#81: Healing from Betrayal with Dr. Debi Silber

Healing from Betrayal with Dr. Debi Silber

Betrayal is a form of trauma, and we’ve all experienced it in some shape or form. In today’s episode, Dr. Debi Silber of the Post Betrayal Transformation Institute shares common symptoms and types of betrayal as well as the stages of healing — and how to get past being stuck in the trauma.

You’ll hear about:

  • [03:34] physical, mental, and emotional symptoms common to betrayal
  • [07:53] common betrayals that people experience
  • [11:48] the stages of healing from betrayal
  • [17:18] getting to the stages where you find a new normal and experience personal transformation
  • [22:40] three groups that don’t heal

Mentioned in this episode:

Debi (00:00):
The bottom is bottom down on you. And a new bottom hasn't been formed yet. So this is terrifying. But think about it. If the bottom were to bottom out on you, what would you do? You'd grab hold of anything you could to stay safe and stay alive. That stage three survival instincts emerge. It's the most practical out of all of the stages. If you can help me get outta my way,
Michelle (00:25):
It's time to stop being the victim of your overscheduled life and become the most powerful version of yourself. Welcome to She's Got Power.
Michelle (00:36):
Today's episode reminded me very vividly of a woman who I will call Meredith. Meredith came to me with some health issues that she was working on, and I expected to talk about the usual stuff, nutrition, habit change, stress reduction. But instead, I got on my first call with Meredith, and there it was. She said, I just found out my husband is having an affair, a betrayal. And I'm sure you've experienced betrayal in one form or another. It's stress taken to the next level. It's a form of trauma that, you know, I knew right there. And then this was going to take a deeper level of healing. Today I'm sharing an interview to help us move through the stages of healing from betrayal with Dr. Debbie Silver. Her recent study on how we experienced betrayal, made groundbreaking discoveries that change how long it takes to heal. In addition to being on Fox, she's been on cbs, the Dr. Oz Show. She's had two TEDx talks. She's also a holistic psychologist, best selling author and personal development expert. So if you've experienced a betrayal, and it doesn't have to be a cheating spouse, Dr. Debbie talks about all different types of betrayals, big and small. But have a listen and see which stage of healing you're at. You may be surprised.
Michelle (02:01):
Well, hey Debbie, thanks for being on the show.
Debi (02:04):
Uh, thanks so much. Looking forward to our conversation.
Michelle (02:06):
I often ask Alma guests, and I'm gonna ask you too, to start us off with your burnout moment. Can you tell us the story of when you knew things had to change?
Debi (02:17):
I've actually had a few of them, but the, the one that comes to mind is the most recent. And it actually happened after it's my 30th year in business. And as life would change, so at business and then I, it just a few years ago, I had a really painful betrayal from my family. Thought I needed, I did everything I needed to do to heal from that. And then it happened a few years later. This time it was my husband, that was the deal breaker. Got him outta the house, looked at the two experiences thinking, Okay, well what's similar to these two? Of course me, but what else? And I realized, you know, boundaries were always getting crossed. I never really took my needs seriously. And I'm one of those people that believe if nothing changes, nothing changes. So here I was, four kids, six dogs, a thriving business.
Debi (02:57):
And I'm like, You know what? I'm going back for a PhD. And I didn't know how I was gonna pay for it. I didn't know how I was gonna manage the time, but it was in transpersonal psychology, the psychology of transformation and human potential, because I was changing so much. I didn't quite understand it. He was too on his own, wasn't ready to look at that. And then it was time to do a study. So I studied betrayal, What holds us back, what helps us heal, and what happens to us physically, mentally, and emotionally when the people closest to us fly cheap and deceived. That study led to three groundbreaking discoveries, which changed my health, my family, my work, my life.
Michelle (03:34):
You just said three things I'm very interested in. So maybe you could just expand on the physical, mental and emotional. I'm gonna use the word symptoms, but the, the toll that it takes on us in those different ways, maybe you can share it for you what that was like. And also what do you see women experiencing when they've gone through a big betrayal moment?
Debi (03:51):
Yeah, and, and that was actually the second discovery. What was discovered was there's a collection of symptoms, physical, mental, and emotional. So common to betrayal. It's known as post betrayal syndrome. And you know, every so often we pull the stats from the quiz. I'm happy to share them before I do though. You know, we've all heard time, heels, all wounds. I have the proof that when it comes to betrayal, that's not true. We've had about, I don't know, 80,000 plus people take our post betrayal syndrome quiz on our site to see to what extent they're struggling. And there's a question that says, Is there anything else you'd like to share? People write things like, My betrayal happened 35 years ago. I'm unwilling to trust my betrayal happened 15 years ago. It happened. It feels like it happened yesterday. So we know that when it comes to betrayal, you cannot count on time.
Debi (04:38):
You can't even count on a new relationship to heal it. Healing is deliberate and intentional. But to answer your question in a very long-winded way, here are some of the statistics from that post portrayal syndrome quiz. So if you know anybody watching listening feels like, Oh, well it's just stress, it's aging. No, it's not really good chance. It's your run heel betrayal. So I figure out of 80,000 people, 78% constantly revisit their experience. 81% feel a loss of personal power. 80% are hypervigilant. That's exhausting. 94% deal with painful triggers. Here are the most common physical symptoms. 71% have low energy, 68% have sleep issues, 63% have extreme fatigue. You could sleep a whole night. You wake up, you're exhausted, your adrenals have tanked. 47% have weight changes. So in the beginning, maybe you can't hold food down later on, you are using food for comfort.
Debi (05:34):
45% have a digestive issue. And that could be anything. Crohn's, ibs, diverticulitis, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, you name it. The most common mental symptoms, 78% are overwhelmed. 70% are walking around in a state of disbelief. 68% can't focus. 64% are in shock. 62% can't concentrate. So imagine this, you can't concentrate. You have a gut issue, you're exhausted. You still have to raise your kids, you still have to work. That's not even the emotional issues. Emotionally. 88% experience, extreme sadness, 83% are really angry. Within a day you could bounce back and forth between those two emotions. You know, so many times, 82% feel hurt, 80% have anxiety, 79% are stressed. Just a few more, Here's why I wrote the book. Trust again, 84% have an inability to trust 67% prevent themselves from forming deep relationships because they're afraid of being hurt again, 82% find it hard to move forward. 90% wanna move forward, but they don't know how.
Michelle (06:41):
Yeah, that's a lot. What really hit me was when you said hypervigilance, we talked so much about chronic stress and all of those physical symptoms that you listed off are gonna fall out of your chronic stress response. Just keeping you in that high alert. Of course you're gonna be exhausted, but it's amazing that that seems to last for so many years.
Debi (07:01):
Yeah. Here's what's so crazy, those stats I just read. First of all, you didn't hear me say one thing, 20%, 30%, these numbers are high. They're also not necessarily from a recent betrayal. So imagine this, imagine you were a kid and your parent did something awful. Your girlfriend or boyfriend who broke your heart in high school, that person may not know care or even remember, they may not even be alive. And here we are walking around with this anxiety, with the gut issue, with the hyper vigilance because of something that happened decades ago. That's what I'm talking about. And that's actually so, so common to the third discovery, which I'm happy to share if that would help.
Michelle (07:40):
Let's get there. But I wanna ask you, what types of betrayals, like specifically are people coming to you with? I mean, you mentioned the parent, some type of betrayal. Maybe you can expand on that and talk about some other common betrayals.
Debi (07:53):
Yeah, there, there are so many. I mean, the way it works is the more you trust and the where you depend on someone, the deeper the betrayal. So for example, a child who's completely dependent on their parent, the parent is something awful that's gonna have a different impact than your best friend sharing your secret, your coworker taking credit for your idea. Still a betrayal. Different level of cleanup. The ones we see most often in the P B T Institute, post Betrayal Transformation Institute, those would be the partnership betrays, relational betrayals. It's the family members and the partners. Those are the ones that hit us the hardest.
Michelle (08:26):
So your husband has an affair, your mother give me some specific examples.
Debi (08:33):
Takes you out of the will, you know, uh, things like that. Like where you are just blindsided, your're shocked. You never saw it coming. That's the nature of betrayal. You know, think about it. When the person you trusted the most proves untrustworthy, who do you trust when the one you run to when other people are causing harm is the one causing the harm? Where do you go? The people we trust the most. This is, this is who gives us a sense of safety and security. So when that's the person to shatter that sense of safety and security, it's traumatizing.
Michelle (09:06):
Okay. So now I'm sure everybody has something in their mind where they've experienced a portrayal, either small or large. And I imagine that what might seem on the surface, like a small betrayal, could actually feel like a large betrayal.
Debi (09:20):
It can be because you know, it's the breaking of that spoken or unspoken rule in every relationship has them. Whatever that rule was or that assumption was that you, you know, that, that you had that agreement with. And then without your awareness or consent, the other person decides, I'm just not abiding by those rules. It's a shock. It's a shock. And we, you know, we could be betrayed by anybody. It could be a person in a position of authority, Right? And the abuse, their power. It could be, we could even be betrayed by a company. This is really interesting. When I was doing my research, I found this interesting. You, we would rather buy a product we know is bad for us. But if we buy a product that they say is good for us and we find out it's bad, we turn on them so quickly. We don't like being duped. We don't like being duped.
Michelle (10:11):
That's a really good point. I'm thinking about things like skincare products. Mm-hmm. , food products, all kinds of things where especially in the industry I'm in, um, we're always talking about this is a better for you brand. And then you find out they've been putting all this garbage mm-hmm. In their, their protein powders full of lead or arsenic or, Okay. Yeah. Fascinating. Fascinating. So on a personal level, but also like businesses need to be, uh, aware of this as well. Okay. That helps I think, frame this conversation for each of us individually. We can imagine that time when we've been through some type of betrayal and then maybe experiencing these symptoms throughout our life. What was the third thing?
Debi (10:49):
Yeah, and I just wanna mention self betrayal is a big one too. You swore you wouldn't eat that thing, you wouldn't go back to that person, whatever it is. And then you do, you know, that's a self betrayal. So the third one, this to me was the most exciting and I, and I'll get to the first one too, but the third discovery was, while we can stay stuck for years, decades, a lifetime and so many people do, if we're going to fully heal symptoms of postrel symptom syndrome, like I just shared to this whole rebuilt place called post betrayal transformation, we're gonna move through five now proven predictable stages. And what's even more exciting about that is we know what happens physically, mentally, and emotionally at every one of those stages. And we know what it takes to move from one stage to the next. Healing is entirely predictable and I'm happy to share the stage if you want.
Michelle (11:39):
Yeah, I think we should all and all our listeners should play a little game where you think about your own betrayals and your own life and let's see which stage we're in. Okay, .
Debi (11:49):
Exactly. You will know exactly what stage you're in as I move through these. So picture your experience and think, oh you not at all fully healed because it happened a really long time ago. Check again and just by what I share, you will know. So it's all mapped out in trust. Again, it's what all of our coaches are certified in. It's what we do within the pbt A so, but here's a boil down version. So stage one is like a setup stage. And if you can imagine four legs of a table, the four legs being physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What I saw with everybody, me too, was a real heavy lean on the physical and the mental thinking and doing and not really prioritizing, kind of neglecting the emotional and the spiritual feeling in being, well if a table only has two legs, easy for that table to topple over.
Debi (12:32):
That's us. Stage two, shock trauma, D-day, discovery day. The scariest of all of the stages. And this is the breakdown of the body, the mind, and the worldview. You've got the news right now that forever changes your life. You've ignited the stress response. You are now headed for every single stress related symptom, illness, condition, disease. Your mind is in a complete and total state of chaos and overwhelm. You cannot wrap your mind around what you just learned. This makes no sense. And your worldview has just been shattered. Your worldview is your mental model. The rules that govern you, that prevent chaos. Don't go there, trust this person. This is how life works. And in one earth shattering moment, every rule you've been, you've held to be real and true is no longer the bottom is bottom down on you. And a new bottom hasn't been formed yet.
Debi (13:24):
So this is terrifying. But think about it. If the bottom were to bottom out on you, what would you do? You'd grab hold of anything you could to stay safe and stay alive. That stage three survival instincts emerge. It's the most practical out of all of the stages. If you can't help me get outta my way, how do I survive this experience? Where do I go? Who can I trust? Like how do I feed my kids? Here's the trap though. Once you've figured out how to survive, stage three by far is the most common place we get stuck. And I'm talking about for life. Once we figured out how to survive our experience, because it feels so much better than the shock and trauma of where we just came from. We think it's good. We're like, Okay, I got this. And because we don't know there's anywhere else to go, we don't know there's a stage four or stage five transformation doesn't even begin until stage four.
Debi (14:19):
But because we don't know there's anywhere else to go, we start planting roots here. We're not supposed to, but we don't know that. And four things happen. The first thing is we start getting all these small self benefits from being here. We get to be right, we get our story, you know, we get someone to blame. We get sympathy from everyone we tell our story to. We don't have to do the hard work of learning to trust again. Should I trust you Kenne chef? Forget I'm not trusting anybody. So we plant deeper roots here. We're not supposed to, but we don't know now that we're here longer than we should be. The mind stirs doing things like, well maybe you deserved it. Maybe you're not all that great. Maybe this, maybe that. So we plant deeper roots now because these are the thoughts we're thinking. This is the energy we're putting out. Well like energy attracts like energy. So now we're calling situations and circumstances, relationships towards to confirm, yep, this is exactly where you belong. This
Michelle (15:14):
Is where we start repeating patterns. Yes,
Debi (15:16):
Exactly. This is where repeat betrayals happen. You're exactly right. And it gets worse, but I'll get you outta here because it feels so bad. But because we don't know there's anywhere else to go, we're like I, I have to get through my day. Like I, you know, so right here we resign ourselves. We're like, I just, I need to find a way to make this work. So here's where we start using food, drugs, alcohol, work, tv, keeping busy, whatever it is to numb, avoid, and distract ourselves from this painful place. So think about it, we do it for a day, a week, a month. Now it's a habit. A year, 10 years, 20 years. And I can see someone 20 years out and say that emotional eating you're doing or that numbing, you know, in front of the tv, do you think that has anything to do with your betrayal? And they would look at me like I'm crazy. They would say it happened 20 years ago. All they did was put themselves in stage three and stay there. Does that make sense?
Michelle (16:11):
It makes complete sense. I would say this is where most of my clients are. And I'm curious for anyone that you're working with, are they, in all of these stages, they mostly come from stage three?
Debi (16:23):
Yes. Stage three is the most common place to get stuck. That's why I wrote from hardened to healed trust. Again, maps out all five stages, but most people are just landing in stage three and staying there. I'm like, they need, they're all booked for stage three. It's like you've been through the worst of it already. You owe it to yourself to move completely through the stages. But yes, you're right because like the work you do, anything having to do with health and wellness and all these things, all of those symptoms of post betrayal syndrome, they start in stage two, they stay in stage three.
Michelle (16:56):
That's right. And they really take hold. Cause if you're numbing out with the bottle of wine and the chocolate every night and the mm-hmm , whatever that continues and then it's just a matter of time until it's there. There are more prescriptions being prescribed to you now. And oh, now the diagnoses come around 50, 55 years old and right, like it's this progression. So you stay right there. That's where you're ending up with all the health issues. So please get us out of here what is stage four
Debi (17:20):
And remind me to share also, there were three groups who did not heal. So happy to share that after. So if you're willing to let go of the small self benefits, everything you get with that, you move to stage four. Stage four is finding and adjusting to a new normal. So here's where you acknowledge I can't undo what happened but I control what I do with it. Right there in that decision, you start turning down the stress response, you're not healing just yet, but at least you stop that massive damage you've been creating in stages two and stage three. What stage four feels like is like if you've ever moved to a new house off this condo, apartment, whatever, all your stuff's not there, it's not quite cozy yet, but you're like, okay, we can do this. We got this. That's what stage four feels like.
Debi (18:03):
But it's, this is really interesting. If you were to move, you don't take everything with you. You know, you don't take the things that don't represent, you know who you wanna be once you're in that new space. And what I found was if your friends weren't there for you right here, you've outgrown them. It is so common that people say, what the heck? I've had these friends forever. Is it me? Yes it is. You're undergoing a transformation. And if they don't rise, they don't come. Like here's where you may say, I don't wanna gossip anymore. I, I, I lower those one-sided friendships. You're not having it now. You're just done really common. So if you're wondering what's going on, that's a really good sign. Uh, other friendships will arise, you know, and that's beautiful. But others you've outgrown. When you're in this stage, you're making it cozy, you're making it mentally home.
Debi (18:51):
You move to the fifth most beautiful stage and this is healing, rebirth and a new world view. The body starts to heal. Self-love, self-care, eating well exercise. You didn't have the bandwidth for that earlier. You were surviving, now you do, your mind is healing. You're making new rules, you're making new boundaries based on the road you just traveled and you have a whole new worldview based on everything you see so clearly now. And the four licks of the table. In the beginning it was all about the physical and the mental by this point we're solidly grounded because we're focused on the emotional and the spiritual too. Those are the five stages. Wow.
Michelle (19:26):
That really spoke to me when you talked about outgrowing friends. I'm now several years past my divorce and I've looked around me at times and gone, what the hell happened to all my friends, these groups of friends I've had for years and years. And they just go and I've heard from so many divorced women, I'm just using this as an example cause it's common. You know, you lose a lot of friends going through a divorce and sometimes it's obvious reasons that are related to the breakdown of the relationship, but often it's not. And what you just said does shine a light on that phenomenon.
Debi (19:54):
It's the transformation, It's your transformation and you are just growing and very often outgrowing what you just, what no longer works for you. And here's the thing with betrayal too. Rebuilding is always a choice whether you rebuild yourself and move on. And that's what I did with my family. It wasn't an option to heal with them or rebuild anything with them or if the situation lends itself. If you're willing, if you want to, you rebuild something entirely new like from the ground up new with the person who hurt you. That's what I did with my husband not long ago, was to totally transform people. We married each other again, new rings, new vows, new dress, and our four kids is our bridal party. You know, betrayal will show you who someone truly is. It also has the potential to wake them up to who they temporarily became.
Debi (20:44):
You know, you could be interested in that or not. But what I see so often is people are so afraid of that death and destruction of the old. But that's what betrayal creates, you know? But with that, there could be the birth of an of the new, at the very least a new you and potentially a new collective you. So we never know what's gonna show up. I mean the work we do within the institute is we get the betrayed person to their physical, mental, and emotional best. And from that vantage point we see so many different things. They may have completely outgrown the other person, but they, they become a version of themselves that's just so powerful, so healthy, so healed, so whole, so confident. That's really fun to watch.
Michelle (21:28):
I love that. I was seeing, I was reading something the other day about how what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, is such a terrible way to think about it. Cause it's not the thing that didn't kill you, it's not the betrayal that made you stronger. It's you and it is doing the work. And then I imagine, you know, moving through, especially moving from stage three to four to five and consciously making the decision to do so, you make you stronger. And I was like, yeah, that's right.
Debi (21:51):
Exactly. And that's, and that's really it. And, and it's really fun because when someone is willing, willingness is one of the biggest words right there to leave stage three, what we see in stage four and stage five new levels of health. I mean that's when your body transforms. That's when your level of health transforms a new relationship with first of all yourself and with someone new or you know, the person who hurt you but in such a different type of relationship. But, and we've also seen, that's where new businesses are birthed too. You know, you, you've moved through your trauma, you're able to see this stuff that you weren't ready for earlier.
Michelle (22:30):
And now you mentioned that not everybody does heal and there were three groups. Do you wanna just run through those real quick? Cause I wanna make sure, Sure. None of us identify as being in the non-healing groups.
Debi (22:41):
Yeah. So the first group, this was the group that was numbing, avoiding, distracting. So maybe they ran to their doctor who put 'em on a mood stabilizer or anti-anxiety me medication. Or they numbed, you know, in front of the TV or you know, emotionally eating whatever. It may have made the day a bit easier to get through. Not without a price. They didn't heal the second group. This was the group that just refused to accept their betrayal. They had their story, they were sticking with it deeply rooted in stage three. We see this a lot, uh, with, it could be the most, well-meaning therapists and counselors, if they are not highly skilled in betrayal, it does way more harm than good because if anything is gonna have you like crazy glued to stage three, it's going over your story over and over and over and over again without doing something with it to move you towards stage four. We see people coming in with therapy trauma all the time. Anyway, the third group, this was the group where the betrayer had very little consequences. So whether it was out of, uh, not wanting to break up a family, financial fear, religious reasons, that was a big one. They did all they could just to put it behind them. Turn the other cheek. I saw two things with this one group. One, a further deterioration of the relationship. And two, this group was the most physically sick.
Michelle (23:56):
Cause they're holding it in. Nothing has changed outside of the,
Debi (24:00):
Your broken heart can't handle that.
Michelle (24:01):
That makes a lot of sense. Oh my gosh. Debbie, you said you have a free quiz that will help people understand what, which stage they're in or if they've gone through a betrayal. Tell us about it.
Debi (24:11):
Exactly. So everything's at the P B T as in post betrayal transformation, the P B T institute.com. But if you go to the quiz section, there are two quizzes. One is the post betrayal syndrome quiz. So all those symptoms that you think are, Oh, it's aging. Oh, it's stress. No, it's not to run heel betrayal. You can take that quiz and there's the healed or hardened quiz. So you will see what stage you're in. Perfect.
Michelle (24:32):
Thank you so much for sharing this with us today. I think that obviously there's other stressors in life, but when you think about something as profound as a betrayal by a loved one that could be playing a major role in why women are on the brink of burnout all over the place. It's a really important message. Thank you for being here.
Debi (24:49):
Thank you so much.
Michelle (25:02):
I think Debbie really makes us think about how betrayals throughout our life, well they might be still hanging out, affecting how we feel and how we act and how we live today. That is, from what I've seen in my work at the heart of chronic stress and burnout, we are so much more predisposed, burning out and having big health issues when we're carrying around unhealed trauma. If you've been experiencing various health issues, they might not even be related to each other. Just some odd things that you're noticing here or there, or maybe issues that you've taken to your doctor and haven't really gotten answers on. Do yourself a favor. I have a free symptom checker on my website. It's a quick quiz. You're gonna spend three minutes with it and you'll be able to gauge how far chronic stress has pushed you into burnout. You can get that free at, she's got power.com/free.


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