Health

Debi Silber on Stop Sabotaging Yourself and Healing From Betrayal

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the “Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. That’s wellness with an E on the end and I am here today with Dr. Debi Silber about how to stop sabotaging yourself and healing from betrayal. She’s done a lot of work about how unhealed betrayal impacts our health, our work, and our relationships and not just betrayal in adult relationships. She had two painful betrayals by her family and then by her husband.

And at age 50 with four kids and six dogs, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program in transpersonal psychology and did a study on betrayal and what holds us back. And we go deep on that today talking about the different types of betrayal, the physical and emotional impact they have, the three groundbreaking discoveries she made while studying this, what post-traumatic stress is versus post-traumatic growth and her system for moving into healing after experiencing a betrayal. Lots and lots of interesting and fascinating info in this one. I know you will learn a lot. So, let’s join Dr. Debi. Debi, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.

Debi: Looking forward to our conversation. Thank you.

Katie: Me too. And we’re gonna jump in and talk about something that you’ve done a whole lot of really fascinating research on. But before we do, I have a note in my show notes that you have four kids, I have six, you understand mom life, and that, when they were little and you were trying to get workouts in, that you had two in a stroller and two on your body. And I just have to hear this story because I think it’s so relatable to so many moms.

Debi: You know, you know what it’s like when you have to get your workout in, you wanna get your workout in, but you need to take care of the kids. So, I had my 5 and 6-year-old in a double jogger, I had my toddler in a backpack, and I had a newborn in one of those BabyBjörn snugly things. And I actually had a mirror that I would keep in my pocket so I could look at my toddler and see how she was doing on my back. And and I became known in the neighborhood as, “The fit mom who wears all those kids.”

Katie: I love that, that’s so fun. And good for you because I think it’s easy at that phase to just be like, “Oh, it’s too hard to even get a workout in.” And I’ve had those kids at those ages and I know how much energy is required. That’s awesome that you did that. Well, you’re an expert on actually many things, and there’s so many directions you could go, but the one I’m really excited to dive in and talk to you about today is really about betrayal. And I know that there’s a whole lot of layers of even foundational understanding to start to unpack this, although I think that word probably has a visceral feeling for people who have experienced it. So, let’s talk on a broader level, when we’re talking about betrayal in this context, kind of like what does that mean?

Debi: You know, I define it as the breaking of a spoken or unspoken rule, and every relationship has them. You know, the way it works though is the more you trust and the more you depend on someone, the deeper the betrayal. So, a child, for example, you know, where they’re completely dependent on their parent, the parent does something awful, that’s gonna have a different impact than, let’s say, your best friend sharing your secret. Still a betrayal, different level of cleanup left in the wake.

The way it works is, you know, think about it, this was the person or these were the people you trusted the most. So, and it completely shatters any sense of safety and security. So, when the person you trusted the most or the people you trust the most shatter that sense of safety and security, who do you trust? That’s why it has such a big impact.

Katie: And especially kids, that makes complete sense, because they are so dependent on parents. And I’ve heard it said by other psychiatrists on this podcast, actually, that kids will cut off love to themselves before they’ll cut off love to a caregiver because they are so dependent on the parents for survival. And it makes sense that this would, obviously, have rollover and have an impact in kind of all areas of life when someone’s experienced that kind of shattering of trust at a core level. But when you’ve researched this, does this play out in like personal relationships and work relationships, like where are the effects of this seen?

Debi: It affects us on every single level. Well, first of all, if this starts in childhood, then think about it, you move into your relationships and, you know, you move into these relationships not that they’re good, they’re so familiar. It’s like, “Okay. Oh, I know that, I know how that works.” But an unhealed betrayal, and here’s the thing, even if it happened decades ago, it can affect our health, our work, or relationships. For example, in relationships, I see it in one of two ways. The first way is in a repeat betrayal, the face has changed but it’s the same thing, keep going from, you know, partner to partner to partner, friend to friend to friend, boss to boss to boss. You say, “What the heck, is it me?” Yes, it is. Not in that it’s your fault, in that it’s your opportunity. There’s a profound lesson waiting to be learned that you are lovable, worthy, and deserving, you need better boundaries in place. Whatever it is. Until and unless you get that, you will have opportunities in the form of people to teach you.

The other way we see it is in relationships. The big wall goes up. You know, you’re like, “Been there, done that. That was way too painful, I don’t wanna take the chance of that again,” so, we keep everyone at bay. And yes, you know, you’re keeping out the bad ones, you’re keeping out the good ones too. And we think it’s coming from a place of strength, it’s not, it’s coming from fear. In health, we see it in, you know, people go to the most well-meaning amazing doctors, coaches, healers, therapists to manage a stress-related symptom, illness, condition, disease. So often at the root of it is an unhealed betrayal. We’ve seen it work too. You know, people wanna ask for that razor promotion, they deserve it, but the person they trusted the most proved untrustworthy. How do they trust that boss, that co-worker? Right? Or, you know, their confidence was shattered and they don’t have the confidence to ask. Or they wanna be a collaborative partner but they’re terrified. It shows up everywhere.

Katie: And I think that’s important in context as well because often it seems like the word “betrayal” gets linked only to, like, infidelity in relationships. And I know that you, in your research, there’s many many ways this plays out, especially in children, having such a big impact. And I know you’ve studied this, so, what were some of the discoveries you made during your study of this?

Debi: Yeah. And, of course, you know, no one studies betrayal because you like the topic, you know, you study it because you have to. And I had a really painful betrayal from my family and then thought I did the work I needed to do to heal and, a few years later, it happened again, this time it was my husband. So, I got him out of the house and looked at the two experiences, thinking, “Okay, well, what’s similar to these two? Of course me, what else?” And I realized boundaries were always getting crossed, never took my needs seriously. So, here I was, you could relate to this one, four kids, six dogs, a thriving practice. I’m like, “I’m going back for a PhD, that’s it.”

And it was in transpersonal psychology, the psychology of transformation, human potential. I was changing so much, I didn’t even understand what was happening. He was too, on his own, wasn’t ready to look at that. And then it was time to do a study, so, I studied betrayal, what holds us back, what helps us heal, and what happens to us physically, mentally, and emotionally when the people closest to us lie, cheat, and deceive. That study led to three groundbreaking discoveries which changed everything, I mean, my health, my work, my family, and my life.

But to answer your question, so, the first one, the first discovery was…you know, originally, I was studying betrayal and post-traumatic growth. And for those who aren’t familiar, post-traumatic growth, I kind of call it like an upside of trauma. Whatever that crisis is, death of a loved one, disease, natural disaster, leaves you with a new awareness inside perspective you didn’t have. But I had been through death of a loved one and I’ve been through disease, and I was like, “No, betrayal feels so different.” But I didn’t wanna assume it was the same for everybody else. So, I asked all my study participants, I said, “If you’ve been through other traumas, does betrayal feel different to you?” Unanimously, they said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so different.” Here’s why. Because it feels so intentional, we take it so personally. So, the entire self is shattered and has to be rebuilt. Rejection, abandonment, belonging, confidence, worthiness, trust…all have to be rebuilt.

So, it didn’t quite qualify as post-traumatic growth, it was like, “Yeah, you need to rebuild your life but you also need to rebuild yourself.” So, I coined a new term, “post-betrayal transformation,” the complete and total rebuild of your life and yourself after an experience with betrayal. That was the first discovery.

Katie: And I think I resonate with your idea that, unfortunately, many of us don’t get into the thing that ends up being our passion in life because of an easy experience. And for me, that was why I got into health and nutrition was I’ve heard people say, you know, “You get into therapy because you’re trying to figure out what is inside of you.” And for me, that was health. And I hear that over and over from practitioners who had their own journey that then led them to be able to help other people. And it sounds like that very much was yours as well.

I remember reading, “The Body Keeps the Score,” and having this kind of light bulb moment of how the physical body can store and express trauma. And is there a similar thing, you mentioned there could be physical effects of disease that follow betrayal, do you see that in betrayal as well, like the body manifesting physical expressions of that?

Debi: You led me into the second discovery so perfectly, this was the second one. What we learned was there’s actually a collection of symptoms so common to betray it’s known as “post betrayal syndrome.” We’ve had thousands and thousands of people take our post-portrayal-syndrome quiz to see to what extent they’re struggling. Every so often I pull the stats from the quiz. I’d love to share them, if that would serve…okay. So, now imagine, figure 60,000, 70,000 people, men, women, just about every country’s represented, almost every age. Ready? Seventy eight percent constantly revisit their experience, 81% feel a loss of personal power, 80% are hyper vigilant, 94% deal with painful triggers, and those triggers can take you right down. Here are the most common physical symptoms, 71% have low energy, 68% have sleep issues, 63% extreme fatigue, your adrenals have tanked, that’s what’s going on there, 47% have weight changes. So, in the beginning, you can’t hold food down, later on you’re using food for comfort. 45% have digestive issues. And that can be anything from Crohn’s, IBS, diverticulitis, constipation, diarrhea, you name it.

The most common mental symptoms, 78% are overwhelmed, 70% are walking around in the state of disbelief, 68% are unable to focus, 64% are in shock, 62% can’t concentrate. So, now imagine you can’t concentrate, you have a gut issue, you’re exhausted…you still have to raise your kids, you still have to work. That’s not even the emotional issues. Emotionally, 88% experience extreme sadness, 83% are very angry, it’s really common to bounce back and forth between those two emotions. 82% feel hurt, 80% have anxiety, 79% are stressed, just a few more, 84% have an inability to trust. And that affects everything. 67%  prevent themselves from forming deep relationships because they’re afraid of being hurt again. 82% find it hard to move forward. 90% wanna move forward but they don’t know how.

You wanna know the craziest thing about those stats? You didn’t hear me read anything that said, “20%, 30%,” those statistics, 70%, 80%, 90 plus percent from some of those different things isn’t necessarily from a recent betrayal. It could be from something that happened decades ago. So, imagine here someone did something back when you were a kid, or a little kid or a teenager, they may not even know, care, or even remember. And here we are walking around with the gut issue, the anxiety, the hyper vigilance for decades. That’s the part that, to me, is so tragic.

Katie: Yeah, I can think back to my own experience. And I had a very specific acute trauma in high school that I at least knew about and I realized that could be very much a part of things I was dealing with. But when I started doing the work and therapy and then even, like, hypnosis, they would ask me questions that I thought I knew cognitively the answer to. And the answers that actually came from my subconscious often went back to, like, early childhood. And it wasn’t something that on paper seemed like it could’ve been a super significant thing, it wasn’t like I was abused as a child. And that was really eye-opening for me to realize, like you just said, these can be outside of really extensive physical, emotional, verbal trauma, these can be actually what seem like smaller but very significant things. And that meaning that we attach to them and the whole process after them seems like it can really…and without even that conscious awareness. Which makes me wonder, so, it seems like all of us probably have examples of this in our life, some we may not even be aware of, how does one start to become aware of the roots of these?

Debi: You know, there are so many things we need to do, but one thing I also wanna mention about the quiz also, you know, we’ve all heard, “Time heals all wounds.” I have the proof, when it comes to betrayal, that’s simply not true. There’s a question that says, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?” and people write things like, “my betrayal happened 40 years ago, I can still feel the hate,” “my betrayal happened 35 years ago, I’m unwilling to trust again,” “my betrayal happened 10 years ago, it feels like it happened yesterday.”

But to answer your question, you know, first of all, we need to know, and I would love to get to the third discovery, but you wanna know if you’re numbing, avoiding, distract…I mean, there are so many things we do that prevent our healing. In fact, there were actually three groups in the study who did not heal. And so, this is something that may have been a huge betrayal or even a micro betrayal, something that you wouldn’t think is so significant but it shows up and our healing is prevented if we do one of these three things. Ready?

The first group, this was the group that refused to give up their story. They had their story, they were sticking with it, and so they did at the expense of healing. The second group, this was the group that was numbing, avoiding, distracting. They ran to the doctor who put them on a mood stabilizer, anti-anxiety medication. They started emotionally eating, drinking, numbing in front of the TV. May have made the day a bit easier to get through, not without a price.

The third group, I found this so interesting, this was the group where the betrayal really had very little consequences. So, whether it was out of not wanting to break up a family, financial fear, religious reasons, that was a big one, they just did all they could to turn the other cheek, try to put it behind them. I saw two things with this group. The first was a further deterioration of the relationship. The second thing was, by far, this group was the most physically sick. Your broken heart just can’t handle that.

But what so many people are afraid of is they’re so afraid of the death and destruction of the old. But that’s the only way you rebirth the new. Whether that’s just a new you…you know, and here’s the thing, rebuilding is always a choice. Whether you rebuild yourself and move on, and that’s what I do with my family, it just wasn’t an option to rebuild with them. Or if the situation lends itself, if you’re willing, if you want to, you rebuild something from the ground up, brand new with the person who hurt you. That’s what I did with my husband.

So, not long ago, as two totally transformed people, we married each other again. New rings, new vows, new dress, and our four kids is our bridal party. Never in a billion years would I have done anything like that if I wasn’t totally different and, for sure, if he wasn’t totally different. But betrayal will show you who someone truly is. It also has the potential to wake them up to who they temporarily became. And then, you know, you have a choice what you wanna do with that.

Katie: Wow, that’s amazing. I didn’t actually know that part of your personal story. Congratulations, that’s beautiful. Before we move on, I do wanna talk about the third discovery though just so we have those all three in the tank to move on to.

Debi: So, for me, this was the most exciting, this third discovery. And what we learned was, while we can stay stuck for years, decades, lifetime, and so many people do, if we’re going to fully heal, and by “fully heal” I mean symptoms of post betrayal syndrome, to that whole healed place of post betrayal transformation where we’ve rebuilt ourselves and our lives after betrayal, we’re gonna move through five now proven and predictable stages. And what’s even more exciting about that is we know what happens physically, mentally, and emotionally at every stage and we know what it takes to move from one stage to the next. Why is that good? Healing is entirely predictable. If someone is willing, they’re just willing to move through the stages, we got the rest.

So, I would love to share the five stages. Okay. So, the first stage is if you can imagine a setup stage, and I saw this with every study participant, me too, if you can imagine four legs of a table, the four legs being physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, what I saw with everybody was this real heavy lean on the physical and mental thinking and doing and kind of neglecting the emotional and the spiritual, feeling and being. So, you know, that’s not to say, “If you’re busy, you’ll be betrayed,” but it was the profile profile I saw. So, if you can imagine four legs of a table and only two are there, well, it’s easy for that table to topple over, and that’s us.

Stage two, by far the scariest of all of the stages, and this is shock, trauma, D-Day, discovery day. And it’s the breakdown of the body, the mind, and the world of you. Right here you’ve ignited the stress response, you’re headed for every single stress-related symptom, illness, condition, disease. Your mind is in a complete and total state of chaos and overwhelm. You cannot wrap your mind around what you just learned, this makes no sense, and your world view has just been shattered. Your world view is your mental model, it’s the rules that prevent chaos that govern you, “Don’t go there. Trust this person. This is how life works.” And in one earth-shattering moment, everything you’ve known to be real and true is no longer…the bottom has bottomed out and the new bottom hasn’t been formed yet.

So, it’s terrifying. But think about it, if the bottom were to bottom out on you, what would you do? You’d grab hold of whatever you could to stay safe and stay alive.

And that’s stage three, survival instincts emerge. It’s the most practical out of all of the stages. “If you can’t help me, get out of my way.” How do I survive this experience? Where do I go? Who can I trust? How do I feed my kids? Here’s the trap though, stage three by far is the stage that we all get stuck in, and here’s why. Once you’ve figured out how to survive your experience, because it feels so much better than the shock and trauma of where you just came from, we’re like, “Okay, this is good.” And because we don’t know there’s anywhere else to go, we don’t even know there’s a stage four, stage five. Transformation doesn’t even begin until stage four. But because we don’t know there’s anywhere else to go, we start planting roots here. We’re not supposed to but we don’t know that. And four things happen.

The first thing is we start getting all these small self benefits. We get to be right, we get sympathy from everyone we tell our story to, we get someone to blame, we get a target for our anger, we don’t have to do the hard work of learning to trust again, “Should I trust you? Can I trust you? Ah, forget it, I’m not trusting anybody.” So, we plant deeper roots. Again, we’re not supposed to but we don’t know that. Now, because we’re here longer than we’re supposed to be, the mind starts doing things like, “Well, maybe you deserved it. Maybe you’re not all that great.” So, we plant deeper roots. Now, because you’re here a while and these are the thoughts you’re thinking, this is the energy you’re putting out. And like-energy attracts like-energy. So, now you start calling situations and circumstances and relationships towards you to confirm, “Yep,” this is where you belong, “it gets worse but I’ll get you out of here.”

Because it feels so bad but we don’t know there’s anywhere else to go, right here, we resign ourselves, we’re like, “This stinks but I better find a way to be okay with it.” So, right here is where we start using food, drugs, alcohol, work, TV, keeping busy, whatever, to numb, avoid, and distract ourselves from what’s so painful to feel or face. So, think about it, you do it for a day, a week, a month. Now it’s a habit. A year, 10 years, 20 years. And I can see someone 20 years out and say, “That emotional eating you’re doing, that numbing in front of the TV, do you think that has anything to do with your betrayal?” And they would look at me like I’m crazy, they would say, “It happened 20 years ago,” all they did was put themselves in stage three and stay there. Does that make sense? Yeah, that’s why it’s the most common place to get stuck. And then they stay there. And then the longer you’re there, the more deeply you’re grounded, the harder it is to leave.

Anyway, if you’re willing, willingness is a huge word right here, if you’re willing to let go of the small self benefits, grieve, mourn the loss, a bunch of things you need to do, you move to stage four. Stage four is finding and adjusting to a new normal. So, here’s where you acknowledge, “I can’t undo my experience but I control what I do with it. Right there, in that decision, you start turning down the stress response. You’re not healing just yet but you stop the massive damage you’ve been causing in stages two and stage three.

I always use the example of, if you’ve ever moved to a new house, office, condo, apartment, that’s kind of the feeling of stage four. It’s not quite cozy yet, you don’t know your way around but it’s going to be okay. And that’s the feeling. But also think about it, if you were to move, you don’t take everything with you. You don’t take the things that don’t represent who you wanna be in that new space. And what I found was, if your friends weren’t there for you, right here you’ve outgrown them. You don’t take them with you from stage three to four. And people ask me all the time, “What the heck, I’ve had these friends 10, 20, 30 years. Is it me?” Yes, it is, you’re undergoing a transformation. And if they don’t rise, they don’t come. Very common. And if you don’t know that, it could be really alarming. You’re like, “What’s happening?” That’s what’s happening.

Anyway, when you’re in stage four, you’re making it cozy, you’re making it home mentally, you move into the fifth most beautiful stage. And this is healing, rebirth, and a new world view. The body starts to heal. Self-love. Self-care. Eating well. Exercise. You didn’t have the bandwidth for that earlier, now you do. The mind is healing. You’re making new rules, you’re making new boundaries based on the road you just traveled. And you have a new world view based on everything you see so clearly now. And the four legs of that table, in the beginning, it was all about the physical and the mental, by this point, we’re solidly grounded because we’re focused on the emotional and the spiritual too. Those are the five stages.

Katie: Yeah, I love how clearly you mapped them out. And I can feel, having gone through some of those myself, for a long time, I was very much, especially in the physical, trying to, like, heal everything physically and very focused on what I was eating and all of the physical steps. And it wasn’t until I addressed the emotional and spiritual, like you said, feeling and being, that the others even resolved without nearly as much effort as I thought. But I remember that feeling, and I guess would’ve been kind of that jumping into stage four, of it being so scary. Because it was that feeling of like, “Well, I am starting to feel like a different person, and I’m afraid this is gonna mean letting go of parts of my life and people in my life that have represented something very important until now.” And I can see why that would be a hard jump. Are there things that help people to be willing? You said willingness is a huge key to be willing to step into stage four.

Debi: You know, one of the things that I found so helpful is, first of all, the wrong support does more harm than good. We have so many people coming into the PBT Institute with therapy trauma. If that therapist isn’t highly skilled in betrayal, it actually does more harm than good. And it’s also, you know, people seek support but, if, let’s say, it’s like the “ain’t it awful club,” you know, and it’s almost like, when you heal, you don’t belong, but what I found is, if you have those growth-minded like-minded friends to move towards, it makes that transition and that transformation a little bit easier. Because this way you don’t put pressure on your friends, the ones you are outgrowing, and they’re doing the best they can.

Because here’s the thing, it’s not them, it’s us. We’re undergoing this transformation. So, if we have sort of our people who are already there, who are doing the work that we’re working towards, it actually is one of the things that prevents sabotage. Because we don’t wanna be on our own, we don’t wanna be, you know, totally without any support or anybody that understands this. So, if we have those people kind of in place, we can move towards it without feeling, “I’m totally on my own.”

Now, that’s not to say transformation isn’t a very personal process, it is, it’s not lonely, it’s very personal. And because this is a time period where you are clearly rewriting the rules, you’re writing a new script, betrayal lends itself to creating an entirely new identity. You take all the parts of you that you love, you leave behind everything that no longer serves, and you create a version of you that never would’ve had the opportunity to exist had that not happened. That’s trauma well served.

Katie: And it seems like I hear from a lot of people, and I’ve seen this pattern, where we might have a betrayal or a trauma as a child and then, you mentioned, like, we play this out over and over in our adult lives until we resolve it. Which, of course, would seem scary to a lot of people in a relationship because, if your relationship was kind of trauma-bonded in the beginning, both people then have to do the work to create a new system that’s based on trust and not playing out those patterns. Are there any tools that you found are helpful? Especially, if I can think of examples where maybe one partner is wanting to do that and the other is like, “No, I like the system that we have,” and that seems like it could cause quite a bit of stress.

Debi: Absolutely. You know, that reminds me of…I’m big on analogies, let me give you one right here. People tell me, you know, they ask me all the time about trust, and I don’t think trust can be repaired. It can be rebuilt, it takes a lot of work though. Here’s what I see, I look at trust like a brick wall. You know, the only way I know of a brick wall being built is brick by brick by brick. And that’s why it takes time. Now, imagine the person who built that brick wall in one earth-shattering moment, series of moments, tears the whole thing down. The person whose trust has been shattered can look at the rubble of bricks and say, “I don’t have the least bit of interest in watching that thing get rebuilt.” However, if they are willing, that would be their role. If they’re willing to watch that brick wall be rebuilt, the other person has to be a really good bricklayer. And it goes up the same way it went up the first time, brick by brick by brick. Every opportunity they have to show that they’re trustworthy, that’s one brick in that new brick wall.

But here’s what I see. The wall has been built, the person who built it shatters the whole thing, that person’s not really all that interested in rebuilding the brick wall. So, the person whose trust has been shared, they’re like, “Okay, I’ll build it.” Well, that’s why they never feel safe. That’s why they always have that heightened level of anxiety. You know, we also teach how do you know if it’s safe and in your best interest to heal and rebuild or heal and move on. And this way you know what you’re working with. I mean, I’m happy to share that if it would serve…

Katie: Absolutely, yeah.

Debi: Okay. Because here’s the thing, you know, after you’ve been betrayed and after trust has been shattered, it is really a solo job. And the idea is this is that opportunity for you to just rebuild yourself and, if we are so committed to that other person, what happens is, as we do the work, we sabotage ourselves because we’re afraid of outgrowing them. We don’t wanna outgrow them. So, the idea is we need to be okay with that because, once we do that growth, that other person can step it up or we’ve outgrown them, that’s just the way that works. But here’s how to know…and this is gonna be, I know a lot of people right here, they’re, “I know what’s coming.” So, I mean this in the best way because I want you to know who you’re working with.

I’m gonna teach you something, we call it the window of willingness. How do you know if it’s safe and in your best interest to heal and rebuild or heal and move on? Imagine a window, and the window is the widest open meaning, the greatest opportunity to heal and rebuild with someone. And then we’re going to get to all the way where it’s totally closed. Again, this isn’t to say you have to, this is just if you want to. Window is the widest open with this level one. And it’s remorse, apology, you know, regret, restitution. It may sound something like this, “I am so sorry for the pain I caused you. I can’t even imagine what that feels like. What in the world can I do to make it up to you?”

Now, of course, with betrayal, it takes a lot more than that but at least you’re off to a good start, that person is taking full and complete responsibility and ownership. You can feel the window closing a little bit with this next one. And you know it’s coming, this level two, you know it’s coming when you hear the word because. “Well, I did it because…” “I said it because…” Right? You still may be willing to listen but it doesn’t feel as good as that level one. Right? Okay, you know you can feel the window closing even more with this level three and you know it’s coming when you hear the word you. “I did it because you…” “I said it because you…” I call this the two-sided slap. Here you get betrayed, that’s slap on one side, and then you get blamed for it, that’s a slap on the other. This is crazy making and this is like gaslighting 101.

Level three is very close cousins with level four, you know it’s coming when there is zero responsibility, the window is sealed shut. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re crazy, you really need help.” Right? So, that’s the way that goes. So, here’s the thing, if you’re working with a level one or a level two, you have something to work with here. And then it’s totally up to you. If you’re working with a level three and level four, for sure you have many of those symptoms of post betrayal syndrome. At this point in their current level of consciousness, they are not able or willing to do the work. You don’t have anything to work with here. Here’s where you rebuild yourself and you move along.

Katie: That’s helpful to understand the languaging around each of those different ones so that you can pay attention. And because, like you said also earlier, I would guess there are a lot of people who, for the kids or for societal ideas they were raised with or religious ideas, in a sense, almost like that’s not an option, so, they are like only focused on rebuilding. But both people have to be in that place of willingness in order for that to happen.

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Let’s talk a little bit about boundaries and trust, because you used those words quite a bit. So, maybe after a betrayal, what are some tangible examples of boundaries. Like, how can, knowing each of us only has our own experience and our own actions to work from, what are some things someone can do to put healthy boundaries in place?

Debi: You know, this is a time where you really decide what boundaries you need for yourself, for that other person. Here’s the thing too, forgiveness is all about us. We’ve all heard, you know, “Forgiveness is for us.” When it comes to reconciliation though, that has so much to do with the other person, but you get to rewrite that script right here. And here’s where people are so, and I hear this all the time, “Well, you know what, I feel so bad being like this. I mean, I wish I didn’t have to…” Well, of course. And the rules have to be really really strict in the beginning. And what I always recommend is you make them as super strict as you need to so that you feel safe. And you can always, like, you know, when someone works in a new place, maybe there’s a three-month evaluation, well, it could be the same thing, make those rules super strict in the beginning and reevaluate as time goes on.

And here’s where, whatever it was that made you feel so uncomfortable, you think about it and then start there. Like, if someone was gonna be late, right now either that’s unacceptable or you need to know. And maybe they have to make a phone call or, in the beginning, maybe even a picture of where they are. And I know people are thinking, “I wish I didn’t have to be like this.” Of course not, this is what betrayal does and it’s gonna do that until you feel safe again.

But here’s the thing, if the other person isn’t willing to honor these new boundaries, it’s telling you something. So, the boundaries are super strict in the beginning, you know, until that foundation is rebuilt again. And you can always loosen things up and always reevaluate as you begin to feel a bit safer, as you begin to trust again. You know, there’s also a four-step trust rebuilding process, I could teach you that too.

Katie: Let’s talk about that briefly because I think it seems like trust is a huge key and often maybe a point most people have trouble getting past.

Debi: Yeah, and here’s the thing. If you don’t rebuild it from the ground up, you always feel shaky and unstable. And one of the things that a lot of people have a hard time with is their inability to trust themselves. Because think about it, the person they trusted the most proved untrustworthy, and then the next response is, “How did I not see? How did I not know? Where was I?” So, then they lose trust in themselves. So, think about it, if the person you trusted the most proved untrustworthy and now you don’t trust in yourself either, well, how in the world can you trust in anyone and anything? So, there’s such a ripple effect.

So, I like to build it, and this is what I teach, it’s from the ground up because that’s where it got shattered. So, it sounds so ridiculous but you do need to rebuild the foundation. So, start with something so simple. I’m talking like, “Will the sun rise?” When trust is shattered, you don’t even know. So, you go out, you test every morning, “Oh, what do you know, there it is.” And you pick whatever it is until you have a foundation upon which to stand. That’s your first ground level.

The next stage of that, the next step of that would be trust in your gut, trust in your higher wisdom. You know, it’s like we have that gut feeling and then our mind talks us out of it. So many people who’ve been betrayed, when you speak with them, they’re like, “You know, something didn’t feel right.” But what did we do? We would override it and go with our mind, with “the gut knows.” So, to rebuild that intuition, you know, strengthen that wise inner guide, think about…you wanna create two scenarios. What’s the scenario that represents trust for you? Maybe it’s two babies giggling, right? Maybe it’s, you know, your dog wagging his or her tail. What is it that represents trust for you? Get a felt sense of that. Where do you feel it? How do you feel it? That’s trust, right? You’ll feel it in your body. Open, expansive. Whatever it is for you, get a sense of where you feel it.

Then go back to D-Day, discovery day, or when you saw, you realized someone was lying to you. How did that feel? What did it feel like? Get that felt sense. Did it feel like constricted and tight? Was there a color or a texture? Whatever it was that represents a lack of trust. Now, as you move through your day, which does it feel closer to, right, the sense of trust or the lack of trust? And you need to strengthen that. And here’s the thing, you’re looking for congruency. When people are trustworthy, the energy, the thoughts, behaviors, actions, mannerisms are all lined up. Everything is congruent. When there’s a lack of congruency, it doesn’t feel right. You know, when someone’s saying one thing but their eyes or their mannerisms are saying something else, trust that. Trust that.

Once you’ve rebuilt that sense of, you know, your gut, strengthen your gut a little bit, you kind of feel like you have a sense of safety and security around you a bit. Then you go to that next level, the next level is learning to trust in yourself again. Because that’s been shattered, we lose self trust. How do you do that? You give yourself little tasks and then you do them. “I’m gonna drink that glass of water,” and then you do, “I’m gonna go to the gym,” and then you do, “I’m going to not call my ex,” and then you don’t, whatever it is for you. And what you are teaching yourself is that, “My word is law. If I say something, it’s truth.” And you’re learning, you’re reteaching yourself that you are trustworthy.

So, think about it. You know, you have your foundation upon which to stand. You trust your gut, that wise inner guide. You trust yourself. And from this place, you slowly, carefully, and cautiously can start to trust in others. We bypass the first three levels. We go right for that trusting in somebody else again, and that’s why we feel so shaky and uncertain.

Katie: That makes sense. And the language you use, I love that example of feeling where something is in your body and then trying to feel, “Does it have a color, a smell, a texture?” When I first encountered that in therapy, I remember thinking like, “This is so obscure and random,” like, “what are you talking about? Of course it doesn’t have a color.” And then I started actually paying attention, like, “Oh, I was ignoring sensations in my body that probably could’ve been telling me things.” And now it’s something I try to incorporate with my kids. It’s like, when they’re feeling a strong emotion, rather than me naming their emotion and saying like, “Oh, are you feeling mad? Are you feeling…” asking them and saying, “what are you feeling right now? Where are you feeling it? And if you were gonna draw a picture, what would it look like, of this feeling that you’re having?” just help them to have that, hopefully, body awareness.

And I think about how, from reading a lot of parenting books, it seems like many core wounds in childhood go back to those core questions of, “Am I lovable? Am I worthy? Am I…” And so, I think, as parents, we also have this window with our children to help them establish some of these foundational things early on. So, maybe they are more aware and they have these cues earlier in life that I had to learn them as an adult. But it makes me wonder, have you looked into it with kids at all, like as parents? Are there any things we can do to help them feel safe, of course, and also to learn to trust themselves and to have that kind of healthy relationship with others?

Debi: I love that you’re asking that question because, well, first of all…and I’m a big believer in every parent knows best for their own kids. Having said that, my husband was the one who told my kids…so, could you imagine four teenagers looking at him like, “You did what to mom?” If anything is gonna have you fall from grace, wake up, and realize what matters, it’s losing everyone that mattered. And that was probably what made it for him such a powerful wake-up call. Having said that, what they saw in me was they saw mom crash but they saw mom rise. And I can tell you, they are four best friends, and now we have two bonus daughters, you know, girlfriends who came in. All six of them are best friends, it’s like they’ve been through war together.

So, they’ve learned resilience skills that they may not have been able to learn had they not seen me go through what I went through. And both of us go through what we went through. You know, that’s the first thing. What I also see is sometimes, let’s say, after betrayal, there’s a breakup and that’s it. And let’s say one parent, and it could be either one, one parent really isn’t taking the responsibility in making sure the kids are okay. Well, you know what, that leaves the other parent needing to double down and representing, “This is what safety and security looks like, this is what truth and trust looks like. It looks like me. And I’m not gonna be my best all the time but, you know, I will never be untrustworthy, I’m always gonna tell you the truth. I love you with every cell of my being, I’m doing the best I can. It’s not always gonna be great but this is what trust and truth looks like.”

Katie: Yeah, and it seems like there’s a big aspect of modeling there, of course, with anything we’re talking about, parenting, but also it seems like a very common theme that is the core need of children is to feel safe. And, of course, societally, it seems easiest if that’s in a marriage with two parents who are both happy and harmonious but also, like, if that’s not the case in a family, there’s still many ways to make sure that children feel safe. And I’ve even heard from people who say like, as children go through their parents getting divorced, the main question they have in their head is still, “Am I safe?”

And so, hopefully both parents are working together to make sure the children feel safe, even as they’re going for their own process. And I would guess, for your children, it was probably amazing for them to get to see you model and have truth around like, “This is really hard and I’m not gonna do this great every day,” and also, “I’m gonna get up every day and I’m here for you and I’m gonna show up. And sometimes we go through hard things, and also we can get stronger because of them.”

And you talk about the idea of not just post traumatic growth, which I still love that term because it’s such a great reframe to post traumatic stress, but even beyond that, the transformation side post this and how your greatest crisis can become, in a sense, your greatest strength. And that’s the thing, I didn’t understand until I actually felt it myself of looking back and going, “Wow, I would never choose it. I wouldn’t choose it now, I wouldn’t choose it for my kids,” and also, “I wouldn’t change the fact that I was sexually assaulted in high school because it taught me so much and I’ve become a version of myself I might never have had the chance to become had I not gone through that. So, I actually have gratitude for the growth that happened.” But let’s talk about that because I think maybe that’s also a sticking point people get stuck in the, like, pain and the sadness and the victim side of something. Which, like you explained, is a perfectly reasonable thing because you’re trying to feel safe. And also then you sometimes miss out on this beautiful even better phase that can come after but sometimes you just can’t even see it in the beginning.

Debi: It’s so true. It’s so painful, but you can look at it saying, “Am I simply the poster child for this crisis, whatever it is I went through?” or, “am I meant to do something really good with something really painful?” And I’ll tell you, I remember going through the study and I really just wanted to heal. Like one book wasn’t getting me out of this, a whole PhD was needed to help here, but I remember thinking to myself, “If I can heal from this, I’m taking everybody with me.” And there’s something about that where your purpose is revealed to you as you move through it.

And we see this, this is so common to stages four and five, if I tell you how many new businesses we’ve seen birthed, you know, in that stage five or new relationships or new levels of the health, you didn’t have access to any of that earlier. But, as you are moving through it, there are a few things going on. One is, “Well, if I could get through this, I could do anything,” that’s the first thing. And when that old life really has crashed and burned, that’s when the downloads start coming through where, you know, you just get these insights and these opportunities. And I can assure you, the PBT Institute wasn’t even anything close to anything I was ever thinking until I was in stage four, stage five. But, I mean, how many people do you know who’ve had a major health crisis and now here they are, sharing it? Or they’ve had a financial crisis and they’re helping others? You know, you can be the poster child for it or you can travel a path. And then I kind of feel like we owe it to people to teach them that road that we just traveled, the shortcuts we got, you know, that were created because of it.

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful reframe. And also just even having that as a hope and to know, like, that I can help other people makes that journey more bearable, especially in those tough days. You’ve also mentioned the word, like, numbing, avoiding, distracting. And I know there are some ways we can pay attention because, often, it seems like, in that phase, you may not even realize you’re doing those things, which is the whole purpose of those things is to distract you from the fact that you’re doing them. So, how can someone become aware that they might be doing some of those coping things?

Debi: Yeah. You know, here I’m gonna invite everybody to write down these four questions. That’s my way of saying write those down. Because this is how you’ll see, “Am I numbing, avoiding, distracting?” Ready? The first question, “Am I numbing, avoiding, distracting?” If so, how, right? Do you walk into the kitchen, you’re not the least bit hungry, and you find yourself in the cabinets? Do you go into a room and you put on the TV to desperately drown out the sound of your own thoughts? Call yourself on it.

The second question, “What am I pretending not to see?” Am I pretending not to see that health issue that needs my attention? Am I pretending not to see, “I hate my job.”? Am I pretending not to see that relationship issue, right, that needs my attention?

The third question, “What’s life gonna look like in 5 to 10 years if I do nothing?” Play it all the way out, we don’t wanna do that, play it all the way out. Take that health issue that you’re ignoring, 5 to 10 years, what does it look like? Take, you know, the job issue, 5 to 10 years, play it out. What does it look like? You know, whatever the issue is, 5 to 10 years, what does that look like if you do nothing?

And the fourth question, “What can life look like in 5 to 10 years if I change now?” I’m not saying it’s easy but transformation begins when you tell yourself the truth.

Katie: I think for me my coping mechanism was hiding in work. And then, as I started unpacking and letting go of things, I had a phase of going, “Am I gonna lose my edge if I let go of this compulsion that comes from this place of pain?” And what I realized that I couldn’t realize until I had gotten through it was, “Oh, you don’t lose your edge, you just get to choose when you pick up the sword and you can choose to put it down sometimes.” But in the moment, I felt like I can’t let go of this because what if…so, that’s helpful to have those questions as a guide. And I would guess there are a lot of people listening who are resonating with definitely certain parts of what we’ve talked about and might have the question in their mind of, “Okay, if I know I’m in one of these stages,” or, “if I’ve identified that maybe there’s this thing that’s causing problems and I hadn’t linked to them before, where do I start to heal, if I am willing?” Like, what are the steps where…I know you have resources for this but where do I begin?

Debi: Yeah, well, the first step is knowing what stage you’re in. So, you know, I shared the stages. So, if you realized you’re in a stage two or stage three, especially stage three, it is easy to stay stuck there for life. So, knowing what stage you’re in is a great first step. You can’t change what you’re not aware of. So, knowing what stage, you know, where you say, “Wow, I had no idea there were even all these five stages, I’m only in stage three, how do I move to stage four?” I mean that’s at least, “I know where I am.” Check your willingness too because there are a lot of benefits for staying stuck. Check how willing you are to move through the stages and then if there’s a road map.

Katie: And where can people keep learning more from you? I know you’ve done TED talks on this, I’ll link to those in the show notes, you have resources on your website, but where would you point people as a good jumping-in point?

Debi: You know, the best thing we have thepbt, as in post betrayal transformation, thepbtinstitute.com, that has everything there. There, we have two quizzes. One is the post-betrayal-syndrome quiz and one is the healed or hardened quiz. And that’ll show you, you know, exactly what stage you’re in, they just find that at healedorhardenedquiz.com.

Katie: I’ll make sure there’s links for all of you listening while you’re exercising or driving, that’s wellnessmama.fm, you can find all the links of everything we’ve talked about. And a couple questions I love to ask, a little bit unrelated, at the end. The first being if there is a book or a number of books that have profoundly influenced your life, and if so, what they are and why?

Debi: You know, I would say the book that absolutely changed my life was “Conversations with God, Book 1,” Neale Donald Walsch. Game changer.

Katie: I love that. And then any last advice to leave with the listeners today. It could be related to everything we’ve talked about or something entirely unrelated.

Debi: You know, there’s two things that are coming to mind. One is, first of all, I know how painful it is. I know that pain, it’s a pain like no other. And if you have to say this a million times to yourself, it’s worth it. And even though it happened to you, it’s not about you, it’s not about you. Believe that.

The second thing I would say is, this is a mantra I’ve been using for my 30 years in business, it applies to every area of life, and it’s this, “Easy now, hard later. Hard now, easy later. Take your pick, it’s one of the two.” And what most people do, especially when it comes to just really anything, is easy now. But the hard later is always there. Healing from betrayal is 100% a case of hard now, easy later.

Katie: I love that, it reminds me of Naval Ravikant saying, “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” Yeah, I love that. That’s a beautiful place to wrap up. I know this is a tough and emotional topic, and I think you’re doing amazing work on helping people tangibly work through it and move to healing. I also know how busy you are, so, I’m very grateful for your time today and for all the research you’re doing and all the people that you’re helping. Thank you for being here.

Debi: Thank you so much for the opportunity and for the amazing work you do.

Katie: And thanks, as always, to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy and your attention, with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”

 

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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