Therapy Tuesday: Rewriting History

Tuesday’s therapy session was excellent.  In fact, it was so good that it is worth sharing.  I have been trying to document the therapeutic process in an effort to depict how the process works so that those who are afraid of entering in will see that it’s worthwhile.  Also, if there are those who can’t get to therapy, then perhaps they can derive benefit from my process as laid out here.

As I explained in my last post, I went out to dinner with my ex-husband the night before last.  It was an interesting dinner to say the least.  He got some alcohol into him and became disinhibited; suddenly, he was more than willing to come at me with some vigor.  Lizard Man was on the loose.  It’s not surprising.  We were surrounded by meat and testosterone.  It had to rub off a little bit.

As I have written, we spent some time discussing perspectives, and I finally used the phrase “domestic violence” with him.  He did not like this at all.  He looked like I had punched him in the gut.  There is no room in his self-perception for that idea although it’s true, but I can relate.  I would be very broken up if I had hurt another person on the level that he has hurt me.  It takes a lot of resiliency to take in that kind of truth: “You have been abusive.  You have been a domestic abuser.”  How does one write that into a personal narrative and come out the other side with a decent self-esteem? I am in no way looking to stick it to him or hurt him.  I don’t want to vilify him.  Truth, however, is necessary, and we are not divorcing because I can’t reconcile a few differences.  Domestic abuse is not a “difference”.  It’s a crime, and he committed two felonies while he was abusing me.  He won’t accept that so I absorb the inequities.  Well, a person can only do that for so long until the dam begins to crack.

So, what happens then? You rewrite history.  And, he did it in real time in front of me.  The most popular post I’ve written on this blog deals with alexithymia which is a pathological inability to name one’s feelings.  My ex-husband is alexithymic.  My therapist named it “emotionally incompetent”.  Nothing could be talked about or resolved because he could not discuss anything to the point of resolution.  It crippled our relationship in almost every aspect.  Feeling the need to salvage his ego most likely, he said over dinner: “I always knew what I felt.  I just felt like I was under the microscope with you.  I’m a slow processor.  But, when I had time I could get to it.  I knew what I was feeling.”

I was gobsmacked, and I said so.  If he, in fact, always had the ability to name his feelings and had refused to engage in meaningful discussion for nineteen years, then this was nothing short of betrayal! What good would doing something like that do for him? What would he get out of depriving himself and his wife of meaningful relationship? Isn’t that the point of marriage?

I brought this to my therapist yesterday.  He grinned and asked, “Do you believe him?” I didn’t know.  He then said, “He’s lying.  I call bullshit.  No one can feign emotional incompetence for nineteen years.  Not even a psychopath.  He is rewriting history here so that he can get some power back and blame you.”

Rewriting history? Is that so?

Divorce is hard.  Right now, for me, it’s easy, but it is well and truly over for me.  I spent the last three years living in fear and turmoil.  My heart was broken.  I felt betrayed and isolated.  Desolate and hopeless.  Like I had no way out.  There was no consequence of any kind for him for anything that he was doing.  Now? He is reaping what he has sewn, and, frankly, it must suck.  He is losing everything that he has counted on to be there.  I can see how painful that is.  One’s self-perception can only allow for so much.  One can only tolerate so much change at a time.  How does one keep going then? Pick a story and go with it.  One that will shore up the self.

His story? He’s a victim, too, and he’s angry.  Angry and smug.  It is very interesting to see him rewrite our history in front of me.  He had the skills the entire time? He just chose never to use them? It feels like I’m speaking to a teenager, and that is what my therapist said.  He is behaving like a teenager who is trying to separate and individuate, and, due to his emotional incompetence, he is doing it poorly.

The thing to take from this is the idea of rewriting histories.  I felt very manipulated when he came at me with his “revelation” that he could, in fact, always do the very thing that he previously said he could not.  He has already said that he felt that relationships were a waste of time.  Now this? No, nineteen years of experience say the opposite.  In intense experiences like a divorce, for example, people may resort to tactics that are hurtful and even deceptive in order to gain some momentum in ego restoration.  I don’t know what I would have believed had I not been able to bring this to my therapist.  He called it right away, and I feel very peaceful.  I can also stay in wise mind as I watch my ex-husband struggle to stay afloat.  He is in the grieving process right now, and he’ll be there for a long time.  I empathize.

Alas, I don’t sympathize.  It could have been prevented.

So, pay attention to this phenomenon in your intense relationships or as relationships end–rewriting histories.  People will do this as a way to shore up their own egos and feel better about themselves.  They will do this to create a personal narrative that they can tolerate; one in which they are the hero, the victim, the martyr, the child, but never the villain.  They may use their new narrative as a weapon of blame casting you as the villain instead–a role reversal.  Also, pay attention to yourself.  We all have a narrative.  Are you rewriting history? I’ve done it–cast myself in a certain role only to go back and see that I was not who I believed myself to be.  The truth was painful, but truth is like strong medicine.  If we take it in, then we gain momentum to move forward much faster rather than stagnating in self-deception and maladaptive coping strategies.

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