Since my divorce in early 2010 I have worked hard to work through the emotions and scars that all divorce creates – no matter how friendly it was. I have spent time in pastoral counseling, professional counseling, and I have talked to people who knew us as a couple for various lengths of time. I have, just as you probably have done, spent too much time analyzing the memories in my head. Every once in a while I come to the conclusion that it wasn’t as bad as I think it was. Perhaps I am exaggerating the abuses (can I even call them abuses?) and the trauma I endured.
Am I a Rabble-Rouser?
Once in a while someone leaves a comment here or emails me to let me know that I am bitter and need to get past my past. I need to extend forgiveness. I need to stop stirring up women and encouraging them to “feel abused”. It isn’t just one or two people, either. There is a small percentage so if you have emailed me or commented here please know that I am not getting you back. You’ve just given me stuff to think about which is always a good thing.
One of my counselors at the VA (Veteran’s Administration Hospital) told me a long time ago I had symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and I told him he was nuts. Family and friends have given their perceptions on what my relationship was like and they are usually as I remember it or worse. When a cashier at a store comes up to you and says, “I am so happy that you are out of that mess!” you have to wonder what other people saw that you didn’t.
I just did what needed to be done. It’s called being a responsible adult.
In the past month I have struggled with these kinds of questions. Am I just airing dirty laundry? Am I attacking the ex in a way that he can’t defend himself? Am I exaggerating? Believe me there has been prayer.
It’s more difficult to think clearly about it all because it seems that he is treating his fiancée so differently than he did us. Maybe it is still in that first stage or maybe I just brought out the worst in him. Time will tell.
You Can’t Fool Your Subconscious
The other day I had to go to the VA hospital for some blood work and a checkup. I had a complete thyroidectomy in 2009 about two months before the separation. It means daily medication and constant follow up. I was sitting in the lab waiting to have blood taken when a man walked in and sat down two chairs down. For some reason my brain decided it was my ex. There was some resemblance but they were not twins for sure. All of a sudden my heart was beating out of my chest, I started shaking, I was nauseated, and I got dizzy. It was everything I could do to keep myself from running out. The tech had a difficult time getting a vein and commented on my shaking. I told her I suddenly felt unwell.
When she was done I bolted out of there to the bathroom and threw up. My knees were like water and my heart was still thumping painfully around in my chest. By the time I got to the car where my husband was waiting my teeth were chattering and I was just shy of full meltdown. I took deep breaths. I reminded myself I was safe. I got myself under control. I posted to Facebook, “…And the PTSD is still with me…”
And then the rest of the afternoon I chided myself for my silly reaction. After all, it wasn’t that bad.
Yes. Yes it was.
The Brain Knows
This afternoon I was reading an article about love and how the brain processes different aspects of relationship. I was especially interested in the idea that physical abuse and emotional neglect cause similar chemical responses in the brain. It can be said that emotional abuse and neglect are as damaging as physical abuse and neglect – maybe even more so since it is so invisible.
I have a couple of friends that have auto-immune diseases that cause them horrible pain. It isn’t obvious that they have a medical problem but the invisible disability is just as debilitating as any obvious one.
Once we are out of an abusive situation our brains begin to protect us by soothing our fears. We can’t experience the actual pain after a while so we begin to think that we are over-reacting. It is especially easy for us to believe that because we lived with a person who accused us of over-reacting to and twisting everything that was said to us.
Of course it’s easy for us to doubt our own perceptions. Duh.
So, while we are beating ourselves up for being unfairly hard on the narcissist our subconscious minds are jumping up and down, waving emotional arms, and screaming to get our attention.
Forgiveness and Fast Forwarding
My first question was whether or not I had forgiven him. The answer is yes – and no. I have forgiven him in that I don’t want to “get back at him”. I could care less what he does or how he does it as long as it doesn’t affect the kids or me. I do wish that he would experience the consequences of his actions just once. I know it is childish but I’d like to watch Karma kick him in the backside with a vengeance while I was watching. That’s as honest as I can be.
I am not pining for him, longing for him, or thinking about him much at all. Yes, every week I sit down and write about the experience. Actually I recline because it’s usually late on a Saturday or Sunday night and my husband and I are catching up on the shows we have DVR’d. Anyway, I recline here and I look at the notes I have made during the week. Maybe I read an article, talked to a friend, or had to work through a memory that sparked a response. I make tons of notes.
After all, I am a writer and that’s what writers do. We don’t write to get revenge. Well, that’s not totally true, either. I like nothing more than to fictionally torture someone who has hurt me in real life in one of my novellas. I digress.
Talking about your feelings is part of the healing process. Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons- User: Dani_vr
Healing Is a Process
Each of us has things that we must work through in order to move on. For most women this means communicating. There is something about how we are wired that compels us to discuss an issue until it no longer bothers us. It can take days, weeks, or months. In fact, if it is very deep sometimes it comes off in layers and it can take years.
It does not mean that you are dwelling. It means that you are healing.
Remember labor? If you tensed up when you felt a contraction coming on it was so much worse and lasted so much longer. In fact, tensing up and trying to suppress it does what?
It makes the process less effective and longer in duration.
In order for healing to occur you must let it happen. You must own your feelings, recognize and name abuse, and work it out your own way whether that is through a journal, a sketchpad, a computer keyboard, or a long chat with friends.
Abuse Is Experiential
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Your experience was your experience and no one can judge or evaluate it in the same way that you can. Abuse takes many forms and some of those forms can be pretty inconspicuous. Just because someone else didn’t see it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t abuse. Think about this definition from Wikipedia:
Abuse is the improper usage or treatment of an entity, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit.
Each person experiences life in a different way. A very confident, extrovert will not be phased by someone publicly teasing them while a self-conscious introvert may be scarred by it. It is an important aspect of love that one spouse understands and is sensitive to the weaknesses in the other, protecting them not exploiting the intimate knowledge that they have in their keeping.
In a narcissistic relationship that doesn’t happen. Since the narcissist uses people for his own purposes and benefits the relationship is an abusive one from the beginning even when things still seem wonderful.
You aren’t alone, you know. Others have endured similar things and come through battle-weary but victorious. You will too. Are you ready to share your experiences and learn for the experiences of others? Join First Wives World today to be part of this vibrant community.
Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons- User: Thomas Leuthard.