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Not long ago I had the honour of interviewing Dr. Debi Silber on our podcast (episode 45), How To Trust Again After A Betrayal. She is the founder of the Post Betrayal Transformation Institute and a holistic psychologist, health, mindset, and personal development expert. An award-winning speaker, coach, and author, Dr. Silber shares how she helps people move past their betrayals and any other blocks preventing them from the health, work, and relationships they want most.
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 most recent book, Trust Again: Overcoming Betrayal and Regaining Health, Confidence, and Happiness, was published in December of 2020. Her recent Ph.D. study on how we experience betrayal made three groundbreaking discoveries that influence how long it takes to heal, including her proven and predictable five stages of grief. Finding these stages particularly helpful on a personal level, the Rebel Love team wanted to follow up that conversation with a guide to coping and managing grief.
The Five Stages of Grief
Stage one is what Dr. Silber calls “a setup stage.” She uses the imagery of a table, telling our audience to imagine its four legs, each representing one of the four pillars of our wellbeing: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Through her research, Dr. Silber has recognized a heavy leaning on the physical and the mental, but a neglect for the emotional and the spiritual. This imbalance manifests itself by making humans good at thinking and doing, but neglectful of feelings and emotions. If we're only focused on those two legs, it's easy for that table to topple over, and difficult to cope or grieve.
A Holistic Model
Therefore, in healing from a betrayal and/or loss, it is important to undertake our healing with a holistic approach to the four pillars. Priming your mind for this kind of work will help carry you through the next stages of grief, hence you are “setting up” all four states (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) to successfully support your coping and healing.
Why this table analogy is so spot-on is because it observes and identifies the main pillars of human development. By acknowledging we are physical and mindful beings, as well as emotional and spiritual, we can decrease, if not eliminate, the risk of extended anger, denial and depression following a loss.
Room for Feelings
This process does not deny us of our rightful feelings and emotions, such as anger, sadness, and bereavement; however, it offers a map in dealing with them, so we don't lose touch of who we are in the process, nor the importance of life after a loss.
Dr. Silber admitted that stage two is the scariest of the five stages of grief. “It’s a shock trauma D day, a discovery day, the breakdown of the body, the mind, and the worldview.”
Silber explains that in the second stage, you've ignited the stress response and you're spiralling towards every single stress-related symptom, illness, condition, disease. Your mind is in a complete state of chaos.
This occurs because the shock of the betrayal misaligns and shatters your worldview, impeding your ability to comprehend. As Dr. Silber explained, your worldview is your mental model; it is the place you operate from, it harbors the rules you live by. However, once a betrayal is made evident, every rule you've ever had is no longer plausible, shifting your reality in an involuntary way.
Accepting this new reality is painful and oftentimes terrifying. As Dr. Silber says, it feels as though the bottom has truly bottomed out.
“But think about it. If the bottom were to bottom out on you, what would you do?” Dr. Silber asks, “You would take hold of anything you could, just to stay safe and stay alive.”
Survival for Survival's Sake
In this stage of grief, survival instincts emerge. It's the most practical of all of the stages. It’s the “if you can't have it, then get out of my way” response. You start to ask, “How do I survive this experience?” Where do I go? Who can I trust? How do I feed my kids?”
“Here's the trap though,” Dr. Silber warns, “once you figure out how to survive because it feels so much better than the shock, anger, pain, and trauma of where you just came from, you're like, ‘oh, okay, alright, this is good; we got this.' And you don't know there are other stages to move on to.”
Because we oftentimes are misled in thinking this is the last stop in our healing, we must be weary of the following:
Mind the Roots
To help yourself cope, you start planting roots here. However, for the process to come full circle, you're not supposed to stay in this “survival” space long – most people aren't aware of this. This survival space may offer you small benefits at first. For example, it provides a place to target blame, your pain and resentment.
This place gives you the authority to hold others responsible for the grief you are experiencing. When this happens, you can bypass the hard work of learning to take responsibility for yourself and to trust again. Other benefits include receiving sympathy from friends and family; however, the initial stability your anger seems to provide, is feeble and volatile in nature. As you solidify your story, you plant yourself deeper into the soils of this space. However, when the anger has run out and can no longer water that soil, the hostility moves inward. The benefits you initially felt have passed, turning into self-deprecating thoughts and attacks on one's self-esteem:”Maybe I deserved it,” “I wasn't good enough.”
Like-Energy Attracts Like-Energy
Dr. Silber confirms that like-energy attracts like-energy. “Now you're calling situations and circumstances and people towards you to confirm, yep, this is exactly where you belong.” This has the potential for devastating impacts. Not only is your self-esteem on the line, but you resign yourself and learn to settle.
Because the betrayal was such a hard hit to your worldview (your mental model), you think, “I guess this is as good as it's going to get.” Dr. Silber warned that this is the moment she sees people lose themselves in substance abuse, give themselves over entirely to work, TV, or anything else that will numb, avoid, distract themselves from the painful reality. At first, this may seem like a bereavement response – part of the grieving process; however, it can easily snowball from a day to a week to a month, and suddenly you're trapped in a habit for a year, 10 years, 20 years.
Dr. Silber then asks the questions, “Do you think [these habits have] anything to do with your betrayal?” The truth is, as Dr. Silber explains, it has more to do with getting obliviously stuck in stage three, and not knowing your way out.
What's Your Reflection Saying
If you are dealing with a loss or betrayal, and have noticed you are attracting a certain kind of people, it may be time to take a hard look in the mirror. This is a classic case of ‘misery loves company'. “If you're willing – willingness is the biggest word here – if you're willing to let go of all of that, willing to let go of your story and all that goes with it… You can move to stage four.”
Stage four is finding and adjusting to a new normal. Dr. Silber states that this is where you acknowledge, “I can't undo my experience, but I can control what I do with it.” She explains this further using the analogy of moving house:
“If you've ever moved to a new house, office, condo, apartment, your stuff is not all there. It's not cozy yet, but it's going to be okay.”
The key is understanding that, although life may feel different, life won't always be difficult.
Take Back Your Power
When you're in the stage-four position, you start observing the loss and turning down the stress response. You're not healing just yet, but you put a halt on the perpetuating damages of stages two and three.
What's so rewarding about stage four is you don't have to take everything with you. What Dr. Silber means by this is you leave behind all the details that don't represent who you want to be in this new space. You get to redefine yourself so you can feel stronger and release old patterns that didn't serve you in the past.
This stage is not without its discomfort; however, the pay-off is huge! This is the stage you start thinking differently. You notice what isn't working for you anymore because it only maintains the pain. For example, Dr. Silber shares that many people in this stage start to recognize the ‘misery loves company' friends, or loved ones that weren't there and didn't support them through the loss. This is proof you've outgrown them, and therefore, have outgrown the previous version of yourself.
As Dr. Dilber explains, “you're undergoing a transformation in your grieving process and these people just don't belong there anymore.”
When we understand this step, we being to regain our power; when you're in this space, you're improving your mental health.
Welcome to the most beautiful stage. According to Dr. Silber, this is where the healing, rebirth, and a new worldview are fortified. We take everything we've learned while coping and let it reconstruct our ability to trust.
Enter Self-Love and Self-Care
There are certain behaviors that stage five allows. For example, Dr.Silber states that in previous stages, we don't necessarily have the bandwidth for self-love or self-care; however, when we've transitioned into this space, the body starts to heal. In your mind, you're making new rules and new boundaries based on the whole road you traveled and those experiences, therefore you're drawn to feeling good again (i.e., personal development).
“You have a new worldview based on what you see so clearly now,” Says Dr. Silber, “It becomes your new reality, and the four legs of the table… [are] solidly grounded because we're focused on the emotional and the spiritual too… Stage five is where you become ready for new relationships, that new career, that new business, that new level of health.”
A Culprit Called Loneliness
Dr. Silber shares that she often sees loneliness in people. She recognizes the fear they have of being alone, so their focus is on filling that void with somebody, anybody. The issue is, as Dr. Silber promises, that until you do the work, all you're going to do is attract the same types of relationships.
“When you do the work to move through the process of grief, move to stage four, stage five… the caliber of the person you become and the caliber of the person you attract in this stage is the first thing you’ll recognize.”
In other words, by committing to the work, you are committing to a better version of yourself. When you become a more whole version of yourself, you have less tolerance for “lower-quality” individuals, or people who aren't on the same path to joy.
Rebel Love's Takeaway
Here at Rebel Love, we encourage self-development, specifically surrounding healing and self-esteem so you can have the best life experience on your terms. We understand that the loss of a loved one is both inevitable and one provoking the deepest of sorrows. If you are currently dealing with the loss of a loved one, our thoughts are with you.
Processing Grief and Getting Unstuck
Grief comes in many forms, including betrayal. We know that using the information Dr. Silber's provided, assessing and identifying which stage of grief you may currently be in, as well as how to best navigate and move forward, can only support you throughout this process.
Coping with loss after a betrayal can be confusing, but Dr. Silber's research shows that this model could induce recovery and get you unstuck.
The Pain and the Reward
The point is acknowledging that this process is both painful and rewarding; that committing to the work means committing to your mental health. Grief is a part of the life experience, albeit a painful one. It comes in many forms; however, when it arrives, it is up to each of us to choose our own path forward. We encourage Dr. Silber's path of acceptance, love, and holistic restoration – a catalyst to natural healing.
Watch the Full Interview
Click here to watch the full interview and get access to the show notes with all the links of resources mentioned in the episode.