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That’s ok and understandable, thank you for your post!
I can imagine that you were relieved when your father passed away. Even if you weren’t on speaking terms for years prior to his death, you never knew what to to expect from him, because he was capable of doing nasty things, such as popping up at your office and making a scene. And so you were in a constant state of stress…
Absolutely, I was always safe enough physically but I’m only just starting to see now that I’m mentally and spiritually safe too. No-one’s out there spreading untrue rumours or leaving guilt trips for me anymore (he loved dumping old childhood schoolwork and photo albums on my doorstep). I’m now feeling the physical impact of having been so on edge constantly, but it’s so good to be able to truly aim to relax now.
I know what you mean, because my mother is similar – she also doesn’t believe she did anything wrong in the way she raised me. In her mind, she is the victim and I am the villain, so there isn’t much base for an honest relationship. We do have a superficial contact, we see each other once or twice per year (I live in another country), and that’s it. Nothing deeper is possible, because she would immediately start blaming me. So unfortunately I need to keep my guard up, and our relationship is very very limited.
Yeah, I don’t blame you for keeping your guard up and I completely understand what you must go through with your mother. You try to come up with so many ways to try to make the relationship workable and ultimately the only thing you can do is distance yourself in order to have some kind of peace. I think if I had had greater distance from my father then I would have done the same but because he lived so close he would have just amped up the random visits to home and workplace.
Your father sounds like he was even more toxic than my mother. And so it’s totally understandable that you cut contact completely in the years prior to his death. Because you needed to protect yourself. Because each contact meant exposing yourself to more “poison”, and you didn’t want that.
So please don’t blame yourself for cutting contact – it’s was a self-protection measure. You did the right thing. If he had truly changed and wanted to repair the relationship before his death, he would have reached out to you. But he didn’t… It is sad, but if the parent is so blind and their heart so closed, there is nothing we can do.
Thank you for this, in the later years I became more accepting of the situation but for the first three years or so I felt awful. You’re exactly right, I recognised that I needed time and space to heal a lot of wounds but I just couldn’t do this when he was reopening them constantly (and seeming to take delight in doing so…I think that’s ultimately how I mustered up enough self protective anger to distance myself).
I hated myself for having so reactive skin because in my mind, it revealed my shame and anxiety to everyone. I couldn’t fake it, I couldn’t pretend I was fine – because it was visible on my face that I wasn’t fine at all!
That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s wearing your heart on your sleeve (or rather, your face!) and having no control over it. It leaves you feeling so vulnerable and exposed around people who aren’t always very kind about it.
Later I’ve realized that I was so deeply ashamed of myself (due to my mother’s years of heavy criticism) that this shame became a key part of my personality. As John Bradshaw said, I was a person based on toxic shame. I was ashamed of even taking up space and walking this earth. Really. My “being” – simply sitting in the classroom, listening to the teacher – was interlaced with shame. And this shame produced a stress reaction in me, which in turned caused my cheeks to flush. This only reinforced the shame because now I had one more reason to be ashamed of myself!
Come to think about it, I was in a constant state of stress, because I believed there was something “terribly wrong” with me. And flushed cheeks only confirmed it. I was trapped in a vicious circle!
That hit home. I had both adults and other pupils be cruel about it when I was at school, then at home some of my family would mock me for it too. It wasn’t constant but I think it happened enough on separate occasions to leave a lasting impact. The kids I can forgive because they were insecure bullies, but the fact that there wasn’t a single, empathetic adult to reassure me that there was nothing wrong with me meant that it became more of a complex than it should have done. I feel so angry at them as a I recall it, which is probably a healthy reaction!
In reality, there was nothing wrong with me. I was lovable and worthy, but I didn’t know it, because my mother told me differently. I was ashamed of myself because my mother told me I should be ashamed of myself. Probably it was similar with your father. He was shaming you left and right, and you absorbed that message!
When I started working on myself, slowly healing the shame, realizing that I was lovable and there is nothing wrong with me… my cheeks also became less reactive. I wasn’t flushing so easily any more. I wasn’t anxious all the time when among people. I still don’t feel completely comfortable talking in front of many people, but at least I am comfortable in my own skin, being myself. And even when I need to express myself in a group, it’s fine. I can do it without freaking out because I know that I am fine and that there is nothing wrong with me.
So I believe that as you work on healing your shame, as you accept yourself more and more, your physical symptoms will lessen too. Because they are the consequence of the toxic shame that your father instilled in you… Once that is gone, the symptoms will be much less intense. And even if they appear, those symptoms will be less disturbing for you, because you’ll have greater compassion for yourself. You won’t hate yourself for your flushed cheeks and your trembling voice, but you’ll have compassion for yourself…
In fact, you may try it even now: before going into a triggering situation, where you know you’ll experience those physical sensations, try to talk to yourself with compassion and understanding. Perhaps you can talk to yourself like you would talk to a child: “It’s okay, dear. You are fine. I love you very much. And I accept you completely. Every bit of you, including your flushed cheeks and your trembling voice. You are perfect to me. And you are doing great! ”
Try experimenting with that, and see how it feels in your body….
Thank you so much for sharing your positive outcome with healing your shame, it’s so reassuring that your cheeks became less reactive as your self-compassion grew! I’ll aim to get into the habit of speaking to myself kindly before doing things I know are likely to trigger me. I think at the moment I get preoccupied with the discomfort of feeling panic and have been feeling that anything kind I try to tell myself will have no impact, so it helps to read that someone else has been through it and managed to make such inroads with healing. If you don’t mind me asking, how long do you think it took you to start noticing that your change in self-talk was having a positive impact? I can’t imagine being completely comfortable in my own skin; it feels so distant to me at the moment!
Thank you very much for both your responses. I really appreciate you continuing to take the time out to respond to me!
imagine that you have a child whose face is flushed and voice trembles.. you wouldn’t shame the child for these things, saying something like: what is wrong with you?! Why is your face flushed?! etc. Instead, you’d express empathy for the anxious child (and the child will calm down as a result). Next time your face flushes etc., try to peel off the shame about the symptoms from the fear that caused the symptoms, so that what remains is the fear itself. You can deal with the fear better without the shame getting stuck to it like hair on soap!
Yeah, I wouldn’t dream of shaming a child for being so blatantly afraid. My father mocked me for it in front of other people (even into adulthood), so I think there’s a secondary shame attached in that my own parent rejected me for who I was. I was fortunate in having a generally well-meaning mother, but even she pushed me to achieve constantly and didn’t seem able to just accept me simply for who I was at my core. I like your advice about separating the shame about the symptoms from the fear that caused the symptoms. I think I’ll probably journal about this and see what comes up!
Shame is a combination of a very painful emotion and thoughts, it is a bit more complex than fear, but still: what we fear is not the objective reality but the emotion of shame. We do what we do to get rid of shame as quickly as possible. A very important part of healing is to distinguish between actual situations that present us with real, clear-and-present-danger, and situations that are not dangerous, yet they activate intense fear in us as if they were dangerous. Same thing with shame: to distinguish between situations where we really wronged others and situations where … we didn’t but we feel as if we did.
Thank you so much for breaking all this down, it’s really helpful. Yes, working out where exactly my responsiblity lies in how I’ve treated others is a big one for me. An example of this is a former work friend who I’ve lost touch with and who I’ve been thinking probably thinks I’m not a nice person for not putting more effort in, but the reality is that for a number of years messages back and forth naturally became increasingly sparse on both sides as we went different ways in life and developed different priorities. My default reaction is to feel shame whenever I think about it, but when this happens I’m trying to be a bit more balanced about it rather than blaming myself entirely. I think it’s probably natural to feel some guilt over my lack of contact, but my shame reaction and over-responsibility are trauma based and not in keeping with the facts of the situation. I’m trying to be a bit more sympathetic towards myself in scenarios such as that as I have a tendency to take far too much responsibility.
As far as the painful mental-emotional habit of feeling shame when not doing wrong to others (or feeling intense shame for small wrongdoings, or for normal mistakes and/ or feeling intense shame regardless and long after we apologized and made amends), it is important to go back in time and figuratively hand that shame back to the shaming authority figure (usually a parent) where the shame belongs. In my case, I went back in time and handed my mother the shame that belongs to her. It is not a one-time visualization, but a repeated one. I am doing it again right now, as I type these words: in my mind’s eye, I see my mother and I say to her: This is your shame… not mine. I mistakenly carried your shame on my shoulders all these years… but it was never mine! I then place that package of shame by her feet and I walk away, leaving her and her shame behind me.
I love that you handed the shame back to your mother and were able to place it back exactly where it belonged! To do this and truly start to believe it must be really empowering. Over time and with repetition does the message in this visualization become more automatic? Currently I get caught up in analysing things and looking for evidence of where I might have been the problem.
This all feels a bit like peeling away the layers of an onion. I’ve been thinking about my core wound a lot and I think it’s very much a childlike “I’m bad” or “I’m going to get into trouble”. It’s based on a time when I genuinely probably would have been getting into trouble all the time, merely for being a child and existing. I had never actually done anything very wrong, so I assumed I was terribly flawed. Added to that is the secondary shame of having been bullied for my shame reactions by my father, sibling, people at school and a particularly nasty teacher. Then on top of that there’s been my own rejection of myself as an adult, wondering why I have such extreme reactions and why I’m so weird, then becoming hyper-focused on how I act around people for fear of being rejected.
Sorry if writing all this out is a lot, I’m having quite a few realisations and lightbulb moments just lately but don’t want to trauma dump or have anyone feel obliged to respond if any of it’s a bit much! Thank you once again for sharing your insights.
Hi Tee, thank you very much for your response.
That’s fascinating that the pandemic actually enabled you to feel safer because your father couldn’t just pop at your door at any time to harass you. Maybe this feeling of safety encouraged you to stop taking anti-depressants too? (you said you’ve been weening off for the last couple of years, which coincides with the pandemic). Which also means that the reason you were taking anti-depressants all this time was your father and your inability to say No to him, to protect yourself from his harassment, I imagine? But eventually you succeeded:
I’m trying to remember the circumstances but yes, I think I’d been wanting to come off the antidepressants for a while and mainly felt that with such a solid block of time at home it was a good opportunity to ride out the symptoms. Although it was very hard and obviously the pandemic was an awful thing, it was really helpful to have that opportunity to learn to sit with my new and difficult feelings in relative safety. I never quite felt able to do that at work, where he could turn up whenever he liked if he really wanted to.
Congratulations on distancing yourself! How is your relationship with your father now?
It also seems that unlike with your father, you felt safe with your husband – safe enough to start reducing the anti-depressants and discovering and expressing your authentic feelings, and showing more and more of your authentic self. I am happy for you!
Thank you! Yeah, my husband is kind, affectionate and dependable so I do feel safe with him. I know it is generally said that daughters of abusive fathers will often pick spouses who have the same traits. I think I turned it on its head a little bit in that I didn’t follow this pattern, however subconsciously I kind of expected more of the same.
My father passed away back in August and we hadn’t spoken for years. He wouldn’t take ownership of his behaviour or try to change it for the better, so sadly there was no way of having any meaningful relationship with him. When I learned he was ill I was considering the possibility of reconnecting with him in a way that would have been surface level and required lots of boundaries, but he passed away very suddenly. Honestly, now he’s gone it’s been easier to grieve for the lack of relationship fully and to be kinder to myself about how everything went down. For years I felt a lot of shame and blamed myself for it all but I now see that I was between a rock and hard place when it came to him.
It wasn’t silly. He was having an emotional affair with people in the cyber space, and was neglecting you… so you were totally right to make an issue of it. And I am glad that this game doesn’t exist any more, but also that he had already reduced the time he was spending on it, even prior to that. It seems it lost its emotional grip on him, which is good news.
Yeah, you’re right. For many months this game and these people seemed to be his world and he was always looking for opportunities to hang out with them…the comment he made to that woman was only a small part of the bigger picture. I’m relieved that the game no longer exists in all honesty because it means a clean break as far as I’m concerned. I now have a better idea of where my boundaries with gaming and the associated social scene lie and if something like this ever comes up again the future I hope that we can both approach it in better ways.
It’s great that you don’t trust the inner critic any more, and when you hear those deprecating words, you try to talk to yourself kindly. That is the way to counter the harsh voice of the inner critic: to talk to yourself with warmth and compassion, like a good, loving parent. You are doing a great job, and all I can say is: Keep up the good work!
It will take some time to stop the automatic thoughts from popping up, but it’s important that you notice them and sort of observe them, but not identify with them.
Apparently it was Martin Luther who said “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair“. So you notice the deprecating, harsh thought, but you know it’s your Inner Critic, and you counter it with the voice of the Inner Good Parent, or the Inner Coach, as some call it. Someone who loves you and cheers you on, rather than someone who judges you and puts you down.
Thanks for the encouragement, I’m currently keeping a log of my daily negative judgements as part of my DBT workbook and it’s eye opening how negative my thoughts are on the whole and how willing I’ve been to just go along with them. Meditation is helping with this a lot as the emphasis has been on just allowing thoughts to come and go. That Martin Luther quote is a great one, I’ll have to write it down somewhere and keep it! I think just identifying in the first place that my inner critic is behind these thoughts has been quite profound for me as for a long time I just didn’t see it and took everything I thought as being significant.
Hi Anita, thank you so much for your posts and sorry for not responding sooner. It’s much easier to reply when I have a good solid block of quiet time to gather my thoughts and am able to write in complete privacy, which I haven’t had the opportunity to do until now.
You are very welcome! “Would you mind sharing how you incorporated CBT into your day to day life? For instance, would you sit down for an allotted time each day to work through the exercises?“- I don’t sit down with the CBT workbook or CBT forms and do the exercises. I do the exercises mentally. I will give you an example of my most recent CBT mental exercise. It happened when I read the first sentence of your second recent post: “Hi Tee, thanks very much for your reply”. A thought occurred to me: Sadlyconfused didn’t thank me very much did she? There was hurt and anger accompanying the thought. Next, I thought to myself: oh, this is just me afraid that I am less valued than others, hurt and angry about being treated as LESS THAN. Next, I went back to the post you addressed to me and was pleased that you thanked me “very much” as well. I am aware of my tendency to feel or believe that I am treated as less-than others, aware of my intense and prolonged anger over it growing up… and onward, and so, I no longer assume without checking: I look for the objective reality. *if you didn’t thank me VERY much as well, it wouldn’t have necessarily meant that you value me less: most people are not that careful with their language.
This type of thought process resonates with me so much, thank you for sharing how you respond healthily to it. Interestingly, I’m self-conscious of coming across to others as ingratiating and potentially insincere in my gratitude, so sometimes when I’m particularly aware of this I try to tone my ‘wordiness’ (if that makes sense!) down a bit! It links back to criticism I’ve received in work environments or at school where I was essentially picked on for being “too nice”. It’s really helpful to see how hyper vigilance attunes us to stuff like this. As you say: “most people are not that careful with their language”.
Another thing about this example: a voice in my head says: someone will take advantage of me sharing this and make fun of me for it, saying to me something like: how petty of you, anita! how stupid.. – which gives me the opportunity to do my next CBT mental exercise: I pause and become aware of the fear, fear of being ridiculed, made fun of, shamed, and how much I suffered from this and for so long.. Next, I feel empathy for myself as I think: there is no shame in being hypervigilant to being treated as less-than, when this was my experience growing up and for so long! If anyone ridicules me for this.. they don’t have much of a heart, do they? Following this latest thought, I no longer feel (for the moment) fear of being ridiculed. I mean, it may happen that I will be ridiculed, but the shame in such a possibility is gone because… I will not be valuing someone who will ridicule me over this, and perhaps.. over any other thing.
This latest exercise made me aware that the fear was not about being ridiculed but about feeling shame, it is the very painful feeling of shame that I fear.
This is the message that I’ve been receiving recently when working on my anxiety, it’s the fear of the unpleasant sensations of anxiety and shame that I fear more than the actual situation. One thing I’ve struggled with ever since I was a child is the feeling of unworthiness when I fear something innocuous, like a conversation with what I perceive to be an authority figure (for example, a GP), and the panic symptoms start to arise. I’ve only recently started to understand that there are probably little nuances to tone of voice or the setting that my brain links back to previous trauma (probably involving either my father or old school teachers), then when the physical sensations happen (flushed face, trembling voice) it turns into panic and shame over having such an ‘over the top’ reaction. It’s hard because I think people genuinely are confused by it, or take it personally, and I end up feeling ashamed of it.
The kind self talk you’ve given as an example is extremely helpful, thank you. I think this is how I would like to aim to talk to myself when these moments happen. It seems that the goal is to be the kind, assertive, emotionally mature adult for ourselves in the present day, which our caregivers failed to be.
* I was impressed by the similarities between your father and my mother: (1) my mother too hit me “not bad enough to leave a mark and incriminate (her)“. She even told me that one time that I remember, when she hit me: “do you think that I am that stupid as to leave a mark on you?”, (2) my mother too did the following: “recording some perceived slight against (her). and finding a way to punish me via humiliation months down the line“- there were many, many perceived, untrue slights that she accused me of. Each humiliation session was very long and very elaborate, (3) my mother too repeatedly “would play the victim and pretend that I was uncontrollable and rebellious, when the reality was that I was a quiet, well-meaning girl“- she accused me of meaning to hurt her by saying this and doing that, when it was not at all the truth, I was not evil-meaning and of course, I had no intention of inviting her abuse, (4) I too was afraid of my mother “creating a scene“- she created lots of scenes, very dramatic, scary scenes.
I read this with wide eyes and huge empathy for you as it all sounds so familiar and I know how deeply it hurts. I’m so sorry that you had to endure this kind of insidious abuse too. Thank you so much for sharing and relating because in doing so it helps me to have more empathy for what I myself went through. I think ultimately we’ve had very understandable human reactions to very unfortunate circumstances; our brains had to wire themselves in the way they did for survival.
“The first time I had truly felt safe in years was when the pandemic happened and we were forced to stay home for months as it meant that my father couldn’t turn up out of the blue and harass me… I think it was only with feeling safe that I could really reflect on how my life looked in the present moment rather than being in fight or flight constantly“- I’ve been living continents and oceans away from my mother and yet, I am not quite sure that I am safe from her. It is strange.. how the fear never really goes away, not altogether.
Yes, it’s so hard. My father lived only 25 minutes away by car and I think even if I had more physical distance I would have still felt like he could drive round the corner at any minute. Although I wouldn’t wish death on anyone, a big weight did drop from my shoulders a few days after I learned that he had passed away.
I wanted to add to your question (“Would you mind sharing how you incorporated CBT into your day to day life?..)“, that at the time(2008-9) I filled in all of the pages of the CBT workbook I mentioned, and because of that book and workbook, I specifically looked for a CBT therapist. During therapy (2.5 years, 2011-13), I filled in lots of the CBT forms he handed to me, during sessions and as homework.
Thank you for sharing this, maybe I’ll look into person to person CBT therapy at some point as it would be good to receive some direction on any sticking points!
Hi Tee, thanks very much for your reply. There’s no need to apologise about any delay in responding, I tend to take a while myself as I prefer replying when I have quiet stretches to do so without interruption.
No wonder you didn’t allow yourself to feel anger – because had you felt it, your father would have probably punished you. Aggressive, misogyinist men don’t take well when a woman opposes them. He might have even become physically violent if you hadn’t done as he told you?
That’s great btw that you finally managed to stand up to your father, even if later in your life!
Oh definitely. My father wasn’t heavy on physical violence, but the threat of being slapped or prodded really hard in the ribs was enough. Bad enough to really hurt, but not bad enough to leave a mark and incriminate him. He would use psychological punishment too, recording some perceived slight against him in his memory and finding a way to punish me via humiliation months down the line. Not a nice man. Thank you, distancing myself from him was the hardest thing I ever had to do as an adult but to allow the psychological assaults to continue would have been just as bad.
I agree that my mother set a bad example in not showing me how to protect myself. I have a lot of compassion for her and know that she was in an extremely difficult situation, but if only she had known how much damage it would all cause years down the line.
It seems to be that you were afraid of being completely honest with your husband – maybe projecting some of your father’s criticism into him – and so you didn’t really tell him when you started taking anti-depressants (you were still dating at that time). And you didn’t tell him later either that you were weening off. Do you think that the reason could be the fear of judgment?
Please don’t think that I am judging you or anything, I am just trying to understand the dynamic in your relationship. You said you had communication problems. It could be that a part of it was your fear of being judged by your husband? Even though he might not have been judgmental, or at least not as judgmental as your father (you said he would probably support you in doing what you believe is right for you)?
Yes, I think I’ve been projecting my father’s actions on to my husband a lot! It makes me feel a bit sick because as people they’re nothing alike. I was fearful of being judged, that makes a lot of sense. I think I was worried that I would come across as being hysterical and off the rails if weaning off anti-depressants didn’t work out.
And hmm, I’ve just realised that being “off the rails” was the image my father tried to portray of me to other people when I was a teenager. He would play the victim and pretend that I was uncontrollable and rebellious, when the reality was that I was a quiet, well-meaning girl who liked reading and walking her dog. I think it probably harks back to experiencing that kind of treatment. There was the whole element of being stuck in the house for months over the pandemic too, which mirrored my experiences as a teenager where I was unable to leave. It all seems trauma related.
Right. So for the majority of your marriage, until about 2 years ago, you couldn’t feel fully because you were on anti-depressants and you were only going through the motions, a little bit like being on an auto-pilot, right? You worked a lot, felt exhausted most of the time and in your spare time you just wanted to sleep. You didn’t feel resentment towards your husband, mostly because you didn’t feel much anyway, you didn’t pay attention to your feelings, nor to his feelings too much, I guess?
Your marriage survived this “auto-pilot” phase, and only started shaking when you started weening off anti-depressants. I might have an idea why is that, but I don’t want to jump into conclusions. If you feel it’s relevant, and want to share some more about that phase of your marriage, please do so.
Yes, this is exactly how it was. There were good times in there too of course and I’ve always loved him and enjoyed his company. I’d never had any practice in setting boundaries or expressing problems though and I think they all culminated into a bigger issue. Also, fear of my father was always the biggest issue in my life and I spent many years being afraid of him showing up on my doorstep or workplace and creating a scene, so anything else seemed insignificant in comparison. The first time I had truly felt safe in years was when the pandemic happened and we were forced to stay home for months as it meant that my father couldn’t turn up out of the blue and harass me. With that, the seemingly more insignificant issues in my life which I hadn’t paid much attention to came into my awareness a lot more. I think it was only with feeling safe that I could really reflect on how my life looked in the present moment rather than being in fight or flight constantly.
What is important is that now, after a rough patch, you started opening up towards your husband and that he reciprocates, and that you can laugh together and talk more sincerely with each other. If your emotional intimacy is growing, that’s fantastic!
Has he reduced his Discord dependence? Because based on what you’ve shared, it did become an addiction already, with him spending every single moment using the app…
Absolutely, we seem to be reaching a far better place. I think we needed to endure the discomfort of conflict in order to develop more emotional intimacy. I certainly couldn’t keep quiet about the things that were bothering me anymore, regardless of how silly they might or might not have been. I was feeling so insecure about it.
Yes, his online game actually no longer exists as of a couple of weeks ago, but even prior to that he had greatly reduced the time he was spending on there and was spending far less time on Discord. I think it was an addiction and that some of the habits I was witnessing daily were similar to those that you might see if someone were having an online affair, so I’m giving myself some compassion for jumping to that conclusion. Living and breathing a computer game and the related online social scene just didn’t make sense to me, so that’s how my brain rationalised it. He did confide recently that he misses his friends and I think as an extrovert he missed going out and seeing people over the pandemic, so without many other distractions I can see why it took such a hold. I’m aiming to forgive both of us for any dysfunctional behaviour over the last couple of years, it was such a stressful time for everyone.
Hi Anita, thank you very much for both of your responses and for taking the time to re-post following that odd spam post!
As an adult, you rightfully, I am sure, labeled your father a misogynist, which suggests that you know that many of his opinions about girls and women were wrong. But as a child, your father was a superior being, a god (to the child that you were), and what he said about you was the word of god. He told you in so many ways that there is something terribly wrong with you, you naturally believed him, and shame (the belief that there is something terribly wrong with you) took hold, a core belief was formed.
The hallmark of shame is a constant, vigilant, painful awareness of mistakes made/ wrongdoings committed: often imagined mistakes and wrongdoings, and in regard to real mistakes and wrongdoings: they always appear, to the shame based individual, much bigger than they are.
Yes, I agree with this. I’m full of shame as a result of my dad’s treatment of me. I sometimes even hear my mind telling myself “I’m bad” or “I’m disgusting” and it’s sad and scary how ingrained these beliefs are. I’m trying to grieve for my childhood when emotion comes up and attempting to talk to myself kindly. In the present day I genuinely don’t feel like I have any reason to feel that way towards myself and I know that it’s not true, yet my nervous system is wired around these messages.
“For me, it’s probably enough now to acknowledge that when something like this happens it isn’t automatically my fault“- it will take this kind of acknowledging, over and over again, over many months, to uproot the core belief that when something bad (or something that you perceive to be bad) happens, it is automatically your fault.
Thank you, I’m guessing persistence and repetition is key, plus identifying when a thought isn’t helpful in the first place. I think I’ve over-identified with them a lot in the past because when coupled with feeling anxious and upset they’ve seemed logical. I didn’t understand the importance of emotional regulation and how much being out of your nervous system’s window of tolerance can skew your perception of things.
A CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) practice will help in this regard. I got my introduction to CBT 12 years ago by reading the book Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies and doing the exercises in the workbook, same title. One key exercise is filling in a form when you notice that you feel distressed: (1) you label the feeling best you can, (2) you write down the thought or thoughts behind your distress, (3) you evaluate each thought as to its truth or lack of. Ex., you submit a post on tiny buddha and it comes out with lots of excess print, you feel distressed, you fill in the form: I feel anxious (feeling), I made a terrible mistake (thought), then you evaluate the thought: did I make a mistake.. what was my mistake?
Aha, I have this book! I bought it about 7 years ago and read it all the way through but didn’t commit to doing the exercises. It’s a great book but I got stuck in the act of constant researching and reading about mental health in other areas, which I think was a form of self-soothing and running away from doing the actual work.
Flicking through it again now, yes, I think re-visiting this book and working through it properly would be so helpful for me. It’s really encouraging to know that it helped you and I feel so ready to commit to it now. Would you mind sharing how you incorporated CBT into your day to day life? For instance, would you sit down for an allotted time each day to work through the exercises?
The reason I made the comment above (the italicized) is that as a shame-based person that I was, I know how quick I’ve been to seewrongdoing and wrong being on my part anywhere and everywhere possible. Sometimes, when I felt criticized and judged, I really was, but at other times, I assumed that I was… when I wasn’t.
I know that as I respond to members, particularly to shame-based members, I need to be reasonably careful to not word things in ways that can easily be perceived as criticism. More so, I need to be careful to not really criticize and judge members- something I did when I wrongly projected my mother into original posters’ stories, wrongly assuming that what is true about my mother is also true about the OP or the OP’s mother!
That makes a lot of sense and I thank you for being so considerate because it’s not always easy to get these things across online. In person we have tone of voice and body language to help us! Projection when you’ve experienced a difficult/abusive parent is so easily done and human, I’ve experienced this tendency myself in the past when it comes to my father.
Hi Tee, thank you for your comments. I’ve spent some time answering your questions below.
I would imagine that as a people pleaser, you weren’t actually easy-going, but that you pretended that you were happy to accommodate them and do whatever they asked of you, even if it went against your wishes. So you might have worn a mask of “kindness”, saying things like “sure, no problem, I’ll do it”, but underneath you felt miserable and probably resentful too?
Yeah, it was the way my mother acted around everyone and I learned from a young age that this was how you got people to love you and treat you well. I think I believed that kindness from other people had to be earned and that it wasn’t something that I was just automatically worthy of. It was only when I entered the workplace and was working full-time that I recognised that other people didn’t behave the same way, and I started to see see how much it was limiting me. It was a shock to find that people actually respected me less for being a doormat. I don’t think I’d ever fully allowed myself to even feel anger until I was in my late twenties. I had been miserable and resentful for many years but I’d suppressed these emotions so much that I had never even known it until I started to stand up to my father as an adult.
If I am counting right, you started taking anti-depressants about 14 years ago (one year into your relationship with your husband), and you have been taking them for 12 years. In the last couple of years you have been weening off anti-depressants. This has caused problems in your marriage, since you couldn’t feel anything for anyone, including your husband. You also had heightened anxiety. You now can feel again and the communication with your husband has improved in the last 3-4 months.
You haven’t told your husband that you were weening off anti-depressants, which you now see as a big mistake because it would have explained your poor behavior. Does your husband now know that you’re no longer taking anti-depressants? Does he support you in that decision?
I think that timeline is about right, yes. The lack of feeling was chronic and such an odd thing, because logically I knew that I loved him and couldn’t imagine wanting to be with anyone else, but my emotions were so flat. I never really made a big thing about taking anti-depressants in the first place, so I don’t think he’s aware that I no longer take them. I think generally he trusts me to do what’s right for me and would be supportive of it. I think I didn’t tell him a couple of years ago that I was weaning off them because I knew that it was potentially going to be a bumpy ride for a while in terms of side-effects but I’d hoped that it wouldn’t last as long as it did.
You still cry when thinking about your mother, even if she died 20 years ago. This tells me that the wound is still raw. I think it’s because a part of you (the child and teenager that you were) still feels helpless and horrified at the thought of living without your mother’s protection, alone with your father, in an environment full of hatred and cruelty. A part of you is still stuck in the past, and this is probably the part that needs healing the most.
It’s great that in the last couple of years, you are learning about trauma and getting better at self-care. And that you’ve made more progress in those 2 years than in the 12 years of being on anti-depressants. Are you attending therapy? Because I would assume that if one wants to ween off anti-depressants, one would need therapy to support that process…
It’s very raw still, yes. As a teenager I didn’t have a safe place to express my emotions after she passed and for years after I suppressed a lot of emotion, so there’s a lot there to process. I made sure that I was confident enough in my coping skills before I stopped taking anti-depressants (yoga, meditation, journalling, etc.) but I hadn’t been prepared for how intense the emotions would be. Therapy is something I’m aware that I’m very much in need of, but unfortunately it’s too expensive for me right now. I think the relational aspect of it would be really healing for me and it’s definitely something I’m working towards doing, hopefully next year if I can get together a more stable income.
You said that once you started weening off, you’ve experienced loss of emotions – you couldn’t feel anything for anyone. Maybe this was a protective mechanism – to cut off all emotions, so they wouldn’t overwhelm you?
Since you’ve started this thread due to an issue with your husband, I am wondering about the dynamic between the two of you. From what you’ve shared so far, he is a decent man who has behaved “out of character” recently. You are thinking that it was because he had a crush on some girl online, since you weren’t emotionally available. May I ask – is he in general a good husband? Does he respect you? How was your relationship while you were on anti-depressants? Please answer only if you feel comfortable talking about it.
This would make sense as the emotions were intense. It was only after getting comfortable with little acts of self-care that I started to feel able to express any emotion other than irritability.
I think in general he’s a good husband and recently I’ve started to feel more confident that he does respect me. For a while I didn’t feel that he did. When he was frequently playing his online game it felt like it dominated both our lives as when he wasn’t playing it he was using Discord on his mobile, chatting about it and socialising with the other gamers, which I wouldn’t have minded now and again but it seemed to be every spare moment. I have the app too so could see that he was logging in regularly, even at work, plus he would take his phone to the bathroom and be chatting in there. It’s this kind of thing which made me paranoid and it was what triggered our last discussion about it. I found myself getting frustrated often because it seemed like he was more interested in the game/his Discord social life than he was with spending time with me. I also felt like I was taking too much responsibility for household chores and being taken for granted in that respect.
Our relationship was fine while I was on anti-depressants, but I wasn’t feeling fully and was going through the motions with day to day life. I didn’t think I had any resentments at the time because I was largely so tired and work focused that it didn’t seem to matter. I just wanted to sleep! I think all the things which did matter to me and needed to be addressed became more apparent when I stopped taking anti-depressants.
Something has just occurred to me – you asked who you are (since you are not and shouldn’t be a people pleaser!) Well, your true self is a compassionate self, having the voice of a gentle, kind and loving parent. If you can find such a voice within yourself, this is the voice of your True Self. If you get anchored in self-compassion, the pieces of the puzzle will start coming together, and you’ll be discovering more and more of your authentic self.
Thank you, that’s reassuring! I’m doing the work but the concept of self-compassion is still so new to me and not easy. I do have faith that I can get better at it though.
Hi Anita, thanks again for your insight.
“He probably did have a crush on this woman… but at the same time I acknowledge that I wasn’t emotionally available“- men, including married men, get crushes even when their wives are emotionally available. The crushes often have to do with the man’s emotional experience as a boy, way before he met the woman he married.
That does make a lot of sense. I think there would be a lot there for him to unpack if he ever chose to. For me, it’s probably enough now to acknowledge that when something like this happens it isn’t automatically my fault or a reflection of my worth.
“.. which I feel was a massive communication error on my part, as my poor behaviour had no explanation. I have such a bad habit of just trying to deal with things alone“- how indeed you judge yourself harshly (see your words in the quote with which I opened this post): a massive error,poor behaviour, bad habit…?
Here is an empathetic reframing of this sentence: looking back, I can see that I made an error not telling my husband because if I told him, he would have become aware of the withdrawal symptoms that I suffered. I have this habit of dealing with things alone because I was so alone for too long, as a child and onward.
Oof, yeah, I do judge myself harshly don’t I? It’s so automatic and I don’t realise I’m doing it! Thank you for reframing the sentence for me, I wouldn’t have otherwise recognised that I was being overly judgemental of myself. It helps give me an idea of the healthier kind of self-talk I could be aiming for. Looking back too, it wasn’t like I was always behaving poorly, so I think this was an example of me thinking in black and white terms.
“(Walking on eggshells is) a very difficult habit to break! .. I’ve let little things fester into resentment and they’ve then turned into bigger issues in my head“- how about forming a new daily habit: every day, locate a tiny resentment and appropriately voice it?
“It’s hard to balance (old trauma) with things that are genuinely a present day problem though and which might require an assertive response“- when confused about a current problem or situation, you are welcome to share about it here and get my take on whether it requires an assertive response.
Voicing small resentments daily is a good idea, perhaps I’ll aim to do this via journalling. Then if anything does continue to bother me I’ll have been approaching it rationally and from a balanced perspective rather than reacting emotionally. Plus sharing here about things I’m unsure about would be really helpful in the future. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in your own storylines and end up not being able to see the wood for the trees.
In no way do I think that you are a bad woman wearing a mask of a good woman, or pretending to be a good woman. Being an extreme people pleaser does not mean deceit. It means being afraid to displease.. being afraid, that’s all. I hope that you are feeling and doing better, and I hope to read from you again sometime.
Thank you for clarifying that, I think fear does motivate a lot of my reactions to uncertain situations. It did help keep me ‘safe’ for quite a long time while I was growing up in a dysfunctional household, so for a long time I didn’t know any differently. It was only when I entered the workplace and was working around other people full-time that I recognised that they didn’t behave the same way, and I started to see see how much it was limiting me.
I have been doing much better over the last few days thanks and things seem to be feeling more natural with my husband again (spending time together, being affectionate, laughing, etc.) Hopefully this is something that we’ll both learn and grow from.
Oh my word, what did I do to the formatting in that last post?! Sorry, hope you can make head or tail of that – face palm!Hi again Anita, I thought I’d do a separate post in response so I could reply to your latest post a bit more in depth. 🙂
“– I am thinking: before your conversation with your husband a few nights ago, you did not know about the existence of this woman-gamer. Therefore, either (1) when you posted your original post, you did not yet see her photo. You saw it and read her conversations with other gamers for the first time the day after, seeing/ reading for yourself that she looks and behaves the opposite of you, bubbly, etc., or (2) you never saw her photo or read her conversations with other gamers, but your husband described to you how she looks and behaves. Which one of these two possibilities (perhaps there is a third possibility) is true may be significant.”He mentioned her nickname when he was telling me about the comment, so from there I looked her up on social media and was able to see for myself who she is and how she portrays herself. My husband didn’t go into any depth about who she is or what kind of relationship they had, he just alluded to her being part of the general gang that he was socialising with.“I want to re-read all that you shared, slowly and carefully, rearrange what you shared in chronological order. If you are reading, I hope that it’s okay that I repeat your words, particularly on topics that still hurt:”It’s really good to have another person’s perspective on it all, so thank you.“You got married about 15 years ago. For all the years of your marriage, your husband did not flirt with other women or made flirty comments (“In the whole 15 years or so that we’ve been together he’s never acted like that“). For some time, like you, he experienced poor mental health.”We got together 15 years ago and got married 10 years ago. He’s never been openly flirtatious in front of me and hasn’t had close female friends during the time we’ve been together. He’s quite extroverted but also reserved and respectful when interacting with others, though also playful and humorous with good friends. I guess this was the latter part of his personality coming out on the gaming community. I feel quite bad currently about getting so upset about it, as I think the game itself was a fun outlet for him.“My comments based on your 2 posts alone: (1) I am sorry that you and your mother suffered from a misogynist father and husband. I can’t imagine a worse situation for a woman (your mother) and a girl (you) than living with a man who hates women (and girls)!”Thank you for this, it wasn’t the best start I could have had. I became a massive people pleaser to get through it, which has been really difficult to emerge from as it’s pretty much been my identity my whole life. Without it, who actually am I? What do I stand for? It’s hard. I think this has caused quite a few interpersonal issues for me over the last three or so years as people quite naturally assumed that my easy-going, people pleasing habit was my core personality, rather than the trauma response that it really was.“(2) Congratulations for successfully (if I understand correctly) weaning yourself off anti-depressants. I know how very difficult it is to accomplish this. When I tried to wean myself off anti-depressants (and from a benzodiazepine), I almost didn’t make it because of the intense heightened anxiety involved,”I’m so glad you got through it and came out the other side. I know antidepressants help a lot of people but I think I was far too complacent on them and didn’t do the work needed to address my trauma. I need to learn to process my feelings rather than numbing them and I think I have so much unresolved grieving to do, particularly around the death of my mother. I can’t openly talk about her without crying and it happened nearly 20 years ago. The heightened anxiety has been so hard but I think a lot of it is trauma related and a result of my early development. I was on anti-depressants pretty much continuously for about 12 years and I’m now playing catch-up in my mid thirties. :/ Although it’s frustrating, I think by learning about trauma and getting better at self care I’ve started to make far more progress in the last couple of years than I ever did in the previous 12. I didn’t tell my husband that I was weaning off anti-depressants which I feel was a massive communication error on my part, as my poor behaviour had no explanation. I have such a bad habit of just trying to deal with things alone, as though it’s something shameful.Sorry if I’ve run on a bit here, not sure if I’m potentially oversharing.“(3) Congratulations for improving the communication between you and your husband in the last few months. May you, your husband and the marriage continue to heal and improve!”Thank you, hopefully it will get back on track again. I’m aiming to continue effective self-care for myself first and foremost, plus to strengthen my communication skills, so that hopefully we never reach such a low point again. I’ll do the work on my part, then what will be will be.“(4) I hope that you are no longer walking on eggshells (a habit that is hard to break). I used to move from the two extremes: being passive (walking on eggshells, saying nothing… being very quiet) and being confrontational and aggressive (saying too much and in the wrong way). Moderation is key to mental health, the moving away from extremes.”Yep, it’s a very difficult habit to break! This is exactly how I’ve been, I’ve let little things fester into resentment and they’ve then turned into bigger issues in my head. I have a tendency to get overwhelmed and close off when I’m upset too, largely because I’ve just been so illiterate when it comes to naming emotions and have a hard time working out what’s even bothering me in the first place. Recognising that it’s probably usually an old trauma that I’m rehashing (my inner child) helps to distance myself from the emotion a bit. It’s hard to balance that with things that are genuinely a present day problem though and which might require an assertive response. Having perspective from others really helps.“I enjoyed our short communication and would love to keep it going, if you feel similarly, of course.”Thanks again Anita, yes I’d love to!
“– no wonder you were so troubled by the comment. In my first reply I answered your question (“Am I too uptight?”), this way: “more uptight than I currently am, but less uptight than I used to be“. I used to get similarly triggered as a woman because I too grew up in a home where I was criticized a lot, hated, really. I too walked on eggshells, bullied (mostly by my mother), and… I too had a “general quietness” about me. I was introverted, anxious and oh, so jealous of bubbly, outgoing girls: I so wished I was them, or like them. That childhood/ teenage jealousy carried into my adulthood.
Try to practice compassion toward yourself every time you get triggered this way, perhaps say to yourself something like: no wonder I get triggered. Anyone in my place, with my past experience, would get triggered this way… I suffered so much. I don’t want to suffer anymore. When you talk compassionately to yourself, you get motivated to no longer suffer unnecessarily simply because you don’t deserve to suffer.”
Thank you and I’m sorry to hear that you had to go through similar experiences when you were younger. I do carry a lot of shame and fear in me and have actually very recently realised that self-compassion is probably key to developing more emotional resilience (I started a workbook on self compassion just the other week!) so it’s reassuring that you’ve advised this. I think I’ve harshly judged myself all my life for the reactions I have and felt like there was something wrong with me. There’s a difference between knowing that and believing it though, so it’s something I definitely want to work on further. I’m starting to study dialectical behavioural therapy more too to get a better sense of what’s happening when I react so emotionally and to figure out how to cope better.
“It’s obvious your husband does think he said something wrong (not hugely wrong, but a bit off color honestly) else he wouldn’t have told you/confessed it to you. So don’t put it all on you, you know? Sure there might be previous pain–hence your large reaction–but, he could also have said something he probably knows wasn’t the best thing, else he wouldn’t have told you. Both things can be true.”
Thank you for this. There had been a lot of behaviour on his part over the last few months which did come across as a bit odd and out of character, so a lot of this has been me trying to figure out what exactly was going on. I can be very black and white about things and jump to extremes though, when the reality is that it was probably a grey area thing all along.
“Just don’t put it all on you, you know? If you had made the same comment to another guy, I don’t think your husband would be too enthused. Being married is tough, and these things do happen. But they’re not the end of the world, rather par for the course. We’re all human!”
Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. I guess when you’ve been together a long time if there’s something missing from the relationship and there have been previous problems that haven’t been addressed then this kind of thing can start to happen. He probably did have a crush on this woman and his behaviour wasn’t entirely appropriate, but at the same time I acknowledge that I wasn’t emotionally available for such a long time, so ultimately it’s not that surprising that this happened when it’s all considered in context. I think if I told him that I’d made a comment like that to another man then he would be as surprised as I was to learn of it, since I’ve never acted that way. So yeah, I’m giving myself some leeway about my reaction.
“I am not completely sure but still, there is something about this situation that doesn’t sit well with me. I mean, it’s okay if he finds a woman attractive, you can’t blame him for that. But it’s less okay that he expressed it to her, even if “everyone in the community talks like that about one another”. Why would members of a gaming community need to talk to each other in a flirty, sexualized way?”
Thank you, this is largely how I see it. I think that generally the online gaming scene can be very sexualised. Many gaming girls on Twitch tout for views by being scantily dressed and provocative, then set up these Discord groups which are like fan clubs where their viewers can chat to them personally. A lot of the men on there are either teenagers or in their twenties, so I think generally the chat can become quite immature. There’s such a thing as self-awareness and rising above it though, so I feel disappointed.
“Well, is he talking like that with his female colleagues at work? Or with his female friends? Are there sexual undertones in his interaction with women? There are many places (work places included) where it is the case, but when I worked at such a place, I felt very uncomfortable.”
No, I’ve never known him to act like that around females, though his hobbies have been largely male dominated until he started playing this game regularly and I don’t think he’s really had any female friends while we’ve been together, though he had a few before our relationship. This is why it came as such a shock to me as it just seems so out of character, but maybe this has always been how he’s interacted in female friendships. Who knows? I don’t want to deter him from having friendships with other women but at the same time I think there is a need to have some consideration for your partner’s feelings, even if you do think they’re overreacting.
Hi Anita, thank you so much for your response. A rational, unbiased opinion was exactly what I needed to read, I think.
“He freely brought up the fact that the only out of context thing that would have potentially upset me if I had seen it would be a comment he left on a female gamer friend’s photo.. (in) their public community group, so not a one-on-one thing… something like: ‘If I were 10 years younger, lived in Texas and wasn’t married“- (1) don’t punish him for being honest with you and freely volunteering information, you don’t want to discourage him from being honest and open with you, (2) if this is the only thing in his online activity that could upset you, my goodness, you are a fortunate wife!
This is it and it’s why I wanted to get an outside perspective because my emotional reaction seems so out of line with the way he sees it, which suggests that it probably is me being irrational. He freely volunteered this information and I don’t want to put him off from sharing anything in the future. I’m worried the damage might have already been done in this respect, though I did say at the time that I understood the context and was okay with it. I truly felt that at the time after he had given an explanation. It was only ruminating the day afterwards that I started to get insecure about it again. I have heard stories of married men having far more worrying online activity.
“Yet, I don’t think that it is his fault that you feel this particular pain. His comment triggered a pre-existing pain; it didn’t cause the pain. Do you agree?”
Yeah, and it’s frustrating because deep down I know this; my insecurity stems from something entirely darker. I had a father who treated my mother like dirt and his cruelty and criticism towards/of me really amped up when she died and could no longer protect me from it. I grew up in a very misogynistic environment and walked on eggshells. That along with bullying from my peers at school about my looks and general quietness has made me really sensitive to feeling like I’m not good enough. This other woman looks the opposite of me physically and is bubbly, chatty and funny. I think it probably hurt because I took that aspect personally…weirdly if the comment had been directed at someone more like me I might not have been as bothered by it. Yes, I do think this is way more about my stuff than it is about the actual comment. It was a trigger.
It feels productive to have figure that out. Thank you so much again for your post, it’s really helped me.