Anxiety is a feeling I am well acquainted with. You may know the feeling too. It’s that feeling that something bad could happen at any moment and pull the rug out from under you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It can be crippling, stealing the peace and joy from our everyday experiences and relationships. It can make the smallest things feel stressful and overwhelming. It clouds your decision making and can make you feel trapped and helpless. Because it can suck you into a new reality where everything feels threatening, it can be one of the most challenging feelings to navigate. But it is possible, even though it may not feel like it. It doesn’t have to take you out or steal you from a present and future life that is filled with peace and fulfillment.
I once read that living with anxiety is like carrying around a piping hot cup of coffee. When it’s full, the slightest bump in the road can cause a big mess – one that will burn you, and may require a bit of help to clean up. But when there’s only a few drops in the mug, it’s much easier to manage without it spilling over.
I believe a 100% anxiety free life is possible, but that often doesn’t happen overnight. It comes by learning to manage it, by lessening the amount of anxiety we carry in our coffee mug so when we encounter small bumps in the road of life, we don’t make a big painful mess.
Anxiety & Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma can send our nervous system and attachment system on red alert, causing us to feel incredibly anxious and unsafe with people, places, or experiences tied to the relationship where the betrayal occurred.
Anxiety from betrayal can manifest in our mind, body and emotions. It can manifest in our mind through intrusive thoughts that are wrought with worry and worst-case scenarios. In our bodies it can manifest through rapid heart rate, sweaty palms and full-on panic attacks. In our emotions we might feel immense fear about everyday situations with no real explanation.
We can experience anxiety from being betrayed by spouses, loved ones, friends, authority figures, our bodies, and ourselves. We can even feel betrayed by God, at least in the way our broken humanity perceives Him. In one way or another, I’ve personally experienced them all, but the most traumatic are often the instances that were tied to some deeper pain or unmet needs in my life.
I experienced betrayal in romantic relationships and friendships that made it hard to let my walls down and trust myself and other people again. I became anxious about going into new relationships with people because it felt like there was always a hidden secret waiting to come out, or someone waiting to expose or take advantage of a vulnerable part of me that I once shared in safety. I feared I might read someone all wrong and find myself in the same situation again. Deep rooted fears of being misunderstood, rejected, and of being weak and helpless were at the root of my anxieties around relationships and friendships. The betrayals I experienced only added gas to the fire that had begun in my early years.
I’ve also experienced feeling betrayed by my own body when I had a painful pregnancy loss, as well as dealing with unexplained health issues. Both have sent me into panic when I would feel the slightest sensation in my body that seemed even just a little off. Anxiety made it hard to focus on healing or trying to conceive again with hope and clouded my mind with doubt. Feeling completely out of control in the midst of chaos and suffering was another deep-rooted fear in my life that both these situations triggered in my life.
Anxiety manifests when our perceived sense of control is challenged by the painful unexpected.
Anxiety comes down to a deep-rooted fear that in my vulnerability, I won’t be able to protect myself from pain – that my deepest needs for love and safety won’t be met. In all these circumstances, I grappled with the reality that I couldn’t protect myself from all harm, and that I didn’t have as much control as I thought I did. One of the biggest takeaways from my healing journey is this: that I can find love and safety even in the midst of unexpected pain.
Although I may not have control over everything in my life, I have an ability to connect to love in any circumstance. I found safety in “safe enough” people with whom I could rebuild trust. I say “safe enough” because perfect safety is too high an expectation for people to meet. Safe enough people weren’t those who would never hurt me, but people that I could communicate openly and honestly with who had my best interest at heart. I learned to feel safe again by having healing encounters with God who gave me an experience of unconditional love and safety that I can have in Him at all times. I found safety within myself, repairing the relationship I have with me, and removing all the judgment I’ve placed on myself. To heal, I forgave the people and things outside of my control. I forgave myself and released myself of the pressure to have perfect control over everything in the first place.
Also, I had to take extreme ownership and have compassion for myself. Part of taking ownership was recognizing and filtering out what was and wasn’t my responsibility in the painful circumstances that happened. Having compassion involved letting love deep into hurting parts of my heart so they could fully heal. Having compassion without ownership could’ve left me feeling like a victim, but taking ownership without compassion could’ve caused me to run over my pain and not truly heal.
Both compassion and extreme ownership are needed for healing.
In all these scenarios of betrayal, I learned to open up to love and not let anxiety keep me closed off for fear of being hurt again. I’ve been married almost 6 years to a loving husband after experiencing betrayal in a broken engagement. After losing friends, I opened up to new friendships in my life that showed up in the most unexpected ways and have brought profound healing to my life. After my pregnancy loss, I conceived again and carried the baby full term. I have a beautiful, healthy 1 year old daughter now. As for my healing journey, I haven’t quite reached the redemption just yet, but am walking out every hardship feeling more connected to safety in my body than ever before. I still experience a few drops of anxiety in my mug every now and then, but I don’t live with a full mug anymore.
About this contributor: Tori Henares is a volunteer with Hope After Betrayal, whose mission is to provide Christ-centered hope and healing for women injured by their partners’ sexual betrayal. She is also a personal coach pursuing wholeness and emotional health from a place of rest. Connect with her via TheUnhinderedLife.com.