The Reboot

“Can you burn out a brain?”

That was my question to my therapist on Tuesday.  He just leaned back and knowingly stared at me.  Dammit, but why won’t he just give me a straight answer for once?!

Have you ever felt like your brain has decided to just stop processing information? I do not mean a depressive episode.  He actually quizzed me on my “symptoms”.  No, I do not feel sad.  I am not crying for no reason.  I hardly cry at all unless I’m premenstrual (sorry for meeting that stereotype, but it’s true).  I’m not failing to practice basic self-care or anything else that might meet the criteria for depression.  It’s like my brain suddenly became a blank slate, and it’s happy about it.  I have zero motivation to do anything, and I feel troubled by that because I feel absolutely no motivation to do anything about my lack of motivation.  Were it up to me, I would do nothing.  Eating is even questionable.

This is the polar opposite of my inborn personality, and it’s freaking me out.  It takes a Herculean effort on my part to accomplish anything.  Making my bed feels like climbing Mt. Everest.  Getting dressed and leaving the house feels like winning the Ironman.  Reading…anything feels like earning a PhD.  So, I asked him a second time:

“Can you burn out your brain?”

Maybe I have a dopamine deficiency, I posited.  That’s a real thing.  I did all sorts of research (yes, that’s me earning my PhD).  He shook his head at me and explained why that wasn’t possible based upon what I was describing.

“What’s wrong with me? I’m a mushpile! I’m not…me!”

Again, he sits back and makes his thinking face except he looks a little smug.  A bit like  what your opponent in Trivial Pursuit looks like when they’re reading the question card to you, the answer being fully available to them, while you have no clue what it is.

It was a therapeutic tête-a-tête.  Was he really going to sit there looking like the Sphynx, or was he going to help a girl out?

“What if your brain is perfectly fine? The brain knows how to heal itself.  What if your brain is actually regenerating right now?  What if it is, for lack of a better word, lying fallow because it needs to heal, and your experience of the healing process manifests itself as feeling as you do in this moment?”

The last four years have been characterized by incessant, inconceivable intensity.  The last year capped off the last four years with quite the flourish.  There wasn’t a break.  There was little support.  There was some trauma.  I’ve burned out my body in a sense.  I’m perpetually exhausted physically and trying to rebuild my health.  What of my brain? How do you heal a brain?

“Can you go with it? How hard would that be for you?” he asked.

Oh, that advice was like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Just sit with this feeling? Accept it?

“What if I get stuck? What if it never goes away?”

Then we talked about what that might look like–symptoms of getting stuck in my current state of being a mushpile with no motivation.  It almost feels like cognitive inertia mixed with ambivalence.  Just make all my decisions for me.  Tell me what to eat, where to go, what to wear (well, maybe not what to wear.  I’m still in here somewhere), and what coffee to drink.  I don’t know that I would mind.  I just want to sit somewhere and do nothing.  My mind wants to go blank and think on absolutely nothing.  Until it doesn’t.  This phenomenon makes me feel panic.  I don’t feel like myself.

I had to go home and think about it.  I came back with a metaphor that made sense to me.  “Am I rebooting? Sort of like when you update the operating system on your machine? The update can take freakin’ forever because you’re dealing with the kernel.  Then, the machine has to reboot, and that can take a while, too.  It looks like nothing is happening, but a lot is happening.  The entire system is undergoing an upgrade.  Ideally, you are actually going to end up with a better machine, less bugs, and new features.  Before you get to access any of that, however, your machine has to reboot.  Does the brain go through anything like that?”

The Sphynx liked this analogy.  A lot.

“You are rebooting.  Don’t fight it.  Your brain is actually healing from the intensity you faced with your daughter and her illness, enduring the abuse in your marriage, and doing the hardest thing–getting out of that while protecting your children–not to mention in the middle of it you sent your oldest child to college and helped her make that transition while helping your two highest needs children make the middle school and high school transitions which did not go well.  Plus, you got very sick.  You need to go through this now.  Allow it.  Let yourself be upgraded, debugged, and, then, rebooted.”

The Reboot.

Okay, but how? His most basic advice was to begin with mindfulness which is the buzzword in our culture right now.  It made the cover of TIME magazine last year, but mindfulness has been around for centuries.  If this is indeed what is happening, then I in no way want to fight this process.  This is necessary.  I’m a very mindful person as it is, but how could I upgrade that?

“Give your brain a task,” he said.  “A brain without a task will either 1) drift to the past and ruminate 2) go to the future and worry and perseverate or 3) obsess about something in the present.  The brain needs a task in order stay present in a healthy way.”

This is true.  From my experience, this is not opinion.  This is fact.  My mind does this all the time.

“Focus on one thing at a time in order to practice not engaging in multi-tasking.  Multi-tasking is corrosive to the brain.  Pick any one thing.  Breathing is a helpful thing to focus on because you are always breathing.  Simply tell your brain to focus on your breathing as you do things that do not necessarily require its attention.  If your brain wanders, don’t judge it.  Just bring it back to your breathing.”

He said that this is one way in which we build a mindfulness practice, and it’s one way to begin to see the value in The Reboot.  Neurons that fire together wire together.  To heal a brain, it’s vital to build new neural connections.  Practicing being present and disciplining the mind by not allowing it to run to and fro, chasing every rabbit down every hole, creates opportunities for those new neurons to fire together.  That is the one benefit of a mindfulness practice–practice being the operative word.

It does not work to say, “I won’t think about my ex-boyfriend anymore,” or “I will try not to linger in the memories of my past trauma for too long today.”  You have to give yourself another option so that when, for example, the Giant Rabbit of Trauma hops through your mind, tempting you to chase it down, you know what to do.  You have a task lined up for your brain.  “Let’s do this now instead, brain.”  Being able to gracefully move into mindfulness during moments like that is the result of practicing it.  My therapist is asserting that my current state of mind is a perfect time for an extended practice in mindfulness.  It’s time to allow my brain to let go of some things while providing space to build something new.  There is no problem here.  It just feels problematic.

Perhaps some of you might find this helpful particularly if you feel aimless, lacking in motivation, or just existentially fatigued.  All is not lost.  You may be “rebooting”.

Resources for Your Reboot:

It might be weird, but coloring is a great way to build a mindfulness practice.  There are myriad adult coloring books on the market now, and some of them are almost works of art.  Like these:

Mindfulness is also a foundational principle in the therapeutic approach Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as well as a component of EMDR, a highly effective therapeutic approach used in addressing trauma-based memories.  There are many reasons to pursue a mindfulness practice particularly if you are looking to pursue deeper healing in the future.

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Doing The Best We Can?

There is a DBT concept or belief that says: Everyone is doing the best they can in the moment.  I remember taking the DBT course and hearing this core belief for the first time.  I bristled.  I raised my hand.  I asked for one of the group leaders to elaborate on that core belief.  Were they really going to tell me to believe that everyone was doing the best they could in any given moment? Yes, they were going to ask me to believe that.  I like DBT a lot.  Many of DBT’s concepts are extraordinarily helpful, but I don’t buy into that core belief for a moment.  I don’t believe that a lot of people are doing the best they can.

I’m going to refer to Dr. David Schnarch for more elaboration on this point.  Dr. Schnarch is a bit of a pioneer in marital and family therapy particularly in the field of sex therapy.  His crucible approach and focus on differentiation and self-validation over anxiety reduction and other-validation are proving to be highly effective in empowering people to grow up and develop into the people they always could and perhaps should be.  Schnarch explains:

“A critical assumption in my approach is that clients understand more about their own motives and the reactions of their partners than many therapists give them credit for. We prefer to think clients are so “out of touch” they don’t foresee the impact when they say or do cruel, hurtful, inconsiderate things. This is how we maintain the cherished shibboleth: “People always do the best they can at the time.” Unfortunately, basic decency isn’t something we can take for granted. “Ambivalent attachment” and “insecure attachment” don’t begin to address the depth of hatred, animosity, and resentment that develop in many families and marriages. I use the term normal marital sadism to describe the nonreportable domestic violence that partners often inflict on each other.” (David Schnarch)

Prior to this explanation, Schnarch had elaborated:

“Like most therapists, I continually assess clients’ strengths and weaknesses and gauge my interventions accordingly. What’s different in my work is that while most therapists avoid saying things that their client might find upsetting, I push things further, earlier than colleagues who initially focus on their clients’ frailties, fears, and hypersensitivities. From the beginning, I tune into people’s strengths—their sense of right and wrong, their personal integrity, their willingness to tolerate pain for growth. Every day in my office, I’m impressed by people’s ability to act out of their deepest principles and values, even while thoroughly petrified and unsure of the outcome. I see effective therapy as being grounded in people’s resilience and their highest aspirations, rather than calling forth their fears, insecurities, and immaturities.

Many couples who come to see me are in crisis and on the verge of divorce. Perhaps an affair has been discovered, or arguments are escalating, or one or both partners are ready to leave. Crisis presents powerful opportunities for personal growth and relationship change if therapists don’t rush in and try to make things “stable” and reestablish the status quo. I see my role as challenging clients to confront and deal with dilemmas and conflicts in their current crisis, rather than dampening the situation, or making “security and safety” the primary focus of interventions. I avoid positive reframing to mollify people’s anger and resentments. I make no assumption that people operate out of misguided attempts at self-protection. Instead, I believe that couples’ current instability is their best chance to “clean up their mess” and build a solider relationship.” (David Schnarch)

What many people who are faced with conflict or even forms of abuse in their relationships seem to bump up against in other people or even their therapist is the notion that their partner doesn’t seem to understand the harm they are doing.  I recall hearing many family members say this to me when I was in the throes of conflict with my mother.  They justified her behavior with excuses like, “Well, your grandfather was just so critical,” or “She went through a lot with your dad,” or “I’m sure she’s doing the best she can.”  There’s that idea again.  They are doing the best they can.  Really? I don’t believe that.  Abuse is not someone’s best.  When we utter that statement we not only minimize and normalize abuse potentially enabling a harmful situation, but we also speak to the worst in the person who is engaged in the harmful behavior.  More than that, we belittle a person’s true best when it does reveal itself by declaring that their bad or even worst behavior is their best.  So, the best that person has to offer the world is slapping their kid around? The best that guy could ever be is an addict? The best that woman is at that moment is a homicidal lunatic? The best that father is at that moment is a pedophile? What kind of belief is that? And what kind of thing is that to say to the victims? “Your father was doing the best he could when he molested you.”  “Your husband was doing the best he could when he raped you.”  “Your sister was doing the best she could when she ruined your son’s graduation party by showing up high.”  In no way is this the best of anything.  This is the worst of human behavior because these types of behaviors are often done with intent, cruelty, and exploitation on the mind of the perpetrator.  They are seething with resentment, anger, and a drive to get their needs met at the expense of whomever is standing in their way.  This is what is at the heart of abusive behavior.

I have to address this very issue tomorrow in my therapy session because my therapist is a DBT guy.  He is walking the line with me right now concerning my husband and his behaviors.  He is starting to imply that he is doing the best he can, or he has done the best he could even in his abusive moments.  I have to side with Dr. Schnarch on this issue.  I grew up with abusive people.  I believed for a long time that my parents were doing the best they could…until I realized that they were not.  They were making choices.  They were making bad choices that affected others for the poorer, and they knew it.  This is the twist in abuse.  It’s hard to believe that someone being cruel does it on purpose, but they often do.  There is often an element of sadism in abuse.  This is why it’s hard to find a good therapist.  Many therapists have a hard time accepting that a person actually means to harm someone else, but, sadly, sometimes they do.  Humans can be the best beings on Earth, and they can also be the worst.

I am not advocating suspicion.  I am, however, advocating true self-advocacy.  For a full understanding of what this belief looks like in therapy and in relationships, please read Dr. David Schnarch’s article Mind-Mapping: How We Manipulate the People We Love.  It’s outstanding.

Resources:

Affective Deprivation Disorder and Alexithymia in Marriage

I have written somewhere in here that my marriage has been difficult.  If you’re married for nearly two decades, then I think, at some point, there will come hard relational times.  It’s inevitable and normal.  I am someone who doesn’t like to put up with hard times.  I feel driven to fix them.  I want to know what’s behind the problem.  If I am experiencing what I feel is pointless suffering, then I will do whatever it takes to either end it or, at least, add meaning to it.  I am the opposite of passive.

I seem to be married to my foil.  If I am a hare, then he’s a tortoise.  Nay, a rock.  I run around him.  Over and over again.  This can be good if it creates stability in a relationship, but it has created inertia and so much more.

After a while, one must ask: What is going on? Why am I in such pain? Why am I sick all the time? Why does he say that he’s happy when I feel like a black hole has opened up in my chest?

Let me introduce you to Affective Deprivation Disorder:

Affective Deprivation Disorder (AfDD) is a relational disorder resulting from the emotional deprivation sometimes experienced by the partner (or child) of persons with a low emotional/empathic quotient or alexithymia.

Coined by researcher Maxine Aston, AfDD was first applied to partners of adults with Asperger Syndrome, many of whom showed disturbing physical and psychological reactions to the lack of emotional reciprocity they were experiencing in their relationship. Maxine was later to broaden AfDD‘s applicability to include disorders other than Asperger’s such as depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, and substance abuse disorder in which the same low emotional intelligence or alexithymia is a key relational factor.

To qualify for a diagnosis of AfDD some or all of the following indicators in each category must be present:

One Partner must meet criteria for a diagnosis of one or more of the following:
• Low Emotional Intelligence
• Alexithymia
• Low Empathy Quotient

Relationship Profile includes one or more of the following
• High relational conflict
• Domestic abuse: emotional and/or physical
• Reduced marital or relationship satisfaction
• Reduced relationship quality

Possible Psychological Symptoms of AfDD
• Low self esteem.
• Feeling confused/bewildered.
• Feelings of anger, depression and anxiety
• Feelings of guilt.
• Loss of self/depersonalisation
• Phobias – social/agoraphobia
• Posttraumatic stress reactivity
• Breakdown

Possible Psychosomatic Effects
• Fatigue
• Sleeplessness
• Migraines.
• Loss or gain in weight.
• PMT/female related problems.
• ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis).
• Low immune system – colds to cancer.

Similar symptoms experienced by the SAD sufferer, are experienced by the AfDD sufferer. Yet there is an even more damaging effect for the AfDD sufferer insofar as it is another human being, they probably love, who is unintentionally responsible for their emotional deprivation. Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs, if these needs are not being met and the reason why is not understood, then mental and physical health may be affected. Awareness and understanding can eliminate this.

AfDD is a consequence of the relational situation a sufferer is in, therefore it is possible to find ways to rectify this. Just as sunlight restores the balance in SAD – emotional input and understanding can restore the balance in the person affected by AfDD. Relationships when one partner has alexithymia can work if both partners work together to understand their differences and develop a better way of communicating, showing emotional expression and loving that works for both of them.

The following treatment issues can be explored with those suffering AfDD:
• Rebuilding Self Esteem
• Having a voice
• Looking at negative responses.
• Looking at self image.
• Building confidence.
• Becoming assertive.
• Attending a Workshop.

Finding Self
• Identifying Parent – Child roles.
• Changing learned helplessness.
• Rebuilding self.
• Rebuilding family and relationships.
• Rebuilding a social life.
• Finding support.  (Maxine Aston)

What is alexithymia?

Alexithymia/ˌlɛksəˈθmiə/ is a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.[1] The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating.[2] Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding.[2] Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions.[3]

Alexithymia is defined by:[9]

  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style. (online source)

My husband is alexithymic.  He also has crippling anxiety combined with what looks to be disturbances in his personality.  He has low emotional intelligence to be sure and poor cognitive empathy.  He cannot name his emotions, and he has no idea why he does things.  We are not able to have meaningful discussions about anything.  We have never been able to do this.  When we were in the first year of our marriage, I thought he was being difficult.  I had never encountered another human being who could not name their own emotions.

“How do you feel?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I understand not being sure about something, but…”

“No, I mean I don’t know what I feel.”

He couldn’t identify or describe any of his emotions outside of feeling “depressed” or very angry.  He had constant feelings of getting sick (somatic complaints).  He lacked empathy, and he didn’t understand why I expected him to be able to anticipate needs or intuit things.  I assumed that he was capable of that.  As an example, when I was pregnant with our first daughter, I was put on bed rest for the last few weeks of my pregnancy due to an inability to walk from pelvic instability.  I had no friends where we lived as I hadn’t lived there very long.  I was, therefore, unable to go to the kitchen and prepare food.  I would have to sort of slither up the hall on my side to make it to the bathroom.  I literally could not walk or stand.  I was famished when he would get home.  He was never able to remember that I was home and unable to meet my needs.  One evening, he came home with food and ate in front of me.  He didn’t ask how I was, talk to me, or even engage.  He just sat there, glazed over, and ate his food while playing computer games.  He rarely greeted me.  I was so frustrated and angry.  He looked at me with wide-eyed innocence and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”  Obviously, nineteen years later I can see the flaws in my much younger self’s hidden expectations.  Just call him and ask him to bring food for you, younger self! He can’t read your mind! The point I am making is that he was completely unaware of the “other” in almost all circumstances.  Pregnant wife on bed rest unable to walk? He just didn’t get it or understand why that had anything to do with him or why he had any responsibility there.  It bewildered him.

That is, however, a typical interaction.  It has played out over and over again in different contexts over the years from him not visiting our baby and me in the hospital when she was thought to have meningitis to his bringing the Lord of The Rings trilogy to my labor and delivery because, “There will be a lot of waiting around.”  It ranges from the comical to the spectacularly hurtful.  For years and years, our daughters and I have observed this very obvious lack of emotional response and wondered why he didn’t like us.  What had we done wrong? My oldest daughter has spent the last six months coming to me in tears over her feelings of loss where her father is concerned.  She has wondered if something is wrong with her.  She has asked the classic question:

“If he loved us, then why doesn’t he try?”

Last night, I sat on the edge of my bed and cried.  I felt like I was crazy.  It is so hard to describe what it feels like to be married to this.  I told myself yesterday that if I could make myself more like him, then maybe it would be better.  If I could remove all emotional desire from myself, then I would be able to do this.  I actually asked God to make me like Spock.  That has to be one of the weirder prayers to ascend.  Like some warped psalm.

“Oh God, make me like Spock.  Purge me of emotion.  Oh my soul, shut the hell up so that only my brain will speak and my heart will sleep a thousand years.”

Poetic but not possible.  I found a better thing to ask.  I asked for a sense of being accepted and validated by someone.  I felt so misunderstood.  Like not one person understood the exact nature of what I was experiencing, and this was so isolating.  This sense of isolation is intolerable to me.  This morning, I found all this.  I just stumbled across the word ‘alexithymia’ and AfDD.  I then immediately found a paper about AfDD.  Read this:

The lack of empathy in these relationships is one key to their impacts. A lack of empathetic attunement disables the individual’s ability to recognise, interpret and to verify subtle emotional signals expressed by intimates and contributes to an impoverishment of emotional interaction. The interaction becomes further compounded when the unverified partner or family member reacts negatively to feelings of being misunderstood or neglected. In this sense the affective deprivation experienced in such relationships refers to the deprivation of emotional-attunement, emotional validation, and intelligent emotional responding. To the extent that people look to their significant other for validation, the lack of such validation can corrode their sense of self and lead to a discouragement of self expression whereby large portions of the individual’s emotional repertoire become deleted from the relationship (Goleman, 1996b). In Asperger’s relationships this tendency to eradicate emotionality and take on Asperger’s characteristics has been labelled becoming “Aspergated” (Stanford, 2003). The failure to understand and validate legitimate emotional experiences or behaviours of the other typically creates or exacerbates negative emotional arousal in the invalidated individual/s, potentially leaving each member of the relationship displaying some measure of dysregulated affect (Fruzzetti, A.E., & Iverson, 2006). (Affective Deprivation Disorder: Does It Constitute A Relational Disorder?)

This phenomenon does not just apply to intimate relationships with certain people on the autism spectrum.  This would apply to other contexts as well.  I cannot tell you how validating this paragraph was for me, and I see just how important my being in DBT with my daughter was.  I was there to learn to self-validate.  The notion was introduced to me two years ago in David Schnarch’s landmark book The Passionate Marriage in which he says that self-validation is the key to differentiation in marriage and, thus, success particularly if there is gridlock.  That struck a chord in me then.  I learned how to self-validate in DBT.  I learned on a much more practical level how to be mindful, how to suspend judgment, and how to be effective in relationships without sacrificing self-respect.

This has been my greatest downfall.  I have slowly given up pieces of myself.  I truly have deleted large pieces of my emotional repertoire in this relationship because of repeated rejection.  How can one not do that? Knowing, however, that I am not the only person to experience this is tremendously validating.  Knowing that there is a white paper written about this very dynamic tells me that there is a common experience out there, and common experience means that I’m not isolated.  I am part of a group.  I may not know anyone else who is experiencing this, but I now know that others know exactly what I know.

The interesting thing about alexithymia is this.  It is a trait that can be comorbid with other psychiatric disorders:

Alexithymia is considered to be a personality trait that places individuals at risk for other medical and psychiatric disorders while reducing the likelihood that these individuals will respond to conventional treatments for the other conditions.[6] Alexithymia is not classified as a mental disorder in the DSM-IV. It is a dimensional personality trait that varies in severity from person to person…

Alexithymia frequently co-occurs with other disorders. Research indicates that alexithymia overlaps with autism spectrum disorders.[8][41] In a 2004 study using the TAS-20, 85% of the adults with ASD fell into the impaired category; almost half of the whole group fell into the severely impaired category. Among the normal adult control, only 17% was impaired; none of them severely.[41][42] Fitzgerald & Bellgrove pointed out that, “Like alexithymia, Asperger’s syndrome is also characterised by core disturbances in speech and language and social relationships”.[43] Hill & Berthoz agreed with Fitzgerald & Bellgrove (2006) and in response stated that “there is some form of overlap between alexithymia and ASDs”. They also pointed to studies that revealed impaired theory of mind skill in alexithymia, neuroanatomical evidence pointing to a shared etiology and similar social skills deficits.[44] The exact nature of the overlap is uncertain. Alexithymic traits in AS may be linked to clinical depression or anxiety;[42] the mediating factors are unknown and it is possible that alexithymia predisposes to anxiety.[45]

There are many more psychiatric disorders that overlap with alexithymia. One study found that 41% of Vietnam War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder were alexithymic.[46] Other single study prevalence findings are 63% in anorexia nervosa,[47] 56% in bulimia,[47] 45%[16] to 50%[48] in major depressive disorder, 34% in panic disorder,[49] 28% of social phobics,[49] and 50% insubstance abusers.[50] Alexithymia also occurs more frequently in individuals with acquired or traumatic brain injury.[51][52][53]

Alexithymia is correlated with certain personality disorders,[54]substance use disorders,[55][56] some anxiety disorders,[57] and sexual disorders,[58] as well as certain physical illnesses, such ashypertension,[59]inflammatory bowel disease,[60] and functional dyspepsia.[61] Alexithymia is further linked with disorders such as migraine headaches, lower back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, nausea, allergies, and fibromyalgia.[62]

An inability to modulate emotions is a possibility in explaining why some alexithymics are prone to discharge tension arising from unpleasant emotional states through impulsive acts or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating, substance abuse, perversesexual behavior, or anorexia nervosa.[63] The failure to regulate emotions cognitively might result in prolonged elevations of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and neuroendocrine systems which can lead to somatic diseases.[62] Alexithymics also show a limited ability to experience positive emotions leading Krystal (1988) and Sifneos (1987) to describe many of these individuals as anhedonic.[5] (online source)

I’ve discussed personality disorders at length on this blog, but I’ve never discussed alexithymia.  I have never had a therapist discuss this with me either.  Many of us leave families where there has been abuse or trauma with symptoms of AfDD, but those clusters of symptoms have never been named.  It’s all been lumped together under depression, or anxiety, or PTSD, or “Stop whining and get over it.”  I would like you to read this:

Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs, if these needs are not being met and the reason is not understood, then mental and physical health may be affected. (Maxine Aston)

Yesterday, I asked someone if it was normal to want reciprocity and belonging in a marriage.  I didn’t know if that was a normal thing to want.  I felt extremely confused.  Was it something that was bad to want?  Reading this statement this morning has been a powerful validation for me.  It has been the plumb line that I have needed so that I can see where long-term exposure to wrong thinking and unhealthy behaviors and beliefs have landed me.  I also asked these questions when I was emerging from my family of origin.  You will find yourself on shaky ground if you are in a relationship with someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.

If any of this rings a bell for you, I encourage you to look through the resources at the end of this post.  One of my takeaways has been that I didn’t get here riding his dysfunctional coat tails as it were.  I helped.  I participated in creating the current atmosphere, and I will be the one to rebuild my own happiness.  It has always been this way.  Knowing, however, that my experiences have names is powerful.  Knowing that what I want is legitimate is equally powerful.

Validation is healing.  I hope I have provided some for you should you need it.

Post script: This post has numerous comments some of which are very brave and personal.  I would ask that people who comment refrain from judgment and psychoanalysis.  The comment section is a place to share thoughts, ideas, and common experiences.  It is not a place to “concern shame”, judge, and go on the offensive out of a defensive posture.  Thank you for civil and kind discourse.  Remember, everyone is trying to heal.  So, let’s contribute to that process–not hinder it.

Resources:

Endnote: As of 2016, I have been separated from my husband; we are divorcing.  An excellent resource is Lundy Bancroft’s book Should I Stay or Should I Go: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can–and Should–Be Saved.

Related blog post: Should I Stay or Should I Go?