In my post what sets sex addiction apart, I talked about how sexual betrayal impacts partners on a primal, intimate level — far beyond the reach of other addictions.
Knowing that your partner turned to other people — or technology — for relational needs that he (or she) promised to keep only for you causes deep wounds to your esteem and self-image.
Although the sex addict’s behaviors impacted you intimately, his behaviors weren’t about, or because of, you. No matter what size, color, shape, height, breast size, weight, eye color, or build you are or could have sculpted yourself into, it wouldn’t have changed the addict’s choices.
If you have or are currently experiencing any of the following, your esteem and body image have been wounded:
- You search for images of people with whom your partner sexually acted out (either in real life or online).
- You seek out the type of pornography (or specific websites) your partner viewed in his addiction to try to understand why you weren’t good enough.
- You compare your body — or your body parts — to those of affair partners or to pornographic images.
- You often think, “He (or she) can’t be attracted to or turned on by me. I don’t look anything like the people he acted out with,” or, “If he was attracted to me he wouldn’t have been unfaithful.”
- When you witness the sexual objectification of women (or men) in advertising, billboards, magazines, TV, or movies you think you’re inadequate and feel shame.
Are any of these familiar to you? If you’re like most partners, you’ve probably experienced 4 out of 5.
If your esteem and body image have suffered because of addiction, make a decision now to reclaim your right to feel acceptance, love, and even delight about your one, unique body.
Connie Sobzcak, author of Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!) created The Body Positive, a non-profit organization that offers workshops and trainings to teenagers, mental health professionals and the general public.
The Body Positive teaches the Be Body Positive Model that consists of 5 Core Competencies:
- Reclaim health
- Practice intuitive self-care
- Cultivate self-love
- Declare your own authentic beauty
- Build community
For partners of sex addicts, reclaiming health means placing a higher value on overall health than on appearance, or getting caught up in comparing yourself to an affair partner, friends, acquaintances, or anonymous people you see in public. Reclaiming health also includes practical issues such as getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and taking care of your basic physical needs such as adequate food, sleep, exercise, medical and dental care.
Practicing intuitive self-care for partners means paying attention and attending to the needs and wants your thoughts, emotions and your physical body are communicating to you in each moment. Being intuitive about self-care means you’re paying attention to what YOU want rather than accepting a pre-packaged script from family, friends, or the culture at large about what you should want or how you should take care of yourself. Only you know what the right self-care is for you.
Cultivating self-love is a must for partners. How is self-love cultivated? Primarily through regular acts of self-care (physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual) and paying close attention to the quality of your inner self-talk.
If your self-talk is an ongoing monologue that berates, shames, or scolds you for not “doing it right” or not being good enough, begin re-directing those automatic negative thoughts toward a prayer, mantra, or any life-enhancing message that interrupts the stream of negativity. Find inspirational podcasts, music, or audiobooks to listen to as you drive, exercise, or engage in household activities. In other words, drown out the negative chatter. (If you’d like more ideas for cultivating self-love, see my post honor yourself.)
The BBPM 4th core competency — declare your own authentic beauty — is a tough one for most people, especially women. Culture teaches us that there are one, or maybe two, “right” ways to look. If we don’t fit the norm, we don’t measure up. If that weren’t crazy-making enough, the “right” look changes as frequently as the seasons.
Every person has their own authentic beauty, but most people are conditioned to notice how their appearance doesn’t fit the norm, rather than appreciating their unique set of characteristics.
When you find that you’re comparing your beauty to someone else’s, you’ve unconsciously slipped into objectification of yourself and the person you’re comparing yourself to. Begin declaring your own authentic beauty now by noticing what you love about yourself — both outside and inside. No detail is too small.
When you strive to be the subject of your life, rather than an object, you will live more from the inside-out rather than outside-in. Living from the inside-out means you place a higher value on what you think and feel rather than on what others think and feel. Living from the outside-in keeps you in a no-win focus on trying to figure out how others perceive or feel about you. It’s exhausting and a waste of energy.
Lastly, the Be Body Positive Model encourages building community. For partners of sex addicts, this may mean finding an face-to-face or online support group for partners (see Resources for a list of support organizations). Building community can also include finding other like-minded people who know how to honor and support others who are on a healing, life-affirming journey.
If you’re a partner, what tools or practices have helped you restore a sense of acceptance and love for yourself?
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2015)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity.