Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

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?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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.

Image credit: Hekatekris

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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…

Image credit: Hekatekris

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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.

Image credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Worrying about Reactions to Your Child Abuse Story, a reader posted the following comment:

But my question is, how do tell [my therapist] about each memory so she can help me work through them? I am always trying to hide everything from her, knowing she will eventually find out after a crisis intervention. Mostly because I don’t want anyone including her to have a glimps of what I went through. Why should others suffer because I did? I don’t want to frighten her away, even though she has proved time and time again that she is not going anywhere. Am I just fearful of losing the most trustful person in my life? I know I need to work on memory work, but it’s all so painful. I am not questioning her abilities, she even gets consultatiion to help her help me. Why am I so afraid to tell her? I don’t want her to have to keep putting out fires. I want her help and I know she can. I just dont understand why I am reluctant in telling her the full truth. I have been fighting with her somewhat. Do you think she will stop her work with me and pass me off to someone else? Will she think I am trying to push her away? Or do you think she is understanding enough to stick around? ~Karina

Karina’s post reminds me of my husband’s reaction to the idea of transferring our son to a private school that specializes in learning disabilities. We had already tried so many ways to help our son be successful in school, including fighting for an individualized education plan (IEP), getting him tutoring, and being ultra-involved in his school and homework, all to no avail. Transferring our son to this expensive private school was our last hope. In a rare show of emotion, my husband asked, “What’s left if this doesn’t work? We are out of options.”

Karina says that her T has helped her repeatedly and continues to reassure her that she is committed to her, and yet Karina is fearful. I suspect that part of this dynamic is the same as my husband’s, which is the fear of losing all hope. As long as there is something left to try, all is not lost. However, when we commit to the last resort and it doesn’t work, all hope is gone, and then what’s the point of even trying anymore? As abused children, we would rather believe the abuse was our fault, which makes it something we can control, than to sink into complete despair.

My son’s new school was a huge blessing. It’s specialization made it the perfect fit, and my failing student started bringing homes A’s and B’s. Even more importantly, he rediscovered his love for learning. He just needed the right fit for his learning style.

It sounds like Karina has found the right fit as well – a T who is in invested in and committed to her. Her T also sounds fearless, never shying away no matter what new information is uncovered.

I reached a place in my healing process where I had to choose to trust, and that was not easy for me. It was actually one of the most difficult parts of my healing process because my heart had been broken so many times in my life, and I did not think I could survive one more heartbreak. However, unless I mustered up the courage to risk trust, I knew I would never heal. So, I bit the bullet and threw everything I had in taking that risk.

This was not easy for me. I spent the entire morning in the bathroom with diarrhea and fighting off vomiting. I was lightheaded and dizzy, and my heart kept racing like I was about to be thrown off a cliff. No matter how much I fought myself, I forced myself to open up. When I did (and it was well-received), I felt the ice breaking all around my heart and opened myself up to a truly emotionally-intimate relationship. This can be your experience as well, but you have to find the courage to take the risk.

Image credit: Hekatekris

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In my more vulnerable moments, I wrestle with feeling like I am always on the outside looking in. I feel like there is no place for me because I am not truly a part of anything.

The logical part of myself knows this is not the case. I have close friends, a church family, my isurvive family, my readers here, my coworkers, etc. I am certainly not alone. However, in my heart of hearts, I remain vulnerable to feeling like I don’t belong anywhere.

In my family of origin, just about all of my relatives “loved me in their own way.” I so needed to believe that my father or my mother/abuser loved me, but the only way it ever made sense was to tack on the phrase “in his/her own way.”

I stumbled upon a saying that helped me come to terms with how someone could love me without my being able to feel loved:

Just because someone doesn’t love you with all that you need doesn’t mean s/he isn’t loving you with all that they have. ~ Author unknown

This quote helped me to recognize that it was possible for my mother or father to love me with all of the love they had to give while, at the same time, the amount of that love being sorely inadequate for my needs. Sadly, I married someone who falls into this category, and it applies to my extended family as well. Yes, I have people in my family who love me, but it’s always with the qualifier of “in his/her own way.”

I have built my own family locally, and I have friends who love me deeply. However, I am still not “family” as much as they try to say that I am. At the end of the day, I am on the outside. I am not part of their families (for better or for worse), nor I am family beyond “in their own way” in my family of marriage. Meanwhile, I have cut ties with most of my family of origin (other than my sister, who does love me – period – but she doesn’t live locally).

Even my child joined my family through adoption, and he will sometimes remind me that I am not his “real” mother. Most of the time, this doesn’t bother me. I’ll say things like driving him around seems like a lot of work for a “fake” child. However, he will sometimes catch me at a vulnerable time, and it will hurt. (My son is one of the few people in my life who I know truly loves me – period.)

I don’t always feel this way, but it’s a vulnerability beneath the surface, and I wonder if I will ever fully process these feelings.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I believe I have shared before that my son goes to school with my ex-friend’s child. (If you need to catch up on the ex-friend drama, you can do so here.) I have also shared that her child told me that my ex-friend was having some sort of medical issue back in February. Yesterday, my son came home from school and said that ex-friend’s daughter shared that her mother **might** have cancer.

Keep in mind that this is hardly a reliable source. The daughter has told me inaccurate medical information about her mother before, such as telling me (back when ex-friend and I were still friends) that her mother was going to have back surgery and be on bed rest for six weeks. It turned out that this was an option but never seriously considered. I also don’t know if “might have cancer” could be confusion over the explanation for the purpose of a mammogram – to “screen for” cancer. So, I am not jumping the gun and assuming the worst case scenario.

Even if ex-friend does have cancer, I have no idea what type of cancer or what stage it is in. I have known people with Stage 1 skin cancer where removing it was not that big of a deal. However, I have known other people with aggressive cancer in the later stages who have had to go through surgery, chemo, and/or radiation. So, I certainly do not take cancer lightly.

I guess the most relevant part for me is whether any of this information changes anything as far as my role (or non-role) in her life and vice versa. She is a single mother with limited support (in part because she drives away those who love her and does not welcome in new friends very often). If she has to deal with chemo or surgery, she doesn’t have a strong support system to help her through it.

Does that change anything with me, though? The compassionate part of myself wants to help her if she is mostly alone and dealing with cancer while the logical part of myself says that my ex-friend’s physical health is irrelevant to the reasons why this friendship ended. The practical side of me says that with school letting out soon, I probably won’t know either way, and I have no interest in investing in that friendship again. I am conflicted about this information.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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PhotobucketThe last few days have been rough. I don’t think it is all about Mother’s Day, though, although I am sure that contributed to it. The initial trigger that caused the spiral was my son being unappreciative. (Yes, I get that he is 11 and that 11-year-old’s aren’t always appreciative, but still…)

I can’t remember if I have already shared this, but hub is halfway through a two-month hiatus from work (long story that is his to share, not mine), so much of my life is “about” him right now. On top of this, my child has special needs, so life is always “about” him as well. In fact, I have taken him to three doctors in a week – one for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication management, one for asthma management, and one for poison ivy on his face.

I think part of what set off the downward spiral is that too much of my life is about the two people who drain the most energy without replenishing it, and I am burning out after five weeks of this (on hub’s end – with my son, it is 11 years of this).

I am not “blaming” either of them for being so needy. I am just stating that I have needs, too, and they have been shoved to the side so I can take care of them. I usually have time during the work week to meet my own needs while hub is at work and child is at school, but hub has been home 24/7 (I work from home) since the beginning of April, and I have had to pick the child up early three out of the last five school days, and all of this is interfering with me meeting me own needs.

When I go through a pity party, it is (ironically) rarely about my childhood. It is about the two areas of my life (being a wife and mother) that take the most effort with the fewest results. I have spent years trying to “cheer hub up,” but he is perpetually unhappy (not with me specifically, but with life in general). I have also spent years taking my child to doctors and educational experts to meet his needs for asthma, ADHD, and learning disabilities, including dyslexia, and there appears to be no end in sight with any of these issues.

I think I am just plain worn out and need a break, but I don’t see a break coming. Hub returns to work, quite literally, the day before my child gets out of school for the summer. I’ll have to figure out some way to nurture myself because I feel like I am going to lose my mind!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketOne of my challenges in my early years of healing was feeling the need to take care of others while they were trying to take care of me. As an example, I might have just recovered a traumatizing memory involving being forced to kill an animal. I needed to talk about what happened as well as how it made me feel. However, I wasn’t always sure that the other person could handle hearing about it.

So, instead of just letting loose and unloading what I needed to share, I would dole out the information in pieces and gauge the other person’s reaction. I might begin with, “When I was seven, I was forced to do something.” I’d gauge the other person’s reaction before continuing. I would then share a little more and see if the person could handle the direction I was going.

I had one friend who could handle hearing about most of my stuff, but she is a huge dog lover, so she stopped me as soon as I said the word “dog.” She was direct about it, but not every friend would be. I wouldn’t know until I said one thing too many and saw in the reaction on the other person’s face that I had gone too far in my disclosure. I would then feel the need to shift gears to comfort the other person.

The worst part was that I was already feeling so much shame and self-loathing over what I had remembered. Seeing a strong reaction on the other person’s face would sometimes reinforce that shame, even if the other person said the “right” things. I am an expert in “reading” other people, so the body language would overshadow the words.

My therapist was the one person who never flinched face-to-face no matter how gruesome my story was. I also felt completely free to share all in the My Stories forum on isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. I would put up a trigger warning, and anyone who read my story knew to expect a graphic recounting of what happened. I didn’t do that to shock anyone – I simply felt the need to pour out what happened in graphic detail. Once it was out on the screen, it felt like I had poured the memory out of my spirit.

This is one reason that finding a qualified therapist with experience working with child abuse survivors can be so helpful. If you are only talking with your friends about what happened, you might find yourself unable to let go and share all when you feel the need to do so. I have told my friends that as difficult as it is for them to hear about my story as an adult, I assure them that it was much harder to survive as a child.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I shared yesterday, my sister has always been a wonderful role model about love and acceptance. She was always willing to meet me wherever I was, whether that was in self-denial or self-exploration. Sadly, it has only been since going through the healing process that I have reciprocated the acceptance piece.

My father (the “good” parent) raised me to believe that success = money, and my mother and conservation community raised me to believe that success = being a virgin, marrying well, and being a stay-at-home mom. I split myself inside so I could believe I was still a virgin, went to law school so I could have money (even though I hated law school), married a lawyer, and quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom when my child came along. I wanted to follow the rules so I would be safe.

My sister did not “follow the rules.” She dropped out of high school after ninth grade because our mother had started abusing her again during the night. (I had left for college.) She could not stay awake all night armed with a knife and also be successful in school during the day.

I couldn’t “see” the abuse because that would have shattered my walls of self-denial. All I saw was my intelligent sister throwing away her education. With the strong encouragement of my grandparents (father’s parents), I tried to get my sister into college to no avail. Her path was very different from mine. I eventually accepted that she was going to live her life in the way she chose and that I was powerless to change any of it.

Fast-forward to her mid-thirties – My sister made her own decision (I had given up years before) to go to college. She graduated with honors with a double degree and will graduate this year with a double master’s degree. Her college experience was much richer than mine because mine was about escaping my mother whereas hers has been an adult enriching herself.

I couldn’t see my sister for who she was until I faced down my own demons. Possibly because my sister knew this about me (whether consciously or subconsciously), she loved and accepted me through it. As I removed my walls of self-denial, I was able to see not only myself more clearly but also my sister. Her journey makes sense to me today whereas it baffled me before.

I think it is my sister’s attitude of acceptance toward me that was the glue that held us together. I think she knew it was worth putting up with ignorant comments from me as she waited for me to find my way back to myself. I am so grateful that she did because I wouldn’t trade what we have today for anything!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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