Do you feel like the pain of infidelity never goes away? Long after the affair, you’re still hurting just as much as you did right after you found out. Your daily life is plagued by unwanted mental images of your partner with someone else. Anxiety attacks appear from seemingly nowhere, and you’re unwilling to risk getting into another relationship for fear of being hurt. Naturally, you’re probably afraid that this feeling is never going to end! If your heartbreak is showing no signs of improvement, even with time, then it’s possible you may be suffering from something called “Post Infidelity Stress Disorder”.
At this point, it’s really important to make a distinction between the pain anybody would suffer from after being cheated on, as opposed to the specific type of problem that post infidelity stress disorder presents. Being cheated on is debilitating and enormously painful for everyone, but post infidelity stress disorder goes beyond the normal hurt caused by betrayal. It lingers, it refuses to heal, and it begins to consume your life.
What is Post Infidelity Stress Disorder?
The key thing here is to not think of post infidelity trauma as “more painful”, but instead as more debilitating and disruptive to your personal life over a long period of time. Whereas most people get hurt, slowly heal, and eventually are able to move on, people suffering from post infidelity stress disorder find themselves caught in a loop. They experience the initial painful experience of being cheated on over and over again, making it impossible to move on if a relationship is over, and impossible to forgive if they want to rebuild things after infidelity.
Unfortunately, it can be even worse than that: post infidelity stress can inhibit you from enjoying the company of your friends, have a serious negative effect on your career, and even stop you from finding joy in life at all. Unsurprisingly, serious depression goes hand-in-hand with post infidelity trauma. The good news is that, with some help and guidance, you can overcome this awful feeling. But if you want to heal, you’re going to have to see it for what it is first. So how can you tell if you’re suffering from post infidelity stress disorder?
Four Signs of Long-Lasting Infidelity Trauma
In my time as a love and relationship coach here at happily committed, I’ve helped countless people work through this very same issue. Although each person is unique, and the ways in which they experienced lasting trauma left by infidelity was always different, there are some important things that they all had in common. Let’s take a look at the four clearest signs of post infidelity stress disorder.
1. You Can’t Stop Reliving Infidelity: Intrusive Thoughts and Mental Movies
When I’m working with a client who can’t seem to heal after infidelity, often they’ll describe one of the most common and excruciating parts of the problem: the “mental movie.” This is basically an intense, unwanted mental image of your partner’s infidelity that forces its way into your mind and immediately causes pain and anxiety. For anyone who’s experienced this, you know how instantly debilitating it can be to have vivid and graphic scenes play out unexpectedly in your mind, seemingly stifling any other thoughts you had before. This can happen at any point through the day, or when you’re lying awake at night, and you seem to have no control over it. What’s worse, the feeling of trying not to think about these “mental movies” is both exhausting and only seems to invite them to play out even more often in your head.
These types of intrusive thoughts create a disconnect between you and the world around you, blocking you from focusing on the things you care about or the things you’d actually like to be thinking about. Although many people experience this in the days and weeks after infidelity, for those suffering from post-infidelity stress, the frequency and intensity of these mental images never slows down. Unlike other types of intrusive thoughts, “mental movies” cause a tremendous amount of pain each time they play out, effectively keeping you in a loop in which you’re experiencing the pain of your partner’s infidelity again and again.
2. Unexpected Things Trigger Your Infidelity Trauma
One of the ways post infidelity stress can cripple your life is by turning everyday situations into a minefield of potential triggers. Often, the mental movies I described above are sparked by things as innocuous as flirtatious dialogue in a TV show, a reference to a part of town where the infidelity happened, or even noticing something that reminds you of the incident in the vaguest way possible. One of my clients found himself consumed by unwanted thoughts of his wife’s affair whenever he saw bicyclists, all because the one time he met the man she cheated on him with, he was on a bike. Another woman told me she went home early on a night out with friends 7 months after her fiancé cheated, simply because the bar was across the street from a motel that vaguely reminded her of the motel where he had been sleeping with someone else. Just because of that, instead of enjoying the company of her friends, she was stuck watching her ex-fiancé having sex with a stranger in her mind. They both told me that they “knew it was silly to get hung up on things like that,” but they just couldn’t help it. Here’s what I told them: it’s not silly. You’re reeling from trauma, and you can’t control when and how it’s going to manifest itself. Cutting yourself some slack is one of the first steps towards moving past this issue.
3. You Have Problems with Intimacy after Infidelity
For many people, one of the most unfortunate triggers for intrusive thoughts and mental movies is sex itself. It has some sort of sad logic to it, since when else would you be more likely to be reminded of your partner’s infidelity than when you’re in the middle of the act? For people suffering from post infidelity stress disorder, the pain and hurt caused by these intrusive thoughts can ruin sex altogether, and some people even find themselves avoiding sex simply because they already know that it’s a trigger.
If you’re in this situation, then you know how much harder it is to move on if you can’t enjoy a healthy sex life. More importantly, this situation means you’ve been forced to surrender your own sexuality, which really illustrates the power this kind of trauma can have over your life!
4. You’re Reluctant to Try Another Relationship After Infidelity
Perhaps the saddest sign of post infidelity stress disorder is when people self-sabotage potential relationships after they’ve been cheated on in the past, simply because deep down inside they’re still recovering from the trauma and don’t want to be hurt again. It’s very common to see this, and whenever I come across this with my clients, I point out that this is a serious sign that your ex-partner’s infidelity still has a tremendously disruptive effect on your life. This is one of the many ways in which long-lasting trauma can consume your happiness and keep you from the things you deserve, and it’s certainly the point at which things move from the usual pain and hurt into being a disruptive condition. Unfortunately, people being reluctant to trust again is a relatively common thing, and often we’re desensitized to it. That can make it hard to see it for what it is: a serious sign of a very big problem that needs to be addressed. No one should stop experiencing their future because of their past.
If this sounds like something you’re experiencing, you owe it to yourself to seek help! This condition doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
How to Heal After Being Cheated On
As with any type of trauma, by far the most effective tool you have towards overcoming this condition is counselling. It’s more than simply having someone to talk to: counselling means speaking with someone who’s specially trained to help you work through your trauma and regain control of your thoughts and feelings. Addressing trauma is complex, but in the same way you’d go to a doctor to help treat a broken bone, going to a counselor means seeking someone’s help who has the knowledge and tools to help you heal.
Unfortunately for many people, there’s a stigma associated with seeking help, often because it means admitting that the problem is serious enough to warrant doing something about it. With something as deep and personal as trauma stemming from infidelity, it can seem far easier to simply pretend that it’s not having as big of an impact on your life as it really is. As we all know, you can only tamp it down for so long before, inevitably, post infidelity trauma begins having a seriously negative effect on your life. Ignoring it often only makes it worse, so I really encourage you to seek help, and don’t let pride get in the way! As always, you’re welcome to reach out to me or any of the coaches here at Happily Committed to discuss your path forward. Together we can craft a personalized gameplan towards regaining your happiness and putting the pain of infidelity behind you.
At this point, I would also like to mention some of the general tips you should keep in mind as you try to heal from post infidelity stress disorder. The first is to keep a realistic timeframe in mind when you think about the future. Because this feeling is so uncomfortable, many of my clients suffering from this condition ask me when they can expect it to end, and often they don’t like my response: measure it in years, not weeks. It’s going to take a long time. However, looking at things that way actually takes a lot of pressure off of you and allows you to focus on the day-to-day, which ultimately helps you move towards a future free from the pain you’re in right now. Putting pressure on yourself to heal doesn’t do you any favors, and generally only slows you down. Instead of scrutinizing your feelings every day for signs of improvements, try to check in with your progress more infrequently. Compare how you feel one month after infidelity to how you feel one year after infidelity, for example. That will be a much better indicator of how things are actually going.
Once your focus is firmly on the day-to-day, the next tip is to actively make new memories. When you’re under the weight of post infidelity stress, it can be hard to motivate yourself to engage with the world, but you have to find the strength to do it. The reason for this is simple: putting more positive and recent memories in your mind helps push the infidelity farther and farther into the past, from where it has far less power over you. When you’re not engaging with your friends or your passions, there isn’t any new stimulus for you to think about, and infidelity can keep hovering over you as if it happened yesterday. Once you take that first step towards being active, even if you’re doing it begrudgingly, it becomes easier and easier to break out of the depression that settles in after you’ve been betrayed by someone you trusted.
So, with that being said, let’s go through the ways you can tell if you’re suffering from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder.
- When you can’t stop reliving the infidelity
- Unexpected things trigger your infidelity trauma
- You have problems with intimacy after infidelity
- You’re reluctant to try another relationship after infidelity
If this sounds like you, then my heart goes out to you. But just remember, there’s a way out of this feeling. I have seen plenty of people do it, and I know you can too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and remember that this process takes a long time, so don’t put pressure on yourself. Focus on the day to day, and stay committed to making newer and better memories. Piece by piece, I promise you’ll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If you’re curious about learning more ways to overcome this feeling, then check out our course on overcoming infidelity. In it, you’ll find tried-and-true methods from us at Happily Committed that can help put you back on your feet.
You’ve got this, don’t give up.
Your coach when you want to know whether you’re suffering from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder,