Those of you who follow me on Facebook will know that I recently organized a one-day partner’s retreat in Auckland, New Zealand, lead by Dr. Barbara Steffens: the founder of the “partner trauma model.” What I learned at Barbara’s retreat, was both healing and furthered my thoughts on betrayal pain in relationship to damaged identity.
Learning from Barbara
Barb is an amazing counselor, speaker, woman of God, advocate for partners and just an all round beautiful person. If you ever get a chance to meet her, take it. The theme of Barb’s Auckland intensive was “Beauty to Ashes: Restoring Identity after Betrayal.” She runs retreats on this and other themes, regularly (mostly in the US). See her website for more.
Over the course of our incredible day together, Barb walked us Kiwi partners of porn/sex addicts through the lies we, partners of sex addicts, internalize and make part of our identy: lies such as “I’m not enough,” “I’m rejected,” “I’m dirty/sullied.” We spent time meditating on which lies had particularly penetrated each of our hearts and warped our sense of self.
Over the next week, as I spent more time thinking about this, I realized:
a. The enemy loves to attack our identity
b. Its exceedingly painful to lose sight of our identity
Just prior to starting his ministry – and thus, coming into his destiny – Jesus went to the wilderness to fast and pray. There, he was tempted by Satan three times. The first two attacks were around his identity:
If you are the son of God, tell these stones/jump off…
We may never know if Jesus had any momentary doubts due to Satan’s subtle implication that he might not be God's son. Whether or not he waivered in his knowledge of his identity and destiny, Jesus resisted the temptation to use his power to “prove” who he was. Next he resisted the temptation to take the easier route to the goal (of saving the world). He trusted that He was the Anointed One and that the Father’s plan — though it would mean a journey through pain, rejection and shame — was the correct way to achieve the restoration of humanity into relationship with God.
Intimacy was designed to confirm our heavenly identity. It's supposed to give us a sneak peak at what it is to be loved, pursued, desired, cherished, chosen and special.
But, sex addicts' brains always want to objectify and "rate" women based on their ability to visually stimulate them. It's part of the stinkin' thinkin' of the addiction. When they do this — or in any way direct their sexual energy to others — those identity-affirming messages get turned on their heads and we get: you're "less than," "not as special as," "undesirable," "not enough," "unlovable," "of less value than... her."
It's as if our husband had taken an ax to the tree of our identity.
The result is that we begin to question who we really are. We have difficulty perceiving we are:
- Chosen (Colossians 3:12)
- Enough (Psalm 139:14)
- Dearly loved (Colossians 3:12)
- Delighted in (Zephaniah 3:17)
The world around us tells us that's all nonsense. Our sex addict husband — though he knows us as no other person does — doesn't get it either. So, why would we believe it?
We need to work to understand that it's our husband's perception that isn’t good enough. "Less than" is a flawed, worldly point of view that doesn’t take into account God's valuation system.
Jesus — seemingly a little Jewish nobody, nearly dead from starvation — stood firm when his identity was attacked. He resisted the temptation to "prove" who he really was. He left it to the Father to glorify him in the right time.
Proving who we are in God by displays of miraculous power isn't an option for most of us. However, we may, nonetheless, be tempted to "prove" our identity (to others and self) in unholy/unhealthy ways:
- Finding another man/men to validate us
- Pursuing worldly success/admiration (career, hobby, family)
- Pursuing power (relational, financial, political, spiritual)
Worse yet, we may be tempted to believe the lies and just “numb out” to dull the pain they cause.
Like Jesus, we can only find our identity and destiny by walking through this suffering with the Father. In the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts (and the two following surveys), I heard many stories of women who have come out the other side of betrayal. Having done their work with Him and a safe community, they are stronger, more confident and more mature in Him than ever. They know who they are and what they are here for.
For some of us, the only way to our destiny (of helping others) was to pass through the wilderness of betrayal. Thank you, Barb Steffens, that you walked that desert road before us.
This week I urge you to spend time talking to God about who He really is, and who you REALLY are. Ask Him what He has called you specifically to do with Him (encourage, bring joy, fight evil, make peace, heal, etc.) as His co-worker in this world.
Learn more about Dr. Barbara Steffens and her amazing organization: Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists at the APSATS website.
This is one of the songs we sang at the retreat. Barb and her husband Steve were the people who introduced it to me, earlier this year.