Truth is not easy. Telling it, avoiding it, denying it, seeing it. Sometimes it isn’t clear. The truth, from my perspective, might look wildly different from someone else’s perspective. Perspectives. I do understand this.
Perspective-taking is the bedrock of empathy. Before you can enter into someone’s emotional experience, you must see their experience or situation from their perspective. Perspective-taking is a learned skill. For some, it comes naturally. Other people struggle with this. I suspect that one reason perspective-taking is difficult is that it confronts our self-perception. Let me explain.
Last night, my soon-to-be ex-husband invited me out to dinner. He chose a “foodie” restaurant. He had made reservations. In fact, it was our city’s Restaurant of the Year in 2012 as well as a James Beard semi-finalist. It was a carnivore’s paradise what with beefy, lumberjack-like servers toting around expansive platters of charcuterie and glasses of mead. I knew I was in for a rough ride. I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I rarely if ever eat pork. My ex looked to be in heaven. I ordered a glass of wine–something I rarely do.
Everything went smoothly until he leaned in and asked me a direct question about a situation in my life. I felt a bit cornered and started stuffing my mouth with huge pieces of salmon in hopes that it would prevent me from speaking or, at least, give me time to formulate an answer. I sucked down my wine quickly. He noticed. “Is it that hard to answer me?” he asked in a smug tone. “Try to see things from my perspective.”
“Try to see things from my perspective.”
I stayed married to him for as long as I did because I could see things from his perspective and lost sight of my own. I could only see things from his perspective for a long time because everything had become about him. His narrative had to change. His perspective mattered, but his self-perception was bolstering his perspective. His self-perception needed a shift.
Fortified by wine and four months of intense therapy, I determined to assert myself.
“I understand your perspective actually. I can fully empathize with you. It is time, however, that you see things from my perspective. Do you know why my therapy appointments go on for so long?”
“Because I am a victim of domestic violence. That is how I have been labeled. It has been the goal of my therapist to make sure that I am safe and in a healthy environment. That I would be able to self-advocate.”
He looked stunned.
“When your wife has to have surgery followed up by four months of rehab in order to learn to walk again because of something that you did to her, whether it was motivated by rage or unmanaged anxiety, that is physical abuse. And physical abuse inflicted by a partner is domestic violence. You committed a felony when you came at me with that knife. I am faced with yet another surgery in one month because of injuries you inflicted upon me over the course of many years. It’s corrective. No, it was not intentional. Nonetheless, you knew. You blamed it on your anxiety. That was up to you to address. I should not have had to pay for your mental instability, but I did. You do not get to be around and act as a support person for me when I’m in recovery from a surgery that you, in fact, caused! That’s crazymaking. I get to choose my support people. You need to start seeing this from my perspective, too.”
I don’t think he can. To see himself as a man capable of abuse is too much. His self-perception and his perspective are interwoven. He wants me to continually look at the separation and dissolution of the marriage from his perspective. I can do that, and this is where my empathy for him enters. I am willing to look at my mistakes; however, I want to avoid blame. Danny Lee Silk’s interpretation of blame makes sense to me: “Blame is simply giving away our power, power to direct and change our own lives, to someone else. When we blame someone, we have said, “I cannot change unless you change. I cannot forgive unless you change. I cannot love unless you change”. This fits.
He expressed some blame last night. He was unable to accomplish certain things because of me. I am very interested to see just how deep that rabbit hole goes. I don’t blame him. Ultimately, I have always been responsible for my happiness which is why I’m choosing this path. It’s very difficult to create a rewarding and fulfilling life with someone who not only won’t participate in sustaining their own happiness but also blames you for their lack of it.
Blame is not a part of my emotional repertoire at this point. It makes us victims–victims of others and even ourselves. I want empowerment. And change.
Blame has to go.