I had Tuesday Therapy last week as usual but not this week. This week is Spring Break, and I was with my family in a cabin in the woods on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Duh duh duuuuuuuh…(my husband only stayed a day while the girls and I stayed for four).
I was given homework. Therapy homework! I am a go-getter when it comes to homework. I have, therefore, put my entire self into doing it. My therapist observed that I was angry. Really? You don’t say. Truthfully, I didn’t like his observation. I immediately felt angry about it.
I knew what he was doing intellectually. He was trying to name my feelings for me. In so doing he was going to help me get in touch with them and parse them. What am I angry about? Anger is an energizing and protective emotion. It’s not sinful as so many people would have us believe. It’s a feeling like any other feeling. Anger, happiness, sadness, euphoria, frustration, excitement. These are all feelings on the huge spectrum of human emotion. What I did not like is that he merely named it. He did not validate me. I know why I’m angry. I am in therapy so that I can figure out what is necessary and useful and what needs to go. I need validation dammit!
Of course, this is why he gave me my homework. I was to “reflect on my anger” so that I might look at what anger I needed so that I could maintain a good course and what anger might be preventing me from taking good action. What anger might be entrenching me in a position that would be unhealthy? This is actually a good exercise albeit unpleasant. I recommend it to anyone looking to progress and untangle themselves emotionally. So, I did it. I am a self-aware and mindful person. I took my laptop to a familiar place where I’m comfortable and reflected on my anger. I initially wrote eight pages. I have added to it as I have continued to reflect. I now have ten pages. Ten pages of reflections on my anger. One page for every two years that I’ve known my husband.
What I have noticed is that after I wrote it all out I was less irritable. I was also much more prone to crying at odd times during the day. My anger was enabling me to function. It was like armor. Not much could pierce it. I feel far more vulnerable now. There is a well of pain and grief under that anger. And fear. Doing anger work while living with the person at whom you are angry is really difficult. It would be so much easier were I angry at him for cheating. I am not making light of adultery. That is a nightmare by itself. It is the fear, however, that is getting to me. I’m constantly anxious and on the verge of panic. This is what I mean. Fear is not typically an element in adultery.
When you live with someone with a history of violence who denies it things get dicey. Abusers, be they emotional, sexual, verbal, or physical, are predictably unpredictable. That’s the one thing you can be sure of. You will not know what they are going to do although this is what I know for sure: Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. I do not subscribe to the opinion so prevalent in certain faith communities that abusers change. In my experience, they do not. Abusers abuse.
Once the effects of abuse have passed from one generation to the next, permanent damage has been done. Once actions have to be taken to intervene in the spiritual, emotional, and physical lives of children in order to heal and correct their well-being due to previous abuse, then it’s clear that an abuser is no longer someone who “means well” or someone who “is trying”. They have crossed over into a different place regardless of the etiology of their maladaptive behaviors.
My 18 year-old daughter told me during our time on the North Shore that as soon as she leaves for college she will be cutting her father out of her life as much as she possibly can. She told me that to her and her friends I am a “saint”, an “angel”, a “woman who deserves so much better”, and (this made me laugh) a “warrior goddess who is not be trifled with”. Her father, she said, can just disappear for all she cares. Her 16 year-old sister agreed.
This hit me hard. I thought that I had done a better job protecting them, but they are too smart to miss anything. Looking back on my own childhood and adolescence, I didn’t miss much either. I knew everything going on in my house. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not the validation I wanted. “Yeah, Mom, we don’t like him either.” I wanted them to love him. He’s their father.
Alas, this is the process of telling the truth. This is what happens when you open up your life to it. Your children will start being honest with you. Your therapist will ask you to look inward with integrity. A lot is required of you when you want truth in your life.
Having come out of an abusive family of origin, I can tell you for certain that truth and abuse do not go together. The truth teller usually receives the most abuse in an abusive environment. Bringing the truth back to an abusive and invalidating relationship takes courage, support, and hope. I encourage you to do it. I don’t know where this is going, but I can assure you that we are moving forward. As painful as it is.
I’m burning the ships.