One of the respondents to the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts said she felt like she was walking around in shock for about three months after disclosure. Another stated:
“I almost checked out mentally when he told me. I couldn't respond or speak for a long time and it scared the crap out of him and me. I think I just had to go somewhere safe in my mind until I could process it all and deal with the trauma.”
In Spouses of Sex Addicts, Hope for the Journey, Richard Blankenship states, “Spouses of sex addicts suffer ‘shock grief’ upon discovery of the pornography, affair partner, or whatever form the addiction takes.” This is an excellent description of the combined horror/sorrow/paralysis we find ourselves in during our discovery crisis. Let’s break down the components of this shock a bit, so we can better understand how to move past it.
One of the hallmarks of shock is the inability to feel much about the traumatic event… or anything else. I remember my first counselor (about a week after disclosure) telling me he was quite impressed with how I was handling the situation. He said he was we used to women smashing things in his office. He said something like, “this is the most civil and intellectual conversation I’ve ever had with the wife of a sex addict before.”
Little did he know that smashing things was coming. What he was looking at in that moment was a type of emotional paralysis: a “this does not compute” reaction. I was cognitively processing what I’d been told as best as I could (despite “foggy” brain), but emotionally, I was a bit constipated.
If shock is the first manifestation of our pain, this is fine, and not uncommon. Generally, from shock we begin to gradually feel the pain and move toward emotional reactions to it, such as sorrow, anxiety and even anger. If, however, we find ourselves stuck in a form of emotional paralysis for many weeks/months, we may be facing a form of shock/fear (rather than shock/grief), which can lead to problems if not addressed. Shock based in fear will be addressed later in this series.
Shock with Denial
Severe shock can lead to increasing levels of emotional (and even cognitive) paralysis, not just around the trauma, but in other areas of life. Some women will even enter a denial state around the traumatic event. The denial can take various forms including:
- Denying we are hurt by the betrayal
- Denying there is anything “wrong” with the acting out
- Trying to forget the information about the betrayal (i.e. denying it happened and that we know)
Denying is more likely to be our stance if we feel social pressure to ignore the poisonous behavior that traumatized us. This will be the case in Christian circles where sex (healthy or unhealthy) is considered a taboo subject or where it is expected that men are to be given license, while women take on the martyr role.
However, we don’t have to play that dysfunctional game. Neither do we have to stay stuck in shock/denial because “there is no hope.” That’s Satan’s lie, please don’t fall for it.
In order to move forward, we need to acknowledge the enormous pain of the betrayal and how it makes us feel. Our primary emotion may, of course, be relief (as some survey respondents reported) because we FINALLY have an explanation for our husband’s poisonous behavior. Even still, we have pain to face, pain to grieve, and pain to process with God and safe people.
It is more likely that what we will find emerging from the pain (after we’ve come through the shock) is profound sorrow, anger and fear. Next week I’ll talk more about anger, and will have the 4th instalment in the Compassion series available -- The Pain. We'll then continue this series in the New Year.