Defining trauma is completely subjective. It is how you define a disturbing or distressing experience. Trauma affects the way you see yourself and how you see yourself in the world around you. Do not compare your experience to anyone one else’s experience.
Trauma can usually be divided into two categories - Big “T” and little “t.” Big “T” traumas are the events most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These can include death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence. A person can be directly or indirectly exposed to these events (see more under What is PTSD?). include link Witnesses to big “T” events or people living and working in close proximity to trauma survivors are also vulnerable to PTSD, especially those who encounter emotional shock on a regular basis like paramedics, therapists, and police officers.
Little “t” traumas are highly distressing events that affect individuals on a personal level, but don’t fall into the big “T” category. Examples of little “t” trauma include non-life-threatening injuries, emotional abuse, death of a pet, bullying or harassment, and loss of significant relationships. People have unique capacities to handle stress, referred to as resilience, which impacts their ability to cope with trauma. What is highly distressing to one person may not cause the same emotional response in someone else, so the key to understanding little “t” trauma is to examine how it affects the individual rather than focusing on the event itself.
Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviors is not sufficient to meet this requirement.
Although little “t” traumas may not meet full criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, these events can be extremely upsetting and cause significant emotional damage. Also influencing the emotional response is the number of little “t” traumatic events that someone experiences and at what age these events occurred. Evidence now concludes that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event. Minimizing the impact of these little “t” incidents can create adverse coping behaviors. Failing to address the emotional suffering of any traumatic event may lead to cumulative damage over time.
To cope with the distressing symptoms of trauma, people may self-medicate, numbing their emotional pain through addictive substances or behaviors. Individuals with trauma histories are more likely to require professional help and long-term support to overcome their addictions. The goal of therapy is to address both the trauma and addiction providing clients with the best opportunity for long-term success.
Sexually compulsive/sexually addictive behaviors cause more trauma to a partner than any other compulsive or addictive behavior. This can include “just looking at porn.”
If you are in a relationship with someone who struggles with a chemical addiction, it can be traumatic and chaotic, however, more often than not, a partner understands that the person struggling is not willfully choosing their addiction over you or your relationship. It is much more difficult to understand that sexual behaviors (either contact or non-contact) can be compulsive and/or addictive and are not a choice over you and your relationship. When your loved one struggles with sexually compulsive or sexually addictive behaviors, you, as a partner, is much more likely to absorb the embarrassment and shame than with other addictive behaviors and substances.
It is very common for partners to ask themselves, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why am I not enough?” or struggle with comparison, “if I only looked a certain way, weighed a particular amount, acted in a specific manner” then my partner would not act out. These thought processes are known as distorted thinking. You did not cause your partners sexual addiction nor can you cure it. Most partners are not even aware that their spouse/significant other struggles with sexually compulsive or addictive behaviors.
There are eleven major areas of impact for partners when sexually compulsive/addictive behaviors are present. And, male partners can be equally as devastated as female partners. There is no gender bias when it comes to the traumatic impact of intimate partner betrayal.
Partners need support. They do not need to be shamed or blamed for the behavior of their spouse/significant other. Partners also do not need to be forced or coerced into forgiving their spouse/significant other until they are ready to so. This can cause further trauma. Partners need to know they are not alone. There IS help.
Many partners are opposed to seeking “therapy” when they discover a sexually compulsive or sexually addictive behavior. Comments such as, “this is his/her problem, not mine” or “I didn’t know about this and I didn’t cause it, so I’m not the one needing therapy” are common. However, partners need support and they need education. It can be helpful to learn what tools are available to assist in moving through their trauma.
At Upstate Recovery Center, our Certified Sex Addiction Therapists are trained specifically to address this type of trauma and to provide tools and resources to assist a partner in navigating through their hurt, anger, and devastation. We offer help and support through your journey of healing.
After an initial individual assessment by either Sarah B. McGuire or Leslie Hull-Kimball, recommendations are provided as to appropriate treatment options. These can include:
The discovery of your partner’s secret sexual behaviors (whether it is contact or non-contact) can leave you feeling hurt, fear, numb, angry, hopeless, disgust, humiliation, shame, disbelief, rejection, embarrassment and despair. To sum it up in one word, what you are experiencing is TRAUMA.
Support Groups for Spouses/Partners of Those Struggling with Sex, Love and Porn Addiction:
Professional Organizations and Information