Trauma Recovery Stages: Part 1

By Donna Meredith-Dixon: A Door of Hope

As Lisa mentioned in her previous post, 98% of almost 600 survey respondents described experiencing symptoms of trauma, PTSD or depression following discovery or disclosure of their husband’s sexual betrayal. I remember stumbling across an online article about post-traumatic stress nine years ago. I immediately identified with the article’s description of trauma responses. Months later, I read updates about the book Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal.

Centered on Dr. Steffens’ research and Marsha Means’ extensive work with partners, this book helped me understand my responses and provided a path forward. Soon, I found other books and articles about the relationship between trauma and sexual betrayal. I also began listening to experts, partners and sexual addicts.

I had facilitated groups in and out of the church setting for more than 20 years. However, my first experience in leading a partner (of sex addict) group, seven years ago, revealed a gap between my previous experiences and this new venture. To better serve as a partner-group facilitator, I sought further training. I became a certified life coach, then a certified pastoral sex addiction specialist. Recently, I completed APSATS training as part of becoming a certified partner coach (now a candidate).

The recent training, in particular, increased my understanding of betrayal trauma. Based on the respected work of trauma researcher Judith Lewis Herman, APSATS understands the three stages of betrayal trauma to be:

  • Safety & Stabilization
  • Remembrance and mourning
  • Reconnection

Safety and Stabilization

Dr. Judith Lewis Herman states, “The first task of recovery is to establish the survivor’s safety. This task takes precedence over all others, for no therapeutic work may possibly succeed if safety has not been adequately secured.”

Partners can experience a range of intense and often conflicting feelings/emotions: anger, anxiety, betrayal, confusion, disorientation, fear, grief, humiliation, hyper-vigilance, isolation, invisibility, numbness, powerlessness, repulsion, suspicion, vulnerability, to name a few.

Common experiences include:

  • Inability to prioritize, but also urgency to make decisions
  • Difficulty identifying and expressing feelings
  • Hyper-vigilant behaviors
  • Intrusive images
  • Flashbacks
  • Health issues
  • Panic attacks
  • Easy startling
  • Difficulty functioning
  • Self-medicating tendencies
  • Pursuit of comprehensive/extensive partner betrayal and sex addiction information
  • Attempts to reconcile new reality with pre-discovery worldviews
  • Craving for SA’s regrets, apology, understanding, and validation
  • Desire to confide in others or withdraw/hide
  • Crisis of faith: feels anger toward God, questions theological beliefs
  • Anger toward SA friends and/or family of origin, especially if they abused the SA or enabled/covered-up his addiction
  • Mild to extreme loss of self-image: temporary or long-term

Toward Safety

Regaining a sense of safety includes:

  • Identifying what she needs to feel safe, help in identifying and setting goals to ensure safety
  • Gaining understanding of betrayal trauma’s impact and effects
  • Gaining skills in managing the crisis, regulating emotions, and healthy boundaries
  • Identifying, describing and communicating her needs, particularly to her spouse
  • Understanding detachment
  • Getting help prioritizing and identifying resources for basic needs
  • Discovering criteria for choosing therapists, coaches, and/or support groups, as well as red flags indicating recovery programs or professionals are not appropriate.
  • Becoming informed about the therapeutic disclosure process, how to get support before, during and after
  • Knowing why, when and who about using polygraph
  • Understanding the multi-dimensional components of sex addiction (physical, relational, behavioral, emotional, spiritual) and the addict’s recovery journey
  • Understanding the connection between porn/sex addiction and the brain
  • Obtaining accurate information about internet filters and/or recovery apps
  • Assessing safety of children still at home; their exposure to behaviors/acting out, steps to safeguard
  • Disclosures of whether there are/were work-related consequences — if online pornography use, did it occur at work?
  • Discovering whether acting out was same-sex or heterosexual; if there was/is an affair does she know the partner
  • Understanding why, how and/where to get sexually transmitted disease testing
  • Identifying “safe” people: who, what, when and why to tell (family, friends, clergy)
  • Understanding how gaslighting alters partner’s reality, and how to respond
  • Benefiting by implementing self-care/mindfulness practices

Navigating through stage one is tough work. Before leaving it behind, it’s important to note that the recovery journey often feels messy because the stages are not linear.

According to the National Association for Christian Recovery, “The work that needs to be done in one stage may need to be revisited as part of later work. The process may need to be repeated multiple times. The boundaries between stages may be quite fluid. Many other kinds of complications are possible. It is also important to emphasize that stages do not imply a gradual movement from ‘easier’ stages to more ‘difficult’ stages. All the stages are demanding, challenging.”

This week marks the launch of the Beyond Betrayal Couples' Guide. This study guide is aimed at couples who are engaging recovery/healing together. It includes exercises, devotional readings and a deeper look at sex addiction/trauma recovery, and trust- and intimacy-building. It is a companion to the award-winning, Beyond Betrayal: How God is Healing Women (and Couples) from Infidelity. See a sample chapter of the guide.

The study guide is currently available in epub format only (U.S. English) for approximately $5USD (exactly $8NZD). A UK-English version will be arriving shortly, and a print version will launch next month.

An excellent song of hope from a young man from Donna's hometown. Thanks Donna for sharing!

This article was written by:
Author image

Lisa Taylor

Lisa is a PSA trauma survivor, counselor and award-winning author living with her kids & recovering husband in New Zealand. She runs groups and sees international clients via Naked Truth Recovery.


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