Tag Archive | marriage

Reasonable Expectations from your Partner

Before I start this topic, a quick update may be in order for anyone that has noticed my absence. Feel free to skip this part if you only want the subject matter I planned to write about. I am fine. Relatively. I graduated my trauma recovery program, err, rather, we mutually decided to end it due to several factors. I was working on exposure therapy and we went through several key events, but I could never work through them all, there is simply too many, thousands, 10 thousands actually for my entire childhood. We decided to end before the holidays to reduce my stress at that time so I could enjoy it more with my family. We decided not to continue in the new year to reduce my medical bills that I already cannot pay and need to dodge bill collectors calling me. My credit rating is tanking.

We decided to end it to give me a break. That is also why I was not blogging. I needed some time to stop thinking about my traumas and let some of the open wounds heal.

I was not completely unsupported in this time. I have still been using 7cups.com and amazingly enough, I have found an online friend that I chat with daily that understands my history and is both strong enough and empathic enough to listen to me. I am truly grateful.

Today I want to talk about some reasonable expectations from your partner if you have been abused. I have found some other sites that seem to expect more than I have from mine. This one was great https://sworddancewarrior.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/primer-for-partners-of-sexual-abuse-survivors/

I read through that one together with hubby, explaining the parts that didn’t quite fit with me and what really did. What I loved about this was the idea of the safety list. I’ve included an excerpt below.

“6) How do we have the best sex possible with my survivor partner?

Make a written ‘safe sex’ list and stick to it. In this context safe means ‘no or low abuse triggers’.  The survivor can make a list of things that are sure fire abuse triggers and things you can do that have no abuse gunk attached to them. These will be unique to each survivor. Group the list by level of safety. Green light items are things that never trigger flashbacks. Red light things will pretty much always trigger flashbacks. Yellow light things might be possible from time to time but the survivor should initiate them.

If there is a sexual act or practice on the red light list that you really really like, give up all hope of ever doing this thing with your survivor partner. She or he might give in and do it, but it will do serious harm to your relationship if she does, and will set you back a lot.”

I extended this idea to all triggers, not just the sexual ones. I created a red light list of things that will always trigger me, make feel unsafe, cause a flashback, cause me to dissociate, or large amount of panic. This list is not really that long and is incredibly specific. I explained each item to hubby even though it was traumatic for me to do so. Most of them he knew already, somewhat, but we had never categorized and gone into this level of detail before. Some things I even modeled or demonstrated for him to be extra clear even though I thought my heart might explode as I pretended to be my abuser.

So why, please tell me why, hubby still does things on the red list? Here is what he says. “Oh, I forgot”
“I thought it was okay like this”
“I wasn’t thinking about that”
“You seemed fine”

I don’t think all rules are meant to be broken. Some are funny when they are.

dock-408099_1920

Okay. He is human. He is bound to make a mistake or forget. Yes? or NO? I’m not sure. I mean there are other red list behavior items in his life if he thinks about it.  I’m not the only one that has created rules for him. He doesn’t break many rules. He doesn’t walk around naked. He doesn’t swear at his boss. He doesn’t bring home every puppy he sees. He does have a memory and impulse control. So why can’t he remember these few things that are important to me and my recovery? I have explained that once triggered, it can take me hours, sometimes days to get over it. I have explained all of the triggers and my feelings multiple times over the years.

And yet this morning he does it again before he leaves for work. Leaving me here alone to deal with it. Yes I told him. And he said he was sorry, and acted all confused. I don’t understand his confusion. I don’t know what to do.

Am I being unreasonable in my expectation? Is he correct that he shouldn’t have to remember? Or should it be on him now to periodically review the list we wrote out together to make sure he is being supportive and not adding more trauma to me?

I understand it is my responsibility to heal. I have been working very hard in therapy and completing worksheets and excruciating homework. I understand he is not responsible for my reactions or what happened to me. But I feel like if he told me “I don’t like when you do this” even if no trauma were associated with it, I would never do “this” again.

So I’m here again, where I need to try to understand. To forgive him. To rebuild trust. To feel safe in my world.

 

 

Advertisements

Where do we go from here

What if you can’t get there from here? What if you can’t go back, those roads are gone? What if you look ahead and see the same familiar roadblocks?

I lost hope that hubby will ever be a strong yet gentle supportive being I need. We try to be kind to each other but it is not working. The hurts run deep. Each unable to forgive and trust. Each day only hurts worse. The tension makes me sick as I try to smooth things over, do what he needs, explain again why I can’t, try to avoid him and this horrid sense of obligation and burden. I feel obligated to be affectionate. He keeps telling me how much it hurts him that I can’t. He keeps telling me how he can’t stand to hear all my negativity. He keeps saying he is confused, and frustrated.

I feel like a burden. I can’t be what he wants and it seems no matter how much I explain I cannot get him to understand ptsd and what this therapy is digging up.

I tell him I can only sleep for about 15 min at a time, then I wake up in a panic. If I am lucky those minutes are nightmare free. I am usually not lucky. No, my brain is creating new gruesome images to torture me, things that would make Dexter queasy. 

I tell him I barely manage to shower once per week.

I tell him most days I don’t eat food, only coffee or ice cream.

I tell him I have daily flashbacks transporting me to various childhood memories unexpectedly.

He knows all of this, and yet he is confused when I struggle to respond quickly when he invites me out to lunch. I say I don’t know, because it is the truth. I don’t know if my prison of a brain will let me out today. 

And he is frustrated when I dare to give him conditions for this lunch, like that place is too noisy, that one is too smelly. Yes it is frustrating for me too. No I am not being manipulative as you said to me today.

I think if you could, you would understand by now. So I think you can’t. I think you lack the empathy. I know you care about me, but it isn’t enough. You need to be nice to me too. You need to accept me as I am.

I know my behavior is odd. Ptsd is winning right now. But it isn’t like you are clueless. You know my stories. And yet you remain confused.

The sad truth is I feel much better when you aren’t near me. Without you my anxiety is not crippling or devastating. Without you I can make decisions without being badgered. Without you I feel less guilt, more valuable, less fear, more happinesss.

Things can change. Maybe they will. But you were given tools, ABC sheets and homework from the counselor. You never did them. I can’t ask you to change, I can only work on myself. But one day I will be back on my feet, a completely changed woman. If you don’t learn, grown and change too, I fear the distance between us will be irreparable. It is your choice to stay stuck. I want out of this mess.

Same house, worlds apart

I’m here, he’s over there, same house, same room, same sofa, worlds apart.

confused and lost in translation. what are you talking about. I don’t understand. Give me an example.

We know it hurts to use certain words like “you always….” and yet and we always use those words

Sometimes I’d rather say nothing at all in stead of risk you misunderstanding me and having to get on the wheel of pain round and round we go again

but nothing is ever on your on mind

everything is fine??

 

 


Wow – I found this draft in my folder, dated “a year ago” sometime. Sadly the words are still true.  We are not being good to each other. We barely tolerate each other. We attend couples counseling every week but nothing changes here at home. We are so on edge, so impatient, we can’t listen to each other. At some point I stopped looking in his eyes. Sadly I can’t recall when, and when I pointed it out last night, sadder yet, he hadn’t noticed. I stopped because the intensity of looking in eyes, anyone’s eyes, is too much for me to bear, and his are the worst. Too much stress, tension, pain, anger. Too much history there. I actually wondered if I became autistic with all of my eye avoidance, but it reflects my fear of intimacy, I understand it now. I glance at faces to get a quick read on expression, then away again or I get sucked into those emotions, it is too powerful without my shield. The counselors stole my shield, I used to be numb and now I feel it all. But I feel it less if I don’t look directly at others. And I feel protected, like I am hidden in plain sight, if my eyes are not making contact. I feel in control. I need that now, whatever and whenever I can get it.

I try to hope that one day Hubby and I will talk openly with one another, but I really don’t believe this is possible, not completely. I am too afraid to trigger his defense mechanisms and have him lash out at me. Or almost as awful is when I share something and get back silence or a grunt. I know he is trying. I am too. We care about each other. Why is it so hard to just talk?

Self responsible

I read an amazing book that has really helped me think differently. It is supposedly a marriage book, but it is so much more, or it was more for me.

The book is Everybody Marries the Wrong Person: From Infatuation and Disenchantment to Mature Love, by Christine Meinecke, Phd.

It introduced me to a concept of being self responsible. It is a radically new way for me to think and operate and simply makes so much sense! I kept saying “huh?”, “No way”, “what the..” and “woah” as I read it. Being self responsible means being accountable, independent, compassionate, and free. I say free because I think many of us feel stuck or trapped in a relationship’s bad patterns. This book offers a way out that does not have to end in divorce or going no contact. 

Firstly, if you were raised by wolves, I mean narcissists and psychopaths like me, you have no idea how to be self responsible because you are over responsible. I have always made everything for everyone around me my problem, my fault, my job. It has always been my job to make everyone happy. It is my fault if they aren’t.

Now I have been learning this is not true, but this book actually gives examples for why and how to adopt different behavior. The personality theory and brain science adds to the whole interesting factor and breaks up the advice bits.

I highly recommend this book. It is not what you think it is from the cover, and I love that the self responsible behavior benefits everyone, not just married couples. I think if every human was self responsible the world would be a much more pleasant place and therapists might be out of work.

Stop it, I’m not attacking or controlling you, just talk to me

 

 

Yesterday started and ended ok. I told hubby I was thinking about getting our backyard picnic shelter cleaned up and work on my agoraphobia by starting to feel safe in my own yard. I said I’d like to work on this as my project this summer, something to do while I’m outside to keep myself busy and reduce my fear.

We were just about to head outside together to assess the shelter together when a text from my oldest brother came. (Cue Dun-dun-dun)

My brother for unknown reasons asked if I had received my $10 inheritance check from AF’s Will yet, informed me that my middle brother with schizophrenia had moved in with my youngest brother (instead of living alone now that mom passed), and reminded me that he wanted me to come to a family picnic soon.

I could hardly breathe. That was a lot in one little text. I handed my phone to Hubby so he could read it and I headed upstairs for a moment, because, well, I had to run away from that phone so I could breathe. With some distance I did some rescue breathing, in through my nose for 4, out through my mouth like I am blowing out candles. Then I did some grounding, pushing my feet into the floor, my hands into the wall, feeling the pressure and texture, using mindfulness. I ran cool water on my wrists.

I came back down in a few minutes and Hubby was standing by the back door, asking if I was ready to go out now. I looked for my phone, he had set it down on the table. I said something like, I don’t think I can go, and felt so sad and misunderstood as I sat at the table. He sighed loudly, showing his impatience and frustration and he says, “I thought we were going out to work on the shelter?”

“Didn’t you read that text?”

“Yeah…but I thought we were going to go outside.” He comes in finally and sits at the other side of the table from me.

“But I’m going to have to respond, and this has already affected me, so maybe if I do that now it might be better. Don’t you think? Don’t you have any opinions about what he texted?”

He actually got up then to check the mail and called from the other room, “There’s no check here”

My jaw dropped. As if that was the important part of this. Couldn’t he see I was shaking and scared earlier? That I had been triggered, forced to think of AF’s horrible will, my being unlovable and only worth $10. That I was worried about My brother’s kids now …those kids need stability…but it looks like that will never happen and since that brother won’t speak to me, I don’t even get to express my opinions. And the picnic? Yes it was nice to be asked…but oh man the anxiety that produced to think of such an event. I’m not ready for that. My head was spinning. How do I let my brother know I am open to him but he needs to back off a little? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and hurt our delicate relationship.

Hubby sat back down impatiently, still saying nothing while I stared at the text. He keeps tapping his feet and making huffy sighing noises.

“Don’t you have any thoughts or opinions about this? Any reaction at all? Any guidance on how to respond, or am I just bothering you?” I’m getting annoyed that I have to keep asking for a reaction.

“What??? Of course I have thoughts, I didn’t know you wanted them right now, I thought we were going outside, so I’m just waiting. I didn’t know you wanted to respond right away or that you wanted help with it. I don’t think your brother living there will be good for those kids or for him. I don’t know what else you want”

Now I sigh. I’m so sick of him acting confused all of the time. Nothing was confusing here. Why do I have to beg him to talk to me and see I’m upset? Why can’t he see that this would be an upsetting text for anyone, not just for me? I would have accepted nearly ANY form of comfort, support or connection. ANY reaction. What I’m having trouble accepting, again and again, is his confusion, frustration, and impatience. I really just needed a friend. I had managed the trigger and anxiety myself.

I responded to my brother, explaining I had not received a stupid check, that I thought my brothers living together was a bad idea for all concerned but I hoped it works out, and that with my back pain and extreme anxiety I was not yet ready for a picnic, and that I was back in counseling 2 days a week though. That’s when my brother responded with the lovely and amazing “take time to heal”. His response came much later and made me all warm and fuzzy, erasing some of the hurt dealt by hubby.

I attempted to explain to Hubby why this was a high distress moment. I reminded him about what I was working on in counseling, my distress list, and I said he never asked to read it….

That caused him to blow up before I could finish my sentence. I was going to say..so he doesn’t know that texts from my brother are very high on the list because they instantly trigger me, sending me back to a childhood world of memories and chaos (which I’m thinking ‘duh’ shouldn’t that be obvious). Instead he started ranting how was he supposed to know I wanted him to read the list, it’s just one more thing he screwed up this week…that was not what I was saying at all and I’m getting angry that he is making this about him. Then he said, “show me your list now then, we are already here talking, I can read it now since we are apparently not going outside” He didn’t say the word stupid, but it felt like he said show  me your stupid list and let’s get this over with….

What?? I’m thinking, are you serious hubby? You want me to share something that intimate with you while you are barking at me? But fear creeps in, I’m starting to feel unsafe with him now. Not in a dangerous way, but emotionally unsafe, too vulnerable, he is being too harsh and hurtful I can’t possibly open myself up to him. His hand is out to me as he demands I give him the list. I’m angry too, but I can’t be. I’m in personal conflict, a bit like a short circuit, and I need to get away. I can’t show him my anger. My stuck points say I’m not allowed to be angry and the fear grows. The voice in my head says I’m now unlovable and bothering him. I’m unimportant and a silly girl. I need to get away.

I refuse and mumble something about it not being a good time for it, let’s do it later. He looks visibly relieved. I get up and head to the kitchen. He asks if I’m coming outside. I say no, I’m going to wash the dishes. He goes outside by himself. I feel very, very sad and alone – again, but also relieved that he goes outside and this conflict is over and I’m alone and safe now. Alone is both good and bad.

Hubby cleans out the shelter by himself. OH! He did a nice job, but he clearly missed the point that I wanted a project to do myself. He was so proud to do it for me so I had a place to sit, I just smiled and said it looked great. What he did in two hours likely would have taken me most of the week, but I would have accomplished it myself, been outside the entire time, and it would have made me stronger. I guess I’ll have to think of something else to work on.

Later that afternoon in couples counseling, He said he felt controlled by me earlier, that he was only cleaning the shelter because I asked him to, and then all of a sudden I changed the plan and wanted to talk instead and he never knows what I want and it can change in an instant.

What?? I was internally fuming. Is that really how he saw it? I didn’t even want him to clean it, I wanted to do it myself. And I didn’t change the plan, I didn’t ask my brother to text, that just happened. Sometimes life happens and we need to react. Does he blame me for this?

The counselor had his own agenda for us and would not let us go into this topic, so my anger was building for him too. I felt like my time was being wasted. We spent an hour on a topic we didn’t need instead of this issue we obviously needed help with. I started to lose it by the end of the session, unable to hold it in any longer. I asked the counselor what is reasonable to expect of Hubby in any given moment, because we seem to have very different ideas. He said we could explore that next week.

In the hall after the session, Hubby asked if I was ok and put his arm around me. I pushed it off, and said “no…are you kidding me? now you ask me? No I’m not ok. And now you can’t comfort me, not when you are the one I’m mad at. I needed that from you earlier, not now. Why don’t you know these things? Anyone would know that.”

I snarled then. Something in me let go. I was no longer afraid to be angry there outside the counselor’s room. I told him “I am afraid my expectations are too high for you and that you seem incapable of changing, that you have no empathy or emotional intelligence whatsoever, that you can’t respond with a basic human connection and emotion in real time, that I tell you day after day and you still don’t understand, and that I’m tired of being so endlessly gentle and understanding with you, tired of coaching you on what to say and do, how to react or respond, tired of waiting and hoping that one day you will be there for me when I never get any response at all and I’m tired of feeling invisible or like I don’t matter, or I’m a bother to deal with.”

Ouch – I know. But I was really feeling that way. All of these lessons and counseling and I can go to him and something like this text can happen right in front of him or I say my anxiety is at an 8, and he simply walks away from me, not a word, no reaction, leaves me alone to deal with it myself. He does not check on me or support me in any way. And it isn’t that he doesn’t know how. He really should have a clue by now. We have a binder full of skills, statements, breathing exercises, mindfulness, etc and have practiced together in counseling. So I keep thinking he will be there when I need him, but he is only available 1 hour a week during counseling. At home nothing has changed, he is still distant, aloof, avoidant, oblivious – and I don’t know why. It is really starting to hurt, so I blew up.

His response was “So I’m just an A$$hole and our marriage is $hit”

What?? I didn’t call you that. I didn’t say that. At all. I said I don’t understand why you continue to not respond to me, that we have no connection, that I feel all alone, and I am getting worried that it will never change.

I tried explaining to him how it feels to constantly be ignored.  I keep waiting for him to come to me. Show an interest. Want to talk to me. Want to work on it. We are supposed to spend 20 minutes every day working on  exercises from couples counseling. He won’t do it. I keep wondering why he even goes to counseling at all if he won’t put any effort in at home. I’m trying so hard to continue to be patient, but this week I ran out. I reached my limit and I exploded. No more Mrs nice girl. Sorry honey.

It’s not me – it’s you.

Then this morning another defensive reaction from him, lashing out at me. We move our mattress last night and find the bed frame is full of fleas! We’ve been battling fleas for a few months now. We vacuum and spray. This morning we spend a few minutes talking about fleas and what else we need to do to get this under control. Boring informational talk.

He then has to go to work. I say, “Aww, I didn’t want to spend our morning talking about fleas”

He blows up and yells, “Sorry for ruining your morning” and storms out of the room

I was shocked, like he had hit me. WTF?

Appropriate responses he could have had:

“No, me either, stupid fleas” (common enemy)

“No, I’d rather spend it in bed with you” (flirty)

“Really? I love talking about fleas” (sarcastic)

“Yes too bad I have to go to work now” (understanding)

I told him that was a horrible thing to say and that he needs to control himself and stop lashing out at me. I’m not attacking him or saying mean things. When he says things like “So I’m an A-hole then, or I’ve ruined your morning” it devastates me, particularly in the middle of a calm, dull conversation to get a defensive reaction out of nowhere.. I do not call him names or put him down. I can’t predict what he will take as an attack, and I can’t live like this, the environment is too volatile here. He needs to get it figured out and fast. I no longer accept that it is my fault.

Then last night I log into a site called Relate To That, an online support group I joined, and another member actually posted a quote that seemed as if he was listening to me outside my car, and that he understood everything I was trying to say to hubby. I’m going to share that in the next post so that I can see it separately from this one, but please read it too so you can see how amazingly connected the universe was to me yesterday, even if Hubby was not.

 

Gottman, do try this at home

Couples counselor helped us to understand and process the feelings from my fearful walk the night before. I was only focused on the walk itself, how when my anxiety was so high, and I was reaching panic levels, how was my spouse supposed to support me as I begin to attempt these in vivo experiences and start living my life again? But the counselor showed us that yes, that is an important piece, but there is more, bunches more.

The counselor pulled out some worksheets and guided us through using it for the first time, using that walk as the topic. The worksheets were created by Gottman, titled Aftermath of a Fight or a Regrettable Incident. I’m familiar with Gottman for his marriage books, and I was confused by the title. Hubby and I didn’t have a fight. And what the bleep is a regrettable incident…who talks like that? Oh yeah…counselors do.

Counselor explained this worksheet is great any time a couple is experiencing different realities, are not in sync, seem to have trouble communicating clearly, or are on a different page. Oh…well, that describes Hubby and I pretty much any time we try to speak to each other. It’s like I say something and he is using a translator that gets close, but never quite it exactly.

Here’s my worksheet. 2 pages of fun.

aftermath1

aftermath2.PNG

So it took the entire hour of counseling to go through this worksheet with the counselor facilitating Hubby and I taking turns and discussing our feelings before, during, and after the walk. The walk itself lasted about 5 minutes before fear took over and we headed back home. Seems crazy to devote two blogs and an entire counseling session to it right? No, not at all. It only took a few minutes for PTSD to hijack my body and make me feel like I was dying. Even though I knew I was safe, I didn’t FEEL safe, and had all the same effects in my body as adrenaline took over. It took me hours to recover from that walk. I was unable to read to my kids that night. I was worn out and frazzled, shaking, cold, nauseous.

Hubby was unaware of all of that. He said he thought I was afraid to fall, so that even though I clearly expressed my anxiety was an 8 he still was thinking I had a physical fear from the surgery, not thinking I had any emotional fears at all.

I kept waiting for him to come up and check on me, but he was fine, so thought I was fine, because how could a 5 minute walk to the corner result in someone being unfine? Through this process, we both shared our point of view, without blame. At the counselor’s office, I felt safe to share what seemed like critical feelings towards Hubby that I tend to keep inside so I don’t hurt his feelings or get a bad reaction. I’m also ashamed of myself for being too afraid to walk down the sidewalk, so it is difficult to talk about to someone who does not understand. But doing that contributes to me feeling lonely, small, and unimportant.

We both left this session feeling closer and better understood. Also better prepared for how to tackle a future regrettable incident. It seems odd to plan to have regrettable incidents, but of course we are human after all, so it is better to prepare for crap than to think we can prevent the crap.

I’m so proud of Hubby for attending counseling with me and digging deep to find his emotional language. This is all new for him. He often gets stuck in the “explain what you were feeling” parts, and the counselor is patient and guides him through it. I just stay quiet. I know it is hard. I was there in that same boat several months ago. Now I can show off and list off multiple complex emotions within myself, all without passing out at all. But when you have not been trained to look within, to listen to yourself, to value your feelings, it is almost like they don’t exist. Now Hubby doesn’t have my traumatic history, but everyone has triggers and sensitivities. He wasn’t abused, but he grew up in a family without much affection and where yelling was the norm. He also learned to hide to avoid setting off tempers. Not as extreme as mine, but its there. That’s why we are finally making progress with a trauma focused couples counselor – he is treating both of us.

Counselor has been coaching Hubby in his own stress management, breathing techniques, and gave him a few phone apps to try for grounding and meditation, like “Stop, Breathe, Think”. I’m so hopeful (yes I used the ‘h’ word…) that he will find some relief and one day will notice the difference in himself. Like I can feel when tension starts creeping up on me now, but I used to live at stress level 8, always tense, and that’s where Hubby is, so every additional stressor sets him off. He suffers with headaches, heartburn, muscle tightness and cramps, poor sleep and needing too much sleep, feeling overwhelmed, upset stomach, and of course yelling at us to blow off steam.

Counselor also discusses our automatic reactions. Hubby did mention that he often feels powerless with me, and that one of his reactions is to do nothing. That’s why he leaves me alone and says nothing. When he is aware of my pain or struggle he feels powerless, with no tools to help, so he disappears and entertains himself to relieve his own discomfort. This insight was huge to understanding what makes Hubby tick, and that my automatic reaction of hiding in shame, well, no wonder we rarely come together during the event itself. So I need to work on telling him what I need, going to him instead of waiting on him to come to me. And he will work on realizing that for a while here, it is very likely that each new activity has the possibility to bring on a strong fear reaction and while I am experiencing strong fear, it becomes increasingly harder to communicate it.

PTSD sucks. I’m so grateful I have fantastic counselors helping Hubby and I navigate these difficult waters ahead. I feel like I have allies now. Something confusing or overwhelming happens, and instead of swallowing it down and moving forward, I see it as a learning opportunity to bring up during my next session. It is still hard. I’m still ashamed. I can’t look my counselors in the eye when I tell them about my problems. I sweat, get flushed, shake, squirm…But I’m there and I tell them because I want to get over PTSD and one day be free. They keep telling me it is possible, that I’m not a lifer.

Shining Light on Shame Gremlins

 

shine light

(Photo Credit: By carlos gonzalez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Shame is a powerful feeling that is not only an emotion but can also be a state of being – a form of existence. Shame results from comparison, when you look deep inside and evaluate yourself as not good enough. It can start from someone else’s criticism or from your own criticism directed inward. Guilt is when you feel you have DONE something bad. Shame is when you feel YOU are bad.

Huby and I spent two sessions discussing shame with our couples counselor now and my mind is blown. We both apparently have shame triggers, what the counselor calls shame gremlins, responsible for our patterns of arguments, misunderstandings, lack of intimacy, and poor communication over the years. Counselor said the only way to kill a gremlin is to shine light on it. (remember what happened in the movie?)

Okay, he had my curiosity, again. He was either crazy or brilliant, so I paid close attention because either way is interesting to me. He said shame makes us wants to hide, alone, in the dark. (ding, ding, ding – not sounding crazy) We naturally don’t confess we are feeling ashamed and may not even recognize it. Instead we go into defensive and self-protective mode automatically. (wow not crazy at all…) What are your automatic reactions? Do you get angry and yell? That’s what Hubby does. Do have an urge to leave the room, run away, hide and be alone? That’s what I do.

Shame is more likely to trigger anger in men and depression in women. Hmmm.

So here’s an example of how shame causes trouble in my marriage:

We’ve been preparing the house for a kiddo to have a birthday party here this weekend. You all know I hate having people here, but I worked through my fears with many worksheets and I’m feeling okay about this party. Even though I’ve spent 10 out of the past 14 days in bed or in the hospital bed with migraines, I’ve been able to let go of SOME of the anxiety. I still don’t want the party here, but I am resolved to do it for the kiddo, he deserves to have his friends here. I can do it for him. My illness is out of my control. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do. I’m strangely almost peaceful about this. I’m doing what I can and it feels like enough, almost. Its not terrible anyway.

So my role is to mainly manage and delegate to kiddos what to do and keep them working. We were all busy cleaning last weekend and I was having my 7 year old do some dusting. While we were doing this, Hubby came over and said something to me about how good we were all doing, and that we were “deep cleaning” not just tidying, so it was taking longer but worth the effort and really needed done.

If you’ve ever watched a 7 year old dust, there is no “deep cleaning” happening.

So I giggled at Hubby’s comment and said something like “I don’t know about “deep cleaning” but we are making good progress here”

Hubby instantly got angry and started yelling at me about how hard he is working and I’m so mean or not fair, and he’s sick of these nasty comments, and whatever he does is never enough…on and on and on…

Woah – I had no idea what happened. But now I do. Hubby was instantly shamed.  My comment wasn’t about him, but he interpreted it that way, internalized it as criticism that I don’t think he is doing good enough, and that HE is not good enough. So his automatic defense is to yell back in anger, anything to stop feeling that shame. Shame is intolerable, anger is easier to manage.

So then he yells at me, and I can’t figure out what I did wrong. Here’s the fun part. It then triggers shame in ME! But I don’t fight back and yell. I get quiet, slip out of the room, isolate myself alone in my room, feel like crying, maybe feel like dying for being such a terrible person and I don’t even know why.

Wow. OK. How many hours of my childhood did I spend in exactly that state of mind? Hiding, trying to be invisible, trying to figure out what I did wrong, how to be a better person, keep myself away from everyone to protect myself from the chaotic world. I felt safest when alone. No one attacks or shames me when I’m alone.

Here’s the crazy part. Neither of us actually ever criticize each other – intentionally. We’re not like that, we try to be kind and good, and over the top appreciative of each other. It’s why it is so surprising and confusing to have the shame gremlin show its ugly head in the middle of an otherwise pleasant conversation, and then AHH, teeth, claws, daggers, RUN.

Here’s another example of a shame gremlin the counselor wants me to shine that light on:

This one will actually be more difficult. I’m supposed to tell Hubby every time I have a flashback. Instead of trying to hide it. My method for coping with flashbacks has been to get myself grounded as quickly as possible, figure out if anyone noticed, make up some excuse for me acting weird if they did notice, pretend to be ok for as long as possible, then recover from it later when I’m alone, and maybe tell Hubby about it later, maybe not.

I’m ashamed to have flashbacks. I feel like a freak. I don’t want anyone to know or worry about me. I don’t want to talk about it, or what I just experienced. And sometimes I can’t. Sometimes there are no words to express what I re-experienced. (Why? Well let’s see, say we are going out to dinner and Hubby reaches for his coffee and I have a flashback about driving with AF, and I feel his hands on me, sliding up my thigh like he used to do while he drove and I would try to sit as far as possible by the door out of his reach but nowhere was out of his reach. So am I really supposed to share that moment, explain the memory, bring more attention to it rather than look away from it? And then Hubby and I are supposed to somehow continue into the restaurant for dinner then? Talk about spoiling the mood. Is it fair that I went through that alone? I guess not, but I don’t see how it is better for us both to feel the pain) Yeah, well, these counselors say I can’t do that any more. No more hiding. If I’m with Hubby I need to tell him about it, and if I’m alone I need to write it in my flashback log and share with Hubby later. Eeek.

Just writing it now brings up HUGE amounts of fear. I’m supposed to hide. I’m not ready. I’m comfortable in the dark with the gremlins. I’m afraid to shine the light. This fear is terror, throat choking terror. I have a few stuck points to work through about this and I’m still working on the phrasing. Here’s what I have so far.

  1. If anyone knows there is something wrong with me I will have failed
  2. I am worthless if I have any flaws
  3. No one will love me if they know the real me
  4. My secrets are too horrific to share
  5. Accepting help is a sign of failure, worthlessness
  6. It is pointless to try to explain myself because no one ever understands
  7. If people know about my problems…(I don’t know how to finish this one, it’s so strong, I’d rather die protecting my secrets than be exposed, but I can’t think of an ending that makes sense. I’m just “not allowed” to tell people about my problems and this core belief is hard wired)