It happened again just last week. In a support group I facilitate for wives of sex addicts, a new client said, with shock resonating, “I just don’t get it. You all are such beautiful, intelligent, amazing women!”
As a betrayal trauma recovery coach, I know this experience like the back of my hand—specifically because it’s such a common, nearly universal experience. In our heads, we understand that it’s not actually about us! And yet we don’t get it, because in our hearts… our souls… we feel rejected, unchosen, unloved, discarded, devalued, not exciting enough, not pretty enough… just plain not enough.
Whether your husband directed his sexual attention and energy toward people onscreen or in person, what he didn’t do was keep his sexuality just for you. For survivors of betrayal trauma, this not only damages our sense of self-image, it strikes straight to the heart of our sense of self-worth.
So the damage is done.
Damage to our sense of worth and how we see ourselves didn’t start with our husbands’ betrayal. Throughout our lives, many of us experienced:
- Childhood messages that skewed the way we saw ourselves, both internally and externally
- Bombardment with images and expectations that don’t line up with reality, or aren’t congruent with the truest expressions of who we are as unique human beings:
- The way our bodies should look
- The jobs we should pursue
- The clothes we should wear
- The way we are supposed to behave (i.e., what being “feminine” means)
As betrayal trauma survivors, these experiences accumulate as direct assaults to our sense of self-worth. They eat away our sense of individuality and autonomy; they make us begin to doubt the beauty and wonder and uniqueness of who we really are. Because of this, many women begin to look externally for validation that we fit in, that we are loveable and desirable, that we are indeed enough.
For women whose husbands are porn/sex addicts, most of us suffer potent additional damage to their sense of worth and how they see themselves because of:
- “If you only ________ then I wouldn’t have turned to porn/other people.”
- “You are the problem–you are too angry, insecure, untrusting, etc.”
- Comparing/competing with the “other person”
- If I were (skinnier, taller, shorter, etc.)
- If I were “sexier”/more “adventurous”
Eventually, these experiences result in feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and disconnection from who we really are. And therein lies the crux of the matter—because how can you love and know the worth of someone from whom you’re completely disconnected?
The Road to Healing Self-Worth: How Did I Get Here?
As I am writing this, I am more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been—both before and since my experience of betrayal trauma. I know myself better, accept myself more fully, love myself more deeply, and am more connected to my voice. I see my worth with so much more clarity!
Healing my own self-worth hasn’t been easy, and like my client last week, I needed other women to help me get started. So, how did I get here? Along my road to healing self-worth I had to internalize a number of key things:
- I had to reframe my self-worth. I had to shift my beliefs about me. My worth does not come from what I do, or how I look, but who I am!
- I had to stop trying to please everyone. In order to even recognize the core of who I was, I had to stop trying to be the woman everyone else wanted or expected me to be! It was freeing to realize that not everyone has to like me. A client of mine once resonated with this and exclaimed, “Right! Not everyone likes pineapple!”
- I had to embrace curiosity. Curiosity became my gentle-yet-thrilling invitation to discover who I actually was! Who am I? What do I like about myself? Why? What’s important to me? What are my opinions about things? What do I like about the things I like?
- I had to accept my whole self—even the bits that need work. I had to renounce the belief that only perfect people are worthy. I replaced that belief by embracing the truth that I am worthy just as I am.
- I had to identify the lies. In order to accept my whole self, I needed to identify the lies that had kept me from accepting myself, and delighting in who I am. Once I identified the lies, I was able to disarm them with the truth of my own self-discovery.
- I had to give myself permission. It’s one thing to do this work; it’s another thing to fully embrace it. I had to dispel the idea that delighting in myself and loving myself fiercely was somehow self-centered. With a heart of humility, being deeply connected to and loving oneself fiercely is transformative! By giving myself permission to embrace this discovery, healing my self-worth became a positive process. Not only was I healing from the trauma and pain of my past; now I was healing toward the triumph and joy of my future.
“Perhaps, we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us, they know exactly how it should be done.” –Rudy Francisco
My message here is this: when it comes to healing our self-worth after feeling compared to “the other women,” there is nothing more powerful than connecting deeply with the unique women we actually are, seeing ourselves with eyes of wonder, cherishing the things about us that bring us joy and make us feel alive!
I needed help from other women to begin my journey of healing my self-worth! Once we connect with these things, and truly love ourselves fiercely, it becomes difficult for anyone to ever again rob us of our sense of worth! May you find this to be true on your healing journey, dear sisters.