Avoiding Future Tripping: Stay out of worry in betrayal trauma relationship recovery

What is Future Tripping?

One of the best tools in my betrayal trauma recovery toolkit was how to stay out of worrying about the future.

To say I worried, would be an understatement.

Rather, I obsessed. I panicked. I triggered over the future.  “What if movies” that played in my head about “what might happen”.

What if he's faking recovery?
What if he relapses?
What if someone shows up at our door…?

Worrying about what might happen is common in any kind of anxiety. In fact, it means our brains are doing the job of trying to protect us. But they get stuck there, instead of moving to the next step of problem solving.  It's especially common in betrayal trauma, when the very person that caused us the most fear, shock and pain, is right there with us, asking us to trust them again. And their behaviors are literally out of our control. “But wait…you tricked me before, what if this is all just another elaborate scheme to gain my trust and steal from me again? I can't go there again.”

The movies that would play out in my head about all these scenarios is cognitive distortion,  “Predicting the Future”.

Why We Need to Get it Under Control

It's very real concern — no doubt about that — and no reason for shame or embarrassment. But then our imagination takes that concern, adds some cognitive distortions and makes it “reality” about ourselves, our environment, and the future.  Studies show that our brains and bodies can have a stress response when we imagine something stressful happening.  Whether it happens in reality or not, our bodies will have the same reaction, releasing cortisol and adrenaline.

We can't take any real action to protect ourselves based on those movies and fears, but we can quite them down so we can focus on real protection – self-trust, recovery tools, self-care and rock solid boundaries.
(I don't about you, but I don't have a crystal ball! If you do, please let me know before the next lottery. 😁  )

However, we can learn new skills to combat this anxiety-generating thought pattern, with some common recovery tools. Feel free to print and laminate 🙂

Tips to stay out of future tripping:

1. Stay in the moment. “One day at a time” is a wise 12 step slogan. What's factually going on right now? In this moment, are you working your recovery? In this moment is he either working his recovery, or do you have rock solid boundaries, and already have a plan of action? Do you today, have a roof over your head, food to eat, water to drink and at a minimum an internet connection to a recovery community? Yes. Stay focused on smelling the roses right in front of you. In this moment. Gratitude for, “what is” is a much more enjoyable,  “Present Trip”. The positive benefits of gratitude for brain health have been well researched and documented. 

2. Don't make rash decisions when in this mode, fighting these images and movies in your head. We don't want other people acting on impulse, or bad data, and neither should we, Breathe and find your center, and think about your values. What do you value, and how can you walk that out?

3. Take the Future Trip Movie to another trusted person, your therapist, your recovery group peers, or a good friend where you can, “get it out” and let your friend pick your theories apart. Let them remind you that you can't predict the future with any accuracy, especially when in the early days of betrayal trauma and anxiety and depression are high. Let your recovery community keep you grounded in today's reality.

*Tip: When I was in between therapy appointments and group meetings, I journaled all my painful thoughts, to get them out. They looked different on paper/screen and then I felt differently afterwards. I went back with a yellow highlighter and marked all the “cognitive distortions” in my thinking (all or nothing, predicting the future, discounting the positive, “should” statements, etc.) It helped me get to a more balanced place of thinking.

4. Self-care – ramped up on overdrive without shame or apology. I said, “no” to what I didn't want to do. I went where I wanted to go (beach, museums, art stores, etc.) and tried to eat better, go to bed earlier, journal, and do volunteer work to get my head out of “me” 24 hours a day. Whatever that looks like for you, do that, do it well and do it a lot.

5. The best way to predict the future is to create it. Instead of worrying about the future, create a vision of what you want it to look like. Create a vision board. Journal about it. Scrapbook it. A common thread between people who experience post-traumatic-growth is having a vision for who they want to be on the other side of recovery and what they want their life to look like. Don't be a slave to “what if”. Instead create, “it's possible to…”.

6. Turn each, “What if?” into an, “Even if”.
What if my partner relapses?
Even if my partner relapses, I can enact my boundaries. I can use my recovery tools. I can get out of isolation and call my therapist, go to a meeting or call a safe recovery friend. It's not about me, or a reflection of me or my worth. It's a reflection of my partner's mental status.

7. If your partner is safe, connect with them. If you're partner is in a good recovery (not just “sober” from acting out) you can go to your partner and connect emotionally. Use, “I feel” statements and, “I need”. For example, “I feel unsafe, I feel anxious, I'm worried. I'm coming to you for connection and reassurance.” Tell your partner what you need and give them a chance to lean into your needs. If you need eye contact and some physical contact like holding hands, or a hug, be explicit and say so. If need to hear about their recovery, ask for an update. Connecting this way with a partner who can be safe and present, is calming to our trauma brain.

Future tripping is common, but we don't have to give in to unwanted thoughts and cognitive distortions. With mindful practice of these new tools, you can master your own reality and be empowered to take on whatever crosses your path.

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Pam B.

I'm a spouse recovering from betrayal trauma, with more experience dealing with betrayal trauma than any individual should ever have (28+ years. I went on to complete training in the APSATS Multidimensional Partner Trauma Model. I'm a certified Life Coach and NLP practitioner, and completed the Door of Hope trauma informed peer facilitation training. Currently experiencing post-traumatic growth and trying to help others not make the same mistakes I did, and help others find recovery, healing, restoration, redemption and peace. Turning tragedies into triumphs is my main goal in life. Faithful follower of Jesus, wife to a husband in good recovery, and mom to her favorite college student.

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