Several years ago, I was pondering what it must be like for a woman, who thought she was in a good and stable marriage, to discover her husband has been participating in significant sexual misbehaviors that are traumatizing to the marriage.
I had recently stood on the east bank of the Mississippi river at Nauvoo, Illinois, where the pioneers were forced out of their safe and comfortable brick homes to cross the frozen water to begin a journey of sleeping under handcarts in the snow.
The similarities were unignorable, and have, over time, become very insightful.
Pioneer Woman Mode is the state of mind that a woman will need to go into in order to survive and thrive after experiencing betrayal trauma.
Pioneer women, after finding themselves on the edge of the river in the snow with very little resources, needed to, initially, shift into a state of mind of Survival.
Then, with significant effort, they could move on to a state of Thriving.
Every woman has within her a psychological mechanism that will empower her to survive the most difficult of circumstances.
Throughout history, throughout most cultures, when hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and wars have devastated a community, women have reached deep inside to find the confidence, creativity and energy needed for survival.
IN CONTRAST: CELESTIAL ORIENTATION
Every woman I have ever met has within her a psychological mechanism I call, Celestial Orientation: like geese, ducks and salmon, women have a powerful and unignorable internal pull toward “celestializing” everything.
They have a vision for a world where people are kind and respectful, honest and transparent, loyal and supportive without any strings attached.
Unfortunately, women have been and still are often mocked, minimized and/or ignored when they verbalize the hopes and dreams that come with this orientation.
Celestial Orientation makes it clear to each woman how things “should” be. More often than not, this vision is accurate, meaning, it is true, things really should be that way. Unfortunately, others will try to convince women to “lower your standards”.
Celestial Orientation is intended to function as a GPS final destination point.
One of the main struggles I see women going through is when they start to discover that they are farther away from the destination than they thought they were (especially when they experience Betrayal Trauma).
In order for a GPS system to work correctly, not only do you need a pretty clear vision of where you want to go, but you also need a very accurate awareness of where you are now, the starting point.
Weather/Situation checks. In just about every aspect of our lives (outside of relationships) we understand the necessity to clarify how things are now.
A farmer has to know what the weather is going to be like in order to make wise decisions about farming. When you want to build a home, you must observe what resources are available, adobe, rock or trees?
And when traveling across the plains, you need to know what resources you have and what struggles can be expected ahead of you. In order for a GPS system to work correctly, you must have a clear destination and a clear vision of your starting point.
It is a very sad and painful experience to discover that your starting point, where you are now, is much worse than you thought. You find that you are not in the marriage you thought you were in.
GRIEVING to reach Pioneer Woman Mode:
You have been in Denial, you have Bargained, you have been Angry, you have been Sad, and now you see the hard work needed ahead of you, you are resigned to it, and you start packing and pulling your wagon.
Packing Your Wagon
One of the biggest MISTAKES I see women make in these situations is that they base their thoughts, feelings and plans on what they “should” expect to experience in marriage (Celestial Orientation) instead of what is really, currently a part of the marriage.
They accidentally get caught up in thinking about and feeling how unfair, difficult and painful it is to be in this horrible situation. Most women, when I meet them for the first time, are in the Bargaining, Anger or Sadness stages.
Another challenge is to avoid the tendency to hope the man has in his wagon what you need.
Imagine crossing the plains and starting to realize that you are getting really low on resources.
You see another wagon approaching. You get excited, hoping this upcoming wagon will have some resources that will help relieve your struggles.
What you don’t realize is that they are low on resources as well and are hoping that your wagon holds some relief for them. What do you do then?
MISTAKE: American relationship psychology promotes the idea that you should have “Needs” that the other person should fulfill, and if they don’t, you have permission to become dysfunctional.
We were even taught this in counseling school, “Have each make a list of needs and then give it to the other person and expect them to fulfill those needs.”
There was no consideration for situations where both feel completely depleted. Where is the intervention for situations where both feel completely maxed out and have no resources to attempt to meet the needs of the other. What about when the woman has been highly traumatized and is lying mangled on the ground…is it expected that she still work to meet his “needs”?
SOLUTION: “Do not rely on the arm of flesh” – Before you entered a committed relationship with a man, if you followed a healthy path for female development, you discovered you were highly functional and adequate without a man in your life: A strong, independent young woman.
Before a man joined you in marriage, he was supposed to get his wagon full to the point where he could make the journey almost entirely on his own, and preferably, with some extra resources.
When crossing the plains together, it is hoped that both the woman and the man will gather in as much as they can from what is provided in the environment, not to just wait for the other to bring what is “needed”. And especially, if the man is gone, for an unknown length of time, the woman will need to transition deeply into pioneer woman mode.
REMEMBER: The women before you…the women of the 1800’s crossing the plains, the women of the 1600’s who were first arriving in the colonies, the women who first landed in Central America.
Women throughout history have had to find the place in their minds where they needed to become sufficiently functional for their own survival and the needs of their children.
And REMEMBER, you have it within you, the Pioneer Woman Mode. It is not fun, but you can do it.
Thriving starts by:
1) remembering there are others, before you, who had it worse. “At least I am not dealing with…”
This thought can produce micro flickers of positive brain chemical reactions that are in the family of Gratitude. If necessary, keep a journal of these things. Along with this, savor the small and simple things.
A thriving pioneer woman will enjoy small flowers and sunsets along the way. (If you are not ready for this step, you are not done with the Survival Stage.)
2) Become friends with and learn to respect and become a student of the women in the past who went through hard things. Read about them. Talk with them if possible.
I have heard from some who believe that those who die before us can play a role similar to “ministering angels”. Perhaps you can experience some inspiration from those who have been through tough things before. (Today, I would like you to meet a few women who have been through very rough things, and today are a great example of Thriving.)
Alana Gordon- Director of The WORTH Program
Aneladee Milne – Director of the Warrior Women of Light Program
Karen Broadhead – Director of “Mothers Who Know”
3) Discover and Solidify your daily rejuvenation rituals.
There are many time-tested rituals that can and will rejuvenate and empower you to not only survive, but also thrive. These usually include prayer, pondering, writing, reading, exercise, and interaction with people who are edifying to you.
4) Be aware of and fight off tormenting thoughts regarding what others “should” be providing you with. Also, be aware of and fight off tormenting thoughts regarding how painful and hopeless your situation is.
5) Discover and work to fulfill your gifts in a manner that brings joy and relief to others. This may take some time, and some trial and error. Remember what you learned from these other ladies…Get inspired, set goals, be ferociously determined, gather strong, edifying people around you.
This information is all part of the principles taught in the eBook, I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay.
Download your free ebook copy today!
IF YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO RE-ENTER A TRAUMATIZED RELATIONSHIP
- In place of BOUNDARIES: “If you are going to travel on this journey with me you are going to have to bring….. And not bring….”
- There is always an initial hope that you can raise a marriage from the dead, but any psychological plan that depends on the choices of another person, is dangerous.
- The best predictor of the future is the past: Assume he is going to bring to the marriage the same thing he has brought to the marriage for the past 3 months.
- Hope is the miracle feeling/vision that gives any relationship a chance to recover/succeed against the odds.
Tool: Letters to Sister, Daughter or Friend.
This has been one of the most powerful tools I have taught women to use when they find themselves in this situation.
Inside of all of our brains is a wise advocate.
When you are talking to a younger sister, a daughter or a girl friend, and you see that they are struggling in a relationship with a man, your love, dedication and wisdom become sharper.
Ask yourself the following question, “If my sister, daughter or friend was in the same situation I am in now, what advice would I give her?”
This can be used for small situation events like: What advice would you give your sister, daughter or friend if she asked, “I was with this guy, trying to talk through something, and he started to get loud and intense with me.
What would you suggest I do?” Or, “I was out with this guy and I noticed he kept looking at other women more than he was paying attention to me. What would you do in that situation?”
A common concern that I hear when I recommend this intervention is “But this is different, we are married.” I promise, the rules women implement before marriage when dating, in order to make sure they are respected, are the same rules to implement in a healthy, respect filled marriage.
If your marriage is struggling, learn more about the Marriage Repair Workshops.
If you are struggling with betrayal trauma, and need help, visit Healing with WORTH for more information about our free program for women.