When an individual discovers that their spouse has been viewing pornography or acting out with sexual misconduct, they often experience betrayal trauma.
They may struggle with recurrent thoughts or dreams – reliving the experience, they may avoid certain places/people or situations, experience depression and anxiety and often intense or heightened emotions, often accompanied by feelings of low self worth.
Self-care is a foundational aspect of healing from betrayal trauma. However, contrary to pop culture, self-care does not usually equate to a bubble bath or pedicure. Self care is a tool comprised of daily physical movement/exercise, spiritual connection with Heavenly Father, mental learning and growth, and emotional awareness. While it does not “fix” the trauma, it helps the individual as they begin to heal to go through the trauma. I love how the following story about barnacles relates to self care….
(Adapted by MaryAnn Michaelis from Thomas S. Monson’s “You Make A Difference” May 1988)
“To some it may seem strange to see ships of many nations loading and unloading cargo along the docks at Portland, Oregon. That city is 100 miles from the ocean. Getting there involves a difficult, often turbulent passage over the bar guarding the Columbia River and a long trip up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.
But ship captains like to tie up at Portland. They know that as their ships travel the seas, a curious salt water shellfish called a barnacle fastens itself to the hull and stays there for the rest of its life, surrounding itself with a rock-like shell. As more and more barnacles attach themselves, they increase the ship’s drag, slow its progress, decrease its efficiency.
Periodically, the ship must go into dry dock, where with great effort the barnacles are chiseled or scraped off. It’s a difficult, expensive process that ties up the ship for days. But not if the captain can get his ship to Portland. Barnacles can’t live in fresh water. There, in the sweet, fresh waters of the Willamette or Columbia, the barnacles loosen and fall away, and the ship returns to its task lightened and renewed.
Sins are like those barnacles. Hardly anyone goes through life without picking up some. They increase the drag, slow our progress, decrease our efficiency. Unrepented, building up one on another, they can eventually sink us.
In His infinite love and mercy, our Lord has provided a harbor where, through repentance, our barnacles fall away and are forgotten. With our souls lightened and renewed, we can go efficiently about our work and His” (“Harbor of Forgiveness,” 30 Jan. 1988, p. 16).
In applying this analogy to betrayal trauma and self care, the pains and burdens that we carry are like these barnacles. They weigh us down – especially if we try to carry them all on our own. When we feel like we aren’t able to talk about and share our stories with others (who have earned the right to hear them), it weighs us down. We are filled with lots of negative emotions, energy and unexpressed pain. Life becomes more heavy, confusing and more difficult.
Self care can be compared to the fresh waters in this analogy. Self-care requires, and allows us to take time to allow ourselves to heal. We sit quietly, we meditate, spend time in the temple, exercise, and focus on our emotional, spiritual, physical and mental needs. We slow down and we move our focus from the things that we can’t control (other’s behaviors) to those things which we can control – our own behaviors.
As we focus on our own behaviors, allowing ourselves to take personal self care time, our barnacles can begin to fall from our hulls. We are able to release our burdens. As we take this time spiritually, our relationship with God is strengthened. As our relationship with God is strengthened, the weight of the barnacles lessens. They don’t drag us down as much anymore as we are able to give our burdens to the Lord.
As we do physical self care, our minds and bodies receive stretching, fresh oxygen, and lots of feel good natural chemicals that naturally lift our moods and spirits. We move from a state of fight or flight and darkness begins to lift as more barnacles drop off.
As we focus on emotional self care, we are able to honor our emotions. We journal and move our thoughts that are inside our heads to paper, where we can look at them objectively. We can recognize Satan’s lies. We also find outlets to release the negative emotions and energy – in positive ways that align with our value systems. And more barnacles drop off.
Our mental self care includes education, information and learning. We learn who we are. What we like. We start to learn, see, and tap into our own divinity and power. We learn about tools and resources for our own healing journey and as we begin to utilize them, we are lifted and lightened as more barnacles fall away and we are less weighed down.
While the ships in this analogy just have to sit, waiting for the barnacles to fall off, self care requires action. Sometimes these actions may be small and quiet, yet they require some sort of action. As we are doing these things, seemingly without our notice, our barnacles of secrets, suffering and pain will slowly begin to lessen and eventually they will be removed and lifted.
Self care allows us to find hope, peace, lightness, so that we are able to move forward, more swiftly – healing, rather than requiring an entire overhaul because we ignored those things that were dragging us down.
If you would like to participate in one of our free therapist led support groups for women working to heal from betrayal trauma please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 801.923.3026.
Article written by MaryAnn H. Michaelis, MSW
If you reside in Washington state and are interested in finding understanding support in your personal healing journey, please contact me at email@example.com or at 970.471.2618.