Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

The #1 Challenge to Recovery

Cover more ground faster with the life-changing experience of EMS Weekend for couples.

This isn't another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. The EMS Weekend Experience is a safe space for you and your partner to start putting the pieces of your life back together, transform your trauma and begin healing from infidelity. Skeptical about the effectiveness of this experience? Don't be! Backed by a slew of previous participant testimonials, EMS Weekend delivers results month after month for countless couples.

During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist — all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand — as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

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One of the most frustrating issues when recovering from betrayal trauma is the ongoing emotional flooding resulting from loss, deception, reminders, and intrusive thoughts. Long after a couple commits to work on the marriage, a fire-breathing trauma-dragon will raise its head and scorch the progress a couple makes. I call it a dragon because this type of trauma appears as if from nowhere for a ruthless surprise attack. This dragon of trauma is difficult to describe, so it can seem imaginary to those around you who don't know this kind of pain. For you though, it feels so big and so impossible to manage that recovery often seems utterly hopeless.

Bear with me for a couple of minutes while I cover some brain basics. Several weeks ago, I was asked how Dopamine creates an intense need. The process is very similar to a drug addiction which tells the brain you must have that pleasurable experience to survive. Those who are addicted and those who are traumatized are influenced by the same primitive part the brain, the amygdala.

The amygdala is part of the "downstairs brain" and is in charge of our fight, flight or freeze reaction; it functions much like the brain of a reptile. If you've ever owned a reptile, you know they are incapable of relationship. They are about two things: what they can eat and what can eat them. I'm told that if an alligator isn't hungry and feels no sense of danger, it's safe to approach that reptile, although I am certainly not going to try it! If that alligator is hungry or senses danger, however, they will attack even someone who has been feeding it for years. The amygdala stores memories and images, and it constantly watches for anything that may pose a threat. Unfortunately, we don't know what has been imprinted as a trigger for the fight, flight, or freeze response.

The "upstairs brain" includes the cerebral cortex and allows us to think before we act. It is the part of the brain that is responsible for higher-level processes such as rational thinking, reasoning, and impulse control.

Now, let's break down how your brain processes a potential threat using both the downstairs and upstairs brain:

I was walking my daughter's dog last week through my favorite park, and she stirred up a snake that was sunning itself. I saw the snake out of the corner of my eye. I jumped and twisted about two feet in the air. I scared the lady behind me because I might have screamed like an eight year old, also.

When first I saw the snake, my downstairs brain, which is constantly on guard, triggered my sympathetic nervous system (the emotional accelerator). In 1/200 of a second, adrenaline was released, my heart rate jumped to over 100 beats per minute, and I leaped out of harm's way. Next, my upstairs brain analyzed the type of snake to determine whether it posed a risk. If the pre-frontal cortex (in the upstairs brain) perceives no danger, it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which operates as the brakes on our emotional system.

This alarm system is crucial for the survival of our species. What would happen if, instead of immediately reacting, we were to stand there trying to discern the type of snake and whether it poses a risk? We'd have two fang marks on our leg long before we could determine whether we should jump out of the way. Reacting and then determining the potential risk significantly increases our odds of survival in the wild, but it's not always so helpful in day-to-day life.

The downstairs brain is constantly adapting to its present environment. Circumstances where there is fear, pain, shame, guilt, disrespect, insults, physical danger, and/or injury are just a few examples of what the downstairs brain watches out for in order to survive. This system is dependent on the upstairs brain being able to make sense of what is happening so it can send the other parts of the brain the appropriate signals to calm you down. Generally, our survival system tends to hum along just fine unless we experience trauma.

Here's where the severity of this process sets in: severe trauma overloads the pre-frontal cortex (in the upstairs brain) and effectively cuts the brake line to the parasympathetic nervous system, leaving us like a car with the accelerator stuck on the floorboard and no brakes. The trauma of infidelity, more often than not, produces this effect. Our downstairs brain, always on watch, will spot a reminder of the infidelity and trigger the sympathetic nervous system, setting off overwhelming emotional flooding.

The trauma of the betrayal makes it very difficult for that person to utilize the upstairs brain in order to regain control in that moment. Without a plan to eventually shift focus and diffuse these reminders, the future of the marriage and potential recovery is not only painful and overwhelming, it's also uncertain.

I believe that even a basic understanding of how our brain works can be a powerful tool in recovery. Understanding the realities of the trauma caused by infidelity and what can be done to heal can equip you to move forward in recovery, albeit slowly. So, be gracious to yourself and respectful to each other.

If you are a wayward spouse and in need of support and a structured process, I would encourage you to check out the Hope for Healing Online Course. It was developed by Rick Reynolds, LCSW who is a leading expert who has dedicated his life work to specializing in infidelity recovery. Additionally, you'll receive incredible support from our trained group leaders who have been right where you are. This shame-free environment is a must-have to build authentic community with your small group. Please check it out at the Affair Recovery website under the programs tab.

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Designed specifically for wayward spouses, Hope for Healing is a supportive, nonjudgmental environment for you to heal and develop empathy. Over the years, this 17-week, small group course has helped thousands of people find hope, set healthy boundaries and move toward extraordinary lives.

"I just finished Hope for Healing and am proud of the changes that I already feel in myself and my marriage. I found Affair Recovery when I was at the darkest point in my life, and this course has helped me to get myself on a true path to recovery." — S., Alabama | November 2020 Hope for Healing participant.

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High alert.

This is so dead on. I called it high alert. I was on high alert for about five year,. My system got no rest at all. Also the reason I lost 80 pounds in a matter of a couple of months. Finding the right therapist is what finally saved me.

What type of affair was it?

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