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There’s nothing quite like betrayal to bring you to your knees…here’s why…and how to stop the pain.
Even if you used to consider yourself to be a capable and accomplished person, you are not spared the agony that comes when your beloved falls into the arms of another.
Before my husband’s affair, I had pretty good self-esteem. I had done a lot of inner work. Negative thoughts were few and far between. When a negative thought did take hold, I could quickly turn it around by choosing a more positive one about myself or the situation.
Then my husband cheated.
I instantly felt unattractive and undesirable, even though nothing about me or my outer appearance had changed. Where I had once felt attractive, I now berated myself with thoughts like, I’m too old. I’m unattractive. No one will want me now. The sudden viciousness of my negative self-talk shocked me.
It Doesn’t Matter What is True; It Only Matters What You Believe
During this time, I continued to work as a model. It didn’t matter that I had a portfolio of glamorous photographs of myself. I was blind to the truth that I was an attractive woman—still. My non-stop, self-critical thoughts dominated my consciousness, and the supposedly beautiful image in the mirror meant nothing to me. I felt ugly.
One of my clients had a similar experience. Zoe’s marriage was ending because of her husband’s affair. She had tried for months to save her marriage but eventually embarked on a difficult divorce. As a result of this painful experience, she developed beliefs similar to mine: She decided, I am boring; I am no longer desirable, I am too difficult, I am unattractive, and I’m too old. And this was the short list.
The truth was: Zoe was anything but boring or difficult. She was positively delightful. As far as her belief that she was unattractive, the fact was: she was an actress and strikingly beautiful. And in regard to her belief that she was too old…she had just turned 33! Zoe, like me, lived out one of the sad truths about infidelity: no matter how beautiful the world thinks you are, when your beloved cheats, you feel utterly unlovable.
What’s REALLY Causing Your Pain
Almost all of us have a stream of thoughts percolating just below our level of conscious awareness. In challenging times—like the massive hurt caused by our partner’s betrayal—that thought stream is populated by mostly negative beliefs.
Think about the last time you felt pain about your partner’s infidelity. Maybe it’s happening right now. Pause and ask yourself, “What was I thinking immediately before I got emotionally triggered …before I got upset?” You might be challenged to remember. It’s likely that you weren’t aware of any thoughts preceding your pain. But becoming aware of these thoughts is the key to you feeling better.
The Role of Your Thoughts
Thoughts like: I’m not good enough. I’m not lovable. I’m not important fall into a category of destructive thinking called Limiting Beliefs. Limiting beliefs are the collection of thoughts we believe…the stories we tell ourselves that that keep us stuck in our cycle of suffering. They also keep us from moving forward…from creating the life we want.
Limiting beliefs often dominate our thinking. And that picture of who I am holds sway over the choices we make and how we show up in the world. If I believe I am worthy, I will never settle in a relationship, I will hold out for someone who treats me as worthy. If I feel unworthy, I will avoid being in a relationship or worse, attract someone who reflects my Limiting Belief back to me by treating me with disrespect or worse, abuse. That’s the power of the beliefs that populate your thinking.
Which Came First the Thought or the Feeling?
In addition to limiting our lives, these negative thoughts create our upset feelings. Put simply: our thoughts create our feelings. This truth is often misunderstood. Most people have been conditioned to believe that it’s what happens to us that causes our feelings. So this can be hard to get your head around at first. As W. Somerset Maugham says, “If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?” [Link]
Ponder that. Every time we feel upset, it is preceded by a negative thought (or ten)—specifically a negative thought that we believe. In my darkest days, I got very upset when I had thoughts like, I’m unlovable, I’m undesirable, and I am a failure—beliefs very similar to those of my client Zoe. These kinds of limiting beliefs are universal among my clients experiencing betrayal.
Even Hollywood Celebrities Cannot Escape the Thoughts That Drive Their Pain
Even gorgeous celebrities are not immune to this thinking. Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke were quite the Hollywood power couple, but then Hawke had an affair with their nanny and then married her. Uma was quoted in an interview with Oprah after their split, calling it “excruciating” and saying it left her self-esteem “pretty mangled.”
Taming the Negative Self-Talk
Following are the steps I have used successfully with myself and my clients to update our Limiting Beliefs:
- Uncover your limiting belief.
Awareness is the essential first step to healing. Once you identify an upset, past or present, ask yourself, “What am I thinking or believing that is causing me to feel upset? What am I making their cheating meet about me?” For example, my husband chose a younger woman, which caused me to believe: I’m too old. When he told me he needed more excitement in his life, I decided, I’m boring. (Hint: Neither of these were true).
- Write down and challenge the belief.
Then write down the limiting beliefs that are present for you right now. Then go down your list and for each belief you’ve written, ask yourself these questions about each one. “Is this true about me? Would my best friend agree with this statement?” If your answer is “no” for either question, ask yourself, “Am I willing to update this belief? …even if I don’t quite believe it at first?”
- Update Your Belief.
Go down the list and write the truth and cross out the limiting belief. You don’t have to fully buy into this new belief at this point. Over time though, you will notice that you gradually start to buy into these new beliefs.
Begin the habit of countering your negative self-talk with your new, updated beliefs. You may not believe your new belief at first, I didn’t, but persevere. Our improved self-talk has the power to eventually change our consciousness. After all, it is the words we were telling ourselves that caused our upset in the first place.
- Get Support
Most of us need support changing our beliefs, especially the deeper core beliefs. Whether you want to lose weight, stop smoking or change your thinking, the ingredients for making changes that last are the same. Find a person or a group who can provide you will all that you need to change and step into a more healed version of yourself.
You may not believe yourself at first. That’s OK. But it you keep challenging your thoughts, over time—who knows—you may just start to believe them!