Friday, March 5, 2010

The ties that bind

It seems I can hardly mention my counselor, Sharon, without wanting to fill in our history.  It doesn't seem enough to say that I'm in counseling;  I feel compelled to say that I began with her 25 years ago and saw her weekly for 7 years.  We had a very unsatisfactory ending.  I used to record our sessions, and I believe our last one is recorded too, but I've never been able to bring myself to listen to it.  She was going through her own changes, the nature of which I will probably never know.  It was impacting the way in which she did therapy, and the change was not something I could adapt to.  Not long after we parted she stopped practicing as a counselor altogether.

Over time the hurt faded and I was able to remember the positive aspects of therapy, and the lasting good it was doing me.

Fourteen years passed.   I had my two children, moved to St. Louis, and back, faced a deteriorating marriage, and turned 50.    The deteriorating marriage was a catalyst for some intensive writing.   I had time to do it when my youngest began kindergarten.   I wanted to examine how, why, and where things would go wrong between my husband and me.  Most of the things I read suggested that the onus was on me to change. Any given interaction could fall apart so quickly and I really wanted to get a handle on exactly what would happen.  Was there really something about myself that needed to change--an attitude, a belief, a sensitivity?  If his behavior was offensive to me, was it because I was offended, therefore I needed to change whatever part of me took offense?

I spent hours trying to deconstruct some of our arguments or communications-gone-south, mentally laying them out like an exploded diagram of some machine.

I was in the midst of such soul searching when I realized that I owed my ability to even do so to the seven years I'd spent with Sharon.  I felt gratitude and decided to thank her.  So I looked her up online and saw that she was leading a study group of an author I'd recently come across.  I emailed her to see if I could join.  She called me and asked that I come in for a session first.  She was again practicing psychotherapy, to her own surprise, she said.  When she'd left the field of counseling, she never expected to return.  She didn't detail the path that took her through training to be an Archetypal Pattern Analyst.  I was intrigued enough by her study group to agree to see her for a session.  That was over 3 years ago.  I never joined the group.

Indeed, in the course of my life I'd often been frustrated by what seemed to be the emergence of a pattern.  The people and circumstances appeared to be different, but over time I'd realize there seemed to be an underlying template.  There seemed to be a Pattern that was self-similar, and it usually manifested in disheartening ways.  Its course was that I'd involve myself with people in relationships that seemed promising at first, but proved eventually to be unavailable.  There were a few forms of this.  In one men would present themselves as intensely interested, open up their hearts, yet get "scared" when mine opened in response.  It used to seem that the kiss of death of a relationship would be my own interest, which seemed to confirm the old "play hard to get" gambit.  I began to brace myself for the signs of a chill, and could usually sense immediately when the connection was broken--as soon as I began to want it.  I was left bleeding, furious that it had happened yet again:  an event like that propelled me into therapy with Sharon 25 years ago.  I thought I had healed that dynamic when I met Gary, until I realized that unavailability has more subtle forms than physically staying, or not.  Another form of Pattern I experienced was in the realm of accountability.  Certain important people were very offended if I attempted to hold them responsible for some broken agreement.  The implication was that there was some tacit agreement to let it pass unacknowledged--and I was trespassing.  The spotlight wasn't on the lapse, but on my mentioning it.  Their feelings were hurt because I named the act that had hurt my feelings.  It was as if my hurt feelings hurt their feelings.  Thus I spent a lot of time confused.  Was I wanting too much?  Was I too sensitive (a dreaded accusation)?  Was I predisposed to take things the "wrong" way?  Was what I wanted unreasonable?  The benefit of the doubt did not belong to me.  I was always afraid that I was in the wrong.

The dynamic was so much a part of who I was that I didn't really see it.  It didn't stand out as something that was worthy of mention to Sharon when we resumed our therapy relationship with her as Pattern Analyst.  It came up by chance in the course of a different conversation.

Even as I write the above I can hear echoes of the old doubts.  I can hear voices accusing me of "feeling sorry for myself", blaming others for my troubles, whining, 'poor me' and soliciting sympathy.  The driving force behind those thoughts strait-jacketed me and I could not penetrate it. Understanding eluded me.  It was easier to assume I was just wrong, period.  But then I felt miserable, and had a nagging feeling that that really wasn't It, yet I couldn't come up with what was.  I'd just get more confused.

I was wound very tight.  But with the help of Sharon's mentoring, I'm beginning to see the elements of the ties that bind.

Recent events reveal the bones of the pattern at its starkest.  I see very clearly that love in my family was not unconditional.  Love depended on allegiance to a certain unarticulated Code.  And if Truth conflicted with the Code, then Truth was to be sacrificed for What Should Be, instead of What Is.  Loyalty to What Should Be was a requirement for love.  Lies were required, even while a superficial version of  the "truth" was demanded.  As Palemother commented, "truth" in my family was about control and obedience.  What does one who has taken the expectation of Truth literally (and to heart) do when the demands of Truth cross the demands of Code?  What does one who loves the Truth do when required to lie, on pain of losing love?

One doubts oneself.  One poisons the well of her/his own feelings by doubting them.  This solves the problem of lying, when one's heart is devoted to the Truth.  Doubt, and confusion serve a protective function, even if that act of survival makes a person vulnerable in other areas.  This is because such a person is denied access to the hunches and inner promptings that guide our choices.  Such a person is prey to the demands of others because such a person believes the emotions meant to protect are motivated by selfishness. Such a person has to make a way blind in a world that's often pitiless.  Of course, the Code was meant to replace the guidance of a responsive heart and sensitivity.

More later, perhaps.


PaleMother said...

"One doubts oneself. One poisons the well of her/his own feelings by doubting them."

It's hard. Whenever I am trying to listen to my inner voice and what it's telling me ... I also think I am walking a line between staying true to myself (good) and rationalizing (bad). I am always on guard. Self doubt in moderation is okay. But not to the point where it sucks all the joy out of life.

"Doubt, and confusion serve a protective function, even if that act of survival makes a person vulnerable in other areas."

Maslow's triangle, Baby. Basic needs before all else. Is there anything more basic than survival?

You know that Maya Angelou quote? "I did then what I knew how to do. When I knew better, I did better." That's compassionate perspective.

"Such a person is prey to the demands of others because such a person believes the emotions meant to protect are motivated by selfishness."

That is a classic bully maneuver and once I recognized it for what it was and once I was able to ARTICULATE it to myself and others, no one ever got it over on me again. This is huge; it can take time to be able to name this problem -- a lot longer than it takes to just notice the sick feeling that something isn't right. Until you can name it, call it out, you are still vulnerable to others' abuse.

When someone is trying to control you, they try to make you believe that you are the one who is behaving badly. And wouldn't it be convenient for them if you believed it?

I notice this one lately with my mother in law in particular. My husband still falls for it sometimes. But he's come a long way since I started pointing it out to him. A lot of times that's what it takes -- someone helping you to see it -- because I think it's one those things that can be so hard to detect unless you are 'outside of the frame.'

Have you ever read Gavin DeBecker? Look him up on amazon; you'd like him. He's a self defense expert like no one you've ever heard before. His premise is all about how we are programmed from a young age to ignore our primal self-preserving instincts. Women in particular are trained to be nice to everyone. Even the creepy stranger who is setting off your radar. You don't want to be "rude", so you are polite when instead your intuition is dead on and you should be hollering and hauling ass away from that person.

I think it's DeBecker who explains this red flag: When you tell someone NO and they keep on coming (ie the first no isn't enough and so on), THAT PERSON IS TRYING TO CONTROL YOU.


PaleMother said...

I was required to "lie" in a way ... ie ... lie that my parents' demands for unconditional control well beyond an age where that was reasonable ... were okay. The most top-of-mind example I can think of from our current interactions: Lie that I am Catholic when I find lots of the teachings repugnant and bigoted and when I find the autocratic, demanding style counter to spiritual growth. Lie that my parent's comfort was/is more important than having my own life.

I think these lies ... that were endemic to living in my parents' house ... undermined early lessons about integrity in a very, very sneaky way.

That's what I mean about truth ... when you are off base with what you believe, your way in the world can be very rocky. But then, trouble in your life is like pain in the body ... it's just a warning that is only harmful if you ignore it.

I think we spend our lives testing out truths until we find what works for us. Hopefully we are kind enough, evolved enough to also observe the effect our "truth" has on the people we care about as well as whether or not it's working for us.

Sheri said...

I liked your quote:

I see very clearly that love in my family was not unconditional. Love depended on allegiance to a certain unarticulated Code. And if Truth conflicted with the Code, then Truth was to be sacrificed for What Should Be, instead of What Is. Loyalty to What Should Be was a requirement for love. Lies were required, even while a superficial version of the "truth" was demanded."

It seems as though your recent situation within your family and lies and you not being believed, etc. prompted this realization and reinforced how it has been a force in your life for a long time.

Perhaps even though it hurts to gain these realizations, the growth potential is magnificent...even if painful at times.

I'm holding space for you as I witness your revelations, you pain, and your growth...just as I would hope you would do for me.

Thinking of you...