Almost 11 years into this journey, I still find myself struggling with fears at times. Fortunately, today it’s nothing like those early days: waking up in a panic, nightmares, hypervigilance…
Last week I shared some very specific techniques/therapeutic interventions known to help with processing trauma and trauma-based fear. Today I’ll share a bit about ways women (including myself), commonly try to cope with our fears that really aren't so helpful. I'll end with some general principles we can adopt to move toward living a more fear-free life.
Strategies that don’t work: long term
57% of the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts respondents said they felt the need to try and control things around them—in order to feel safe. This is a normal first reaction to betrayal and the terror it creates in our lives. Let's not allow anyone to shame us about this. In many instances, it can be helpful to our immediate survival. Moreover, let's not buy into the lie that boundaries are manipulative or controlling. They are not. See this previous post for more.
Thus, some controlling, with regards to our husbands, makes sense initially (see more on this in Beyond Betrayal). However, there is a type of controlling that is not a sustainable, long-term strategy for coping with our fears. As Patrick Fleming says in Shattered Soul: “There is no peace, no serenity in tightly holding on, in truth it simply makes you more frightened and insecure. Fearful clinging begets more fear in a vicious circle.”
So how do we get out of this circle if this is where we live?
Healthy long-term coping strategies
As far as those general, pervasive fears go, there are a number of strategies that help us get free of them. These include:
- Getting away from the danger
- Cultivating joy and thankfulness
- Processing our fears with others
- Reconnecting with God
- Choosing courage
Regarding the first point, let's not forget that some fear is healthy: it's our brain's attempt to get and keep us safe. If you need help trying to work out whether the only safe/healthy option for you in your relationship is to flee, please seek out the support of a safe therapist. You might also consider reading The Christian's Guide to No Contact: How to End Your Relationships With Narcissistic, Psychopathic, and Abusive Family and Friends, and Still be a Good Christian.
The second point on cultivating joy is covered well by Coach Katherine in our video interviews on fear. The second (and also the first) was covered off in last week's post. Thus, today, we'll focus on the last two points.
The number one fear that can keep us perpetually locked in a state of anxiety is a fear of God. When God seems scary… it’s natural for the rest of the universe to follow suit.
While God understands where this fear comes from (see more on Spiritual Crisis), He wants to help us address it. He wants to woo us back to a place of trust. In Beyond Betrayal I list a number of the instances of amazing, loving connection women experienced with God, during their betrayal crisis.
Many of us got to that place by initially being honest with God about our distrust of Him… our anger at Him. From there we began to give Him a chance to show us more about what He’s like. About how He feels about our situation. In these small steps, we were making ourselves open again. We were becoming “woo-able.”
And that’s enough for God to work with.
Fleming explains why it is so very important to re-connect with God:
“The ultimate antidote to fear is a relationship with that which is beyond you and with that which is most deeply within you — your God and your soul. When you know and experience that you are never really alone, you can face any fear, and it will not overcome you… Soul-centered surrender [to God] yields serenity and peace, even if it initially feels very threatening...”
From initial vulnerability to God and connection with Him, we can then begin to choose courage in small ways each day. Fleming calls “courage” the determination to push through fear, and not allow it to rob us.
When we choose fear [even when we are actually safe], “the tendency is to either live tight and small or controlling and angry, or some of both,” Fleming explains. Choosing courage means pushing ourselves out of our “safe” comfort zone into vulnerability that promotes health and healthy relationships.
For some that may mean finding the courage to leave the house and pick up the kids from school. For another it might mean returning to (a safe) church—starting, perhaps, with a small cell group. For all of us, it means sharing our story with safe people.
In sharing our story, particularly in a face-to-face context, we process our fears and pain, so that in time we can leave them behind. If you have yet to reach out to another person to share your story, I encourage you to prayerfully consider doing so this week. You can find a list of professional counselors and coaches trained specifically in working with betrayal trauma and its effects through APSATS or contact me and I'll help point you toward a counselor or group in your area.