The Two Most Painful Words We Tell Ourselves After Betrayal

There are so many painful words that flood our minds following betrayal: Hurt. Stupid. Angry. Deceived. Heartbroken. Lost. Humiliated. Duped. Blindsided. Gullible. Used. Tricked. Embarrassed. Shattered. Disgraced. Ashamed. Crushed. Afraid. Numb.

All of those words are so painful, but there are two words that cut me to the core - not enough.

People compare themselves to others for a variety of reasons across many areas of life. The reasons for comparison may sound different on the surface, but mostly they are all pointing toward determining how much we feel we are worth. Less than this person? More than that one? Whether it is not getting the promotion, being picked last in gym class, or just your standard "keeping up with the Joneses", we are constantly measuring our worth, our okayness, using the yardstick of those around us.

As humans, we also like to categorize. Our brains want straight lines and to create neat little packages from complicated things, because it is more comfortable and familiar, even if it generates more pain. Uncertainty and grey areas are just naturally uncomfortable places for our minds to hang out, and sometimes we will draw conclusions just to close that mental loop, even if it is not the right answer. In the case of infidelity, my faint recollection of middle school logic problems tells me the situation was simple. If my husband wanted someone else, then I was not enough. Period. This simple statement is very easy to understand, but understandably, very painful to internalize.

Ironically, my husband tells me this is completely untrue and my logic is faulty (so much for my middle school math). He tells me I was always "enough" and that his affair had nothing to do with that at all. Maybe your spouse has told you that too. The experts across the board attest that infidelity is not about the betrayed spouse "not being enough" or lacking in some way. This doesn't mean we don't have room for improvement; we all do. But if we are to believe the experts, then your spouse's infidelity had nothing to do with you not being enough, because you have always been enough. So have I.

Even hearing that though, it is so much easier for me to blame myself, since that is more comfortable in my mind, and something I readily understand. After struggling with betrayal trauma for a long time, self-blame is a well-worn path. I have traveled that path so many times that I know all the stops along the way.

Humans want to define and understand. We don't like ambiguity and we want to close the case, even if we are wrong. It is easier to conclude that all of my failures as a wife led to the infidelity, and therefore it made sense. There is no grey area there; there is no wrestling with competing realities, so that is the path I instinctively take - even though it is the most hurtful, and even though my husband tells me it isn't true. Easy can sometimes outweigh "real" or "truth," when "real" can be ambiguous, and "truth" can be messy and too hard to reconcile in our minds.

I tried in so many ways to feel "enough" after D-day. I lost a lot of weight, which was pretty easy since I couldn't eat anyway. I wore makeup every day, even on weekends while cleaning and doing laundry. I bought all new underwear - the pretty kind that matches. I bought new clothes, since my old ones didn't fit anymore anyway. I still hid my body much of the time so he would not have to see all my flaws. I took up running to work off some of the anxiety and rage, and in the process I became probably in better physical shape than I had been in my younger years.

But, all of these things were external. None of them addressed the emptiness of not enough. On the outside, I did some of the things that I thought would make me feel confident and "enough." But on the inside, I was still the same insecure person, looking at some threshold set in my mind by the affair partner that I would never achieve, so "not enough" continued to be the chorus in my head, set on repeat.

There are many different reasons people are unfaithful. Almost none of them have anything to do with their partner not being enough, but that doesn't make it any easier to understand on the receiving end of the betrayal. Part of the healing process is being open to things we don't understand...a willingness to consider that things that don't make any sense might actually be the answer. This feels unnatural and after having been deceived, it feels much safer to dismiss anything we can't easily understand or verify. The straightest path is not always the right one, but leaning into seemingly illogical and unfamiliar thoughts is hard and unnatural. For some people, this season of "not enough" may be easier to navigate through than others. For some of us, like me, I have come to realize that I have always felt this to some degree, and my husband's infidelity put an exclamation point on it. Therefore, it is a bigger part of my journey than it might be for others. But I do think all of us feel it at least for a while, and it is so unfair, adding insult to injury of the betrayal.

Most betrayers don't think about the consequences before they decide to be unfaithful, but if they ever did, they would still fail to anticipate the depth of the losses. They would never imagine how infidelity permeates every aspect of a betrayed partner. The obvious losses of monogamy and trust are deeply painful and create long lasting fear and uncertainty, but other losses that seem less obvious are the ones that can keep us really stuck. The loss of reality and time - knowing what was real and what wasn't - the loss of confidence, security, belonging, self-esteem, our perception of the world around us and the people in it. The loss of hope. The loss of interest in friends, family, and things we used to enjoy. The loss of perspective of who we are and how we fit into anything anymore. But for me, and maybe for you, the loss of feeling enough is soul-crushing and extends to every aspect of life: marriage, parenting, work, extended family, and friendships. If we weren't enough for our spouse, then we can't possibly be enough for anything or anyone else. This new identity of "not enough" is like ink spilled on a page, staining everything.

As a person of faith, I lean on God to tell me who I am, but it is still very hard and it can be difficult to hear His voice above the whispers of not enough. For those of you who don't come from faith, you may want to ask a trusted friend or significant person in your life to help you see yourself through their eyes, to combat the feelings of "not-enoughness." This is the battleground. This is the place where we have to make a stand in our own minds to stop letting someone else's choices define us. I am in this trench too, and as I climb out, I will bring you with me on my journey. One step at a time. We are enough.

"We don't judge other people nearly as much as we judge ourselves measured against them."
~ Kelly Flanagan

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The two most painful words

Thank you so much for this, really helpful to see it written so clearly, it’s very much how I felt and am feeling x

Thank you Oly

I am so glad it was helpful. I have found that sometimes finding the right words helps to sort out complicated feelings that are just all jumbled up in my head, like unraveling a ball of yarn to get a clearer picture. So I'm very glad this helped you and that you felt understood by reading it.

Thank you Jen for speaking

Thank you Jen for speaking into the fears of all the betrayed, the fear that we are “not enough”. Interestingly enough as I’ve journeyed this healing path with my husband, that “not enough” message was probably the louder message in his head, not mine. That’s what he heard reverberating through his skull in the years leading up to the affairs - you’re not worthy of love, you will be abandoned, you aren’t liked very much, you aren’t admired, you are worthless, you are not enough and never have been.
He went seeking affirmation, he grabbed onto it like a lifeline thinking it would save him from the voices of self-loathing and doubt. He needed to fill the void before he was left with nothing, and so made illogical choices that only dug a deeper hole, a place of more self-loathing.
So here we are today. We both recognize that emptiness, that longing for secure connection, that God-sized hole that can only be filled completely by our Lord; and we’re doing it together. He gave us a gift when He gave us our spouses and He says, “You are enough for each other.”

Genesis 2:18
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”

Thank you Bighorn Mountains

I am so glad you shared this perspective. I suspect this can often be the case, and you articulated it so well.

I'm very glad you and your husband are finding your way. Be well, my friend.

Jen

NOT ENOUGH

Thankyou for this article!! Reading this released so much pain in my heart and mind. To hear/read this from another Betrayed is so impactful… I can feel myself accepting this and believing.. It has been almost 3 years since discovering again second time in 30 years that my H was a Betrayer. That was 11-16-2018. When H found out there was a “ title/name” for what he did he dove full in to learn . We did AR EMSO 13 weeks. Saved us . H is in 12Step meetings, Sponsor…I am in groups and have a full library of books to help, but that “ not enough” still haunts my heart. We have suffered great loss our daughter passed from a brain tumor 1-9-16. That caused our family to go in all different directions pulling away from each other. So H and i are basically alone, which we needed. DDAY 11-16-18 was at 47 years of marriage , we are now as of 8-21-21 50 years married and both becoming 70yrs old.This article , your words have bore a hole in the solid granite of pain to allow some healing balm into my pain.THANKYOU🙏🏻♥️
SueL

SueL Thank you for your comment.

I am so sorry you experienced the loss of your daughter, that is truly heartbreaking and a kind of pain that is hard for me to really absorb. Enduring her loss and the pain of betrayal all within a few years must have been overwhelming. 50 years of marriage is a long time and I'm sure you have weathered many seasons, both good and bad. I am grateful that these words helped you toward your healing. I never know when I am writing if it will be meaningful to anyone else so it means a lot to me to hear that it was.

I wish you well on your journey, and by the way, my DDay was 11/11/18, so we entered this storm together. It will get better :)

Five years on this site

After five years on this journey and on this site looking for answers, belonging, or just peace for the day, and this resonates with me more than anything I've experienced. I'm sitting here crying deep sobs because someone hit the nail on the head and I am truly not alone for the first time in five years. Thank you for speaking my truth and my heart

Thank you Slowawakening

I am grateful this touched you, and I can feel your pain through your comment.  What you describe is exactly the reason why I want to be here, putting the pain into words, hopefully with some perspective to make someone else feel understood and less alone. This is a hard journey for sure, but you are not alone, even when it feels that way.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. ‭‭

2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:3-4‬

Hi Jen, I left a comment on

Hi Jen, I left a comment on this article about two weeks ago and I was wondering why it was not published. Did you receive it? Thank you for checking.