The initial trauma for partners of sex addicts is often the day they discover they are living with a stranger, a stranger who has affairs, or illicit sex, or is pornography obsessed, who has a secret life outside their relationship.
The trauma is repeated as they learn the ways their partner has and will lie and cheat to continue the addiction. Even if the relationship ends or the addict gets into recovery, the resulting partner’s PTSD is challenging to heal.
Emotional trauma is defined as any distressing experience that causes emotional shock and may have long-lasting psychological effects. Trauma resolution is accomplished when the painful memory or event no longer triggers anxious reactions or distorted thoughts. The goal of treatment is to assist the client in desensitizing and processing painful experiences in order to integrate the event into their life story.
Both parties have been through excruciating pain up until this point, whether it be from discovery or from the despair of hiding your destructive and hurtful behavior from your loved ones, trauma develops from the experience. For the betrayed partner, the initial trauma is often the day of discovery where they realize that they are living with a stranger, a stranger who has affairs, or illicit sex, or is obsessed with pornography, who has a secret life (often considered a double life) outside their relationship. Once the initial shock and horror have sunk in, a multitude of feelings are to be expected- rage, disgust, despair and excessive thoughts and obsessions begin about all the past experiences shared together. Reviewing every single memory they shared as a way to figure out how this vital information has been missed. Potentially blaming ourselves for the addict’s choice. The trauma can be repeated or increased over time with staggered disclosures of information, with finding out new details that the addict hadn’t revealed, or in snooping behaviors. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very common experience for the betrayed partner and this pain can be difficult to heal. The goal of treatment is to assist the client in processing and healing from their tremendous pain through psychoeducation, skills building, experiential transformation, and integrating this event into their life story.
For the Sex addict, they too have trauma, and often PTSD as well, from their own behavioral choices, the impact the consequences have on them and their loved ones, and from their family of origin. Working to process through their experiences, cognitive distortions, core beliefs which impact their thinking and behavior have proven to be effective. Often times it takes the Sex Addict longer to realize their own PTSD because of the crisis that usually brings them in for help. Once the crisis and addiction work have begun helping them and there is some sobriety then they can start to examine their feelings and thoughts that drove them to act out in the first place.
Often times the sex addict uses numbing techniques and distracting ways to avoid facing their tremendous fears. These fears often include: abandonment, criticism, rejection, being found unworthy of love, being able to feel close and safe, feeling in control of relationships, and difficulty bonding with another. All of these characteristics develop from a history of trauma, neglect, and/or abuse. The sex addict tends to be particularly vulnerable and narcissistic to their core, and are often enmeshed with their spouse with whom they draw a sense of self. These patterns develop from unhealthy dynamics and dysfunctional relationships from childhood.