Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Cleaning up emotional pollution

Living and Loving after Betrayal

Recovering your self concept, self value, and identity

An all too common lament from those who have suffered intimate betrayal—abuse, infidelity, deceit, dishonesty, thievery—was poignantly expressed by a woman I was asked to work with on an Oprah Winfrey Show:

"It feels like I've lost myself. It's like I'm in a deep hole," she said, her whole body visibly aching.

If this describes how you often feel, it's time to get reacquainted with your inner voice, which has been lost in the pain of betrayal and its aftermath. Begin with self-concept.

Self-concept consists of emotionally-charged beliefs about the self. Emotionally-charged is the key. Your capacity to love is likely part of your self-concept, while your assumptions about your ability to drive a car probably is not.

Our brains use self-concept, along with identity, as a guide for interpreting the world. We tend to process only the information that confirms self-concept and filter out anything that contradicts it. If you think you're incompetent, you'll focus exclusively on your mistakes and overlook the vast majority of tasks you do well. If you believe you're a hard-worker, you'll notice evidence that supports your self-concept - you go to work, clean the house, mow the lawn, cook dinner, etc., and discount your tendency to procrastinate or take more than the allowed breaks at work.

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Identity is an umbrella term in psychological discourse, used variously to label nearly everything about the self. In regard to our discussion of core self, it's useful to define identity as an image of the self that helps us know how to behave. My identity reinforces certain qualities and helps me play certain roles. For instance, I might identify with being a teacher, artist, or sportsman, with qualities of loyalty, intelligence, perseverance, etc. These roles and qualities become guides for how I behave. When I falter, I experience the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.

Identity also defines how we want others to perceive us. If I have an inflated identity, I'll spend a lot of effort trying to manipulate the impressions of others, to avoid the guilt, shame, and anger I inevitably feel when the world reminds me that I'm not all that artistic, talented, intelligent, compassionate, etc.

Self-value is about how you regard and treat yourself. Value is very much a matter of regard and behavior. If you value a da Vinci painting, you appreciate its beauty and design, which are not diminished in your eyes by the cracks in the canvas. Above all, you treat it well, making sure that it is maintained in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity. Similarly, people with high self-value appreciate their better qualities - while trying to improve their lesser ones - and take care of their physical and psychological health, growth, development, and well being.

 A major challenge in recovering from intimate betrayal is developing solid self concept, identity, and self-value. The secret is to focus on how these important constructs point you toward the future, rather than remaining limited by the vicissitudes of your feelings, which are dominated by the past.

Living and Loving after Betrayal

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. Recent books: How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It, and Love Without Hurt.

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