Ask Dr. Zoe – How To Heal Emotionally After Hurt, Betrayal and Divorce

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‘Beijing_Mom’ Asked:

My husband and I are in the process of a divorce after being married 20 yrs. I found out he was a porn addict and also that he had given me a STD from other sexual adventures. Lucky for me antibiotics could get rid of this one. The biggest hurt wasn’t the adultery but the years of self hate and anger that he projected onto me. We lived overseas so I couldn’t leave early with our children. The disdain, lack of intimacy, manipulation and anger I experienced from him has left me battered. I’ve been told maybe I have PTSD and I know something is wrong with me. I used to put all my faith in God and think the best of people. However now my faith is just a mustard seed and I’m leery of most people or just can’t be bothered to make the effort. I started a business cleaning to support myself and I focus most of my time on that and my children. The question is how do I heal? How do I get out of this painful rut and learn to love myself and grow in my faith? Love others and have grace and forgiveness for my husband? Not for a renewed marriage but for a peaceful co-parenting. My children don’t like who I have become and personally neither do I but I don’t know how to find me again.

Dr. Zoe Answered:

It’s okay that this devastating experience has made you gun-shy with humankind. You trusted your heart with your husband and he injured it. That pendulum has to swing far sometimes before it swings back to a place of health.

There is no perfect timeline for healing. People often don’t respect emotional wounds like they do physical wounds. If you went into the hospital for massive heart surgery, you would expect a long process of healing when you were discharged. You wouldn’t expect to get out of the hospital and run a marathon a few weeks after.

Emotional wounds are no different just because you can’t see them. You are on an invisible healing journey too.

Betrayal often makes you feel like the whole world has tipped on its axis. You begin to question everything you have ever learned and believed about the person who betrayed you, but also the world and even God. All those feelings and thoughts are normal.

It’s going to come back together, but you may have to do a little searching and rearranging and that’s not a bad thing. This is where growth happens. If you do your work well, what you end up with is a more solid understanding of yourself, the world, and your faith that is based on wisdom and self-education, not just what others have told you.

How to Work Toward Emotional Healing After Betrayal

So, what do you do on a healing journey? You respect your injury and you apply a combination of nurturing care and pushing yourself—your emotional self. And education.

You need to evaluate the story you are telling yourself about your value and about who you are and your place in the world. After living with his manipulation and anger, you have likely internalized his words and a part of you believes them. We act out what we believe in the world and the world gives it back to us.

It’s time to erase the false stories you have about yourself.

You say that you don’t like who you have become. This person that you see in the mirror—the one that your children are experiencing right now—isn’t who you will always be. Your real self hasn’t gone anywhere. You are expressing your pain as a result of a wound. This is the real you bleeding, and it will stop.

Yes, you will eventually need to forgive him, but let’s not focus on that right now. It’s not the time. Forgiveness is a process. Rushing to forgiveness because you heard that’s what you need to do is not going to serve you. You don’t even know everything you need to forgive him for. You haven’t figured out what’s yours and what’s his, yet. That takes time. Your job right now is to focus on moving towards health. Forgiveness will be a byproduct of that.

When you recognize that you need to heal, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the aspects of our wound that we need to work on. Pick just one.

What part of the divorce and the betrayal is causing you the most pain? Be honest with yourself and name it. For some it may be loss of self-esteem, loss of companionship. Or, it may be feeling financial cheated. And for some, it may be the loss of the dream of your future. The reality that you could be betrayed on this level by someone you love may feel too painful to bear.

Your job is to grieve all the losses. Take some time and write down all the things that you feel you have lost as a result of your ex husband’s choices.

Even as you think of this exercise, remember that your feelings and thoughts are not reality. They are just that. Feelings and thoughts. They do matter though, and that’s why I want you to write them down. Just don’t get too attached to them.

Sit with it for a day or two. Grieve it. Then rip it up and throw it away. Now write down all of the wins.

Yes, even in the midst of the most devastating blows, there are wins.

This exercise is just that. An exercise. It won’t fix everything. Time plus intention will do that. But it is one more tool as you walk your journey.

It’s important that you intentionally focus your anger on your husband right now. It’s easy to generalize it to all men or all people. It’s even easy to project it onto children or family members that you can blame for your hurt. As you feel your anger, remind yourself that you don’t intend to hold on to it forever. Your anger is a necessary, but short term guest on your journey.

I encourage you to start writing everyday. It doesn’t matter what you put on paper, just write something. Commit to reading every day about your experience from a professional viewpoint: self-help books. And it’s time to become your best friend by spending quiet time with yourself every day. At least 10 minutes—no matter how painful it is. Whatever comes up needs to come up.

It’s really easy to distract ourselves from the pain when we are going on a grief journey. The healthy thing is to sit with it regularly so that you can work through it instead of bury it.

One day, you will get tired of writing, thinking, talking, or reading about this. It won’t be constantly on the forefront of your mind. You’ll realize out of the blue that you haven’t thought about it all day. That’s when you will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s not an easy journey and sometimes it’s a long, winding road. Don’t worry about the whole process. Just take it one day at a time.

You’ve got this! It just takes grit and grace.

Get more from Dr. Zoe on this question in this video:

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