Six months after I divorced my last husband, he was married to a friend of mine. In one swoop, my social circle, activism, and religious home were taken from me. I was completely devastated. Particularly by the way it was handled by those I still thought were my friends. “I didn’t think it was my job to tell you” one friend said in an email, “You divorced him, so what difference does it make?” I was completely stunned. All the more because when this happened in my 20s, people had been so much more adult about it.
Oh, yeah. It happened in my 20s with my first husband. Not married 6 months after, but he seriously dated a dear friend of mine. Then another friend from high school- then another. It had been handled totally different by the dear friend and by our mutual friends. She & he came to me and asked permission. They’d kept running into each other and were developing feelings, but they’d pull the plug if I said so.
I lied and said I was fine with it. But it hurt. A lot. Especially since the things he’d always complained about me that made me feel so unlovable were things she had even more than I did.
Once they made their public appearance, my calendar was full with friends taking me out to dinner. “Honey, we love you so much and wanted you to find out from someone that loved you…” Each of them had the news I already knew. But I loved them for it. It was a difficult time, but I felt supported through it– by everyone involved.
Around 30, it happened again with my Dutch partner. They were not adults about it and made it much much harder than it needed to be. I laid it on their respective lack of character.
For it to have happened again in my late 30s was really devastating. This time it took everything with it- my friends, my spiritual tribe, my activism. That it was handled so poorly and callously when we were in a mystical spiritual community (I belonged to a Sufi group) and all old enough to know better made it feel particularly personal and hurtful.
It had been hands-down the worst relationship I’d ever been in. He reminded me of the shadow side of every relationship I’d ever had– my first husband, my partner in Holland, my mother, my brother, my grandmother, my father… and only their worst qualities and ways of making me out to be completely unlovable, worthless, bothersome and tedious. It was so bad, in fact, that I could not blame him for it, really. I had to take responsibility for attracting that into my life. I had attracted it. I had attracted it so intensely that it proposed to me, and I had accepted. I spent the entire relationship working to release whatever it was that had brought him to me.
I didn’t talk a lot about what I was going through to others. I was ashamed. I felt like I should’ve known better. I beat myself up for ignoring signs that seemed so obvious after we were married that I rationalized away before. Indeed, I spent the first 6 months of the marriage rolling the tape in my head of all the things I’d explained away or told myself that I was being too nit-picky or bitchy or unreasonable about. I didn’t talk a lot about what was going on, but those close to me knew that it was bad and that I was incredibly unhappy.
When you’ve had the 3rd major long-term relationship in your life end with them running off with a friend, you can’t help but ask “Why is this happening to me?? Again??!!?”
IT ALL STARTS WITH ME.
I’d learned enough about how our relationships with others reflect our relationships with ourselves to know where to look. I sat down and wrote how it was making me feel— Betrayed. Dishonored. Tossed-aside.
Where and how was I doing this to myself? Where and how was I devaluing the voice that warned? Where and how was I betraying those that I’m supposed to love and support that have done nothing but love and support me? Where and how was I putting myself in a bad situation by not believing those that I should?
RECOGNIZING WHAT WE DO TO OURSELVES
I found the answers in how I treated my emotions. They gave me good information– that is what they’re here for, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t honor them. In doing that, I betrayed myself. My emotions are what make me human- but I belittled and ignored them– if I didn’t outright scoff them. I did not honor the basis of my humanity. I misread them, then blamed them for things that had little to do with them.
I ignored them. A lot. Much like H had done to me. When they did catch my attention, I took swift and typically harsh punishment against them. They were locked up, pushed down, covered up, blown-up, buried. I did all kinds of things to numb them out when they were unresponsive to my strikes against them and attempts to starve them out.
I had to take responsibility for what I was doing to myself. I was in an abusive relationship with myself. My family may have taught it to me, but I had continued treating myself that way 2 decades after leaving home. I did that. To me.
Now I understood why I would see a child running away from me in dreams and meditation sometimes. Children live through their hearts, not their minds. To denigrate and beat up on my emotions was harming the Child Within me. No wonder life felt so flat! No wonder I hadn’t painted or written anything in so long!
MAKING UP AND STARTING OVER
The beautiful thing about our bodies and emotions are how loving and forgiving they are. At any moment, we can start over. They’re more than happy to begin again.
Not that there’s no mess to clean up , mind you. That remains. But there is no resentment on their part about the mess- only joy that the willingness to clean up is there. They have taught me what agape means.
I learned to apply the golden rule to my relationship with my emotions. I learned to listen to them. I learned so many things:
- To just feel my emotions instead of try to make them mean something.
- To accept that emotions have energy, and that energy cannot be destroyed: they will either pass through me and make me more human, or I can throttle them and stuff them and make myself less human and more ill.
- Emotions are nothing to be afraid of.
- Emotions themselves don’t hurt me–even the very uncomfortable ones– the thoughts I have about them and the actions I take as a result of those thoughts do.
My emotions are not interested in kidnapping me and dragging me into a pit for weeks on end. My thoughts may be, but my emotions are not. They, like me, just want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged and honored. That is all.
BEING HEARD IS THE ROOT OF THE SURVIVAL INSTINCT
I’ve long been convinced that the desire to be heard is the beginning of the survival instinct. It is so powerful, that people will do all manner of silly things and follow atrocious leaders if only they feel heard. Being seen is not as powerful. Objects are seen. Think of the saying “Children should be seen and not heard.” Its painful and hurtful and scary– especially if you’re trapped in an abusive environment. Silencing objections is the most often employed tactic by abusers and other despots, so it makes sense that the need to be heard is so powerful.
Yet I wasn’t listening to myself. I didn’t give my emotions the opportunity to be heard. I talked about them, but I didn’t listen to their story. They were not allowed to represent themselves. I did not treat them as living beings, but as nuisances to be dealt with.
I treated them the same way I’d been so angry at others for treating me.
Recognizing this has changed my life and is the basis of the work I now do. It has helped me release so much baggage from my past, because I see that there is nothing someone has done to me as an adult that I didn’t do to myself first. The people around me are simply agreeing with me and treating me the way I treat myself. The Universe is a very agreeable place, after all.