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Creating safe places

Recognizing the significance of creating safe places begins with understanding how betrayal trauma affects the brain. My colleague, Dr. Jake Porter, explains. “Human beings are wired to be in secure relationships, to have ‘primary attachments’ with whom they journey through life. This is important for our physical and emotional health. When our primary attachment relationships are threatened, our brain is wired to automatically respond with fear and panic. For those who discover that their primary attachments have been betraying them—that the real story of their relationships hasn’t matched what they believed to be true—the result is trauma. Research now confirms that those who discover that they have been in relationship with sex addicts or chronic cheaters experience symptoms of trauma and can even develop PTSD.

For partners (and those who want to support them), trying to understand trauma’s invisible wounds (emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms) and what is essential to move forward in recovery is a slow journey. Safe, trauma-informed groups can provide the understanding, patience, and gift of time for partners to discover they are not alone, what is needed to be and feel safe, how to stabilize, who’s safe to share their stories with, and what they need to move on.

The beauty of safe groups

While watching the video I noted ways those creating the mannequins provided a sense of safety. I felt gratitude for their compassion, respect, gift of time and was moved to tears at the response. And then I reflected on ADOH's community, where we do our best to hold space for each other when bringingour “real struggles, doubts, and heartaches”.

I shared the video, describing both the vulnerability in the men and women showing up and the empathy in those coming alongside. I wondered … what would I want a 'mannequin' to 'show' that captures being me post-discovery, and asked:

  • Who, outside the partner world, has demonstrated that level of empathy, normalizing and validating your recovery journey?

  • How about you? What would you like a mannequin to show that captures YOU post-discovery?

Several responded and agreed to share their thoughts.

B I'd want it to show a healing trauma brain, strength and dignity. Not that I always feel or behave like those are true. Very few people outside the partner world have demonstrated empathy, normalized, or validated me. People who I have trusted with my story who are most likely to "get it" belong to other marginalized and/or traumatized groups. One group is people who have a child with Down syndrome (like we do) or other disability (see why that video got me?!) and the other is black friends. The fact that I have betrayal trauma and have had to advocate for my son opened me up to see the need for racial reconciliation as well.

K Tough question. I feel like a freak. And yet, I feel completely safe with partners. And honestly, there are very few people who have shown me sincere empathy outside our tribe. And maybe, I haven’t shown true empathy for those disabled either. Hmm.

B responded … How precious you are! Until we are in a "club" like betrayed partners or the "different abilities" community, we often don't understand. Within those communities are different viewpoints too. I try to be gracious with others and with myself. I've got so much to learn. Yet I'm way more open to considering other viewpoints and experiences than I used to be.

C I don’t think a physical mannequin as appropriate to capture me. I want something that is a reflection of being alive, strong and powerful to capture me. Something that is who and what I am now. A Phoenix or Butterfly possibly. Maybe a rainbow or sword- welding beast. Because I am alive now. I was in the dark before discovery. I was pretending. But post discovery for me I’m no longer in denial. I will choose to live… For me I’m no longer a victim. I feel like a freedom fighter… Someone who will live life to the fullest. I see that in each of you and anyone who chooses to live, instead of die post-discovery of any kind. I felt like a mannequin was me before… The facade of something real. But now… But now… I’m awake and I’m here to live.

L I love this question and my immediate image which I now can’t get out of my head… my mannequin would be seated at a table with its chest ripped open and hollowed out. The hands would be on the table, working diligently. And on the table between the hands you would see this…

What about you...

Whether you you experienced partner sexual betrayal, or want to effectively support someone who has, understanding our very human need for safety is crucial. In his post, Healing After Infidelity: Partner Betrayal Trauma, Clint Davis writes: As a human, we are always evaluating one question above all else…”Am I safe?” If I don’t feel physically or emotionally safe, nothing else matters but getting to safety. Having a secure attachment to a person whom we feel safe with and trust is vital to being a healthy, well functioni human being."

  • When have you felt physically unsafe? Emotionally unsafe?

  • Who can you talk to when you feel unsafe?

  • What helps you get back to feeling safe again

And if you are a partner, and are looking for some suggestions for building your safety, Dr. David Skinner offers some suggestions here.

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