to prepare for how you will respond in either case.

Setting boundaries is a helpful way to practice self-care or self-protection.  Boundaries are not meant to be a weapon or a punishment.  Instead, they are a tool by which you increase feelings of safety and stability in your life and relationships.  For example, if your spouse tends to raise his or her voice while having an argument, you might set a boundary that when he or she raises their voice, you will walk away from the conversation.  Or if your spouse continues sexually acting out, you may set a boundary of sleeping in separate bedrooms to help you feel safe.

Make agreements with your partner about supporting one another’s boundaries and needs.

Work together with your spouse to find compromise about current needs you each have in the relationship, especially in light of any addictive issues at play.  Identify the needs you listed above and come up with several possible solutions of how to resolve them.  Have a discussion with your partner about those needs and come to a place of compromise where you can both be satisfied with your agreement.  This conversation is likely best done in the context of a couples therapy session, if your partner is willing.   

When you’ve gotten to a place of compromise, write down the actions to which you and your partner have committed and sign them as agreements, giving a sense of gravity to the document.  If these agreements are not being honored by one or both of you, you have this physical document to revisit and have additional conversations about what might have caused the agreement to be broken.

Have you felt out of control with your emotions after discovering your partner’s betrayal?  Do you struggle to set boundaries or know what you need?  Are you afraid of confronting your loved one’s addictive behavior for fear that you will lose the relationship?  At Restored Hope, I offer compassionate counseling and care as you walk through these difficult life circumstances and seek to regain a sense of power and control over your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up an appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor counseling offices.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

How to Cope with Trauma-Related Anger

title_how_to_cope_with_trauma_related_anger_restored_hope_counseling_services_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

The experience of sexual abuse or sexual assault as a child, teen, or young adult can have traumatic effects throughout your life. In a similar vein, betrayal by a spouse who is a sex addict can shatter your sense of normalcy and leave you reeling from the traumatic backlash.  It is normal to experience anger in response to traumatic events.

Yet we often fear or avoid anger because of its perceived destructive effects.  We throw around statements like, “hurt people hurt people,” as though it’s a given that anger stemming from hurt will harm those around us.  If you watched parents express anger with violence or abuse, you’re more likely to be primed to believe that anger is unacceptable.  However, anger is not inherently bad nor is it harmful.

Reactions to Anger

There are various different ways in which we naturally react to anger caused by trauma.

Uncontrollable outbursts of anger

Anger may feel like it is constantly simmering under the surface, waiting to burst out at the slightest provocation.  You could be more irritable and likely to lash out at others around you.  You may feel out of control of the intensity of your anger response.  You might also experience shame, especially if your anger is directed toward your loved ones, or it is similar to unhealthy expressions of anger you experienced as a child.

This type of reaction to anger can involve violence, either with physical action or with words.  If you are becoming violent with those around you, please seek help.

Suppressing your anger.

If anger isn’t acceptable to you, you may take your anger and turn it inward as self-contempt or self-loathing.  This is a common response for women.  At its most extreme, this suppression of anger can turn into self-harm behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, or suicidal thinking as ways to express the anger that has no other outlet.  Sometimes suppressing anger can be encouraged by religious backgrounds that place an overemphasis on forgiveness and equate anger with sin.   

If you are actively having suicidal thoughts and considering taking your own life, please care for yourself by calling the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Numbing out.

A third way might be ignoring anger through distraction or numbing, until you are no longer able to access the anger itself.  You may know it’s there or see it come out from time to time, but you just can’t get and stay angry.  This can come after prolonged suppression of anger when the body adapts to the response of the mind.  It can also be a way of dissociation or detaching from reality when the trauma has significantly affected your sense of self.

Healthy Response to Anger

Anger is a natural response to perceived injustice or wrong being committed against you.  In many cases of trauma, the anger is justified by the wrongful actions of an abuser or betrayer.  You can recognize the emotion of anger as acceptable because feelings alone do not harm anyone.  In fact, anger can, at times, indicate love or care for other people, like your children or fellow survivors of abuse.  You can learn to use your anger to serve you and help you move forward, rather than destroy your life.  The more aware you become of your experience of anger, the more able you are to manage it effectively.

How to Deal with Anger

Get into therapy.

First and foremost: if you are a survivor of trauma, whether it is from your childhood or from more recent experiences, the most effective way you can work through it is through therapyEMDR-Certified therapists and trauma-informed therapists do specialized work in treating trauma.  Find a therapist who you click with and trust them to be your support as you walk through the anger and other corresponding emotions that arise from your trauma.

Identify your go-to response to anger.

From the list above, identify yourself: are you someone who stuffs their anger down, only to turn it inward on yourself?  Do you find yourself lashing out at others and feeling angry all the time?  Or do you numb out and find it difficult to experience or express anger at all?  Examine the origin of this automatic response: did your family or parents handle anger in this way?  In the opposite way?  Where did you learn to express your anger in this way?  Acknowledging that anger is learned helps you to feel empowered to learn new ways to deal with anger.

Identify other emotions that are intensifying the anger or getting in the way.

Your anger may be directed at your abuser in the case of sexual abuse, or your spouse in the case of spousal betrayal and addiction.  However, you might find outbursts of anger in the present moment have nothing to do with the individual who wronged you: instead, they may be directed at individuals you interact with in everyday life.  It may be connected to stress, feelings of overwhelm, hurt, disappointment, or sadness.  Explore how any of the emotions behind the anger might be difficult for you based on past experiences.

Conversely, if you struggle to access your anger, examine what might be getting in the way.  Perhaps fear of how you will react or how others will perceive you prevents you from feeling comfortable experiencing your anger.  Follow the narrative through with these questions: if I really allowed myself to get angry, what do I believe would happen?  How true do I believe this is?

Slow down and notice your body.

When you feel anger coming up, hit the pause button.  Slow yourself down for long enough to check in with your thoughts and experience.  Notice your body’s physical response to the anger.  Describe or draw the anger: what color is it?  What shape, size, and texture?  Is it moving or standing still?  Where is it located in your body?

Write a letter to your abuser or betrayer.

For those who are pointing the finger of self-blame at themselves, it can be helpful to write out a list of the reality of how the other person harmed you. This can assist you in feeling justified anger at the abuser for their actions, rather than directing that anger at yourself.  I’d recommend you write this letter as a personal exercise rather than a letter to give to the abuser or betrayer: this will help you feel more freedom to express the full weight of your anger and be as honest as you’d like.  If you find yourself wanting to share that letter, talk with your therapist and support individuals before making that decision.

Reframe your anger as a “dashboard light” telling you there’s something wrong.

Use your anger as a tool to indicate something’s off.  It could be that you need to step up your self-care through contacting a supportive friend, attending an extra therapy session, or practicing a breathing exercise.  If you learn to accept the anger as it arises and examine what your anger is telling you, it will help the angry feelings to dissipate.  This increased awareness of the messages of anger can help you channel that anger into assertiveness and setting boundaries in relationships that trigger your anger.

Speak out on behalf of others currently experiencing trauma.

Channel your anger and frustration over past trauma into service for those who are experiencing similar situations.  Write letters to government officials about fighting back against human trafficking or legislation related to sexual abuse.  Attend events or rallies to support causes that empower women.  Volunteer at a domestic violence shelter.  Get involved in survivor’s groups where you can find others who have been through similar experiences.

Release anger through physical activity.

Often anger can feel like restlessness or pent up energy.  When anger threatens to overwhelm, channel that energy into physical activity that will increase your endorphins and help you release your anger.  Take a kickboxing or self-defense class to help you to feel empowered and able to defend yourself.  Go for a long run and imagine the anger releasing into the ground with each footfall.

Write a statement affirming how you will deal with anger.

Negative beliefs about yourself or the world around you can perpetuate feelings of anger.  Once you’ve identified the sources of your anger and your influences on how you experience or express anger, identify faulty thinking patternsthat make it difficult for you to feel in control or safe.  Write a statement reminding yourself of what is true about your anger that gives you support and grounding during intense experiences of anger.

Do you struggle with outbursts of anger that seem to come out of nowhere?  Or do you have difficulty even accessing anger?  Are you afraid of what will happen when you feel anger?  Do you have a history of trauma?  At Restored Hope, I offer personalized, trauma-informed counseling to help you understand the effects of trauma on your daily life, as well as release the triggers and anger that continue to arise.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

Empowering Yourself Through Boundaries: A Review of Moving Beyond Betrayal by Vicki Tidwell Palmer

title_therapist_reads_thursdays_empowering_yourself_through_boundaries_a_review_of_moving_beyond_betrayal_by_vicki_tidwell_palmer_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_christian_marriage_sex_and_love_addiction_partners.png

If you’ve recently become aware of your spouse’s sex and love addiction, you’re likely reeling from the new information and the trauma caused by the discovery.  You feel completely blindsided, powerless, and victimized.  You likely didn’t ask to be married to an addict or expect that your spouse would be involved in sexual betrayal.  Deception and denial on the addict’s part have led you not to trust your intuition and potentially believe the betrayal is your fault.  You might feel swept up in a whirlwind of emotions and trauma reactions, not knowing how to calm yourself down or stop the mood swings.

How can you regain a sense of control when it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you?

In Moving Beyond Betrayal*, Vicki Tidwell Palmer gives you the solution.

In this book, Vicki outlines an understanding of boundaries for partners of sex addicts that puts you back in the driver’s seat.  You’ll come to understand the importance of self-care in setting boundaries, and you’ll learn her simple 5-step plan for getting your needs met through understanding your power center and making requests.

 

What I Liked About This Book

Boundaries as self-care

In the book, Vicki explains that boundaries come from an understanding of self-care and clarity about your own needs and the level of power you have over getting those needs met.  The purpose of boundaries is to provide protection for yourself and others, as well as defining yourself and your personal space.  They are not intended as a punishment or a means to control the behavior of your spouse.

A healthy boundary expresses what one will and will not accept in a relationship, and clearly states how the person setting the boundary will practice self-care if the boundary is violated.
— Vicki Tidwell Palmer

I like this focus on self-care because often boundaries are misconstrued attempts to control the addict or influence his or her personal recovery.  Instead, framing boundaries as a way to practice self-care makes it about you and your needs, rather than about others.

Understanding and communicating your needs

If boundaries are based in self-care, you first need to know your needs.  Vicki includes a step in her 5-Step boundary solution involving recognizing your own needs and adopting methods of meeting those needs in a way that creates safety and strength.  Relationship with God can be highly involved in this process, as you look to Him or to the church body as a source of support in meeting your needs.

Once you become aware of your needs, the next step is to communicate them.  Rather than believing the myth that others should be able to read our minds or give us our needs without our saying anything, Vicki teaches how to communicate needs using a simple talking formula.

Authentic personal power

The pervasive feeling of powerlessness in the early days after discovery of addiction can be debilitating.  But this is not entirely true: even though you cannot control your spouse and their behaviors, you do have power over yourself and your own responses.  You are able to fight for your own self-care by following through on your boundaries and taking action rather than fluctuating between passivity and demands.  In my opinion, the definition of and emphasis on authentic personal power in the book has the potential to be life-changing.

Effective and healthy boundary work means you’re willing to take action to get your needs met, even when the addict says no to your request.
— Vicki Tidwell Palmer

Responding when your boundaries “don’t work”

The feelings of helplessness can creep back in when you attempt to set a boundary and it doesn’t go as planned.  But Vicki gives several options for revisiting your boundaries and taking back power over getting your needs met.  Perhaps your spouse says “no” to your request: you have options to negotiate a different boundary. Or you might accept your spouse’s “no” and use that as data to assess their willingness to work on the relationship.  You can look at the priority level of the boundaries and re-communicate them as needed.  You might even realize that admitting powerlessness increases your power because it prevents you from getting caught in the vicious cycle of trying to change the unchangeable.

As paradoxical as it may seem, doing nothing is sometimes the most empowered choice you can make.
— Vicki Tidwell Palmer

A positive view of boundaries

Vicki encourages you to look at boundaries as a way for you to practice self-care and give your spouse the opportunity to rebuild trust.  You are empowered to make choices through your boundaries rather than being stuck.  You can move from being the victim to being victorious!  And not only can you use boundaries with your spouse, you’ll likely find yourself effectively implementing them with family members, coworkers, or others you interact with on a regular basis.

I’d highly recommend purchasing Moving Beyond Betrayal* if my review sparks your interest.  You can also introduce yourself to Vicki’s work through her website.  In particular, she gives an overview of her 5-Step boundary solution here.

pinterest_therapist_reads_thursdays_empowering_yourself_through_boundaries_a_review_of_moving_beyond_betrayal_by_vicki_tidwell_palmer_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_christian_marriage_sex_and_love_addiction_partners.png

Are you struggling to set boundaries with your sexually addicted spouse?  Do you feel like you’re constantly in a tug-of-war where everyone loses?  Are you clueless about how to practice self-care in the wake of the trauma of discovery?  At Restored Hope, I offer specialized counseling and care for partners of sex addicts who are seeking healing from the pain of their spouse’s addiction.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule an appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor office locations.

 

 

 

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

A Real Couple Talks Sex and Love Addiction with a Marriage Therapist

title_a_real_couple_talks_sex_and_love_addiction_with_a_marriage_therapist_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian.png

For couples seeking to heal from sex and love addiction, the process can be exhausting and difficult.  Addicts need to process their own pain, handle their spouse’s trauma, and have patience in the trust-rebuilding process.  Partners of addicts must address the pain of betrayal, decide whether or not to stay in the relationship, and deal with the consequences of whichever decision they make.

A recent podcast I’ve been listening to is Where Should We Begin?, a series of one-time couples sessions with renowned couples therapist Esther Perel.  Imagine my delight when I came across a session with a couple dealing with sex and love addiction.  I immediately thought about how helpful this conversation would be for my couples.

A few disclaimers before I encourage you to listen.  Esther is not a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.  Early in the podcast, she claims that there is little research support for sex addiction as an addiction similar to drug or alcohol addiction.  In fact, there is indeed a growing body of research indicating that brain changes occur in sex and love addicts similar to those of substance addicts.

Also, this podcast addresses the issues of this particular couple.  As a couple with your own unique story, you may have different struggles in communication or needs for healing.  For example, this particular couple was recommended to include more touch in their interactions, but that may not be appropriate for you if touch makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  Don’t take the advice she gives in this podcast as a “must do” for you in your relationship, but instead seek to apply the general principles to your own relationship.

Finally, this podcast contains strong language and mature themes.

Here are a few thoughts I have for both the addict and the partner.

For the Addict

You need to seek healing for the pain your addiction allows you to avoid.

A pivotal moment in the recording is when the husband admits he feels sad all the time, which the therapist points out as an emotion from childhood.  Taking away the addiction, which provided a way out from feeling pain of past abuse or current circumstance, meant he would feel the pain more deeply.  As an addict, you need to understand what you did was hurtful, and that it was done in an attempt to find healing from the past.

There is a delicate balance between taking responsibility and being consumed by shame.

Addiction is a shame-based disorder.  As a result, the addict’s typical default mode is one of shame and self-blame.  The abuse this addict experienced in his past taught him that he deserves to be punished or harmed because he is bad.  These shaming beliefs make it particularly difficult to feel appropriate guilt and take responsibility because of the pain they create.

It's time to integrate the good and the bad.

One of my favorite phrases with my clients is to remind them that there’s always an “and.”  There are two sides to every situation, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.  Those coexist, and don’t need to be divorced from one another.  When the addiction was going strong, the “good” and “bad” selves were kept very separate.  Now you are tasked with integrating these two sides together into an understanding of the self that is realistic and kind.

Your spouse needs to have his or her pain acknowledged and understood, rather than hearing “I’m sorry” all the time.

Self-absorption is the name of the game with the addict.  In order to engage in the addictive behaviors without regret, the addict has to cut off empathy or compassion for their spouse.  In this case, the husband was still focusing inward as he explored his abuse and hadn’t adequately connected with the wife’s pain.  As you seek to rebuild trust in your marriage, you need to step out of your own pain and acknowledge the hurt of your spouse.  Your spouse needs to know you understand how hard it was for them before you can move forward.

For the Partner

It’s normal to be blindsided by the disclosure of addiction.

In the podcast, the wife makes comments like, “I thought I had the perfect marriage” and “I never knew anything was wrong.”  Addicts become adept at hiding their compulsive behaviors and putting on a mask.  If this happened to you, you are not alone.

Because of increasing acceptance of divorce, it is becoming more of a stigma to stay in the relationship and make it work.

Friends, family, even clinical professionals might encourage you to leave the relationship after a spouse’s revelation of sexual addiction.  They might not understand why you’ve chosen to stay if you are able to separate or divorce.  The lack of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  While the addict is getting support from therapy or 12 Step groups, the partner also needs significant support.

It is difficult to separate the person from the behavior, but it is important to see them as separate.

Because of the significant betrayal, the perceived narrative about the relationship has been shattered.  The partner begins to distrust her own perceptions not only about the addiction, but also about any positive or good moments in the relationship.  It is important to, as much as possible, see the addict’s behaviors and his identity as separate entities.  The addict’s actions speak to his destructive, addictive behavior, but that does not invalidate the good in him or her.  Similar to what I mentioned earlier for the addict, keep in mind the important of the “and” – good AND bad likely coexist in your spouse.

The addict can’t promise they’ll never act out again.

This is a frightening concept for many couples as they face recovery.  The pain of the discovery leads partners to threaten divorce if the spouse ever acts out again.  But in the course of addiction, there’s a chance of slips or full-on relapses.  The couple has to make a choice that they’ll face the risk together.  As a partner, rebuilt trust doesn’t come from empty promises, but instead from assurance in your spouse’s recovery work and process of setting boundaries.

It is incredibly important to name your needs.

As your spouse seeks rebuild trust in whatever ways they can, they cannot accurately predict what helps you to feel safe and secure in the relationship.  It is a marriage myth that once you are married, you should know everything your partner needs.  Examine why you might be reluctant to share your needs as you look at parts of your story where it wasn’t okay for you to ask for what you needed.  Know that in asking for your needs, you will likely feel vulnerable – this is normal.  Seek to risk in trusting your partner with what you need. 

There is hope to turn this tragedy into a triumph.

pinterest_a_real_couple_talks_sex_and_love_addiction_with_a_marriage_therapist_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian.png

Have you gotten to the end of the road with the attempts you’ve made to fix your marriage that’s been ravaged by sex and love addiction?  Do you feel as though you can’t integrate both the good and bad in yourself or in your spouse?  Are you tired of fighting all the time and not getting to any place of understanding or resolution?  At Restored Hope, I offer marriage counseling specific to couples facing sex and love addiction.  Schedule an appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor offices at 734.656.8191 or email me to hear more.