Monday, January 22, 2018

Confronting Fear

My son is about to get his drivers' licence. I've been practice driving with him, my hand clutching the door handle, trying to act cool though my heart is pounding. He's a good driver. My concern isn't rooted in any evidence that he's dangerous. Rather it's rooted in what might happen.
My imagination goes wild. What if, when he's driving with some friends, one of them is joking and distracting him and he takes his eyes off the road and his car rolls and explodes in a fiery tragedy? What if he's driving and another driver is drunk and veers into his lane and he's pushed into a telephone pole? What if... What if... What if...
I'm not the only parent, of course, to face their own fear around their child's increasing independence. Long after the plastic outlet protectors and cut-up grapes and car seats are history, we discover that our control only extends so far. And it's not nearly far enough.
It's a sobering realization, isn't it? And it's at the root of so much of our misery. It has taken me years of parenting three incredibly strong-minded children to really get through my head that I cannot make other people into who I want them to be. And, when I really stop to think about it, I don't want to. I just want to spare myself (and them) the consequences of bad choices. Or, on a larger scale, I want to spare them any pain.
It's fear behind my desire to control.
And that's what we need to wrestle with after infidelity.
Fear.
It's often behind our anger.
It's always behind our desire to control.
It wears a lot of masks.
But it grows weaker when you look at it head on. It shrinks when you respond to it with compassion. Imagine the unclenching if you were to say to yourself, gently: I know you're afraid right now. I know this feels frightening. But you're okay. I've got your back. I'm a grown woman who can keep you safe. I can keep you warm. I can keep you fed. You are scared. That is all.
It won't be easy. Those thoughts will creep in on quiet pussy-cat feet: What if he's still talking to her? What if he's not at work right now? What if there's another one? What if he leaves? And so on.
If you can accept the fear behind those questions, you rob them of their power to paralyze you and you respond matter-of-factly. What if he's still talking to her? What does that mean for you and how you'll respond? Come up with a plan. What if he's lying to you about where he is, even if he's not cheating? Well...what does that mean for you and how you'll respond. Come up with a plan. And so on.
Separating the fear behind your concerns from the concerns themselves can help you respond to them as a grown-up and not as a frightened child who's feeling rejected and abandoned. Those are legitimate feelings, of course. And they affect some of us worse than others (particularly those of us who had childhoods of rejection and abandonment). But you're a grown woman now. A strong, beautiful woman with agency and power. Don't ever forget that. You can be scared and still that is true. Strong beautiful women with agency and power can still experience fear. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Take care of yourself. Recognize your power.
And strip fear of its ability to make you think you're powerless. You hold all the power you need to heal.

Note re. retreat: Lots of response, which is wonderful. So give me some time to sift through and get a sense of what works for the majority of people. And, if anyone with more experience than I wants to help me with this, please let me know. Send me an e-mail address (which I won't publish). This is shaping up to be bigger than I imagined. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

BWC Retreat: Step 1

Okay, my wonderful wounded (but healing!!) warriors, let's do this. There's been so many wistful suggestions over the years about how great it would be if we could all gather. Let's figure this out. But I suspect we have different ideas about what we want out of this so I'd like to come up with something of a consensus:
•Do we just want to name a city that's easily accessible and then we can all sort out where we want to stay while we're there or do we all want to stay in the same (affordable) hotel? What's "affordable"? Any suggestions of a major hub that's easy to get to by bus, train or plane?
•What about activities while we're together? If we were to visit NYC, for instance, does everyone want me to try and get theatre tickets? Visit a museum? A bus tour? Or should I just try and book a room where we can all gather to laugh and cry in equal measure? 
•I'm thinking fall makes sense, given the logistics in booking flights, etc. Does that sound about right for everyone else?
•Any other thoughts/ideas/suggestions?

Thanks!! 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Let's Crowdsource Some Consequences

Yesterday's post has been getting some great response and it has been great how some of you, especially Ann, have offered clarity. But I know how hard this can be, especially after infidelity when the stakes feel so high.
So I thought it would make sense if we shared some situations that have us muddled and then crowdsourced responses. 
I gave the example of how I've always hated my husband's temper. Because of my own "stuff", his temper triggered in me a lot of fear and I would respond either by trying to convince him not to be angry (which is disrespectful to him and his feelings. Sometimes he had legitimate reasons to be frustrated or angry) or by getting angry back at him. So something as innocuous as him being angry at a broken dishwasher would escalate into a fight. Our kids would be there listening, it was completely counterproductive and I hated it.
So...my therapist at the time asked me why I stayed in the house when he started ranting and raving. Why did I stay? Well...what choice did I have? "You can leave," she said. I was stunned. Never dawned on me that I could just...walk away. So I told my husband: I find your temper frightening and it scares the kids. You need to learn to control it. Until you do, I will leave the house with the kids any time you can't control your temper.
Now, and this is important, my husband didn't think his temper was bad. He grew up with a raging father so, relatively speaking, my husband thought his temper was mild. 
But IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT HE THINKS. My feelings matter. And his temper was creating stress and fear in me. And my partner should care about that.
So...next time my husband lost his temper (and I can't recall what it was about -- something silly), I packed up the kids and left for ice cream. Kids were delighted to get ice cream, it was clear that one adult in the family would keep them safe, and my husband was left. He muttered about how he "hardly" got mad. But he also sought help through taking a meditation class. He still has a quick temper. And I know that it's when he feels powerless and frustrated. But that doesn't matter. I can empathize with the feelings behind his behaviour while still not tolerating the behaviour. And because I can't control HIS actions, I have to control my own.
By leaving. By refusing to stay in a house with someone who can't respect me or our kids enough to control his temper.
So that's one example. 
Please...share your own. And share the situations that baffle you and let's help you find your way through them. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Stop Trying to Convince Him That You Matter

I just responded to one of our beloved betrayeds who's struggling with a husband who continues to flirt online in a forum that's ostensibly for something innocuous. The banter crossed a line into clear flirting and innuendo. Something that's perfectly harmless and acceptable except when you're married. Except when you've already shattered your wife's heart because of cheating. Except when you're trying to convince your betrayed wife that you're worth giving a second chance. That it was a mistake that you'll never ever make again.
And what our beloved betrayed is trying to do is convince her husband that what he's doing is not okay. He doesn't get it. He thinks it's fine. The forum is helpful to him. What's a little sexual banter among strangers? Why so upset?
I certainly don't need to explain to anyone here why this is triggering our beloved betrayed. We know how painful it is because we're living it. It's awful enough dealing with the cultural pressure put on betrayeds, the humiliation we feel in a culture that thinks we're doormats for staying, the shame we often feel because we're somehow convinced that only frumpy, boring, pathetic women get cheated on. So even if he wasn't openly flirting with a woman, it's still painful moving past what he's already done by cheating. But to compound that by engaging in conversation ripe with sexual overtones seems either incredibly tone-deaf or outright cruel. Either way, there's no excuse.
However, this post isn't about how clueless and/or cruel her spouse is.
It's about her.
Because she is holding herself responsible for explaining to him why what he's doing is okay. She's outlined why it hurts, she's pointed out that this behaviour led to that behaviour. She's made it clear that that behaviour is unacceptable therefore this behaviour is too. She's drawn charts and maps, she's set forth her thesis, she's prepared her conclusion. Not literally, of course. But she has approached this the way a lawyer would approach a tough case.
And her husband has responded with a full-throated defence of what he's doing. I'm innocent. It's harmless. It means nothing. Just goofing around. This site is good for him. It's healthy.
How do we feel about this, ladies? Do I hear a hearty "Hell no!!"? Thought so.
Because HELL NO!
He doesn't get to defend behaviour that's hurtful to you. He doesn't get to decide what's hurtful to you. He doesn't get to explain to you why you shouldn't be hurt and how this is harmless and you're over-reacting and all the other bullshit that is setting off every alarm bell in your body and sending you spiralling back into curl-up-on-the-floor sobbing rage.
That fury you feel? That we all feel? That's our signal that our boundaries are being violated and that none of this is okay. That rage is our signal that we're not taking care of ourselves.
So what do we do? Well, we start by taking a deep breath. We can't take care of ourselves when we're hyperventilating. We wash our face with cold water. We stop our hands from shaking. And then we calmly and clearly state that nobody gets to tell us what we're allowed to be hurt by or upset about or threatened by, least of all the guy who cheated on us. That, from here on in, WE will be the ones determining what behaviour we will or will not tolerate in this relationship. And, in this particular case, we will not tolerate flirting or sexual banter of any kind. It doesn't matter if he "gets" it. Don't try and convince him. It's enough that you are hurt and that you aren trying your damnedest to heal from the pain he caused. And then you clearly and calmly detail the consequences. Make sure they are consequences that you will enforce. This isn't about punishing him. It isn't about demeaning him. It's about respecting yourself and keeping yourself emotionally safe.
We teach people how to treat us. And when we tolerate mistreatment, we teach them that it's okay to mistreat us. When we try to convince people that we deserve respect, that our feelings matter...even as we're disrespecting ourselves and dismissing our own needs...we are telling them that their needs matter more. We are assuming a position of less than.
We will get to a place in the relationship where each partner's needs matter equally. We will get to a place where I matter and you matter and together we will negotiate getting our needs met. But right now, your need for emotional safety trumps everything. Everything.
And if he is truly committed to helping you heal, to mitigating the pain he's caused, he will understand that. But if he doesn't, it's not up to you to convince him.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Perfect is the Enemy

"Perfectionism is just fear in good shoes."
~Elizabeth Gilbert, SuperSoul Conversations

We are a family of perfectionists. And while our culture might celebrate perfectionism, my statement is by no means a brag. Perfectionists are in no way perfect. Rather we are uptight, often joyless and frequently unproductive. While others are doing, we're wringing our hands. While others are living, we're hesitating.
In my husband's case, he procrastinates because the idea of taking anything on is paralyzing. Odd jobs take, literally, years because if he's going to do it, he's going to do it perfectly and that takes time. Time he doesn't have. And so he doesn't even begin. 
My youngest would rather do nothing than do something she can't be fabulous at. And so she's avoided most extracurriculars. Even things she's good at – and she's quite talented at singing, sewing clothes, art – become a source of stress because she's not good enough. Good enough for whom? I ask. Good enough for myself, she snarls back.
My eldest gets swallowed by shame any time she isn't a superstar. She auditioned for an arts school when she was nine. The morning of auditions, she woke up with a fever of 103F and a throat that felt like razor blades. Not surprisingly, she didn't get accepted, a failure that still haunts her, a decade later. 
My son, fortunately, is the anomaly. He takes things in stride, tries a whole lot of things, some of which he succeeds at, others he doesn't. He works hard, has a zillion friends and, no coincidence, enjoys life more than the rest of us put together.
I've done a whole lot of therapy to release the shame I've felt my whole life for being anything less than perfect but I'm a work in progress. Sometimes I think I'm past it but then I'll notice that the critic in my head is loud again, pointing out how much more successful other women – young than I am! – are in their careers. How much happier their marriages seem. How much more confident their children seem. How much...better they are. 
So when I was listening to the podcasts I recently downloaded – Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations – and Liz Gilbert remarked that perfectionism is just fear in good shoes, well, it hit me hard.
Because I know it's true.
Fear has ruled my life. Fear has kept me small in many ways. If there is one thing I could change about myself, it is this: To be fearless. 
Fear is a common theme on this site. So so many women, who arrive on our rocky shores, battered and bruised from betrayal, are terrified. They're terrified because suddenly the future feels uncertain to them. But they're terrified too for what they think betrayal says about them. So SO many of us are perfectionists. It's sometimes hard to see because perfectionism has somehow become conflated with achievement and with attention to detail. It's not that at all. Perfectionism isn't about working hard or about achievement. Perfectionism is fear in good shoes. It's what keeps us on the sidelines, it's what keeps us paralyzed, it's what keeps us hiding our gifts because what if we show up for our lives, exactly as we are, and we're rejected? What if our best isn't good enough? Good enough for whom? I ask. Good enough for myself.
Which is exactly it, isn't it? We are our worst critics. There's nothing anyone can say to us that's more cruel than what we say to ourselves. And if they try, and we don't already believe it, the words won't sting. Only criticism that we agree with can hurt us. And we agree with so much of it. 
Perfectionism becomes our armour. We suit up to face the world. If we're perfect, the distorted thinking goes, then we're beyond criticism. The world will love and admire us. We can hide behind our sparkling kitchen, our flawless makeup, our starved bodies. Don't look in our eyes, where the fear lives. Look over there! At our perfect children, our adoring husband (except when he's not), our big house, our career. God help us if someone pulls back the curtain and finds us, elbow deep in the ice cream tub, belly protruding, face bare, house messy, kids whining, husband cheating. Husband cheating! Because that's what we believe, isn't it? That he wouldn't have cheated if we were perfect enough. We take HIS mistake and hold ourselves accountable for it. We let someone else's bullshit behaviour become about our failings. 
Perfectionism robs us of joy. It robs us of authentic lives. It takes our fear of rejection and holds us hostage. It can also be deadly. A recent New Yorker article cites an author's new book, Selfie, and notes that the author's chapter on suicide "blames the horror and shame of failing to meet the sky-high expectations we set for ourselves." Perfection kills, he concludes. At the very least, we're suffering under the delusion that we can somehow create perfect selves and the only thing holding us back is, well, our imperfection. 
Well, if betrayal brings with it any gifts – and I believe it can – one of them might be our chance to shake off any notion that being perfect might have spared us this pain. While I remain a work in progress, it was my husband's betrayal that led me closer to a F@#K YOU epiphany, whereby I far more than before refuse to compromise myself to make myself more palatable to other people. Don't like my cooking? F@#K you. Cook your own dinner. Think my house is messy? F@#K you. Let me introduce you to my vacuum cleaner. I'm sure you'll be very happy together. 
Perfectionism will fight like hell to continue to ruin your life. It will show up as whispers ("why can't you be as thin as your marathon-running sister?"), it will show up as shouts ("if you were sexier, he wouldn't have cheated"). It will encourage you to spend money you don't have on things you don't need. It will insist that happiness is one more diet, one more fitness program, one less cheesecake away. It will demand that you work harder, work longer, try more. And any failures of your husband, your kids or your family of origin are your fault because, well, you should be different. More easy-going. More confident. Less demanding. Anything but what you are.
And here's the thing perfectionism will never say but it's the truest thing I know: We are fine. We are worthy. We are enough.
I struggle so hard with that but in the deepest part of my soul, I know it's true. I was once asked in a course to write a six-word memoir. I wrote: Nobody could say she didn't try.
You can feel the exhaustion in that statement, can't you? The defeat. Maybe I need to give myself permission to not try so hard. To let myself just be. To find a way to like the same things I've spent a lifetime beating myself up for. 
Maybe it's time for you too. 
Perfect is the enemy of all of us. Let's conquer it. 

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