Ep. 155 – Stages For Healing From Post Betrayal Syndrome: Surviving To Thriving with Dr. Debi Silber

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Dr. Debi Silber on Everyday Wellness Podcast with Cynthia Thurlow

Today, I am delighted to have Dr. Debi Silber joining me as my guest! Debi is a holistic psychologist and an expert in health, mindset, and personal development. She is the author of the #1 bestselling book: The Unshakable Woman: 4 Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind, and Life After a Life Crisis. Her recent Ph.D. study on how women experience betrayal made three ground-breaking discoveries that change how long it takes to heal. In addition to being on FOX, CBS, The Dr. Oz Show, TEDx, and more, Debi is an award-winning speaker, coach, and author dedicated to helping women move past their betrayals, once and for all.

Almost everyone has experienced an issue of betrayal at some point in their life. Every relationship, whether with a partner, parent, friend, or co-worker, has rules that are either spoken or unspoken. Betrayal involves breaking one of those rules, and the more we trust someone and depend on them, the deeper the betrayal, so when someone you trust shatters your sense of safety and security, it is traumatizing, and lots of cleaning up become necessary. Be sure to listen in today to find out how unhealed betrayal can impact your health, work, and relationships, and learn what you can do about it.

“When someone you trust shatters your sense of safety and security, it is completely traumatizing, and there is a lot of cleanup that is needed.”

Dr. Debi Silber


  • Debi unpacks what betrayal is, why it hurts, what it impacts, and what it creates.
  • There is a physical component to a betrayal that could be even stronger than the emotional component.
  • Debi talks about two ways that people tend to go about dealing with betrayal.
  • You can use your experience of betrayal to help the next generation.
  • Debi shares some statistics related to physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of a betrayal.
  • Some of the findings from the study Debi did on betrayal for her Ph.D.
  • Debi explains why you need to find the right person to speak to about your traumatic experience.
  • Debi discusses the five stages, from betrayal to breakthrough, talks about where people tend to get stuck, and explains how to move from one stage to the next.
  • Debi explains how she determines whether or not people are ready to move forward in their process.
  • Debi unpacks Post Betrayal Syndrome and Post Betrayal Transformation.

Connect with Dr. Debi Silber

On her website

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

About Everyday Wellness Podcast

Welcome to the Everyday Wellness podcast with Cynthia Thurlow! Cynthia is a mom of 2 boys, wife, nurse practitioner, and intermittent fasting and nutrition expert. She has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and cardiology, but pivoted to focus on food as medicine. She loves to share science-backed practical information to improve your overall well being and is grateful to be interviewing leaders in the health and wellness field.  Her goal with Everyday Wellness is to help her listeners make simple changes to their everyday lives that will result in improved overall wellness and long term health.


Presenter: This is Everyday Wellness, a podcast dedicated to helping you achieve your health and wellness goals, and provide practical strategies that you can use in your real life. And now, here’s your host, nurse practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow.


Cynthia Thurlow: Today, I’m delighted to have Dr. Debi Silber. She’s a holistic psychologist, a health, mindset and personal development expert, and the author of the number one bestselling book The Unshakable Woman: 4 Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind and Life After a Life Crisis. Her recent PhD study on how women experienced betrayal made three groundbreaking discoveries that changed how long it takes to heal. In addition to being on Fox, CBS, The Dr. Oz Show, TEDx, and more, she’s an award-winning speaker, coach and author dedicated to helping women move past their betrayals, once and for all. She’s also a good friend. Thank you so much for making time in your schedule to meet with me today.

Debi Silber: Oh, I’m so looking forward to our conversation.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and I think the one thing that I think is so important about your research is that there’s no one that’s listening to this podcast that hasn’t experienced at one point or another, an issue with betrayal. Certainly, for women, I would say the bulk of the individuals that are subscribed to the podcast are women. Let’s kind of spin through this. I know, they call you the Brené Brown of betrayal, which I think is such an ample title, but let’s unpack what betrayal is. Why does it hurt? What is it impact? What does it actually create ultimately? As we were talking before we started recording, a lot of people get stuck. Let’s talk a little bit about this. I’m sure that people find this incredibly valuable.

Debi Silber: Let’s start with this. I define betrayal as the breaking of a spoken or unspoken rule, and every relationship has them. The way it works is, the more we trust and depend on someone the deeper the betrayal– for example, a child who’s completely dependent on their parent, and then the parent does something awful, that’s going to have a different impact than let’s say your best friend, sharing your secret. Still betrayal, but not to the same degree, won’t have the same physical, mental emotional symptoms. But every relationship has rules. Think about it, we even had an agreement today. I was going to show up, we were going to have a conversation. If I didn’t, I would have betrayed you. Chances are you wouldn’t have been shattered, but there you go. There’s an example of it. It has so many faces, and it could be your best friend, it could be– let’s say a coworker who takes credit for your idea, a partner who has an affair, it’s someone in a position of authority. It’s so widespread.

Why does it hurt so much? Because these were the people who gave us that sense of safety and security. When everybody else was doing things or saying things, you can run back to this sense of safety and security, where it’s like, “Okay, don’t worry, I got you.” When that’s the very person who shatters that sense of safety and security, it’s completely traumatizing. There’s a lot of cleanup that’s needed in its wake.

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s interesting. I’m a child of divorce, and so when you were providing that explanation, I really thought a lot about one of my parents who– I think there’s this cycle that people get into, they learn from their families, and that becomes their normal. For me growing up, my mom was the one that was dependable, and my dad was not. It’s interesting how those micro traumas that you experience as a child will show up in your personal life. I’m making this really personal today, saying that, for me, because I didn’t really have the support of my father, and he was very emotionally abusive, and an alcoholic and all those things. What that turned me into is a more resilient person. So, I would say those gifts are a gift and a blessing. But those micro traumas sometimes will rear their heads. As a parent, it is– especially as my children are getting older, I find that I really have to work on my stuff, which keeps coming up, kind of like reflux. Keeps coming up.

I’m sure that you have a whole identification system of how those things feel, how we manifest the physical symptoms of trauma. For me, it’s that fight or flight response, because I go back to what it was like as a child. Let’s touch on that. Because I think people assume it’s just this emotional component, but very clearly, there’s a physical component that may in fact be stronger, I would imagine, that drive, and those micro traumas you’ve experienced that kind of throw your body back into fight or flight.

Debi Silber: Definitely. What’s so interesting about what you said, we really have two ways we can go about this. We can keep choosing the same type of person because it’s so familiar, or we can say, “Well, that just absolutely didn’t serve, and what I’m going to do is do everything in my power to not repeat that.” And no one will show you how you’re showing up, like your kids. That is such a beautiful example, because you were saying about how the work you’re doing with your kids, and it’s so true. I have four kids, and each one of them, I know exactly how to repeat some of the things with my family betrayal. But instead, I almost act as if I’m dyslexic. I know how it would come out if I didn’t stop myself. I unjumble the words and say things differently. Then, what we’re doing is we’re taking that experience and using it really to help the next generation. That’s the beauty of it. So, it stops with us.

To answer your question, the study that I did, there were three discoveries that were made. I studied betrayal. Just to back up, I had a family betrayal, and you know how the universe works. I didn’t quite learn all the lessons I was meant to learn. So, I got another opportunity, and this time, it was my husband. I looked at both of those experiences saying, “What’s common here?” The commonality was me. I was never on my own to-do list. It was about everybody else. Four kids, six dogs, a thriving business, and I was like, “No, now it’s my turn.” So, I enrolled in a PhD program. I don’t know, that’s what I wanted to, and it was in transpersonal psychology. The psychology of transformation, the human potential.

Anyway, did a study, made three discoveries. One of them, and this is to your point, was that there is this collection of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, so common to betrayal, it’s now known as post-betrayal syndrome. We’ve had over 10,000 people in the last year and a half take our post-betrayal syndrome quiz. Actually, every couple of months, I post some stats, just to see where everybody is, and I thought this would really benefit your audience. This is every age group, almost every country is represented here. Some of these stats just were so startling to me. I just want to share some with you.

70% constantly revisit their experience. 94% deal with painful triggers. These are some of the physical symptoms, just the physical, ready? 71% have low energy, 68% have sleep issues, 63%, extreme fatigue, 47% have weight changes up or down, and 45% have digestive issues. Now think of that. I thought this was so interesting, when you think about the digestive system. First of all, isn’t like 80% of your immune system in your gut? You could just see how one thing affects the other affects the other, and I remember in the study, it was anything from constipation, diarrhea, IBS, Crohn’s, you name it. This trauma affects us in a debilitating way.

Now, here are just mental symptoms. 78% are overwhelmed, 70% in disbelief, 64% in shock, 62% are unable to concentrate. Mix, let’s say, a gut issue now you have with an inability to concentrate. Here you are, you are supposed to be working and raising your kids, whatever it is you’re doing. I’ll just add some emotional ones to that, as if it weren’t bad enough. 88% have deep sadness and 83% are angry. Just mix sadness and anger together. That’s exhausting. 82% feel hurt. 80% have anxiety. 79% are stressed. Here’s why I wrote my latest book with these next few [unintelligible [00:08:29]. 84% have an inability to trust. Think about how that affects life, every aspect of life. 67% are preventing themselves from forming deep relationships, because they’re afraid of being hurt again. 82% find it hard to move forward and 90% want to move forward, but they don’t know how.

Cynthia Thurlow: When people are stuck in this kind of inertia, I would imagine some of those people have a strong desire to move beyond what’s happened to them on any capacity. And then, some people, the resiliency piece, you wonder what are the predictors. I’m sure you probably know, but I know resiliency is certainly an indicator of the individuals that want to work through their stuff. I always say therapy throughout your lifetime is a very good investment. It’s hard to do. I’m always in and out myself working through my stuff. [laughs] But I think a lot of people that are listening, just the physical, emotional, just those two, if you are stuck in fight or flight where your body thinks you’re being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, you can’t digest your food, you can’t concentrate, you can’t do anything. That’s because you’re stuck in that limbic lizard brain.

I tell my children, I’m like, don’t use your lizard brain, let’s use your frontal lobe. But you can’t even access your frontal lobe because your body really feels like it’s in danger. I can imagine where that would be hugely problematic. So, I guess one of the things that always occurs to me is, when do you get to a point where you’re stuck in the muck and you can’t work through it and you’re in a position where you really need to start seeking out more support than just working it out, talking to your friends? I always say, your friends and close family are always good sounding boards. But when do you get to a point where you’ve exceeded the threshold of your friends and family and it’s time to really get connected with a professional?

Debi Silber: I found it’s not even necessarily that you’re reaching out to your friends and family. It’s who is the right person to speak to, and speak with in this type of scenario, because what we found is, let’s say the wrong therapist, someone who is not highly skilled in helping someone move through betrayal does more harm than good. Same thing with, let’s say, a close family member. Here are a few scenarios. Someone may go to couples counseling, let’s say it’s a husband and wife. Let’s take just a common scenario I see all the time. This is not to say this is the only scenario, this is one of a million, but let’s just take the wife was betrayed by the husband, the husband is a narcissist. Okay, they go to couples counseling, she dreads him. This therapist isn’t highly skilled. Now, the narcissist is very charming, may even shed those crocodile tears. The therapist looks at the betrayed wife says, “If you just really learn to communicate more, this is a communication issue.” “I’m feeling like, I’m crazy, because, yes, he’s pouring on the charm, but this is not what’s happening at home. This is not the reality.” Or, let’s take that same couple, and the mother-in-law. The mother-in-law just wants to know everybody’s good. She’s like, “Come on, you’re okay. You’re okay, right?” Or, you go out and you see a friend, you’re like, “Come on, get over it already.” The wrong type of support, although well-meaning does more harm than good. You need is a combination of someone highly skilled, but also who knows where you are in this process. If you’re stuck, they know how to move you out.

Cynthia Thurlow: I think it goes with anything, no healthcare provider– If you take all the healthcare providers, both mental and physical healthcare providers, they’re not all created equal. You got to do your research. It’s really, really important. Let’s pivot a little bit. I know, and I love that you did your research in this area, because it’s just so interesting. You’ve mentioned in your book about the five stages from betrayal to breakthrough. Let’s talk a little bit about that, because I think that would really be interesting, as people are moving on this continuum, as they go from the realization through this entire process.

Debi Silber: When I talk about the five stages, I invite everybody to consider, and really ask themselves, “Where am I?” You will see so clearly where you are. I’ll share with you also where we get stuck. This blew my mind went, I’ll never forget handing my research over to my study chair, who said, “Debi, I believe you discovered a process here.” What was so exciting about that was, now there’s this predictable roadmap. If we know where we are, and we know physically, mentally and emotionally what it takes to move from one stage to the next, that means healing from betrayal is now predictable, if we’re willing. Willingness is the biggest factor.

The first stage is a setup stage. I just saw this with every single study participant, me included. This is where, if you imagine four legs of a table, the four legs being physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, what I saw with everybody was this real heavy lean on the physical and the mental, and neglecting the emotional and the spiritual. What does that look like? Looks like we’re really good at thinking and doing, and that really prioritizing the feeling and being, but it’s in the feeling and being, that’s where intuition lies. We turn that down. That’s not to say that if we’re busy, thinking and doing to get stuff done, it’s a setup for betrayal. It’s just what I saw. That was stage one.

Stage two, shocked. We’re blindsided. D-day, discovery day. This is the breakdown of the body, the mind, the worldview. This is when that person sort of takes the mask off, showing you who they really been. It’s a shock. It is imprinted on the body and mind. You’ve ignited the stress response. You’re headed for just about every single stress-related symptom, illness, condition, disease. The 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. Your worldview is totally and completely shattered. That’s your mental model. These are the rules of the world. These people are safe, don’t go there. This is how it works. In a moment, everything you’ve known to maneuver through your life is totally and completely shattered. The rug has been pulled out from underneath you. Terrifying. Scariest stage by far. But if the rug were to be pulled out from underneath you, and the bottom were to bottom out, what would you do? You would grab hold of anything you could to stay safe and stay alive. And that’s stage three, survival instincts emerge. It’s the most practical stage. If you can’t help me, get out of my way. How will I survive this experience? Who can I trust? Where do I go? What do I do?

Here’s the trap, because survival feels so much better than the shock and trauma of where you just were, you get into this survival stage, you figure out how to survive, and you’re like, “Cool. Okay, I’m good. Okay, I’m going to figure out how to make this work.” You resign yourself to thinking, “This is where I am.” You haven’t even undergone transformation yet. Now, watch what happens. When you’re here, you’re not meant to be here a long time. But here’s what happens, you start getting all of these small self-benefits from being here. You get your story, you get to be right, you get someone to blame, you get a target for your anger. You don’t have to do the hard work of learning to trust again. That’s hard stuff. Do I trust you? Do I trust you? So, you’re like, “Ah, forget it, I won’t trust anybody.” You get sympathy from everybody you tell your story to. Now, you’re sort of planting roots there a little bit. And now, because you’re there, your mind starts doing things like, “Well, maybe you deserved it. Maybe you’re not all that great. Maybe you’re not all that.” Now, because like energy attracts like energy, now you’re calling situations and circumstances and people in relationship towards you that confirm this is where you belong. So, you’re planting even deeper roots, it gets worse, don’t worry, I’ll get you out of it. Because this feels so bad, you’re not happy with it, but you don’t know there’s anything better. Here’s where we start using things, like food, drugs, alcohol, work, TV, keeping busy, anything, because we’re not happy, but we don’t know what to do with it.

We have just placed ourselves in a perpetual holding pattern. So, think about it. Now we do that, and now we turn it into a habit. We could do this. Now, it’s a day, a week, a month, a year, 5, 10, 20, 30. When you say to somebody, “Oh, that emotional eating issue? That’s maybe due to your betrayal.” Or, “That drinking, or that numbing, avoiding distracting,” they’re like, “Are you crazy? That happened 20 years ago.” But do you see, that was when that habit started, we just got stuck in it. This is the place where I see most people get stuck, and they have no idea. It’s because of that traumatic experience, that betrayal or whatever it was, that got them all those years ago.

Anyway, when you’re in this stage three, if you’re willing to break those habits, get rid of all the benefits, grieve, mourn the loss, you really have to do some stuff, you move to stage four. This is finding and adjusting to a new normal. Here’s where you acknowledge and accept. “I cannot undo my betrayal. But I can control how it affects me.” So, I always use the example of, if you’ve ever moved to a new house, office, condo, apartment, you know this, right? Your stuff isn’t all there. It’s not quite cozy yet, but it’s going to be okay. You’re turning the stress response down. You’re not physically healing just yet, but you’re not causing the massive damage you were causing in stage two and stage three.

The other thing is, I found this so interesting. If you were to move, you don’t necessarily take everything with you. You don’t take the stuff that doesn’t represent who you want to be in your new space. Here’s where I saw a big change in friendships. Your friends weren’t there for you, you don’t bring them from stage three to stage four, you’ve outgrown them. Some people say, “What the heck? I’ve had these friends 10, 20, 30 years? Is it me?” Yes, you’re transforming. You’ve just outgrown your friends.

Anyway, when we’re in this stage, and we’re making it our new normal and making it cozy, making it safe, getting used to all of it, we move to stage five, and that’s healing, rebirth, and a new worldview. The body starts to heal. You didn’t have the bandwidth for eating well, exercising, self-love, self-care, you were surviving. Now you do. You’re also making new rules and boundaries, based on where you are right now. And your worldview, entirely new worldview based on your experience, and the four legs of that table, in the beginning, it was all about the physical and the mental, now we’re solidly grounded, because we’re focused on the emotional and the spiritual too. Those are the five stages.

Cynthia Thurlow: That’s really incredible. It’s really surviving to thriving. I am curious how many people get so stuck in that third stage that they never move forward. It’s almost like enlightenment. They’re moving towards enlightenment. If they can get to four, and then they can possibly get to five. I would assume that it’s probably not the majority of people that make because it’s a choice. If they stay stuck in many ways, whether they’re conscious of it or not, if they’re using food or alcohol or drugs or porn or whatever it is that people are using as a distraction, a vice– I used to always say that when I was younger, as a new nurse practitioner, and I would see middle-aged people, that’s often–. I mean I would see people who seemed a little happy, but you could tell they had lost something had happened to them. They were just learning stuck in there, “This is what I do. This is what I do when I go home. This is what I do every night. I don’t want to change.” They’re firmly rooted in where they are, they don’t want to move.

Debi Silber: Exactly. Even if they’re not using food, alcohol, drugs, anything to numb, avoid, distract, they’re still getting so many benefits from staying stuck, just having that story and all that goes with it. They have no idea that they can have such a better story. Look at my story, the most important people in my life betrayed me, and anybody I told that to would have given me a tremendous amount of sympathy. But I look at it saying, “That’s it? That’s what you have? What kind of story is that?” When you do something with it– otherwise, if you don’t, it’s like a bad game of hot potato. You just feel like this sucker. I was looking at it, like, “I can’t be on this planet, just to be the poster child for betrayal. There’s got to be a reason for this.” When you do something powerful with it– then I look at it as trauma well served. We can have such a better story, and the biggest thing is taking what had become our life story, and making it that pivotal chapter of our story. That is entirely up to us, but I think people just survive and resign themselves to believing, “This is as good as it gets. So, I better find a way to make this okay.”

Cynthia Thurlow: I think limiting beliefs on so many levels can be one of the saddest things to hear from my patients and from my clients, friends and family, people just resign themselves. I mean, the most common one I hear is women are aging, they’re middle aged, and they’ve gained a bunch of weight, or they have no energy, their sleep is terrible. I have one woman who said, “My sleep has been bad for 18 years, I just resigned myself to the fact that my sleep is bad.” A lot of what I hear you saying is that, for the people who get stuck, they stay in that narrative. Again, I go back to that father figure, my biological father, who if you talk to him now, he’s in his late 70s, and he still is parroting about what happened to him in his childhood, and who did him wrong in his first marriage. Sometimes, I try to be sympathetic to a point, but I’m like, “Dad, if you really wanted to work through this, you have opportunities to do that. You just want to stay in that narrative.”

When you’re working with your own patients and your own clients, what are some of the strategies that you use to see who’s really ready to move that process forward, as opposed to staying stagnant?

Debi Silber: Yeah, well, we have an entire membership community that is just in this design. There’s nothing like it, because I saw what was out there. I saw that people were seeing that therapist, and if it wasn’t the right therapist, that wasn’t working, or they were numbing, and distracting. Or, they would go to some sort of support group and when you start feeling better, you don’t belong. I was like, “Well, none of that makes sense.” Before I work with anybody within the community, there’s got to be this readiness. One way I see that is, if you can’t imagine who you’d be without that story, there is no chance, no chance someone’s going to be willing to move forward. I keep going back to that word ‘willingness.’ It’s the biggest needle mover. People ask me all the time, “Well, how long does healing take?” That’s not nearly as significant as how willing you are. But if someone is completely resistant, and they’re just so stuck in their story, they have a right to do that but that’s not the person for me, I can’t help someone like that.

Everybody has a different pace and it can be so incremental. That’s fine, but I look at it too is you’re only moving in one of two ways, further or closer to the body health, lifestyle you want, like what direction are your thoughts or your behaviors or your actions or your habits moving you? If you do no more, then say, “I will strategically do one thing to move me incrementally forward each day.” At least that’s something.

Cynthia Thurlow: That’s incredible, and how fortunate your patients are to have you and have your guidance. You’ve mentioned a little bit earlier about post-betrayal syndrome. Let’s unpack that, because I would imagine that in and of itself, there are probably people listening who might be stuck in that syndrome itself and would be helpful to you identify what exactly that entails.

Debi Silber: Yeah. That was one of the three discoveries. The other was the five stages. The other is how different this betrayal is when it comes to healing and this state of healing called post-betrayal transformation. I’m happy to talk about that too. With post-betrayal syndrome, it is that collection of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that I read you some of those stats. What I find so interesting about it is, we have that quiz, and there’s a question that raises, is there anything else you’d like to share? People, of course, they’re writing their story, the physical, the mental, the emotional symptoms. But what I find even more interesting is, we’ve heard that saying, time heals all wounds. When it comes to betrayal, it’s simply not true. People write things like, “My betrayal happened 40 years ago, I can feel the hate.”

Cynthia Thurlow: Wow.

Debi Silber: “My betrayal happened 30 years ago, I’m never trusting again.” “My betrayal happened 10 years ago, feels like it happened yesterday.” We know that when it comes to betrayal, it does not heal, unless we are willing to face it, feel it, heal it. It is not the kind of thing that– time may ease it a bit, but you will have it follow you around like a shadow. We see it in work, in health, in relationships. It’s so clear. For example, I see it in relationships, this is an unhealed betrayal. We see it in one of two ways, where someone goes from partner to partner to partner, friend to friend to friend, boss to boss to boss, and it’s the same thing. The faces change, but it’s the same thing. They say, “Is it me?” “Yes, it is.” You haven’t learned that profound lesson that betrayal was there to teach, that you keep getting opportunities to do so. When I see repeat betrayals, that’s an unhealed betrayal.

There’s the other example where someone puts the big wall up. “Nope, no one’s getting near me again. Been there, done that. Mm-hmm.” That’s an unhealed betrayal. They think they’re keeping people at a distance, out of strength, but it’s out of fear. They’re so afraid of their heart being hurt again, that’s an unhealed betrayal. We see it at work where people want to ask for that raise or promotion, they deserve it, but their confidence was shattered in the betrayal, so they don’t have the confidence to ask. And they’re bitter and resentful instead, or they want to be a team player, but the person they trusted the most proved untrustworthy, how can they trust a boss or a coworker or a collaborative partner? They’re terrified. Shows up in so many ways.

Cynthia Thurlow: As a clinician, my brain always goes to the thought process. Are there people that are more susceptible to being stuck versus being able to move forward? Are there risk factors? Are there things that make people more susceptible to being stuck?

Debi Silber: I’m finding that as much as people are coming our way into our community who have been blindsided, and obviously, they’re just in that shock, I believe, and I’m seeing it more and more, there’s a greater population of people who are just stuck. There’s really no motivation on their part. Or, they don’t even know where they are. I wish I could just say to them, “You’re only in stage three. There are stage four and five waiting for you.” They’ll be like, “What are you talking about?” But it’s so clear and it’s so obvious. Anybody, if you are not maxed out with your level of health and joy and love and life, there’s a good chance you’re stuck. So, take a look at that. And if you are, although you may say, “Well, my dad issue,” that betrayal of that family member, partner, friend, coworker, person in authority, self, “that happened two years ago. It doesn’t matter. You found a way to navigate it and that’s where you stayed.”

Cynthia Thurlow: One of the things that I’m hearing in our discussion today, is that even if something happened to you, 10, 20, 30 years ago, you can still work through it. It’s not as if it’s, “Oh, this happened so long ago, I can’t trust again,” or, I go from friendship to friendship, or job to job or relationship to relationship. What I hear from you is that there’s hope. It’s just you have to take those steps to move yourself forward.

Debi Silber: Not only is there hope, this is predictable. This is entirely on that person. The proof is in now, the study has been done. The research has been researched. Now, it’s entirely up to someone if– and I’m not saying it’s easy. This is the hardest work they’ll ever do but the most rewarding, because think about it. Actually, this is the difference between healing from betrayal. I do believe, it’s one of the most painful of the human experience, is because these are the people who gave you that sense of safety and security.

Originally, I was studying something called posttraumatic growth, like the upside of trauma. You know how that trauma leaves you with a new awareness perspective, insight that you didn’t have? But I had been through death of a loved one. I lost my mom. I’ve been through disease, but I was like, “Mm-hmm. Betrayal feels so different for me.” But I didn’t want to assume, so I asked all my study participants and I said, “If you’ve been through something, another trauma, besides betrayal, does it feel different?” Unanimously, said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so different.” And here’s why, because it feels so intentional, we take it so personally. So, the whole self has to be rebuilt. Rejection, abandonment, belonging, confidence, worthiness, trust, are all shattered. When we lose someone we love, let’s say, we grieve, we’re sad, we mourn the loss. But we don’t question the love. We don’t take it personally. The whole self-having to be rebuilt was a different type of healing. So, if I had to give an equation, it would look like this. Posttraumatic growth, like the upside of healing from your trauma, plus rebuilding the self equals post-betrayal transformation. That’s where you’re at, at stage five.

Cynthia Thurlow: How many of your clients as they’re kind of going through this transition– I would imagine, it’s a small percentage of people who go from being stuck in stage three to working through stage four and stage five. I would also imagine those are the people that are embracing their life and really enjoying their life. I feel like so much of life, and gosh knows, 2020 has been tough on everyone [crosstalk] listening, that doesn’t feel like 2020 just turned us all upside down. When we’re looking at a continuum of our lifetime, and, yes, there are micro traumas that occur. I don’t think anyone is oblivious to that, but we can really appreciate how the betrayal piece is so unique. And yet, we can take something that’s so negative, and make ourselves stronger, and better and more connected to.

Like you said, you were talking about that four-legged stool, and how when people first go through this trauma, they’re very focused on the to-do list, the physical stuff, and we’re neglecting the emotional, spiritual side, which I think is the side that– as you mentioned, is a lot of it is intuition, but I also think it’s a sign that it’s the higher-level processing. We’re not stuck in lizard brain, we’re able to do more higher-level processing, so we can enjoy and express gratitude and savor where we are.

Debi Silber: All of that. I’m so glad you brought that up, just even about 2020, because that’s the perfect example of you’re seeing how people show up now. Just with COVID, with the election, with all of these things, people feel so betrayed. Betrayed by their health, betrayed by the government, betrayed by life. You’re seeing some people who are stuck, where someone’s saying, “Well, of course, I gain weight, it’s COVID.” “Of course, I can’t get out of my house.” Of course, of course, of course. Then you see that stage three in an example like that, and then you see people who are like, “I never had time to clean my house, to come up with these new projects, to spend time with family, to write that book. I took such advantage of that.” That’s somebody who’s taken the same exact situation and used it to move to that stage four where some people will stay. They will blame everything going wrong in their life, let’s say on COVID, let’s say on government, let’s say on anything. And then, there are those of people who look at it and say, “You know what? Okay, this happened, I can’t undo it. But I can control what I do with it.” It’s the same example, when it comes to betrayal. Same thing.

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s interesting that you pivoted a little bit on that as well, because I was having a conversation with a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old at home. I’ve one who’s starting to get to a point– I mean, he clearly is 15 years old trying to– he’s in honors classes, and he finally just said, “I don’t like having to be in school at home.” The rates of COVID are going up in our area, and I’m heartbroken to say that we might not be going back to school in January. Really, trying to reframe things. Okay, so we can’t get you back into physical school, but it sounds like you need more support in these two classes.” So, constantly reframing, like, “Let’s plan a vacation for when this new normal,” and I hate using that phrase. This new normal is evolving to something else. I think it’s trying to do– it’s not being pollyannish. But it’s saying like, let’s view the glass half full, as opposed to half empty. Really, especially with children at home, really trying to reframe things, and being honest with them about, “This is my concern, this is what might happen this winter.” We’re in a rental house, we’re building a house in another city, we’ve sold our house. So much of the way we view our world is so much a part of how we choose to view our world, and it’s a conscious choice. We can wallow in self-pity, or we can pull ourselves up and say, “Okay, this is not the way things are going to be long term.”

Debi Silber: Exactly. This is why you could see just even by what you just shared, that is classic stage four, moving to stage five. It’s not even stage four after a traumatic experience. It’s just how you roll. Here was COVID, it happened, you sold your house, you did what you needed to do. And you’re like, “Okay, well, that’s done. And what’s the next stage?” With stage four, naturally, you move into stage five. So, that’s the way that works. But you could have just as easily said, “You’re right, son. This is the worst thing ever, and let’s just cry about it, and it’s so terrible. And now that we’re stuck, let’s just make it worse.” [laughs] And add all these reasons on to it, and it could have been absolutely the most negative experience that just kept your entire family stuck.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and it’s interesting because I was thinking about this this morning as I was in the shower, which I seem to be one of those people, I do a lot of thinking in the shower. I was reflecting on the fact that we were connecting today. I kept thinking, “Oh, this is one of those times that our grandchildren, and our children’s children will talk about.” Just like the pandemic of 1918, and I remember my grandmother, who has long since passed away, but she as a nurse mentioned, what that experience was like as a child. I think to myself, are we creating resiliency in our loved ones or friends by how we are showing up during a pandemic, and an election year? And all sorts of things that we don’t have control over. Or, are we imprinting our generation or our children or our grandchildren, etc., with kind of this fear-based mentality? I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on this. I know this isn’t the whole focus of our time together, but as we were kind of talking about more current events, it occurred to me that that might be an interesting segue into the next piece of our conversation.

Debi Silber: Yeah. I think we’re seeing both of those sides. We’re seeing all of it. We’re really seeing what we’re made of, we’re being tested. There’s a reason why more people than ever are drinking, or there’s a rise in domestic violence, because people they were so busy escaping themselves, and now they can’t, or they’re struggling to. It’s like a big reckoning going on. We’re forced to face ourselves, and some will desperately try not to, and others will use the opportunity to do just that. There are so many different types of transformations going on. Closeness in families that people have been craving and waiting for, that’s happening, too. I look at it, I have four kids, they’re best friends, they’re all spending time together using this opportunity to just– they can’t see friends, they can’t see other people, so they’re all hanging out together. As a mom, does it get better than that? I’m looking at them, and how they’re moving through it. But you’re seeing people who are clearly all over the map with this. Some are absolutely unwilling to accept, this to move through it.

It’s like a tree. Ones who are unwilling to bend, break. And the ones who bend, do, they’re more flexible. I think it’s a real question about how do we want to show up with this? How do we want to emerge from this and look back and say, “This is who I was.” I look at it, I’m more social than ever because I’m on Zoom all day. [laughs] I’m looking at it too, like I only have iron or steam the front of my shirts, [laughs] whatever. So, how are we moving through this? It’s telling a lot about our willingness and just what we are, who we want to become, who do we want to be after all this is done.

Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely. Well, it’s been such a pleasure connecting with you today. How can my followers find you? How can they find your book, which I just purchased? I’m so excited to dive into.

Debi Silber: Aww, thank you.

Cynthia Thurlow: How can we find you on social media or your website?

Debi Silber: Yeah. The best thing to do, take that post-betrayal syndrome quiz to see to what level you’re struggling. They could just find that at The PBT, as in post betrayal transformation, thepbtinstitute.com/quiz.

Cynthia Thurlow: Awesome. Well, it’s been such a pleasure. I look forward to connecting with you again. I’m so glad to hear that you and your family are thriving. I know that this year is definitely throwing us a curveball and I’m not sure if all your children on one coast or another. Hopefully, they’re all together, which I’m sure makes it a whole lot easier to spend time with one another.

Debi Silber: Yeah, thank you so much, and really thanks, it’s people like you to give people like me a voice to share this information. Thank you, my friend.


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