Disclosure: The Problem with Reassurance

In recovery, disclosure is an important and difficult undertaking for the addict, the partner, and the relationship.  For the partner, disclosure is often traumatic to varying degrees.  As the addict, there are things you can do to make the disclosure process easier and there are things you can do that make the disclosure process more traumatic for your partner.  One thing that often makes the disclosure process more traumatic for the partner is reassuring them about the content of the disclosure.

bombs, sex addiction, pornography, SASH, tim Stein,It can seem reasonable to reassure your partner prior to a formal therapeutic disclosure that they know everything about your past behaviors and that there are no new behaviors to disclose.  Couples sometimes refer to these unknown behaviors as "bombs."  Sometimes this reassurance is offered by the addict when they believe there are no “bombs” coming.  Sometimes this reassurance is asked for when the partner experiences anxiety about what they might not know.  On the surface, reassurance seems like a reasonable thing to offer or request.  So, why is providing this reassurance to your partner problematic?  It is problematic because you are reassuring your partner about something is that typically untrue and, additionally, it is manipulative.
In recovery, assumptions are always problematic.  If you assume your partner knows everything and reassure them that there are no “bombs,” you are playing with fire.  When (not if) your partner learns something new about some of your past behaviors in disclosure and if you have reassured them that they knew everything, it will be more traumatic to your partner.  In my clinical experience, partners almost always learn about new behaviors or they learn new information about behaviors. This may include behaviors that the partner genuinely did not know about, behaviors the partner knew at one time but had forgotten, or nuances of behaviors the partner was unaware of.

"you are playing with fire"

People forget things. And having previously known about something does not eliminate the trauma of remembering.  This is similar to you, as an addict, being in an environment that beings up memories of a past addictive situation or trigger and again feeling shame, guilt, or an addictive urge.  The feeling may be less intense than it was originally but it has not gone away.  sex addiction, pornography, SASH, tim steinIf someone who knew about your addiction had reassured you that there was nothing to be worried about, you would likely feel some level of resentment regardless of whether the person was intentionally lying or honestly believed everything was safe. Likewise, if your partner previously knew about a behavior but has forgotten about it, it will still be traumatic for them to be reminded of the behavior.  Also, if you have reassured them there would not be any “bombs” in the disclosure, they will likely feel resentment toward you whether or not you were completely honest in your reassurance.  A similar pattern plays out if your partner had not previously framed a behavior as part of your addiction. Again, it does not seem to matter that your partner had previously known about the behavior.  Cognitive knowledge does not protect your partner from a traumatic experience.  Having this known behavior shared as an aspect of your addiction can still be traumatic.  If you have reassured your partner there would be no “bombs” in your disclosure, the trauma will be worse.

Sometimes the addict forgets.

Sometimes the addict forgets.  While working with your therapist to prepare disclosure, you might remember a behavior that was linked to your addiction that you had honestly forgotten about. Or, you might realize a past or present behavior you had never considered part of your addiction is actually important to disclosure and, for whatever reason, your partner is unaware of this behavior.  This constitutes new information for your partner.

If you have reassured your partner there would be no “bombs” in disclosure, you have just increased your partner’s trauma.

More often than addicts care to admit, they have lied about or not shared some sexual behavior with their partner, their recovery community, and their therapist.  While significant omissions are not an every time occurrence, I am no longer surprised when this comes up in disclosure preparation.  If the addict holds onto secrets and does not include them in disclosure, they undermine the point of disclosure, minimize the potential healing disclosure offers to them and their partner, or, worst of all, further damages their partner and their relationship.  Disclosing hidden behaviors is essential.  This is one of the reasons we recommend a polygraph in conjunction with a formal therapeutic disclosure.  If you have reassured your partner they know everything only to disclose something you have been holding as a secret, you have just further traumatized your partner.

Part of the reason we recommend disclosure is that by providing your partner with a full account of your past behavior, you are providing them with all the information available to choose what to do with the relationship.  Repairing the attachment bond in your relationship can only happen with rigorous honesty.  Withholding information or refusing to provide a disclosure leaves doubt, which interferes with rebuilding trust and healing the relationship attachment. Reassuring your partner that there are no “bombs” creates the potential for further damage to your relationship’s attachment and your partner’s trust.

When you reassure your partner that there will be no “bombs” in your disclosure, you are performing a manipulative act.  This is true no matter how altruistic you claim your reassurance is.  You are an addict.  Your behavior has had an impact on your partner.  And, your partner has a right to their emotions about this, which may very well include anger, pain (sadness), and fear.  These emotions may be uncomfortable for your partner but are almost assuredly uncomfortable for you.  When you reassure your partner there will be no “bombs,” you are taking away their right to have their own emotional reaction about your addiction, the information in the disclosure, or the disclosure process itself.  Your partner may experience positive growth from having and exploring these emotional experiences.  Your reassurance robs your partner of this potential growth.  In reality, when you reassure your partner there will be no “bombs,” you are actually manipulating your partner so their emotional experience is more comfortable for you.bombs, sex addiction, pornography, SASH

"dig in with your therapist and work"

If your partner is angry, afraid, hurting, or overwhelmed, please do not reassure them there will be no “bombs” in your disclosure.  Instead, tell them you are committed to making sure they get all the information about your addiction and your behavior in order to support them in their own healing process.  Tell them you are committed to seeing this full therapeutic disclosure process through to the end.  Then dig in with your therapist and work to provide your partner with a full therapeutic disclosure as soon as possible so your partner can continue their own healing process with a clear understanding of the reality of your addiction.  You cannot eliminate your partner’s trauma.  That was created by your past behavior, which you cannot change.  But, by committing to provide a full therapeutic disclosure as soon as possible instead of reassuring your partner about the contents of the disclosure, you can minimize their disclosure trauma.

SASH, Tim Stein, sex addiction, pornography, partners, disclosure
Tim Stein, sex addiction clinician, author, presenter

Tim Stein is a well-known expert in the field of sex addiction.  His work as a clinician, lecturer, consultant, supervisor and author keeps him on the cutting edge of sex addiction treatment.  Tim is a regular presenter at national and international conferences and is dedicated to offering information, providing clinical and recovery guidance, and advocating for the understanding and treatment of sex addicts and their partners.  Tim’s professional life is guided by his passion to heal the lives and relationships of individuals and families impacted by sex addiction.  Through his writing, lecturing, and clinical work, Tim strives to help those impacted by sex addiction to find self-love, emotional resilience, integrity and joy in recovery whether this is through personal insight or information and tools Tim provides to other professionals.  Tim is a co-founder of Willow Tree Counseling in Santa Rosa, CA and was integral in the development and evolution of their treatment programs for sex addicts and partners of sex addicts.


Blog Disclaimer

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) sponsors this blog for the purpose of furthering dialog in the field of problematic sexual behaviors and their treatment. Blog authors are encouraged to share their thoughts and share their knowledge. However, SASH does not necessarily endorse the content or conclusions of bloggers.

Information in blogs may not always be complete, up-to-date, accurate, relevant, or applicable to all situations. Legislation, case law, standards, regulations, descriptions of products and services, and other information are often complex and can change rapidly. Always double-check and confirm that any information you find on the internet is accurate, current, and complete in regard to your specific situation, question, concern, or interests.

This website and its agents make no promises, guarantees, representations, or warranties, expressed or implied, and assume no duty or liability with regard to the information contained herein or associated in any way therewith. No legal or other professional services are being rendered and nothing is intended to provide such services or advice of any kind. The inclusion of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or approval of those sites or their contents. This website bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external sites or for that of subsequent links. Those who visit or use this website, links or any other information assume all risks associated therewith.

Intimate Betrayal: A Unique Trauma

If you are reading this blog then you are likely here because someone you love has betrayed you with his or her harmful or compulsive sexual behavior. Perhaps the person who has hurt you is someone you deeply love and trusted most in this world - your husband or wife, or your fiancé or partner.

Discovering that your significant other is sexually compulsive and has been deliberately deceiving you with a secret sexual life is beyond heartbreaking; it shreds the relational fabric of connection and often leaves one feeling victimized, discarded, devalued and alone. betrayal, sex addiction, gas lighting, pornography

Intimate partner betrayal is a unique wound that is bone deep. The trauma that the partner of a sex addict deals with is different than that of the spouse of a drug addict or alcoholic – not more or less painful, it is just a different type of emotional injury. Please understand that my intention is not to minimize the experience of any partner who has an addicted spouse. All addictions create suffering and have their distinct pain points.

The soul-searing wound for the spouse of a sex addict cuts so deeply because a six-pack of booze does not have a vagina, a penis or breasts. And a cheating spouse cannot have sex with a bottle of pills, or fall deeply and emotionally in love with a marijuana pipe.

Partners of sexually compulsive people often share the following feelings when learning that their beloved has been misleading them, cheating on them, or otherwise sexually betraying them:

*Shock *Confusion *Fear *Anxiety *Rage *Shame

*Numbness *Depression *Grief *Humiliation *Suicidal Thoughts

As a Licensed Psychotherapist and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist  I have seen the traumatic impact of deceptive and sexually compulsive behaviors on the partners and families of sex addicts up close. And I am a woman who has gone through my own healing from betrayal. I understand the enormous pain that the partner experiences first hand. I am especially empathetic toward the heartache that hurting partners deal with. I also understand just how important it is to seek support with a qualified therapist who is trained in sexual addiction. Isolating is not healthy – there is no need to hide.

Finding a counselor who understands the unique impact of intimate partner betrayal trauma and the subsequent agony that partners’ of sex addicts experience is a first important step in the healing journey.

Emotional Abuse: The Traumatic Injury of Gas lighting

betrayal, Mari Lee SASH, sex addiction, pornography, partners, APSATSIntimate betrayal trauma often feels like the death of a thousand cuts. Why? Because gas lighting is usually part of the sexually deceptive ritual of the addict.

Perhaps “Gas lighting” is a term that is new to you, or perhaps you’re all too familiar with this pattern of emotional abuse. Either way, you’ve likely experienced this if you are in a relationship with a sexually compulsive person.

Gas lighting is a form of emotional terrorism where the sex addict manipulates his or her partner by creating doubt – a verbal smoke and mirrors that leaves the partner feeling confused and paranoid.

In order to cover their tracks, sex addicts manipulate conversations and lie to their significant other in an effort to hide their deceptive behaviors, affairs, and addictions. By repeatedly denying the victims reality, they intentionally sow seeds of doubt – and do so very convincingly. The result is that the partner begins doubting his or her own perception.

Eventually, the betrayed spouse starts to distrust his or her own memory and sometimes, depending on the level of gas lighting, they begin to question their own emotional stability and sanity.

This brave partner shares her gas lighting story, a nightmare that spans several years,

“My husband would look me straight in the face, with tears in his eyes, and swear on our children that he would never cheat on me. Even though I had credit card statements from motels, and text messages from call girls, he would promise me that someone was trying to break us up. He was such a good liar! This went on for nearly 3 years.

After his constant gas lighting, I began to believe that what he was sharing must be true because he was so convincing. The stories that seemed so far fetched at the start became more and more believable. He would even show me notes that were written in lipstick by a “female stalker” threatening him and demanding money. This is how he covered his lies with the cash withdraws from our bank account. I started to believe that some awful woman was trying to set up or frame my husband. I was terrified that she would hurt him, or me and our children.”

After about a year of this, the hang-ups, the lies, the half-truths, the tears, the promises, I started experiencing insomnia, paranoia, and stomach problems. My doctor shared that I was under extreme stress and prescribed medication that left me feeling like a zombie. You would think that him seeing my health disintegrating would have created enough guilt and he would have stopped acting out with prostitutes and call girls.

Nope!

 Instead, he took advantage of my fragile condition and began staying out later and more frequently. His excuse was that he wanted me to have peace of mind knowing that the “crazy woman” who was stalking him would not be spying on our home if he wasn’t there.

Only when irrefutable proof arrived through a phone call from a trusted friend who had video taped my husband at a strip club, did I finally wake up. I know that some people will think I was a fool, but he was so manipulative. And I was blinded by my love for him.  

Once I realized that he was lying, I had him followed, and attached a GPS to his car. Within 2 weeks I had all the proof I needed that every thing I had suspected and worse was happening. He had secret profiles on hook up sites, he had a PO box, he had a second phone, and even a secret credit card. He’d been acting out with prostitutes – male and female – for over 5 years, maybe longer.”

I filed for a separation and I kicked him out. We’ve both been in therapy and 12 step support groups over the last year. I still don’t know if I can forgive him or ever trust him again. These days, with the help of my therapist who is experienced in partner trauma, I am focused on healing all of the damage he has caused me. He is working with his own sex addiction therapist, is in an SAA 12 step group, and is focusing on his own recovery work. If he would not have done this, I would have divorced him.

Time will tell if our marriage will survive. It will depend on how committed he is to his recovery and to being completely truthful with himself and with me. Until then, I continue to use the tools that I am learning in therapy.”

 First Important Steps in Healing

betrayal, sex addiction, pornography, SASHPartners often say, “Why should I go to therapy, I am not the one with the addiction! I did not cause this mess!” Or, “My story is not as bad as his/her story, maybe we don’t really need therapy at all.” I understand the resistance and resentment; I said the same thing at the start of my own healing process.

However, being in an intimate relationship with a sexually compulsive person is a traumatic wounding, and it is emotional abusive. You deserve to have the opportunity to heal and focus on yourself for a change, instead of being consumed by and focused on your partner’s addiction – walking on eggshells, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You deserve to have your pain validated. And you most certainly deserve to work with a supportive counselor who is both empathetic and experienced in helping partners of sex addicts heal.

A compassionate therapist will help you learn the tools you need to move forward in order to step out of the darkness of despair – whether or not you choose to stay in your relationship or marriage.

No matter how broken you are feeling right now, you don’t have to do this healing work all by yourself. As I often say to my clients, “The most important relationship that you’ll ever be in, besides the one with your higher power, is the relationship with yourself.”

In closing, I hope this blog has been a beacon of light during this stormy chapter of your life. Perhaps what you’ve read here today is a first small step in taking back your mental and emotional well-being. Every little step counts!

As I wrap up, know that I wish you all the best on your journey forward. It’s not an easy road, but healing is possible – please trust that.

With kindness,

Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S

 

 

Mari Lee, SASH, sex addiction, pornography, APSATSMari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S is a therapist, speaker and coach in Glendora California.  Her books, retreats and therapeutic practice has helped many partners recover from betrayal. www.GrowthCounselingServices.com

If you are would like to learn more about what you can do next to support yourself in moving forward, get her e-book, “Healing Betrayal: First Steps for Partners and Spouses of Sex and Pornography Addicts”.

It will offer you a focused road map, a check list, a boundaries exercise, a sample letter, resources, and includes a chapter on sex addiction and first steps for the addict. Download that here as a support to your own recovery: http://www.thecounselorscoach.com/healing-betrayal-e-book-partners-of-sex-addicts

References
Carnes, Lee, & Rodriquez (2012), Facing Heartbreak (1sted.),Gentle Path Press.
Rosenberg & Curtiss Feder, (2014), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment, Academic Press.
Hentsch-Cowles & Brock, (2013), A Systemic Review of the Literature on the Role of the Partner of the Sex Addict, Treatment Models, and a Call for Research for Systems Theory Model in Treating the Partner, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity The Journal of Treatment & Prevention Volume 20, 2013 - Issue 4


Blog Disclaimer

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) sponsors this blog for the purpose of furthering dialog in the field of problematic sexual behaviors and their treatment. Blog authors are encouraged to share their thoughts and share their knowledge. However, SASH does not necessarily endorse the content or conclusions of bloggers.

Information in blogs may not always be complete, up-to-date, accurate, relevant, or applicable to all situations. Legislation, case law, standards, regulations, descriptions of products and services, and other information are often complex and can change rapidly. Always double-check and confirm that any information you find on the internet is accurate, current, and complete in regard to your specific situation, question, concern, or interests.

This website and its agents make no promises, guarantees, representations, or warranties, expressed or implied, and assume no duty or liability with regard to the information contained herein or associated in any way therewith. No legal or other professional services are being rendered and nothing is intended to provide such services or advice of any kind. The inclusion of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or approval of those sites or their contents. This website bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external sites or for that of subsequent links. Those who visit or use this website, links or any other information assume all risks associated therewith.

Sharon Rinearson, LCSW is a creative therapies specialist.

Be A Super Hero

Creative therapies can nurture resilience in a client. When used to heal individuals it can be an impactful tool in moving clients along in the therapeutic process. My passion is working with clients who are experiencing relational trauma, especially those traumas that are created by intimacy issues, infidelity and/or sex/love addicted spouses.

Resilience is a key component to an emotionally balanced, healthy lifestyle and sometimes, through childhood neglect and abuse, many of us were unable to have opportunities to practice the skill of resilience in childhood. If a client’s childhood was unstable and unsafe, resilience skills could not flourish due to incoherence of left and right brain assimilation. According to the American Psychological Association, “resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” It is our ability to “bounce back” from difficult experiences. We all have the ability to be resilient but trauma reactivity gets in the way of us using it as often as we can.

How do we tap into our clients’ natural stores of resilience? How do we help clients mine it and use it? One way I help is through an ongoing picture/story that is created.  I often, while hearing their stories of trauma and survival, think of clients as super heroes helping themselves as an action figure.  I state that one of their super powers is resilience. It could be fashioned into a lasso, a sword, magic hands, magnified heart, etc. I share this superhero vision with them when appropriate in their journey (once quite a bit of safety has been established or once sufficient therapeutic alliance is created) and a client can begin to imagine her own version of what this looks like and she draws/paints or sculpts a rendition while in my presence. Art therapy is remarkable in its ability to allow the client to create space for play and learning about themselves, while providing unspoken clues of what is needed to best help and support their journey. Art, when used as part of the experiential therapies, helps us do that better while reminding our clients that play and learning are connected in our brains. When completed, clients will often take pictures of their creations, using this as a reminder of their power. We get to add to that picture with more superpowers along the way. “Super Powers” such as: Safety, Truth, Passion, Clarity, Wisdom and Courage are some that usually are added. This right-brain-focused activity (creative/art therapy activity) helps create brain change that is healing and the clients have created a "different" or enlarged vision of themselves in a playful, non-threatening and really non- triggering way.

This superhero persona then becomes part of our clients’ narratives and they can dream and act in a comic strip or a story, practicing doing things differently in a safe place until they can use it (live it) somewhere in their lives.

Questions you can ask as you utilize this therapeutic technique are:
How would your super-woman handle this scenario?
What would your superhero tell you in this situation?

The ability to playfully engage in practicing the superhero’s strengths in the world creates an opening for it to actually happen.  It brings up the best of our inner child strength, that magic power of trusting in many possibilities, with the propelling power of believing in our dreams. I believe resilience, joy and passion are connected.. Along the journey of healing, the client can, hopefully, engage in meaningful self discovery, which gives them (and us - thank goodness!) markers and glimpses about their true self/higher self, the self THEY want to be, not the self everyone else wants them to be.

 

superhero, creative therapies, SASH, CORE
This photo illustrates what a super hero drawing could look like.

Draw Yourself As A Superhero activity:

What will your costume look like?

How will you protect yourself from villains?

What will you use to activate your resilience?

What other superpowers do you have?

Will they be activated with a lasso, bow and arrow, wand?

Is the costume infused with any magic?

If we, as therapists, are present enough with them, we can take the clues and shine lights on them – bringing them to our clients’ conscious, aware mind. Anything that has to do with action that comes from that true self is inspiring and gives them motivation to move forward… sometimes in tiny steps and sometimes in great leaps and bounds. This is resilience in action!

creative therapies, SASH, CORE, traumaI have included pictures of this creative therapy tool being used by a partner of a sex addict over time. (Note: Photos were added with permission from the client for educational purposes.) This client, “Fran” had become stuck and alienated from her true self because she was living a life full of PTSD symptoms enhanced by her husbands porn addiction and his extra marital affairs. She didn’t even recognize herself by the time she asked me for help. She was diagnosed with depression and complex-PTSD. In the first year of her treatment, she created many superhero personas to engage as she worked toward feeling better.

These pictures are Sandtray depictions of her superhero narratives. Remember, you can just offer markers and paper to create this opportunity for a client. At our center, we are lucky enough to have an art room and a Sandtray room so that clients have a choice about how they create their superhero story.

In the first one, you see a standard bearer (her superhero was named “First in Line”) readying herself to climb up and over her community/family/self beliefs with her superpowers in the standard that carries endless amounts of "energy" and "courage". Her goal was to get to the rainbow and the treasure: endless hope and endless riches. The only direction from me was, "Let us see what ‘First In Line’ looks like today."

creative therapies, CORE, SASH, trauma

Toward the end of her therapy, she created a new superhero persona and created this Sandtray: It shows Fran as Wonder Woman, elevated and with her arms as wide open as she could extend them, addressing her attributes (her superpowers) of Intellect, Sense of Humor (and Peace and Honor… she just didn't know that yet), and Tenacity. When she combined her three superpowers she became Powerful and Competent. This image became her grounding and empowering force and she used it in her daily life. She has since gone on to create a fulfilling business that feeds her passion and wisdom and is rarely touched by PTSD symptomology or depression symptoms.

I hope this post will challenge your creative superhero in how you do therapy with your own clients. The more passionate and creative we are, the more we can help nurture those aspects in them. Helping them recognize and practice the resilience within them will help to create sustained mental health growth and progress.

Sharon Rinearson, LCSW, Certified clinical Partners specialist-candidate, and a certified clinical trauma professional has extensive experience treating individuals, couples, and families with mental health disorders, including those associated with addiction and the trauma reactions created from living with an addict. She has many certifications in play therapy, sandtray and sandplay therapies and is an innovative experiential therapist. Sharon is the co-founder and Director of Clinical Services of CORE Behavioral Healthcare


Blog Disclaimer

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) sponsors this blog for the purpose of furthering dialog in the field of problematic sexual behaviors and their treatment. Blog authors are encouraged to share their thoughts and share their knowledge. However, SASH does not necessarily endorse the content or conclusions of bloggers.

Information in blogs may not always be complete, up-to-date, accurate, relevant, or applicable to all situations. Legislation, case law, standards, regulations, descriptions of products and services, and other information are often complex and can change rapidly. Always double-check and confirm that any information you find on the internet is accurate, current, and complete in regard to your specific situation, question, concern, or interests.

This website and its agents make no promises, guarantees, representations, or warranties, expressed or implied, and assume no duty or liability with regard to the information contained herein or associated in any way therewith. No legal or other professional services are being rendered and nothing is intended to provide such services or advice of any kind. The inclusion of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or approval of those sites or their contents. This website bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external sites or for that of subsequent links. Those who visit or use this website, links or any other information assume all risks associated therewith.

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