Despair, Self-harm, and Hopelessness in the Pit of Betrayal Trauma Part 1: The Darkness that Nearly Swallowed Me Up

Despair, Self-harm, and Hopelessness in the Pit of Betrayal Trauma

Part 1: The Darkness that Nearly Swallowed Me Up
Part 2: Finding My Way Out Of The Dark

Warning - this post is about self-harm and suicidal thoughts and may be intense or triggering. If you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours, at 800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Psalm 139:14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

I have always considered myself a fairly even-keeled person. I am normally logical and practical. My kids (all boys) commented over the years that they thought it was weird to see other moms cry, since they never saw that in me. I really didn’t get it either. I just wasn’t wired to be so emotional.

I am not a mental health professional, but I work peripherally with youth in crisis. I often read cases in which teenagers are cutting themselves, having violent episodes, or expressing suicidal thoughts. I always felt great sympathy, but couldn't relate to them. I never understood it on a deep level other than what needed to be done to mitigate the situation: therapy, medication, support, or hospital admission. Self-harm and suicidal thoughts made no sense to me - I can recall saying to my kids that suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary situation. It seemed so clear and so obvious. I felt sorry for people who did not see this and I am ashamed to admit, I felt they must have a weakness of character or significant mental illness. I honestly felt irritation toward a person who would be so selfish to leave their loved ones to deal with the confusion and aftermath of suicide.

In my personal life, my husband expressed anger in unhealthy ways for most of our marriage. I always hated it. No amount of conversation, reflection, or requests made any difference. I learned to stay quiet and stuff down my feelings in these moments to maintain stability. That required me to stay quiet and in control as much as I could, regardless of my actual feelings. This was a very unhealthy pattern to which I contributed, but I became proficient. I should have done many things differently, but each time I did what I thought was best, buried my head, and hoped it was the last time. The point of describing this is that I got really good at burying my emotions. In fact, sometimes I would not even acknowledge to myself that I even had any emotions. Over time, I built up intense resentment, but tried to ignore that too.

Enter infidelity. I strongly suspected my husband was cheating and directly asked him. He denied. Over and over. For a very, very, very long time - over a decade, in fact. So, what did I do? Stuffed it down, of course - again. I couldn’t get any answers, so I felt like I was blindfolded and gagged while my world was collapsing, and I did not know what to do with the fear, the pain, the anxiety, and the utter powerlessness. I told no one of my suspicions, and since my husband wouldn’t admit it, I was alone with my feelings. That was not going to work for me, so I just wouldn’t accept having any feelings at all. They had to go. I tried not to think about it and just moved on. I lived “pretend normal” as it is called. It kept creeping back in, but he kept denying, so I kept shoving it back in the box deep within myself and pretending it wasn’t there.

Then, after waaaayyyyy too many years, D-day happened. Suddenly, this normally even-keeled, rather stoic person (as I have been called) fell off a cliff, and I haven’t seen her since. (That isn’t completely a bad thing - but we’ll talk about that some other time). I turned into someone I did not know and there were too many feelings to manage: old pent-up feelings mixed with fresh and unfamiliar ones. It was terrifying and surreal and I truly and intensely wanted to die.

Suicidal thoughts and feelings of self-harm are not uncommon following the revelation of intimate betrayal. In fact, some sources cite that roughly 30% of those suffering from betrayal trauma report having considered hurting themselves. This podcast by Dr. Kevin Skinner was interesting and helped make me feel more “normal” for feeling this way.

If this even remotely describes you, I would encourage you to tell someone how you are feeling. You need support and understanding. You deserve it. If you don’t have anyone you can trust, then find a group online, talk to a professional, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You must expose this darkness to light to be able to see your path forward. If you can’t see the light, let someone else hold the flashlight for a while, but regardless of your situation, you deserve to be understood, supported, and sustained until you can walk on your own. It will get better, even if you don’t know how yet. But it is a very rough road and it is not one you should walk alone.

More to come on this topic next time. Until then, please know that you are valuable and you are not alone. It can be hard to see clearly through the pain and confusion of betrayal trauma, but please trust me, and others who have been there, and are still here to talk about it. Don’t give up. You will see things differently as time goes on, and you are worth every effort to keep going. You just have to hang in there a while longer.

Psalms 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

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Comments

Thank you

Jen, thank you for being vulnerable in sharing this deeply painful and personal experience. I can so relate to this on my own journey. The feelings were so intense, I didn't know what to do with them. I was the unfaithful spouse, and I came to a point where I believed the only way "out" was for me to just exit the situation entirely, permanently. Maybe then my "image" would have remained intact. This wasn't the first time I had experienced these thoughts, and I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't seek help during any of these times. I was so afraid of anyone (even my husband) finding out that "something was wrong with me." Again, trying to protect my image. It is only by the grace of God that I didn't act out on these feelings and beliefs. Thank you for sharing your experience, and also for sharing the resources that are out there to help.

Thank you egbdf17

As you stated, feelings of this intensity are something for which we are unprepared. You said you were afraid of anyone finding out there was "something wrong with you," and I completely understand that. The evening I spent in the psych ward of the Emergency Room (part 2 of this blog) was a frightening experience I will never forget.

I'm glad you are still here and appreciate you sharing your experience on this page. While I am a betrayed spouse I can imagine the guilt for an unfaithful spouse must be very overwhelming at times, and I'm glad we can connect in places like this to support each other.

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