Debi Silber knows what it’s like to break through from betrayal – whether in business, love or friendship – and shares today her own entrepreneurial journey and her PhD findings as a holistic psychologist and transformational coach on what it takes for women to recover from betrayal. Debi is the bestselling author of The Unshakable Woman: 4 Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind and Life After a Life Crisis.
Melinda Wittstock: Debi, welcome to Wings.
Debi Silber: Oh, thanks so much.
Melinda Wittstock: I'm excited to talk to you. I'm always keen to understand what the ah-ha moment is in the lives of women entrepreneurs that set them on their course, aligned with our true passion and purpose, because that's where I see people fly. I see you doing that. What was the game changer for you?
Debi Silber: Well, it's a great question. I was in health, mindset personal development for 27 years. Then, I had a horrific betrayal. You don't study something like betrayal unless you need to. I had betrayal from my family and then from my husband. And it catapulted me right into this PhD program and transpersonal psychology. That's the psychology of transformation. I was doing it. He was doing it. I didn't understand, wanted to understand it further. While I was there I did a study on how women, specifically experience betrayal, what holds them back, what helps them heal, we made three discoveries during that study and it changed my business, my life, my family, put me on an entirely new track I would never would have expected had this not happened.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, my goodness. May I ask, what happened?
Debi Silber: You know, it was … Well, first here was this horrible family betrayal. You know how the universe works. You didn't learn the lesson you were supposed to learn, so it comes back in the form of an opportunity from someone even [crosstalk 00:06:08, so I –
Melinda Wittstock: I like to see it that way.
Debi Silber: Yeah, well, at the time I didn't. Actually, it was only three years I found out that eight years before that my husband had an affair and we're together since '84, so you can imagine that absolutely blindsided me. That is not even the word. It was so shocking. Here I was raising my kids and running a business and his business was taking off and he took on this persona and this ego. I remember thinking, “Oh, come on, who is this guy?” This is what happens when we lose ourselves There comes this time where what used to work doesn't work anymore, what used to feel good didn't feel good anymore, and we used to make sense doesn't make sense anymore. That's when I started becoming spiritual and he had that lack and emptiness and he pursued a different path. Anyway, I found out and so to … I was crushed, devastated, so were my kids. Got him out of the house. It gave me time to think, “Okay, let's see what it's like being a single mom. Do I want to do this? Can I do this?” I needed to know, needed to think clearly and couldn't do that with him around. The kids were saying, “My gosh, Ma, he's sold his fancy car. He got rid of his fancy clothes,” within days and woke up. So did I.
I'll never forget, I went to see a spiritual counselor, because what happens with betrayal is trust is shattered and you don't trust your betrayer, obviously because it looks … They pull a mask off. You don't trust yourself, because you're like …
Melinda Wittstock: Right, “How could this have happened to me? How could I have been so foolish?” All that kind of [inaudible 00:07:52.
Debi Silber: Everything. I figured, “Well, at least I could trust the universe.” She had told me, it was brilliant. She said, “Debi, you have no idea how you planned this.” I'm like, “Planned it. Really?” She said, “You planned this, because you needed to have this devastating crash so that you can create this new teaching from this deep place of knowing, and you're going to have this center and you're going to write these books and you're going to have this tremendous following all around betrayal.” At the time I thought she was crazy and Melinda, if I tell you every single thing she said has happened.
Melinda Wittstock: Gosh, it's amazing how the universe works in that way. All these things that happen for us. As you said, it's difficult to see that when you're in the middle of it, but with a little bit of personal forgiveness for our responsibility or our role in it, whatever that was, something maybe that we needed something or whether it was the lesson that was going to set up, getting more purpose, whatever it is.
Debi Silber: Yeah, you're so right, and it was a lesson in having boundaries get crossed, not staying true to what I needed and being okay with settling. Here's the driving factor right here, and I'm sure everybody listening can appreciate this. When that passion is so strong, you can't help but turn that into a thriving business. For me personally it wasn't, and this may sound selfish, it wasn't enough for me to heal and rebuild my family, and actually, we got married again. We didn't renew our vows. We got married again, because we are two completely different people, but I really reasoned with it and I said, “If I'm going to heal from something that all my life had been a deal breaker, I am not going to heal my family and my marriage, I am going to help as many women as I can.”
Melinda Wittstock: This led you on this journey and this discovery and your true passion and purpose. Then, you discovered all these aspects of betrayal and how women process betrayal or what we do. Can you take us through that?
Debi Silber: Sure. Well, we actually made three discoveries. One was that there's a collection of symptoms so common to betrayal, it's become known as post-betrayal syndrome. That's one thing. The second was: I remember thinking, “I've been through death of a loved one, I've been through devastating illness.” I was in ICU for 11 days and betrayal felt so different, but I didn't want to assume. I brought it back out to my study participants and sure enough they agreed. They said, “Well, betrayal is a whole other monster.” It needed a new name, because originally I was studying something called post-traumatic growth, which is the upside of trauma. You know how it rebuilt your life or how you have a new perspective or awareness. I said, “This is different, because not only are you grieving the loss, rebuilding your life, you're rebuilding every aspect of the self that was demolished during this betrayal.” So it needed a new name and so I coined a term, “Post betrayal transformation.” The third was that you can stay stuck in a stage of betrayal for decades, a lifetime, and many people do, but if you're going to heal, fully heal, you're going to go through these five predictable and proven stages.
Now, we know not only what those stages are, but we know physically, mentally, emotionally what happens at every stage and what it physically takes to move from one stage to the next. The most exciting piece about this is … I had someone go through my program saying, “Oh my gosh, Debi, this would have saved me 20 years. It's like you're put on this track that is going now, and we know if you do these things, you will move through these processes and heal.”
Melinda Wittstock: This is true. I love this, post betrayal transformation. What are some of the processes? How do you take someone through this? From the moment that they have the sense of betrayal, and it can happen in personal life, surely happen in business.
Debi Silber: A hundred percent.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. I had an employee who I valued greatly who stole more than $40,000 from my, one of my first businesses. That was … Shook not just me, but everyone to the core. It has you questioning your abilities like, “How could I have not have seen this?” It ended up being this massive thing where even the Secret Service investigated it, because they are part of the Treasury Department and she went to jail. It was this whole thing. It really set the business back a lot and it created all kinds of instability on the team. The reverberations from it, it took a while to actually recover from that. These sorts of things can happen in business, they can happen even with team or vendor relationships. They can happen with and obviously personal relationships as well. How do you take someone … Let's try a business context here. Something goes really horribly wrong, because all business is about relationship, right?
Debi Silber: Yeah, 100%.
Melinda Wittstock: Something goes wrong and you're right in it, you're right in the middle of it. How do you counsel and how do you take a woman through that, from that very beginning –
Debi Silber: Sure.
Melinda Wittstock: Through to the transformation?
Debi Silber: The first thing is, sure, it's a great question, because the first thing is think about it, we're never betrayed by someone we don't know. It's the people we know the most, the people we are the closest to, and that's what creates that absolute shock, because think about it. When the people we trust the most prove untrustworthy, who do we trust? When the people we'd run to when other people are causing harm, are in fact the ones causing the harm, where do we go? It's terrifying. I actually walk them through the five stages that were discovered in this study. This way they know exactly where they are and I give them all kinds of experiential activities and processes, so that they could move. The first thing is, so often people think, “Oh, well time will heal it. I'll let time take care of it.” Time will soften it, but what happens is the shock of that betrayal gets imprinted on your body and mind. If you do not take the measures to heal it, it doesn't go away. What happens in fact is we start playing this game of wack-a-mole where we're tamping down the symptoms as they arise. You're taking something to calm your anxiety or you're taking something to help you sleep, or you're seeing a practitioner for your gut issue.
All of these things are tied to that unhealed betrayal. What I have everybody do is first take the quiz to see to what level are they struggling with post betrayal syndrome, so they know, “Oh, that's why I'm not sleeping or that's why I don't trust anybody,” or whatever it is. The questions are so revealing that you see exactly what you're doing and from there then it's, “Okay, so here's what we have to do to fix it.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Absolutely. Oh my goodness. And so, what are some of the biggest problems you think that women have trying to get past this? Because so many of us, women and men, are living lives mostly run by fear. That may sound like a very bold statement, but it's true, because we have so many of these fears. They're limiting beliefs. They're an underlying thing like, “What if people don't like me? What if I succeed? What if I fail?” All those sorts of things. Things happen to us, lessons, things happen to us that are driven so much by our subconscious beliefs, in business and in life that actually tee up those kind of betrayals. People say, “If you want to know what you believe, look around what you're experiencing.” For me, in terms of recovering say, from a very verbally abusive marriage, for instance, which was a betrayal. The transformation point came at accepting full responsibility for what was it about me that needed that. It sounds weird to say, because you don't want anything bad, but also you don't want to be a victim either. That point about taking responsibility and getting out of fear and facing your fears, that's really hard. It's almost a life's work, because you're always getting rid of this stuff. How do you counsel around that?
Debi Silber: The first thing I would say and this is what my Ted X was about, we numb avoid destruct what we're not ready, willing, or able to face. What happens is we do that, and think about it, we'll use things like food, drugs, alcohol, work, TV, keeping busy, reckless behavior, anything to desperately distract ourselves from ourselves. I actually have a few questions that would help all your listeners see if they're doing this, because –
Melinda Wittstock: Yes.
Debi Silber: [crosstalk 00:17:23 not aware of.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly.
Debi Silber: First is: Am I numbing and distracting? If so, how? Be real. Are you binging every day because you hate your job? What's going on? Are you putting the TV on the second you walk in the room, because you can't stand the silence of your own mind? What's going on there? The second, what am I pretending not to see? Am I pretending not to see there's trouble in my marriage? Am I pretending not to see that health issue that needs my attention? Am I pretending not to see that I hate the work I'm doing even though I've been at it 25 years? What am I pretending not to see? The next one, what's life going to look like in five to ten years if I do nothing? Let's take that health issue. You do nothing five to ten years, what's going to happen? That relationship challenge. I do nothing in five to ten years, what's going to happen? That job you can't stand, now make it 30 years of being in a job that you can't stand. What's that going to look like? And then the last one: What could life look like if I changed now?
Here's the thing, it's not that that change will be easy. It's not transformation never is. It's a messy, ugly cry, but what happens is in that willingness, you have to be willing to die to the life you've known. You absolutely have to be willing to give the old you up, but only when you do that, do you recreate something fantastic.
Melinda Wittstock: That's true, actually. It's that release and letting go. I've actually arrived now at the conclusion in my life wherever I'm triggered by something, whether it's an old money fear or that, “Oh God”, any and all limiting beliefs, whenever you get triggered by anything like this, any past experience or anything like that, that leads to a current fear. When it rises to the point where I get triggered, I'm upset or angry or any of those kind of emotions, it's like, “Oh, this is wonderful. This is a chance to release and clear all that stuff.” I'm at the point now where I'm like, “You know, I don't even need to know what that is, what that belief was. All I really need to know is whatever it is … is not serving me. Goodbye.” A little ceremony for it. It's amazing how simple that sounds, but how effective it actually is.
Debi Silber: Well, you have to feel it to heal it. We think, “Well, we'll just keep running from it.” Think of a shadow. If you keep running from that shadow, you're outside, there's a shadow behind you, it keeps following you. It's only when you bring light to it and you look at it and you see it for what it really is, does it go away. We need to look at this stuff. I always use this analogy of a house. This is going to explain it so easily. Let's say … Here's the difference between resilience, bouncing back. It's a worthy goal. And transformation. Let's say you have a house and you need a boiler. You get a new boiler. That's resilience. You need a paint job, you paint. That's resilience. You need a new roof, you get a roof. That's resilience. Transformation's like this. A tornado comes by and levels your house. A new paint job's not going to fix it. A new boiler's not going to fix it. A new roof's not going to fix it. Now, you have every right to stand there at the lot where your house once stood and say, “Oh my gosh, this is the most horrific, horrible thing that's every happened,” and you'd be right. You don't have to do anything.
If you choose to rebuild your house, why build the same house?” Build whatever you like. There's nothing there.
Melinda Wittstock: It takes so much courage, though, doesn't it? I think in a way entrepreneurs are a little bit ahead of the game. We've already been taught that lesson that there's so much that we can't control, all kinds of stuff is going to happen. If you're an entrepreneur you're going to get confronted with your stuff whether you like it or not, because it's the only way you can grow a business is by growing personally. If you want a fast track transformational healing opportunity, become an entrepreneur. We're a little bit ahead of the game, but it's still hard though, isn't it? You need the right people and the right support around you to be able to do this. Don't you think?
Debi Silber: Oh, 100%. You said the magic word here. This is where entrepreneurs are brilliant, because there's … Think about it. As an entrepreneur you need a willingness to do a lot of very uncomfortable, scary things. You are unsure half the time, “Is this going to work? Is this not going to work? Can I afford to do this?” Whatever stage you're in. It's that willingness to trust in the unknown, to let yourself be guided intuitively and say, “Even though I don't know what's on the other side, I'm going for it, because this feels right.” That's how transformation happens. I believe as an entrepreneur you are, you're ahead of the game when it comes to transforming other areas of your life.
Melinda Wittstock: What are some of the things in business that have challenged you, Debi? Obviously you've had this big, personal challenge around betrayal that led you to your mission and your passion, your purpose. What in business? What are some of the lessons? What are … How is this manifested for you in business?
Debi Silber: In business I realized that even though I can do it all, doesn't mean I should. That's such a hard thing. There's a lot of type A personalities. I'm like type triple A, because it's really hard, because I can do it all. That's, but why should I? Somebody who can do it in a fraction of the time, I really always remind myself that when I delegate I can focus on what I'm way better at. That's been a challenge, for sure, and even opening up this center. I had a home based business forever, so now to have this physical space and to have an entirely new business, and really on a lot of levels it's starting over again, but I'm bringing everything that's worked along the way, but it's in an entirely new format, and with these certification programs and these hosts and practitioners popping up all around the country, it's really pushing me, but it's the most exciting, exciting venture I've ever had.
Melinda Wittstock: That's spectacular. What's next for you? When you think about building your business and the number of people you want to reach and all that kind of stuff, what are some of the challenges and what's next? What's in your big, vivid vision?
Debi Silber: The next step is the proposal is actually being turned into a book. When you think about it, when you write a dissertation … I mean the dissertation is being turned into a book. Who reads it besides your dissertation committee? That's … This is hundreds and hundreds of hours in this study and it's going to be such a fabulous book, because I call them the Fab 14. Those were the women who participated in this study. When you think of a book where first of all … We're the least likely to seek support during this betrayal stage. There's so much shame, humiliation, embarrassment. You would reach for a book. It's really going to be, I can see it, where women will find their super hero, super-shero, out of the different participants who I'm sprinkling in throughout the book. The book, for sure, and it teaches people how to move through those stages. Between the online program, the book that's coming out and really I picture these hosts and practitioners everywhere. That's my focus.
Melinda Wittstock: That's wonderful. Debi, how can people find you and work with you? Who are the … You mentioned that … And you share a mission with me, of course, in helping women. Who are your ideal clients? Who should come to you and what can they expect?
Debi Silber: Yeah. My ideal client is that smart, savvy women who's doing it all, but she's been blindsided by a betrayal experience, and it doesn't have to be recently. It could be something that happened years ago. It doesn't matter if it's unhealed. It's effecting her on some either physical, mental, emotional level and it's preventing her from being at the top of her game in her work, in her personal life. It's showing up on some level, I can promise you. It's really that woman who she's tried it all. She's so sick of hitting the different symptoms as they show up. She wants this truly healed and behind her so she can thrive and she can really have peace and clarity and energy and the healing that comes with a healed betrayal. She can achieve this post betrayal transformation.
Melinda Wittstock: That's awesome. Now, I now you have a special offer for our listeners today. They can do a quiz. Is that right? Tell us a little bit about that.
Debi Silber: Yeah. Sure. The quiz is to see what level are they struggling with post, with betrayal. It's the post betrayal syndrome quiz. This is betrayal from a family member, a partner, a co-worker, a best friend, a coach/mentor, someone in a position of authority. It could be a self betrayal too. Whatever it is that's really holding you back. They need to go to pbtinstitute.com/quiz.
Melinda Wittstock: That's wonderful. How can people find you and work with you? To go to pbtinstitute.com?
Debi Silber: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Well, Debi, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us today.
Debi Silber: Thank you so much for having me.