Archive for July, 2012

I am continuing to work my way through the almost 1,200-page book, Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand and am really enjoying it. I came across another quote that I am mulling over and wanted to talk about with my readers:

That woman and all those like her keep evading the thoughts which they know to be good. You keep pushing out of your mind the thoughts which you believe to be evil. They do it, because they want to avoid effort. You do it, because you won’t permit yourself to consider anything that would spare you. They indulge their emotions at any cost. You sacrifice your emotions as the first cost of any problem. They are willing to bear nothing. You are willing to bear anything. They keep evading responsibility. You keep assuming it. But don’t you see that the essential error is the same? Any refusal to recognize reality, for any reason whatever, has disastrous consequences. ~ Atlas Shrugged, pp. 417-418, emphasis mine

I am finding this idea to be true in my own life, and I suspect this is true for many people who are reading this.

I have talked about this concept as applied to child abuse numerous times. To survive the abuse, abused children lie to themselves about reality so they will not lose hope. They tell themselves that the abuse is their fault so they can avoid the reality of having no power to make it stop. If the abuse is “my fault,” then I have the illusion of control over the abuse – if I change my behavior (stop being “so bad”), then I have the power to stop the abuse. The alternative is to accept the reality that the child has absolutely no power to stop the abuse, which as Judith Herman points out in her book Trauma and Recovery, would result in the one emotion abused children cannot afford to feel – utter despair.

Sadly, the refusal to recognize reality runs much deeper than in childhood. If that is where the self-delusions stopped, we might be able to process our child abuse in adulthood and then be done. That has not been my experience. I feel like I lived most of my childhood and the first 15+ years of adulthood “asleep.” Since beginning the healing process, I keep awakening to more lies that I need to unravel. I thought healing would only be about dismantling my childhood lies (it was my fault, I deserve to feel shame, etc.), but so much of my life – in just about every aspect – is filled with lies that help me avoid reality, which has had “disastrous consequences” because I do X, expecting Y, and Z keeps happening. This brings me back over and over again to challenging my premises.

More tomorrow…

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PhotobucketThe biggest revelation to me in mulling over yesterday’s topic was that I have the ability to be emotionally healthy enough for one person and too emotionally unhealthy for another person regardless of the level of emotional health of the other person. The reason for this is that each of us has strengths and weaknesses. We each have areas in which we interact with others from a healthy place and other areas in which we are far from healthy. That doesn’t characterize any of us as “fully healthy” or “fully unhealthy.” It’s a matter of which part of ourselves we choose to use as a foundation in our relationship with another person.

As an example, before I ever recovered my first flashback (which means I was very emotionally unhealthy in most areas of my life), I was emotionally healthy in my professional life. It hit several bumps in figuring out how to be successful in the business world, but in the years before I left my profession to be a stay-at-home and then started having flashbacks, I was emotionally healthy at work.

I “got” what was expected of me and what to expect from fellow coworkers, and my relationships with my coworkers were healthy ones. I was capable of this despite being very emotionally unhealthy in most other areas of my life. People with professional relationships with me during this time would probably characterize me as “emotionally healthy” based on this one aspect of my personality, but I was an emotionally unhealthy train wreck in just about every other area of my life.

The converse is true today. When I look back where I was nine years and compare it to today, I barely seem like the same person. I have changed in so many (mostly healthy) ways in so many areas of my life. Nevertheless, as you can tell by my blog entries over the past couple of weeks, I am far from having it all figured out. If I were to build a relationship with someone based on those aspects of myself, I suspect that relationship would be emotionally unhealthy for both of us.

This does not make either me or the other person “emotionally unhealthy” as a whole, but that area of my life would not be a healthy foundation for me upon which to build an emotional connection with another person. Also, just because the other person was willing to make this less healthy part of me the foundation of the friendship really isn’t a reflection of that person’s overall level of emotional health any more than it is a reflection of mine.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am traveling this week, so I have limited time to do the work I usually do to find and quote reader comments. A reader posted recently that s/he has concerns about labeling other people as “healthy” or “unhealthy.” I have thought about that comment a lot and have come to agree – that the relevant issue is not whether another person is “healthy” but, instead, whether a relationship with that person is healthy for me.

As an example, I have written several times about my long-term friendship that ended last year. We became friends before I started my healing process, and I was very emotionally unhealthy. Since then, I have grown and healed at a mindboggling rate in many areas of my life but continue to struggle with being emotionally unhealthy in some areas.

This friend also grew during the same period but not at the same pace. I can point to several areas of her life where anyone would view positive healing progress from where she was then to where she is now. So, when I last talked with her a year ago, she was a healthier version of herself than she was eight or nine years ago.

This friendship was actually healthy for me during a time that she was not as healthy because she was so much healthier than I was in the areas I needed growth. It was more of a comparative thing. No, she wasn’t 100% emotionally healthy (nor is anyone), but she was leaps and bounds healthier than I was in the areas I needed, and my friendship with her greatly helped me along my healing journey for years, and did mine for her.

At the time our friendship ended, it was no longer healthy for me because I needed the focus to change from our mutual pain to other commonalities, but she was unwilling and/or unable to make this transition. If she had been willing to change our time together from talking about our pain and misery to other commonalities, such as our love of books, teaching, or parenting special needs children, I think we could still be friends today in a way that is healthy for both of us. However, for whatever reason, we could not/did not make that transition, and the friendship ended.

More tomorrow…

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PhotobucketI apologize in advance if this blog entry steps on any toes because I really do not mean for it to. My therapist told me not to beat myself up over my marriage because at the time I was deciding who to marry (I was 23 and straight out of school), I had nobody in my life telling me what to look for in a marriage. After 20 years of marriage, I still don’t understand what marriage is supposed to be, and I don’t want to drive both hub and me crazy by having some skewed understanding, so I am hoping you readers can help me out with this.

I don’t intend this blog entry to be specifically about **my marriage.** Instead, I want to explore what marriage is supposed to be – I guess what the “goal” of marriage is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be the coming together of soul mates? A contractual relationship that is negotiated between two parties? If so many married people are so miserable, why is this an institution that society keeps encouraging its children to enter into? Is our culture (at least in the United States) responsible for setting up men and women to drive each other crazy in marriage?

My understanding of marriage as a girl (and I do think this is a common perception in the South in the United States) was that I would grow up and marry a man who “loved me for me.” He would be drawn to the person I am on the inside (primarily my soul/spirit over my physical body) – pretty much be a soul mate.

However, my observation of many marriages (both those that continue and those that end in divorce) is that many of the men were looking for the hottest woman to have regular sex with who would also take care of their other physical needs, such as cook, clean, and rear children. In return, they would pay the bills. As long as the wife keeps her body up, has regular sex, and tends to the household stuff, he is happy even if there is no emotional connection with the wife at all.

Are men and women really that different? Or has the fact that I live in the South in the United States and mostly interact with women who used to be emotionally damaged and are now healing skewed the sample I am viewing? If “I love you” means “I want to have sex with you” to a man and “I see and am attracted to your soul/spirit” to a woman, no wonder the U.S. divorce rate is so high!

What are your thoughts on marriage? Other than not driving you crazy, what is the purported goal and point of marriage?

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In my last blog entry, I quoted the lyric’s from Meatloaf’s song, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad and talked about the differences between wanting and loving someone. Today, I am going to share specific examples of how to distinguish between being loved versus simply being wanted. You are welcome to disagree with my thoughts on these differences, and I welcome others’ perspectives as I am currently working through all of this with a relationship in my life.

When I love someone, I make the effort to “see” him or her. I listen when the other person talks, and I take note of things that make the other person happy or meet his or her needs. As an example, when I was across the country traveling with a friend, she really wanted something from a gift shop but talked herself out of buying it for herself, which I knew she would do because I pay attention – she has a difficult time spending money on herself. So, I purchased the item for her as a Christmas present. When she opens it, she will feel my love – not because I spent X amount of dollars on her but because I listened and got her something that she really wanted.

I have another friend who has Celiac disease and cannot eat any wheat. She told me that she had not eaten a birthday cake that she did not make herself (with rice flour) in several years (since she got her diagnosis) and that this made her feel unloved. So, I found the very best wheat-free cake on the planet here (I love it and don’t have gluten issues!) and shipped her the cake for her birthday. She cried – not because of how much she loved the cake (and, believe me, she LOVED that cake!) but because I listened and took action to meet her need, which showed her how much I love her.

If someone loves you, he or she will do loving things for you. The person will listen to you when you talk and “hear” you – about your hopes, dreams, and unmet needs. If it is within the person’s power to act, he or she will take action to show you that you are valued and loved. My examples above were about spending money, but it doesn’t have to be. I told one friend I loved her by offering to babysit her children when she needed some time to herself. I told another friend that I loved her by proofreading her papers before she submitted them to her college professor. When you love someone, you look for ways to make the other person’s life easier.

I have people in my life who want me but don’t love me. Their focus is on what **I** can do for **them**, and they pull away when I am not in a position to meet their needs, such as when I am sick. Our relationships work just fine as long as I am meeting their needs, but these are one-sided relationships, which is “want,” not “love.” It’s OK for me to have these people in my life because I do get things from the relationships as well, but it is very important that I recognize them for what they are so I don’t invest more than I will receive in return.

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After I wrote yesterday’s blog entry, I kept thinking about the differences between want, need, and love. Meatloaf even had a song about this topic:

I want you,

I need you

But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.

But don’t be sad,

‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad.

I think that American society (and likely other societies as well) have confused “love” with “want,” but they are two different things. I have no question that the person in my life involved in my current reframing both wants and needs me very much, but neither “want” nor “need” is “love.”

If I want someone, I desire to have him or her in my life for some reason. In American culture, “want” is frequently associated with wanting what the other person can give you, which can be anything from sex, connections, or money to companionship or camaraderie. Wanting someone isn’t really “good” or “bad” – it just “is.” The problem is that many people confuse “want” with “love,” which can cause frustration for both parties when they are seeking different things.

“Wanting” without “loving” doesn’t have to be a “bad” thing as long as you are both on the same page. As an example, if I want your companionship but don’t love you, then I’ll seek out your companionship as long as it is meeting my needs, but I am not going to make an effort to understand your needs beyond the boundaries of our relationship.

As an example, this dynamic would describe many of my relationships with members of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). I wanted their help in putting together PTA-sponsored events, but I did not love any of them, nor did they love me. We understood that we were working together for a common goal and sincerely enjoyed one another’s company, but when the event was over, so was the relationship. Nobody was hurt because we all knew this was a relationship based on want (and in some cases need) without love.

The problem with the want/need confusion mostly comes into play (at least in my life) in relationships that I think are closer than they are. Many women are too free with the term “friend” when they really mean “acquaintance,” which has hurt me numerous times before and in the early stages of healing. I loved my friends, but my acquaintances/“friends” did not reciprocate that love, which caused me a lot of heartache. I couldn’t understand why my friends didn’t treat me as someone who loved me. I had to face that they didn’t: they were acquaintances who wanted me – and sometimes even needed me – but did not love me.

This is an issue in many long-term romantic relationships as well. I will see couples separate and one will pursue the other whole-heartedly, declaring his or her love over and over again despite the fact that the other feels unloved. In many cases (but not all), the truth is that despite all of the energy going into the pursuit to hold the relationship together, it’s about “want” and not “love.”

How do I tell the difference between “want” and “love?” More tomorrow…

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On my blog entry entitled Reframing Process (Challenging Faulty Premises), a reader posted the following comment:

Speaking of friends and reframing, I had an idea for a possible post. You may have already posted abou this, but, since survivors are so used to the people closest to them being abusive it messes with their ability to form healthy relationships. By that I mean many times we are attracted to and attract people who end up exploiting us in some way while we jump through hoop after hoop to be a good friend… that is till we wise up or get some counseling. It really sucks and is just another nasty side effect of abuse. ~ Mia

Yes, this pretty much sums up the first four decades of my life. This is an area of my life that I am working through right now with many tears and is what prompted last week’s series on reframing.

Let’s start with the positive part – The more emotionally healthy you become, the healthier people you will attract into your life. This is not something that you need to practice – it is a natural result of growing into a healthier version of yourself. As you become healthier, other people at a similar level of emotional health will be drawn into your life. I did not seek out any of my current closest friendships – they naturally evolved because we are in similar places. These are people who truly love me and do the things that people do when they love you.

Now for the hard part – I have been kicked in the gut with the realization that the vast majority of relationships in my life that started before therapy were with people who didn’t love me. I only have three exceptions – my sister, one friend from high school, and my child (who was only two when I entered into therapy).

Keep in mind that as an adult, I have been popular in just about any circle I join. I have great social skills (learned through observation), which people like. I am dedicated to whatever cause I am active in, smart, and resourceful. I am also kind, trustworthy, and dependable. When I put my mind to something, I make it happen. These characteristics make me well-liked in any group, whether in the workplace, at my kid’s school, at church, in the neighborhood, etc. If I died tomorrow, my funeral would have a large turn-out.

However, the people I attracted into my life as “friends” and family before healing were as emotionally unhealthy as I was, so they did not have the capacity to love me other than “in their own way” or be real friends. They were attracted to my resourcefulness and what I could do for them (how I could make their lives easier), not to who **I** am, which runs much deeper than what I can do for other people. As soon as I stop “doing” for other people, I don’t hear from them again.

I have finally awakened to this reality about another long-term relationship in my life, and it hurts. I have known the truth for a very long time but chose to continue lying to myself because the alternative was facing the reality that this is another relationship in which I invested deeply but am not loved. Yes, I can tack on the “in his/her own way,” as I have with just about every relationship that started in the first 35+ years in my life, but that is really just a way to soften the blow of facing that I am or was not loved.

Thankfully, because I have “known” this for a long time, I have made changes over the years so that my internal awakening is not noticeable to the other person. As long as I keep doing as I have always done, it appears from the outside that nothing has changed. However, on the inside, I am grieving just how alone and unloved I spent the first 35+ years of my life. (I had also written unwanted, but that is not true. I am wanted for what I DO, just not for who I AM.) This involves grieving as well as pushing through feeling like an idiot for lying to myself for so many years.

I will get through this as I always do. (Sadly, I have been through this reframing process numerous times.) I know that I will find this relationship much less hurtful and frustrating now that we are “on the same page.” I have also thought through what I want out of the relationship and what I am willing to put in. The sad part is that the other person already appears happier in getting what s/he wants without recognizing the loss of me. This is now a relationship of “doing” rather than “being” on my end, which this person prefers. It feels a little silly to grieve the loss of a lie, but it’s still a perceived loss, so I am giving myself room to do this.

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