Addiction is shrouded in isolation and secrecy.
Addiction has been described as a “love affair” and the addict’s drug of choice as his/her “best friend.” Imagine losing your best friend or your lover if your secret life is discovered? Addicts will risk almost anything for the object of their addiction including their livelihood, financial stability, friends, extended family, partner, and even their own children.
Given the power of addiction, it’s no surprise that addicts go to great lengths to hide their behaviors and their secret life. Sex addicts in particular often avoid talking about anything that may possibly lead to a conversation about sex or other topics in an attempt to protect their secret life.
And this deception is why your reality has been damaged.
I often hear partners berate themselves, asking “how could I have not known?” or “I was so stupid to have believed his lies.” If these sound familiar, I hope you will remind yourself often that your addict partner has probably gone to great lengths to confuse, omit, or otherwise obscure the truth. And when you got close to finding out what was going on he probably distracted, cajoled, abused or outright lied to you. No wonder your sense of your own reality is shaky.
In early discovery, it’s not uncommon for partners to see the world almost exclusively through the lens of sex addiction. Every billboard, sexually oriented business, “men’s” magazine and countless other triggers are daggers that re-injure an already open wound. Because of this new and unwelcome way of seeing the world, partners’ sense of reality is further confused and placed in doubt. Thankfully, this period of feeling assaulted by so many external triggers doesn’t last forever. But it’s painful nonetheless.
When a partner’s reality has been altered by seeing the world through the sex addiction lens, they may fall into a trap of believing they can understand the world by attempting to view other people and situations through their sex addicted partner’s eyes. Although it’s understandable to want to gain a sense of safety or perhaps control by understanding the way the sex addict thinks, attempting to see the world through his eyes is ultimately painful and more to the point, impossible.
Addictive thinking is fundamentally distorted or as the well-known 12-step slogan states, “cunning and baffling.”
Partners will gain more clarity and serenity by rebuilding trust in their own perceptions than by focusing on the addict. The good news is that you can restore trust in your own reality and intuition beginning now.
Identifying Your Reality
You can use this simple 3-question process to identify your reality at any time:
- What happened (what did I experience with my 5 senses – eyes, ears, nose, taste, touch)?
- What do I think about what I experienced?
- What emotions do I feel?
The first step is to identify the data you heard, saw or experienced. Data must be something you could record with a video camera. An example of data is: “when my partner came home from work tonight, he walked through the front door and passed by me sitting in the living room, went straight to the bedroom and closed the door without saying anything to me.”
Most of us confuse data with perception and judgment so that the above description comes out sounding something like: “he was so rude when he came home from work today.” We may perceive that what the other person did was rude or insensitive, but here we’re just identifying the data. When we get to step 2 we can add our thoughts about the data.
The second step is to identify what you think about the data. Here you get to state your perception about the data. Regarding the data above, you might say: “what I thought about it was that he was angry at me” or “he was inconsiderate” or “he must have had a bad day.”
The last step is to identify the emotions you experience as a result of the thoughts you’re having. Note that the emotions we feel are a result of our thoughts or perceptions rather than the data. If you read the 3 thoughts above, you will notice that the emotions you feel very much depend on which of the 3 thoughts you have. For the first thought – “he is angry with me” – the emotion may be fear or anger. For the second thought – “he was inconsiderate” – the emotion may be anger. For the third thought – “he must have had a bad day” – the emotion may be compassion or love. Isn’t that amazing?!
This 3-step process will help you begin identifying and becoming grounded in your own reality.
It can also be used as a template to formulate how to communicate with another person (sometimes referred to as The Talking Format*), but for now we’re using it as a tool to help you rebuild trust and confidence in your experience. Knowing and owning your reality is the first step in the process of boundary setting.
If you know that your trust in your reality is significantly damaged, you may want to keep a journal with you to write out these 3 steps when something happens and you notice that you’re doubting yourself, or you’re feeling like a fog has descended, or are feeling “crazy.” It is often the case that when we’re feeling “crazy” or foggy, another person’s behavior, distorted thinking, or covert manipulation is having an adverse affect on us. It’s in moments like these that we can gain clarity by focusing on our own experience, thoughts and emotions.
*created by Pia Mellody
©Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2014)