The Journey to the Light After an Abusive Relationship
by Richard Skerritt
[It's easy to saunter through life without giving any thought to where our thoughts and emotions come from. Most of us are perfectly happy with the idea that we think and decide about things rationally. Feelings are mostly an annoyance, except for falling in love. With that most of us are happy with the romantic myth that the universe has a single soul-mate for us, and fate unites us in blissful harmony, etc, etc.
Then our soul-mate begins to destroy our soul, and things lose their simple, rosy glow.
The reality is that our minds have multiple levels on which they function. Rational thought is one of those levels. Rational thought is volitional - we can choose what to think about, and how we think about it. Not so with other things our minds do. Recognizing this is the first step to managing the totality of our lives.
Emotions are, in a sense, like someone banging on the pipes three floors away. They're a signal. We can tell there's a message there. But where it's coming from, and what it means... that can be hard to understand. Since we start out in life without any tools to interpret them, we generally just treat emotions as noise. And when they're unpleasant emotions, we wish, just like the banging on the pipes, that they would just stop.
Unfortunately, they usually don't just stop, because they are created for a reason. Our minds, working outside the watchful supervision of volitional, rational thought, are trying to motivate us to change something - to fill a need that is going unmet, or to stop a hurt that shouldn't be. When our emotional lives become toxic, these signals can be overwhelming, but that doesn't make them any easier to interpret.
To deal with these painful situations, we need to build an awareness of all the signals our minds can send us. Then we need to learn how to decipher these messages, and extract some meaningful guidance from them. If we can interpret them, and listen to them, we can make changes in our lives that make us more complete people, meet our important emotional needs, and eventually quiet down that banging on our emotional pipes.
This section was called Tears and Healing before the book took that name. It was probably the biggest turning point in my own understanding. It was here that I really began to recognize what I as a unique and special person am supposed to be about. With the insight that I gained and shared in this piece, I became an active part of my own emotional life, recognizing that fulfilling my life is not just about making reasoned decisions.
This essay was written far in my past. Since then I've continued to learn more about myself and my experiences, and to help others find their way through these same challenges. Tears & Healing explores the emotional issues in being in, and getting out of, an abusive relationship. In Love and Loving It - Or Not! explains how and why we fall in love, what real love is, and how to make changes so love works for us and not against us. Meaning from Madness explains what motivates the disordered, how they distort reality and what the prospects for improvement are. All my latest writing on issues like Narcissism, Borderline, Sociopathy, Alcoholism, Family Holiday Craziness, Social Holiday Craziness, the Narcissist/Borderline Spectrum; Sept 11; Abuse; Online Support Groups; and practical definitions of the abusive disorders are collected in Tears & Healing Reflections. Get it in the Relationship Pack along with the first three. The Richard Skerritt Pack has all five of my books, Tears & Healing, Meaning from Madness, In Love and Loving It, The Way of Respect, and Tears & Healing Reflections.]
Tears and Healing
I don’t know about you, but I’ve shed plenty of tears on this long road. And I think I’ve finally figured out how this works.
Spirit/Mind - I go back again to Peck (p.169). He teaches that depression results from a disconnect between our conscious and our unconscious minds. I’ll take some liberty with this and put it another way. The problem is a disconnect between our spirit and our mind. Your spirit is you - it is the complete, full, good and healthy you. It is the vital energy that drives your life. It is the source of joy and inspiration. Your memory, on the other hand, is programmable. In an abusive relationship, it can become a garbage can stuffed full of thoughts that have been shoved in there by you and the people you’ve been around. And when I say garbage, for those of us in long term relationships with abusive partners, I mean garbage.
You see, we may think we know what we think, but I realize now that’s not so. What we think is a conglomerate of all the stuff that’s been said and done to us. I might sit here and say to you, “I know I’m a faithful husband.” And you would think that means that I think I’m a faithful husband. But not so fast.
I had somebody helping to shape these thoughts about me - an abusive spouse. And she told me over and over, in a pretty violent way, that I was NOT faithful to her. My reason and logic says “I’ve never done anything unfaithful.” But that’s not what I think. The doubt has crept in, and what I really think is that I’m not sure if I’m a faithful husband.
Now, my spirit tells me that I’m faithful, and moves me to be faithful. But my mind, now polluted with thoughts stuffed into it by an abusive spouse, isn’t sure. This disconnect is going to cause problems. If it’s important to me, it’s going to make me depressed. I’m going to feel bad about myself, have less energy and initiative, and feel the other manifestations of depression. Now bear with me because I haven’t gotten to the tears yet.
Follow the unfaithful example along a bit further. Let’s say I’m feeling depressed about this. And I have a chance to talk with one of my close friends. I don’t really know I’m depressed about this, because I think I know what I’m thinking (that I’m faithful), so I don’t know to ask for help with it. But I do know that I’m sick of hearing this from my spouse. And when I mention it to my friend, the first words that come back are “Of course you’ve been faithful.” And suddenly I’m holding back tears.
Tears Come When You Release the Conflict - What triggered the tears was a change in my thoughts. Someone said something that helps to reverse the conflict between my spirit (I’m faithful and want to be) and my thoughts (I’m not sure because my abusive spouse tells me over and over I’m not). It unwinds some of the thought training that caused the conflict.
Think about your own experiences. Surely you can remember times when a friend or family member has reassured you about some aspect of yourself around which you’ve been attacked. And you have this upwelling of tears. It certainly has been consistent in my life.
Tears Are Leading You to Your Whole Self - So tears, in effect, are pointing out the path to freeing your whole self. When you well up, think about what positive affirmation you’ve just received. This is an area where you need more conscious work, thought work, to retrain your memory to match your spirit. And I can guarantee that the retraining means shoving positive thoughts into your mind - into your memory bank of experience.
This is the learning for me. It happens a lot to me, because my wife has attacked my character in every imaginable way. And she has shoved a tremendous amount of garbage, and I mean garbage, into my memory. I’m learning now to give up the “I know I’m a good person” routine. Logic doesn’t cut it. It’s experience that defines what we know, and abusive experiences load us with garbage about ourselves. I know now, from being aware of my tears, that I’m really not sure if I’m faithful, and I need to get some input on that. Over and over. Because she’s abused me over and over. And it isn’t going to go away with one little reassurance.
Pay Attention to the Message - The other learning is that, if tears are signaling me, I need to deal with that issue. I might not like it, but I need to. Because it’s about a violation of my spirit. This is where a lot of nons could learn more about why they’re unhappy with their relationships or their situations. Let’s say I’m being given a thought about divorcing my wife and finding someone else that can smile and be happy with me, and it’s making me cry. I better think about that. Because my spirit is calling for something. The thoughts in the garbage can are saying “I won’t leave my wife.” But the spirit is making itself felt. It needs more. I need more. I need a relationship in which I’m loved and valued, not degraded. There’s no point in dodging it. And antidepressants won’t make that go way.
Let me give another example; something has come to me recently. I pretty much admit to being an emotional teenager, so it should be no surprise I listen to a lot of popular music. Lately I’ve been having some pretty strong emotional reactions to songs that deal with gratitude and complete, balanced relationships. This was a tricky one. I know enough now that when I’m welling up, there is a message there I need to find. But I kept thinking that I wanted to fall in love, or I wanted to be in love again. That doesn’t really fit what I know about myself right now, so I kept pondering this. And finally, I got an insight that I think explains the message.
These songs are about gratitude for complete relationships. And the insight here is that there is an aspect of me that I think is pretty important that has never been validated. I’m a very giving person. And even in the face of miserable NEC behavior, I gave my wife a lot of love and care. The problem is simple: she couldn’t acknowledge or appreciate what I gave her. So the learning here is simple: find a relationship with someone who can accept, appreciate and acknowledge my love. Wow. Sounds simple. But it took some determination for me to ferret that out.
Tears - they tell us so much about where we need to go. They are the guiding lights of recovery. To follow that guide, it will take help from others and courage. But that is the path to wholeness, to true satisfaction - the path to the light.
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