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Why? Exploring root causes of cheating

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GuiltAndShame posted 12/8/2019 08:19 AM

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you if you choose to respond and help me learn and improve.

I knew what I was doing was wrong, and that’s why i kept it hidden and secret. I chose a selfish path, and I concealed it to prevent others from knowing my selfish cheating ways. I wanted to protect my self-image. Pride demanded secrecy.

But why did I cheat? What are the root causes? I think there are many, and I have listed some below.

Ugly duckling syndrome...
During formative years, being “picked on” as being unattractive is difficult to forget and heal from. It caused a lingering doubt, doubt that others consider me attractive, doubt that women would want to be with me. Even after dating or marrying a woman, this self-doubt persisted, amplified if my partner was not into “ego stroking”. This all led to:
- “Testing the waters”, reaching out to women to see if they were attracted to me
- Extreme over-excitement (over-reaction) when an attractive woman showed any interest in me.
- Lowering my standards and expectations, ignoring the flaws and shortcomings of these “other women”, and even overestimating their attractiveness.
- Blocking out “mood killers” such as guilt alarms and morals and even reality

Rebellion against rules and restrictions...without considering the consequences...
I wanted what I wanted, regardless of the consequences or morality. Growing up a strict Catholic, proper behavior and rule-following were expected and demanded. I eventually became tired of always following the rules. The rules and expectations seemed like a heavy burden that was unfairly placed on my shoulders. And seeing how others seemed to “have fun” while misbehaving (during high school and college) only reinforced my perception of the unfairness of the restrictions I was living under. I wanted to bend the rules, I wanted to test the morals, I wanted to see how the “other side” lived, I wanted to seek out the “thrills”. But, the reckless nature of that rebellion also meant that I did not consider the consequences of following that path. I did not think about what would happen if others discovered my selfish ways.

Vicious cycle...roller coaster of self-esteem...
Low self-esteem and thrill-seeking and rebellion against rules led me to make selfish unfaithful disloyal choices. Those choices provided only a fleeting boost in self-esteem and satisfaction. And, later, the shameful nature of those choices triggered guilt, which knocked me back to square one, forming a vicious cycle, a roller coaster of self-esteem.

Frequent bad choices cause distance and numbness...
By making those awful choices more frequently, the fleeting boosts could seem more enduring, but at the expense of every other aspect of life that was being neglected. And the roller coaster had a numbing effect, with other aspects of life seeming more mundane, losing appreciation for the true gifts of real life, drifting away from reality.
- Porn thrills and extremes reduced the excitement of and appreciation for sex in real life
- Fantasy-driven self-pleasure decreased my real sex drive

Jealousy and wanting more...
I have always been selfish. I think part of that stems from a combination of being raised in a family that struggled financially AND seeing others who seemed to have anything they wanted. I was jealous. I wanted more. I envied their seemingly-easy life where their selfish desires were met.

Hide the bad behavior to maintain pride...
I was taught (by example) that the opinions of others was important, that maintaining a positive public image was important. To avoid shame and embarrassment and a crushing blow to public image, any action that might be judged as “naughty” or “bad” or “wild” or “crazy” or “deviant” must be carefully concealed, and vehemently denied if suspected.

How did allow myself to do what I did? How did I justify this wrong and terrible behavior? How did I silence the consequences and morality and self-criticism?
- By compartmentalizing : I entered a “parallel universe” which was very disconnected from reality
- By ignoring or downplaying possible consequences (“This isn’t hurting anyone”, “No one will ever know that I am such a selfish cheater”)
- By thinking “Lots of people do this” (peer justification or mob mentality)
- By thinking “I deserve this fun”

Crushed7 posted 12/8/2019 10:10 AM

While I'm a BS, I've not only walked alongside my WS as she parsed through her Why?, but I've also done a ton of digging to uncover my own codependency and underlying issues. Thanks for being thoughtful and transparent in your thinking about your Why?

Much of what you wrote boils down to the storyline of what you were willing to do in order to try to "self-medicate" and self-soothe. You threw off the religious rules, you chased after the path that others were on, you hid to avoid judgement/criticism, you pursued various bad choices, believed that you deserved some fun, etc. But it all points back to one thing -- the internal false belief that you are unattractive/unworthy.

I think your focus going forward is on your self-esteem. Sifting through all the contributions that cemented your feelings of being unattractive/unworthy. Beginning to see that those were hurtful, unhelpful lies that didn't accurately reflect the person you were. Uncovering how that embedded a lie within you that you have carried to this day. Then beginning the process of recapturing and understanding your worth to the point that it begins to take root in your mind and heart.

In the hopes that this is helpful to you in some way, one element that was critical to my healing was practicing thankfulness as a starting point to begin to capture the thought that I was worthy of good things, experiencing happiness, etc. That led to a slow evolution inside of me to gain confidence and to actually believe and feel that I was worthy.

What I saw in my WS is that, as your username illustrates, guilt and shame complicate the path to healing. Owning up to the brokenness inside was only the beginning of facing the pain inflicted on others. From my viewpoint, it was an immensely difficult battle for her to get through, but, like my own experience, identifying what was broken, aligning with a self-motivation to change and then finding ways to capture an understanding of one's inherent self-worth was key.

I commend you for digging into your Why? and I'm hopeful for your next steps in your journey.

[This message edited by Crushed7 at 10:11 AM, December 8th (Sunday)]

nightmare01 posted 12/8/2019 11:03 AM

Another BH here.

I've posted before about how I find 'why' questions pointless because they often look outward rather than inward. I've seen answers such as you stated: attractiveness, rebellion, poor coping skills, family of origin (FOO) issues, KISA or FN syndrome, selfishness, low self esteem, and so on. All these excuses point to other people or circumstances that are outside of yourself - but cheating was a deliberate decision that you made. All those why answers sound like static to me.

Better questions IMO originate from the 'how'. Not the litany of excuses you issued in your post under HOW - but rather, what was the mental process you used to make cheating OK, knowing that it would break the heart of someone you swore to protect?

You write:
- By compartmentalizing : I entered a “parallel universe” [...]
- By ignoring or downplaying possible consequences [...]
- By thinking “Lots of people do this” [...]
- By thinking “I deserve this fun” [...]

All of this boils down to selfishness - me, me, me... and no one else matters.

So, what are you going to do about that? Look at the process of how you made it ok, and fix it.

gmc94 posted 12/8/2019 11:48 AM


hikingout posted 12/9/2019 10:18 AM

You didn't get any WS responses yet.

In all fairness, for most BS the ways we answer our whys will never seem satisfactory. There is never a good reason to cheat, and it really does all fall under a heading of we wanted to. But, from my perspective as a WS, this list is a really good start.

I don't see these answers you have as blaming. I think that you have made some good observations about yourself and what makes you the way you are. That is really what the whys are. What will matter the most to landclark is how you address them. And, the next set of questions might be a little more as to HOW. How did you come to cheat.

The things that lead us to cheat always look unrelated, because you are looking for root issues in the way you think. It looks like you have spent a lot of time understanding your FOO, and that's where it has to start. FOO is something everyone has, but it addresses the question - Who am I and why am I the way I am. For many of us our growing up time shaped who we are and how we see the world.

So, now you have to come up with a plan to address some of that past, to heal it. IC is probably helping you with that.

I would also add to the list you felt entitled. I don't think there is a WS here that didn't feel entitled to cheat, you just have to figure out what your story was that you told yourself. This is a big "HOW". For me, I had built up resentments towards my husband and blamed him for expectations that I really put on myself. I felt I deserved something just for me. When you start looking at those aspects of the stories you told yourself that led to the "how did you come to do it" that will fill in more of the blanks of more that you will also need to address.

For what it's worth, I feel like you were trying to be very transparent with this list, and it does in fact show that you have been working on being introspective and learning where your attitudes came from. From a WS perspective this is what our work looks like, and yours will continue to evolve if you keep going and digging.

Zugzwang posted 12/9/2019 15:29 PM

I've posted before about how I find 'why' questions pointless because they often look outward rather than inward. I've seen answers such as you stated: attractiveness, rebellion, poor coping skills, family of origin (FOO) issues, KISA or FN syndrome, selfishness, low self esteem, and so on. All these excuses point to other people or circumstances that are outside of yourself - but cheating was a deliberate decision that you made. All those why answers sound like static to me.

I would like to know why selfishness and low self esteem have anything to do with pointing fingers outside of yourself as outward growth to you instead of that being solely a self dialogue. That just doesn't hold true for me. Those things have nothing to do with looking outward. Maybe to get it filled. Though it is something I have inward. Sorry, it just makes no sense. If you were wayward you would know it really all boils down to inward lack of self confidence, esteem, love, and respect. You can't get more inward than that. Processes mean nothing till you get rid of the need. Processes are white knuckling it. A person can find a process to feed a need anytime. Bring on the next addiction. Behind the how is the why. Keep the soil poisoned and having light doesn't matter. Your roots are still growing in shit regardless of where the light is coming from or if you have a trellis to grow on. Clean the shit. Find the why. Be enough for yourself.

Surviving Infidelity for a WS is about R yourself. You can't do that without the whys. It isn't just about trying to save your marriage and becoming a safe partner with the walls. Shutting off the are safe, yet still miserable with yourself, unhappy, and unhealthy. You can't just focus on hows and putting up walls to be safe. You deserve to be whole. You hopefully earn to be married. WHYS are not hows.

OP, your list is a great start. I agree with Hikingout. Also you have to be a wayward to understand this. I don't think normal healthy people would ever get how important the whys are at the root of your character because they don't lack what we did. What we lacked in ourselves (not the avenues or hows to feed it) was enough to do some pretty fucked up cruel things to feed it. Keep working. You are on the right track.

BS goals and WS are goals are not the same thing in the beginning. WS, your goal is to fix yourself and become healthy enough before you can entertain being in a relationship.

[This message edited by Zugzwang at 3:39 PM, December 9th (Monday)]

MrCleanSlate posted 12/9/2019 15:46 PM

I cheated for therapy. I wanted help with my marriage. Fucked up? Yup.

I never wanted to leave my wife. I loved her. I really did. But the shit we went through and the distance that formed between us... I was too much of a coward to talk to my wife. Sleeping on the couch was better. That is messed up thinking.

So I went out and found a married woman to 'talk to'.

All I really needed to do was to talk to my wife. But no. I was to stupid to do that. Better to stick my dick in a crazy woman and listen to her give me advice about how I am the worlds greatest dad and deserve so much more. At least that is what i heard.

Yes my marriage was on the rocks, but I didn't actually do any work to fix things. DUMB and DUMBER.

gmc94 posted 12/9/2019 19:31 PM

I guess this may be a semantic discussion, and I hope not a t/j. I'm not a WS. The "whys" we see on SI are rarely (if ever) limited to waywards. IMHO, many/most (and in some cases all) are universal experiences or emotions. Some cope by cheating. Others do not. For instance:

I have had periods (sometimes lasting years) of crummy self esteem.
My FOO? Makes my WH's look like a cake walk.
Stressful times? Periods when I felt I could not cope? Of course! (and any woman who has experienced the joys of perimenopause knows one biggie).
Depression? you betcha (and that perimenopause doesn't help).
Being an ugly child? check
Being bullied my entire childhood? Check (and is there a "bonus" for bullying that was not limited to other kids at school? Such as a sibling who - literally - chased me around the house with a butcher knife every day for months?)
rigid parenting? check.
parental abandonment? Check (and more than once).
Tired of following rules? What adult doesn't feel this at some point? How many of us (BS, WS, or someone with the great fortune to never be touched by adultery) tell our kids that being a grownup "isn't all it's cracked up to be"?
I could go on and on.
Yet I did not have an A.

A simple google search says that 85% of us have "low self esteem". Nowhere near 85% of us have an A, yet "low self esteem" is probably a universal "why" for a WS on these forums.

So - while the whys do play a part - an IMPORTANT part, I honestly don't see how the "hows" are somehow reduced to a BS' insatiable need to understand. Obviously, every WS needs to figure out the bases for the deep holes that led to such destructive choices. Just as I, as a BS, must figure out the bases for not immediately filing for D or for being so completely devastated by the betrayal/LTA/end of my M or being angry instead of showing pain throughout my life. Those are problems that must be addressed and healed - regardless of one's status as to infidelity. IOW, we ALL need to live like Lizzo says: learn to love ourselves.

The difference between my WH and I are not the "why's" of feeling insecure, or undeserving, or unattractive, or whatever. The difference is that he chose to cope with the foibles of being human by having an A. And IMHO, that is really about HOW. How did he jump from feeling resentment or unloved or abandoned or anything else to putting his genitals into another woman instead of TALKING about his feelings or seeking IC (esp when his BS was begging him to see IC or MC)? HOW can he lie about breaking his vows for a decade? HOW can he tell himself his LTA is Ok so long as I don't find out? HOW can he view himself as a man of morality and integrity when engaging in such deceit? HOW can he tell our kids that shoplifting is bad while he's committing fraud?
Compartmentalization only goes so far on this front.

Maybe I'm saying they are both important. I think I understand Zug's point about healing the "whys" can make the "hows" irrelevant. But I guess I'm skeptical as to how that healing creates a safe partner, or maybe as to how a BS can feel confident that the whys are both fully identified and adequately addressed/healed. Maybe I come at it with this view bc my WH is very adept at somehow telling himself he's making progress despite mountains of objective evidence to the contrary.

Maybe I just see the "why" as the map, but the "how" is the car. You can't get to "destination: affair" without both. And even if you lose the map, the car needs to be dismantled too, or it's still wholly capable of driving off in some new direction that still lands at "destination: affair".

Zugzwang posted 12/10/2019 06:14 AM

I was too much of a coward to talk to my wife.

So, the real root cause is your lack of self confidence. You were a coward to expose yourself and talk. You chose to cheat with someone you did care about that would make no impact on you if they turned you down because you lacked the self esteem/confidence to be vulnerable with someone that matters. All boiling down to that lack of self confidence.

Zugzwang posted 12/10/2019 06:21 AM

GMC94 How? He was selfish. Where you were not. To me that isn't the car. The addiction is a car. Cheating, drinking, gambling, is all the same. Being selfish and therefor pursuing a coping mech that feeds that selfishness and causing further destruction is part of the why to me. Of course that selfishness doesn't stand alone by add in entitlement, bad moral values, lack of on. All of that is internal.

hikingout posted 12/10/2019 08:11 AM

I think that we can all agree, that:

1. This is just the beginning of the work.
2. Everyone who has self esteem issues or any issue listed by a WS does not cheat. People manifest those things different ways. Some people eat their feelings, others gamble, some shop too much, some drink, some have co-dependency, and on and on and on. How we choose to cope with those things is very individual.

Okay, and then to add to this: What the work looks like for a WS or an unhealthy BS (not all BS are unhealthy) really isn't anything different. If you go in for therapy because you have been manifesting poor behaviors, the first thing they are going to look at is your FOO. Everyone has FOO and a helluva a lot of highly functioning people have really bad FOO. But FOO is really about tracing ingrained behaviors and understanding where they come from so you can recognize patterns. It is also helpful if there was past trauma that you work with your therapist to heal it. I spent a lot of time last year trying to heal from sexual and emotional abuse.

Is that the root cause of my cheating? Yes and No, it's the root of who I am and how I cope with things. If you go in to deal with something in therapy, it's going to start with your FOO because the origins of who we are begin there - and that's really a BS, a WS, and all sorts of other people not even impacted by infidelity.

These Whys don't help the BS because they are really not designed to. It's the work you do to cognitively change how you cope, how you think, and how you behave that will matter to a BS.

I had my whys probably 6 months in at least. I am 2.5 years out from my affair, and I am still working on these things. There is no quick fix. Yeah, we can say "you did it because you are selfish" and yeah, that's true enough. But, it's not as simple as "hey, stop being selfish". These are behaviors that are ingrained and literally are part of who we are. But, the first step is to recognize some of what it is and where it comes from. So, for example - his ugly duckling thing - he will have to figure out how to be self-assured, rather than looking for outside validation. Those are big things to unravel and to change.

For me, I dealt with my lack of self worth with perfectionism. I felt like my output on anything was a reflection of me. I would tirelessly work to make my house perfect, my children's holidays perfect, my husband as perfectly happy with me as possible. He would have told you (as would my children) that I was the most selfless person he knew.

That came at a high price. It became a cancer in me that I had to be a certain way and do things in order to deserve or earn love. And, the more I was that way the more I lost myself or what made me happy. Until one day, I had gotten so damned unhealthy I had emotional and physical exhaustion (diagnosed) and I wanted to give up. I didn't want to have to do things any more. I didn't want to have to meet everyone's expectations. I rebelled against my life, and fed into a bullshit entitlement that I deserved to be happy and loved for just me (Yeah like the AP was doing that. I know how dumb it was now). I didn't want to be married to anyone. I wanted to be free to do any damned thing I wanted. Except I didn't tell anyone that. I was conflict avoidant because I was always working to be so pleasing to my H. Turns out he didn't want any of those things. This was all me. That perfectionism had driven a wedge because also while I was busy being a stepford wife, it took away my ability to be vulnerable which robbed my marriage of true intimacy.

I couldn't have told you all that on the first step. But, I could tell you I was a perfectionist, conflict avoidant, had low self esteem, wanted to escape my real life. All the rest came into focus as I really worked to let go a lot of that. I will always have perfectionist tendencies that I have to manage. It will always creep back from healthy to unhealthy if I am not vigilant. I had a big bout with it over the summer.

I will also say Christmas time is a huge test for me. I typically exhaust myself. I have not over bought gifts, over decorated the house. And, when it came to making the slew of cookies to freeze? I asked my H to help me this year. The old me would never have done that. Guess what I learned? I learned he didn't mind to come hang out with me in the kitchen and do the project. I also learned it was so much more fun because we talked and laughed and strategized and it ended up being a date night I would never have expected it could be. I have robbed us of a lot of joy in really having a partnership together instead of feeling like I needed to be pulling all the strings for everyone behind the scenes.

So, no, what he's listing isn't the end of his journey, it's the beginning of it. But, it's a very complicated thing to take these things and really start to do something different with them. But, you can't do that until you identify them, and I do think he's got a good list here to work with.

Keep posting Guiltandshame. These discoveries are good, now you have to practice getting away from them. Giving yourself security, being responsible for your own happiness. When you start to really work on these things, you will change for the better. Keep going.

[This message edited by hikingout at 8:15 AM, December 10th (Tuesday)]

GuiltAndShame posted 12/11/2019 07:16 AM

Thanks to EVERYONE for all of the insights and advice and perspective!!! MUCH appreciated!!!!

GuiltAndShame posted 12/11/2019 07:18 AM

Special thanks to hikingout for supportive and encouraging feedback from a fellow WS

devastated717 posted 12/11/2019 09:54 AM

Thank you for this, very helpful!

hikingout posted 12/11/2019 13:15 PM

Special thanks to hikingout for supportive and encouraging feedback from a fellow WS

No problem. But, please, please do not stop here. You have a really good set of insights that will deepen if you continue now to go on and work on them. It's very difficult, it takes far longer than I ever thought it would. But, it's very worthwhile in the end. I am admittedly a fan of your wife, I always read her posts. I don't want to give you a nod on your list, and you think "okay my work is done". It IS however a really good start.

The most ironic thing of all of this is when I really started doing the right things, coming from a place of authenticity and aligning with my own moral code - that was a huge strengthening of my self-worth. When we live right, we feel proud of ourselves. When we feel proud of ourselves, it encourages us to keep climbing. So, keep posting, keep climbing.

skeetermooch posted 12/11/2019 20:26 PM

G & S,

When I was very young - a teenager or early twenties - I thought someone wanting me made me special. Later, I figured out that ain't necessarily so. Mind you I'm very special, but it wasn't my authentic specialness that any of these folks cared about. Hell, it wasn't even superficial stuff like my looks, because the same romeos were just as happy with girls who looked like trolls from under a bridge.

Some people just enjoy the intrigue and it has not a thing to do with my or your specialness. The women you chase aren't special to you and you aren't special to them. You're both just acting out some doomed pattern to soothe an adolescent wound.

What is your real worth? It's not that you can get people to have sex with you - that can't be your gift to this planet. Maybe you should figure out what you want to leave behind on this earth. What you want to give, to your community and your family. On your death bed what will give you peace knowing you accomplished it?

It ain't fucking the secretary or watching 2000 hours of porn.

I have that thing that makes me feel a sense of purpose. When I found it, I lost a lot of my immature insecurities and the accompanying behavior meant to heal them. What heals us of selfishness is service, not fantasy. That's what you deserve - not a quicky with a stranger.

So, yes, you deserve something fun and good - a life you can be proud of.

IHatePickingName posted 12/12/2019 20:59 PM

BS here who will go against the BS grain here and say i think it is a good start too. I would also agree that selfishness and low self esteem are indeed looking in and not out. Obviously a lot of us have low self esteem and dont cheat, but that is irrelevant to someone who did. We each cope (or fail to cope) differently, but that does not take away from value of identifying our own weaknesses, flaws, or poor coping skills. I think we could all benefit from analyzing and working on ourselves, outside of just for infidelity related reasons. If 85% of us do have low self esteem, that suggests a problem worth addressing. For ourselves at the very least. We cant ask WS to heal themselves and then judge them when a lot of what is broken seems "off topic" to us, or not "enough" reason. Something clearly was enough for them that was not for their BS. So the fact these reasons wouldnt be enough for you seems kinda irrelevant.

I loved the point Zugzwang made about processes being irrelevant until you remove the need. I would add, or address it and find better methods of filling it. Some "needs" may be based on an untenable expectation of reality, while others are legitimate, even if the means of filling them wasnt.

I guess this is why the why's are for the WS and not the BS. There can never be a good enough reason for our pain. That isnt what i seek. I accept it doesnt exist. What i need to be safe is for the (crappy or otherwise) reasons not to work anymore. And that means having a WS address any and all they can discover. I dont really see the value in dismissing them as not enough. Especially early ones. As i tell my grade ones, "everyone starts at the beginning."

gmc94 posted 12/13/2019 13:06 PM

I think we could all benefit from analyzing and working on ourselves, outside of just for infidelity related reasons.

We cant ask WS to heal themselves and then judge them when a lot of what is broken seems "off topic" to us, or not "enough" reason. Something clearly was enough for them that was not for their BS. So the fact these reasons wouldn't be enough for you seems kinda irrelevant.
Not to be cheeky, but I seriously don't understand what you are saying here.

IHatePickingName posted 12/13/2019 13:13 PM

That is ok, i probably wasnt making a lot of sense. I couldnt figure out how to say what i wanted to.

GuiltAndShame posted 12/16/2019 20:41 PM

Thank you VERY much, everyone! Some great perspectives and words of advice here. Happy holidays!

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