4 minute read

How to Restore Your Self-Worth After Competing with Pixels

Last Updated: April 13, 2020

Coach Sarah
Coach Sarah

Coach Sarah is a Certified Professional, Relationship, and Partner Coach at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, trained by the Association of Partners of Sexual Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS). She is passionate about using her story and her training to help people heal from the devastation of betrayal trauma and the effects of gaslighting. Working alongside therapists, Sarah provides support and care through individual coaching, group work, classes and workshops. She’s also a mom to two amazing kids. Sarah lives with her daughter and son in Austin, TX.

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:

  • Gaslighting
    • “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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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!”
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  • Comments on: How to Restore Your Self-Worth After Competing with Pixels
    1. Kate

      My hubby has been 3 years “sober”. He’s stopped choosing porn yet still chooses his female friends and not me. I thought that if he gave up porn (a 50 year habit), he’d choose me. Nope. He just doesn’t enjoy physical intimacy with me and doesn’t want to talk about it.

      • Kay Bruner

        It sounds like your husband isn’t really sober, just that he’s found a new way to feed his addiction. In old-time 12-step circles, that’s called being a “dry drunk.” True recovery means that your husband should be able to build emotional trust with you. If he’s not emotionally trustworthy with you, then I would say that the lack of physical intimacy is simply a symptom of the problem that still exists for him. It sounds to me like he’s still using some kind of relationship with other women to meet his emotional needs, just like he did with porn. And in that case, I would consider what boundaries would be appropriate given the reality of your situation. Here, here, and here are some articles that might help you think that through. Peace to you, Kay

      • Mike

        This is all very good but what if your married to a woman who has no interest in sex? I tried to save it for marriage I was not a virgin when I married. While trying to be affectionate on the wedding night I got a sharp elbow in the ribs. I’ve tried to talk to her but she says she’s satisfied I’m the one with the problem. We’ve gone almost a year without lovemaking. For an anniversary present I got a NASCAR baseball cap and T-shirt. How romantic I’ve prayed and talked to my pastor who had no answer.

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Mike – I have no silver bullet answers here. This is a blog post from an expert on this topic. I can say with confidence that if you decide to tackle this issue, it’s going to be much harder before things get better. Cracking open whatever closets that might be contributing to your current situation could be painful. But, commit to persevere. And, surround yourself with a whole crew of wingmen who will support you through this because whatever dragons you try to slay will fight back and the enemy is going to want you to quit, divorce, cheat, prostitutes, dive into porn, etc. Get ready for a fight. But, maybe the blog post will encourage you to know that you’re not alone.


      • Stella

        That might be safer. If he’s choosing other women, you could get a sexually transmitted disease. I wouldn’t want contact unless he gets tested!

    2. Stephen

      I would like to put a biblical twist on this author’s excellent article on self-worth. Who am I? I am a child of God who has been redeemed, restored and forgiven in Jesus Christ. When I get defensive I say, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able.” When I get timid I say, “If God is for me, who can be against me?” When I get fearful I say, “The Lord is with me at all times; I have no need to fear.” When I feel inadequate I say, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God in Christ.” When a low self-image comes over me I say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The redeemed of the Lord are to say what He says about us. When I feel weak I say, “I am strong.” There is nothing inferior about me because I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. In spite of my past experiences, “I am strong.” This is the language of faith, the language of victory! “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”

      • Karen

        Well written Stephen. That is the most positive advice I have read here. I am a child of God fearfully and wonderfully made. These are positive thoughts I need to focus on. Through His help I will overcome this trial He has allowed in my life. A counselor friend has helped my husband come back to the Lord.
        I would not allow myself to give up. What seemed so bad has been deemed for good.

      • Jo

        Amen! Self love and finding ourselves is not the answer. We know who we are and our purpose by reading our creators Holy and inerrant words: The Bible

    3. Charity

      This is a great article, thank you! How do I rebuild trust after all the lies? I want to feel safe in my marriage again.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Charity,

        Well, HE rebuilds the trust. The person who broke the trust rebuilds the trust by trustworthy behavior over time. He gets his internet filtered, blocked, and accounted for. He goes to therapy. He goes to group. He has actual human beings that he talks to when he fails–not just you. He reads books about his problem and seeks to understand it. He takes the initiative, and he keeps taking it throughout the process of recovery. He’ll be doing all those things without a lot of pushing and shoving from you.

        Aside from those kinds of behavioral trust-building behaviors, he will be emotionally trustworthy. He will care about how you feel. He will make time to listen. He will not shame or blame you for your emotions. He will be patient with your process.

        Here’s an article I wrote a while back about those two kinds of trust. Hope it helps you evaluate how things are going.

        If he’s not trustworthy in both areas, then consider what healthy boundaries will look like for you: here, here, and here are some articles.

        You might also appreciate the online resources at Bloom for Women.

        Peace to you,

    4. God’s creation

      Dear sisters who feel low self worth. I am in no way judging or belittling your circumstances, as I too have many shortcomings in this regard, but I think these experiences are a wake up call to get our love, confirmation, purpose of life, whatever it is we need from only God, the Creator. It doesn’t say anything about you at all what other people do, how they behave, even what they think of you. People will betray you, so it’s not the right place to put our hearts. It’s also not gonna lead to us truly being compassionate. Because if we’re only treating others good desiring some good treatment ourselves then it’s not really giving anything at all. It’s being dependent on others. Truly loving someone is loving someone despite their stupidity and unfair treatment of you. Though in a marital relation ofcourse that shouldn’t be tolerated out of wisdom. There should indeed be clear expectations of fidelity in a relationship. BUT all I’m saying is our spirit’s eyes really need to look elsewhere. God has always existed and He is All Knowing. He has always known about you specifically, your name, your person, your true self. He created you. He gave you eternal life. How could you then place your dependence on anyone else for feeling worth it? Rather the one who is mistreating you in a relationship, you should feel sorry for them that they are looking in the wrong place, and lead by example. May God guide you and lead you to all success in this world and the next.

      • Kay Bruner

        Thanks for this perspective! I agree with you that finding our true value will lead us into healthy behaviors. Rather than looking to another person to define our value and worth, we can accept our inherent worth and then make choices that reflect who we truly are: GOOD BOUNDARIES! We love those around here! Here, here, and here are some articles on how good boundaries can reflect our inherent worth.

    5. RickyB

      Where do I as a man go for this kind of encouragement? I was lied to for years about why my wife was so angry and sexually unavailable. I discovered she had many sexual relationships prior to our marriage which included two abortions. None of this was revealed to me until we had been married five years.

      When it comes to porn and men, there seems to be a lot of clarity: Shame and accountability for the man who must be made to face his sin and blame. Encouragement and support for the betrayed wife who is beautiful and wonderful and blameless.

      Reverse the sexes and the circumstances, however, and suddenly the clarity gets less. My wife went through abortion recovery and was told she was wonderful and beautiful and forgiven. But there was no recovery for me. My wife got the encouragement and I was told nothing. Nobody to tell me how beautiful and wonderful I was. Nobody to tell me how wrong it was that my wife lied to me for years. Nobody to tell me that I was not wrong to expect regular sexual relations in marriage. Nobody to heal my hurts.

      I went to Promise Keepers and it was all about how I needed to change and be good enough for my wife. I have gone to mens ministries that are all about how I married over my head and how I need to love my wife as Christ loved the church. Duty and sacrifice and putting her first and making sure she is always happy. If she is not happy then it is my fault because I am not good enough. If she threatens divorce during times of financial stress then it means I am a failure because my job doesn’t pay enough.

      I am a promise keeper. I am there to help with the kids and the chores. I try not to expect sex “whenever I want it” but it seems she never wants it. Do I just wait forever? Does anybody have a ministry for me? Is there a counseling or recovery program for me?

    6. Claire

      I struggle…a lot…with poor self-image. This has always been a battle for me, but it has spiralled downward after marriage.

      We were both virgins when married, but my husband was a porn addict for 3 years about 5 years before we got married. He told me this before we started dating seriously. I forgave him….but this has become SO hard to deal with after marriage.

      I didn’t know much about masturbation and found out he had battled that until 2 years prior to our marriage. That came up our wedding night.

      Before I say more – understand he is a true warrior in this. He is truly free from the addiction and committed to loving both God and myself, believing merely looking at a woman with lust itself is adultry. We discuss my in security and low self image and he is understanding and wants to love me well. He guards his heart carefully. I respect this about him…

      But I really struggle with believing he could love me or find me beautiful after all he has seen. He has seen perfect beauty – and I am nothing close to that. He has also seen experienced performance and pleasure he gave himself at that time (masturbation). How can my perfomance please him? How could he be satisfied? How could he truly believe I am the most beautiful woman (to him) or most desirable? And even if satisfied now, how can he after I have postpartum weight or am wrinkled and gray?

      He says that he doesn’t compare me – that our intimacy is incomparable and his porn experience is associated with dark, lonely enslavement. But he still very occassionally (once every other week or once a month) has flashbacks- even during our intimate time. But he strongly declares he is in a spiritual war and always instantly throws those involuntary thoughts out of his mind.

      I trust him….yet fear that could change. Especially as we grow old together. My self image has become and idol that if I look good enough, I can guarantee he will never go back to porn or lust after other women.

      And I feel a part of me wants to grieve that he has seen so many perfectly beautiful, naked women and their experienced performance. Why do I feel this way when this happened before we were dating or married? Is this expected or am I being unforgiving and ungracious? I was never truly betrayed!

      Please help me understand why I struggle with this. I am afraid this will drive a wedge between us and ruin our relationship.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hey Claire,

        Well, I think a lot of our problems as women come from the ideas we are taught: that it’s our job to be beautiful, perfect sexual performers, small in size, young until we die, wrinkle-free, etc etc etc, or else we have no value as human beings. We women are taught to measure their worth relative to what a man wants. Unless we fit some perfect male-approved physical image, we’re just worthless.

        I want to tell you that this is a lie. You are a valuable, precious, worthwhile, loveable human being regardless of your physical state: fat/thin, young/old, loud/quiet, WHATEVER.

        Your husband’s job is to deal with his maladaptive coping skills.

        Your job is to ditch the lies and live fully into the self that God created you to be. You might want to find a therapist who can help you address this, and to grow into the real you that’s not tied to your appearance. Because you know we are all just getting older every day, and physical appearance cannot be our measure of worth: it will only fail us. And even if you do manage to get to some state of physical perfection, you can never stop and rest! You always have to be obsessed to maintain it. How exhausting is that!

        Also, it’s okay to be in a process of rebuilding trust with your husband, even if the behaviors were previous to your marriage. He does have work to do, and he needs to demonstrate that he’s doing it. Trust is built by trustworthy behavior over time.

        Peace to you,

      • Katherine

        Knowing a little about men, they can be aroused not only by shape and size but things that are out of shape and not in size. Consider it a peice of meat. They have used animals and try to compete with that. Its not a woman’s battle. We make it ours because it is absent of love altogether. How do you reconcile love to something that is detatched is perhaps the issue.

      • Kay Bruner

        I think you hit on something important here: sex is often used as a substitute for relationship. Our culture teaches men to turn away from their own emotions, to deny, repress, ignore, and shame themselves for feeling. Then our culture says to men that “boys will be boys” and it’s “natural” to act out rather than connect with others. The way out of this mess is for men to reconnect with their own inner lives so that they can then connect in meaningful ways with others. It’s a long, slow road to change, but it’s definitely possible.

    7. Ann

      Why do we credit women with being cold and unloving when unable to be aroused? Why do we lay the burden of a sexless marriage at their feet? There are many reasons behind a woman’s unarousal but three primary ones are physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood, being ignored outside of the bedroom by the husband, and abuse in the marriage – emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse. It would be wise to explore the possibility of these areas as being a possible factor and investigating other areas like physical illness and fatigue before accusing the woman of being cold or “ungodly” when not fulfilling her “obligation ” as a wife. Sex should be a two way street of pleasure according to God’s words. It should be just as much a source of enjoyment and pleasure for her as for him. If it is being avoided by her, there IS a reason.

      • Kay Bruner

        Thank you, Ann. I think the reason women get blamed is that in a system of authoritarian power, where men are positioned at the top and this is seen as “God’s design,” then women will always be blamed when something goes wrong. It is actually extremely ungodly, but this is what we have to deal with many times. I’m glad you are able to see the truth. When everyone gets the help and healing they need, without blaming others, and while taking responsibility for themselves, everyone enjoys the fullness of life that Jesus promised. Thanks for speaking up, Kay

    8. Jessica

      My husband and I have been married almost 2 years now. I knew he watched porn every once in a while from day one and was ok with it in the beginning. Then I started finding pictures on his phone of girls that he actually went to school with or girls that live in our area that he met on facebook. These girls weren’t fully nude, closest was in bra and panties. When I first discovered these kind of pictures he lied straight to my face of course, and without ever telling me the truth, he eventually said he was sprry , he was stupid and it would never happen again. Couple months later I found more pictures and also discovered he had made a tender account. I still fully believe he has never physically met up with anybody or has ever cheated on me in real life. I also believe that he wasn’t even sending these women texts emails ect. Because he gave me his passwords and I started monitoring all his activity. After the tender account incident he didn’t try to lie, he just didn’t say anything at all about. That day I told him I wanted a divorce. That night he wrote me a letter and finally tried to give some sort of an explaintion (it’s something I’ve always done and it’s a stupid habit but it will never happen again I swear, you mean to much to me) and although I felt some of his explanation was a lie I decided I would stay with him. Since then I’ve found more pictures and found that he’s been watching a lot more porn. Our once great sex life and connection is now nonexistent. He makes me feel guilty for even asking him to sleep with me. He’s rejected me so many times when I’ve asked that I’ve stopped asking all together. I can’t stand the sight of myself and have zero self importance. I still know that he isn’t sending messages emails or anything and isn’t meeting anybody when he’s not at home because I put spyware on his phone and a GPS tracker on our vehicle. I don’t understand why he keeps doing all these things and I also don’t understand why he’s started doing them more and not having sex with me at all. I am very open to anything in the bedroom, I cook, I clean, keep his laundry done,still flirt with him regularly and tell him how attractive I find him. I know he loves me and he says he still finds me as attractive as the day we met and he still wants to be with nobody but me forever. Please PLEASE shed some light onto my painfully slow fading bond with my husband. I’m ready to separate to good because I’m afraid of I don’t leave that I’m going to start to resent him to the point that I hate him and is rather leave now then wait for that so we can at least remember the good times we have shared.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Jessica.

        I am so, so sorry for the pain you’re going through.

        It sounds like you’ve done everything you can to try to control his behavior, and it sounds like he’s not really interested in participating in his own recovery. Until he is ready to face whatever is driving him to destroy his own moral code with this behavior, there’s nothting you can do. He has to face his demons and deal with them, whatever they are. That is his job, not yours.

        That being the case, I think it’s time to consider what your boundaries should look like. Here, here, and here are some articles that should help. I would also recommend that you find a therapist who can help you process through your emotions and support your healthy boundaries. Look for someone who has experience with trauma, because facing this type of marriage betrayal over and over is enormously traumatic to you. Also, check the online resources at Bloom for Women: these are trauma-informed and excellent.

        Whatever he chooses, you can choose to be healthy and whole.

        Peace to you,

    9. S

      Good article. The society I grew up in taught me I was to be a mix of Pam Anderson, Martha Stewart, the Octomom, and the sweetest little pie-baking churchy-mamma in a sunny yellow dress. Really, how twisted, beyond being impossible. Those contradictory expectations have no integrity. If it were possible, I would have been that to be loved. I was a fail! Being rejected is how I discovered that my fulfillment comes from having values. I’m just me, and I like this article!!!!

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