2: Feeling the Injustice of Betrayal Trauma
Part 1 in this series covered the topic of the initial crisis stage. When you move beyond that, you begin to feel the injustice of the situation--which is a necessary step in the healing journey.
Before I begin I just want to remind all my readers that the stages of grief that open the doors to the healing journey are individual and non-linear. These stages merely provide a loose guideline to help you gain greater clarity into your feelings and experiences, but everyone’s situation is unique.
Some feelings you may experience in the INJUSTICE STAGE include:
When you thaw from the numbness of the initial realization of abuse and betrayal, sorrow often settles in. Yet often anger does, as well. Although these emotions may seem at odds with each other, they aren’t. Anger and sorrow work together, and actually complement each other once recognized at their root. When you understand the true cause of your emotions—not just that you’ve been betrayed, but the underlying depths of how you feel about that, and why—then you can gain necessary strength and control over your life.
Both anger and depression find their roots in sorrow.
The swirl of emotions caused by intimate partner abuse can seem overwhelming and even make you feel as if you’re going crazy. One moment you’re up, the next you’re flat on your face. You’re angry, you’re depressed, or you’re somewhere in between—and how you feel can change as jarringly as a sudden slamming door.
As I said, depression and anger go hand-in-hand. That’s natural, because you’ve lost your sense of stability and, most likely, your entire outlook on life has shifted. You may feel exhausted and depleted, as if you can barely move—or perhaps you feel compelled to move too much. Either way you’re off-kilter and unbalanced.
This wide shift in emotion is caused by the act of thawing from shock and trauma. The crisis stage is often characterized by a disturbing numbness because it can be too difficult to cope with the pain and realization of intimate partner betrayal. As that numbness begins to wear off, you begin to feel again.
And feeling hurts. A lot. Yet it’s crucial to the healing process.
Depression tends to be fueled by anger at the betrayal you’ve endured, especially if lies, secrets, and deceptions have been involved (and they usually are). When you’re moving through the injustice stage, you’ll likely feel justified anger at your partner, and may even feel as if he can never undo or fix the betrayal of your relationship. Some abusers can and do change, but at this stage, that’s not the focus of your healing. During the injustice stage, you need to process all of the hurt, all of the anger, all of the fear and anxiety, and every aspect of the betrayal.
Anger is caused by sorrow. For when sorrow is inflicted upon someone, there arises within him a desire to repel this injury.
(St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, Q.15, a.9, co.)
It’s not a sin to be angry—in fact, expressing your anger in appropriate ways is healthy and crucial.
It’s true that anger ferments when you keep it bottled up, turning into dangerous resentment.
You don’t want that.
Although anger can be good, and is an appropriate response to betrayal, resentment is never beneficial—not for the soul or for your emotional and even physical well-being. There’s a big difference between resentful, toxic anger and justified anger. Toxic anger will settle within your soul, take root, and finds its home—if you let it.
But be aware—this is an internal poison. Yet you don’t have to let that toxic weed grow. The first “weed-killing” step is to acknowledge and appreciate your anger. Rather than letting it fill you with resentment, allow yourself the grace to move through your feelings and to empathize with the fact that you have every right to be upset with your spouse.
“Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth … Be angry but do not sin.”
It’s important to “put away falsehood.” In the case of betrayal trauma, this means not ignoring the injustice done to you, which adds salt to the wound of trauma, but rather admitting everything—not just the situation, but how you feel about it—and prayerfully processing it.
We can take Sacred Scripture as our guide. The book of Psalms expresses a wide range of emotions, including curses. These are the Psalms that express anger, the desire for justice, and the need for healing. When read properly, these Psalms aren’t shocking or hate-filled, but are a way of venting true hurt and leaving justice to the LORD. I won’t go into detail about the meaning of these Psalms and how they can be used in your own healing journey, because I’ve already written an article on the topic. If you’re interested, read “Cursing Others in Prayer: What’s Up with Some of those Psalms?”
What I want to emphasize right now is that it’s okay to feel anger. Allow yourself the luxury of that truthful emotion; it’ll do you good. Writing it all out in your journal prevents you from sinning—in other words, it prevents bottled up anger from rotting into resentment.
As I mentioned in my last article, throughout these stages one of the most rewarding activities you can do is to begin writing about your thoughts and inner experiences. During the injustice stage, journaling helps you to vent your emotions in a safe and productive way.
In your journal, you can write exactly how you feel, fully expressing all anger and frustration—no matter how fierce. Letting it all out rather than keeping it inside is crucial, and journaling creates a safe space to do this.
Many trauma victims find that burning the pages after the release of writing further activates a healing space within them, a letting go of negative emotions in order to make room for positive self-growth. Others prefer to keep the entries, so they can look back on their healing journey and see how far they’ve progressed.
What are your beliefs about the situation? Do you believe your partner has made mistakes—often very serious and grievous ones—but is willing to put in the years of hard work to authentically change? Or do you feel he’ll never change, that he doesn’t acknowledge his transgressions or the depth of his betrayal towards you?
What do you want to do about your situation? What is your next step? If it’s too soon to ask this question, set it aside for later.
What were your earliest beliefs and expectations about your marriage? How have they changed? How have they been fulfilled and in what ways have they been betrayed?
If you trusted your husband right now, how would you feel about him? Would your behaviour change and if so, how?
In what ways will your life be different after this experience? How do you want your life to be different?
What is the most difficult part of the situation for you? Is it the abuse, the betrayal, the lies and deception about what he did? Is it something else? Identify the core wound.
During the injustice stage, it’s important to recognize the foundation behind any feelings of anger. As stated earlier, anger is disguised sorrow, felt as a way of self-protection. When you realize that, new and more productive ways to protect yourself begin to open up.
You can protect yourself from further betrayal and abuse by:
Setting firm boundaries and making it clear what behaviours are acceptable—and what aren’t.
Maintaining your moral balance and inner integrity. Don’t worry! This gets easier as you journey along the healing path.
Separating yourself from toxic situations and even, if possible, toxic people. If you can’t separate yourself from toxic individuals, go “gray rock”—a technique of making yourself as boring as a gray rock by not actively engaging arguments and simply giving bland, neutral answers.
Do things you love to do—which helps build a sense of serenity and self-worth—and continue your self-care practices.
And always remember to be extremely patient—with yourself, as well as with the process of recovery and rejuvenation.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”