There are many “arenas” to which we are called to act in daily: our jobs, parenting, friendships, relationships. Some arenas we choose to step into willingly, ready to show up and confident in our abilities. We are, however, thrust into other arenas, with only our values to light the way, and we have to make the choice to be present and proceed.
The arena of sexual betrayal is one that is exceptionally vulnerable and daunting, full of shame and judgment. Perhaps the battle is against negative body image, a spouse’s pornography addiction, past sexual abuse, or an unsatisfying sex life. No matter how you have been wounded in the arena of sexual betrayal, you can develop a skill set to quiet your inner critic, embrace your imperfections, and learn to believe that you are enough.
Embrace Skills that Lead to Healing
Although the struggle in this arena can be overwhelming, you have the choice to enter and to compete—to show up and be seen. How are you “seen?” By embracing self-compassion, empathy, and authenticity, and moving away from shame, fear and disconnection.
Why is Sexual Betrayal So Devastating?
Why is this particular arena such a tough one? Because sexual intimacy is the deepest form of connection a human being can have. It also requires the highest level of vulnerability. When you are vulnerable with someone in this area, and that person betrays you, no matter how big or small the betrayal, the brain makes a very strong connection between sexual intimacy and danger, whether physical or emotional danger, depending on the situation. Recall that Adam and Eve knew sexual intimacy before the Fall. No need for defenses, masks, or low lighting to disguise flaws or other undesirable attributes. Their connection was pure intimacy as it was created to be. What was the very first emotion they experienced after their “eyes were opened?” SHAME! They immediately covered up, literally and figuratively. They covered up their physical nakedness and then tried to cover their shame by hiding from their Creator (Genesis 3:7). We have been attempting to cover our shame in myriad ways ever since! Shame keeps us “covered up” and hidden. It keeps us from being truly seen in relationships. While it seems safe in the short term to stay hidden and defensive, it will hurt us long term.
So how do we decide to show up and be seen and live brave when we’ve been betrayed? There are several ways that we can turn away from shame driven behaviors that keep us disconnected, blaming, and fearful, and into behaviors that lead to empathy, compassion and connection; what we were originally intended for. This turning away is called shame resiliency. Shame resiliency is “the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience” (The Gifts of Imperfection, pg. 40).
- Empathy is the antidote to shame. We need to experience empathy and we need to give empathy in our time of pain. We cannot experience empathy if we don’t reach out and let someone know we’re struggling. We can’t give empathy if we choose to fight shame with shame.
- Sharing our story of hurt with someone who’s earned the right to hear it. Our story is tender, vulnerable and raw. We have to have a trusted person or place where we can safely reach out for empathy and understanding. This may be with a friend, family member, therapist, or even in a group with strangers who are experiencing a similar situation. Shame needs secrecy and silence to thrive. The second you give shame a voice, it can no longer exist. There is power and healing that comes with sharing your story, but only in a safe environment that is free of judgement.
- Cultivating self-compassion. We are often hard on ourselves and blaming towards ourselves. “If I had just done this, or been more of this, my partner wouldn’t have betrayed me.” We say these things so easily to ourselves, but would we ever dare to say these harsh and judgmental things to a dear friend? No! And self-compassion is really just how we would talk to a friend. Practice talking to yourself the way you would a friend and see how much better it feels! For a more in-depth look at self-compassion and its components, visit self-compassion.org/
You can rise strong in this arena. Rising strong may be the only choice left to you in a situation where someone else’s choices radically affected you. The beauty in this mess is that you can still choose to show up, be seen, and live brave. No one can take that choice from you. And in the end, that’s what God wants for you too! To press on in the race of life and forget what has hindered you in the past or weighed you down, particularly shame (Philippians 3:13-14). It won’t be easy and it will require continued choosing, but the fight will be worth it. You’re worth it!
For further work in this arena, specifically in the Daring Way™ or Rising Strong™ curriculums, check out groups and workshops in your area. http://thedaringway.com/upcoming-groups/
For Biblical support in this area, check out Pure Life Alliance resources, curriculums and groups at www.purelifealliance.org
Kelsey Hawk, LMHC, Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator-Candidate
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