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Struggling to come to terms with my actions

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  • #406704
    Emma
    Participant

    I apologise in advance for a long post. A lot has happened and it’s quite complicated.

    My relationship with my husband is on the rocks and I am mostly to blame. I am really struggling to accept all the things I did wrong and take accountability for my actions and behaviour. I keep trying to come up with reasons for it, things that made sense at the time. But the difficult truth is that I have behaved poorly and immaturely and that I may not be able to come back from this. I am struggling to come to terms with this.

    Some background info: I have been with my husband for 17 years. I was 19 when we met and he was 23. I had never had a boyfriend and had just finished school. We slept together after six weeks, moved in together after four months, got engaged after a year and had our son after two years. We got married nine years ago. My childhood was not particularly happy and I had a poor relationship with my stepdad and my mum (I think mostly on my part). I struggled to make friends and focused more on schoolwork. I have always enjoyed reading books and from my later teenage years, I watched a lot of TV.

    Early in our relationship, my husband told me about a traumatic sexual assault he suffered when he was 16 at the hands of an older woman. He didn’t give me a lot of details and I didn’t ask any questions. TBH I don’t think I did much at all. I didn’t know what to say. Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before and I didn’t know how to respond. I was always aware that this had happened to him, but I didn’t understand the wider and deeper psychological impact it had caused.

    When we first moved in together, things were good for a little while (as far as I was concerned). But issues started to crop up. I spent a lot of my free time watching TV and often things would come up that would upset him. There were specific things that would trigger him, that were directly related to what had happened to him. He would leave the room, saying something like “You watch disgusting things”, and I would switch it off and apologise, as I had no idea it was in there.

    After we had been living together about two or three months, he went into a deep bout of depression. He left his job, spent days at home sitting in the dark, spent hours at night talking and crying. I don’t remember the things he talked about, but I know a lot of it was around what happened to him and how he felt about himself. The main memory I have of this period is feeling completely helpless. I was scared because I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know how to deal with it. All I could do was try and get him to see a doctor, which he wouldn’t do. I remember him ringing me while I was at work and I had to leave and go home because he was talking about hurting himself. At one point he went back to his parents because he was finding it too hard, but he was there only a few days.

    He recently gave me a note that he had kept from that time. It explained that he couldn’t have anything to do with that specific thing and he couldn’t be with anyone who thought along those lines either. (This is something that is specifically aimed at men, usually by women. I don’t want to say it directly, but I’m sure you can get the drift.) I think I remember him giving it to me, but I can’t be sure. My long-term memory is bad and I struggle to remember a lot of things. This is more difficult because he remembers everything. He even has clear memories from when he was 3, whereas I can hardly remember anything about being a child.

    Anyway, I obviously reassured him that I didn’t want any part of that and I would have believed myself at the time. Unfortunately I was too stupid to remember the things I had told him and over time, I ended up being involved in things and that is what has led to this point.

    As the years went on, we fell into this pattern of living. I was working full time and when our son started school, my husband went down to part-time hours so we didn’t have to pay for childcare. It was the right thing to do and we both agreed it made financial sense. We did face opposition from family over this, who thought it was unfair on me. While we both pushed back, this really affected him (I didn’t realise how deeply at the time).

    The episodes of depression started to happen more frequently. It started off about once a year, then it was twice a year. He would get angry about seemingly minor things, like something on the news or something trivial on the TV. He got (what I perceived to be) obsessive over certain things, like problems with neighbours or issues at work. It got to the point where it seemed like he was unhappy with everything so I think I just started tuning it out and not listening. I am ashamed that I did this because it meant I was ignoring his pain and invalidating his feelings.

    We grew more and more distant from each other. He was shutting me out and I was not willing to start what would be a difficult conversation. I don’t feel comfortable talking about emotions and I have come to realise that I have a lot to do in this area to develop emotionally. We were essentially living partly separate lives.

    TV was still a big part of my life, but he didn’t like a lot of the programmes I watched. So I got in the habit of watching them when he wasn’t around. This wasn’t a big deal to me – I had done the same thing growing up with my stepdad, when he wouldn’t allow certain shows on. As far as I was concerned, what harm did it do? It was just a TV program.

    So when a certain show started, I watched it. A few people at work were watching it and it looked like something I would like. The issue is, it had a LOT of the content that upsets my husband. From the first episode, I knew he would hate it and be upset by it. So I watched it in secret, over several years. He asked me about it at least once (maybe more than once, but I can’t remember) and I lied and said I didn’t watch it. At the time, I remember thinking that if I said yes, he would ask to watch it and then he would be hurt, but if I lied, then he wouldn’t know what was in it. Looking back, this was such a ridiculous thing to think. He knew exactly what was in it, had read articles about it, and had listened to people at work laughing and joking about it. It caused him a lot of pain over many years. I never knew any of this because he kept it to himself.

    As time went on and I continued to watch this program when it was on, I didn’t really actively try to hide it. I had CDs relating to it, I had put a couple of Facebook posts up about it (he doesn’t really use FB though). As I said, it didn’t really enter my head that I was doing anything wrong. I had always been brought up with the expressions “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” and “out of sight, out of mind” and I think I really believed them. I was so naïve and I feel horrible about it now.

    Then in November last year, out of the blue, he asked me if I had watched it. The question caught me by surprise and I replied yes, because I honestly thought that he knew, that there could be no way he hadn’t realised. This reply broke him. He had what I think was a mental breakdown. He was in an awful place for weeks, unable to sleep, unable to eat, he couldn’t control his thoughts, he was having blackouts. It was terrifying. I managed to get him to speak to the doctors but they were just useless and nothing came of it.

    A lot came out in those weeks. All those barriers he had put up were demolished in one go. I found out so much about his past, further traumatic events that had happened earlier in his childhood, the blackest, darkest parts of him and how tormented he is.  But the worst thing about this was all the stuff that came out about me.

    That simple act of watching a TV show and lying to him about it caused him to question everything. He had built up a picture of me in his head and it was shattered. He believed I was on the same page as him about certain core values and beliefs, but if I could watch this program, it meant I wasn’t. It showed no respect for him and no acknowledgement of the terrible things he has had to go through.

    For weeks after this happened, I just couldn’t accept that I had been so terrible. I couldn’t understand why this affected him so much, why he was so upset. Every bad thing I had ever done came out, every time I had ever made him feel bad or disregarded him or belittled him. And I argued back against it. I tried to justify myself, explain that he wasn’t seeing things right. All I could see was the situation from my own perspective and I couldn’t see my actions in the way he did.

    In addition to this, all my other bad behaviours were brought to light. He said how controlling I had been over our son for years, never allowing him to make decisions and putting so many rules in place for everyone. He felt like a babysitter, not a father. He said I talked down to him, only thought about myself, had to be right about everything even when I was clearly wrong. My failure to act when it comes to other people’s actions has also hurt him. Members of my family have said things that have upset him, made comments, and I haven’t said anything. I have defended their actions, trying to write it off as him being too sensitive or them not intending to be hurtful. But all that showed him was that I wasn’t on his side. I did this over and over again, even when he stopped talking to one of my family because she just wouldn’t let up.

    It’s been nearly a year since this happened and things are still bad. He still doesn’t feel in a place to make a decision about whether he can be with me, which I have found difficult. He has very black and white views on things, and I have put myself into the black category. He cannot believe anything I say and even though I have made great efforts to educate myself and try to change, I have so much against me. I am really trying to see things from his perspective, but I can’t silence the voice in my head that says he’s being unfair and I’m just not this horrible, bad person he thinks I am. However, when I look objectively at the things I have done, it could be seen as abusive, and that really upsets me.

    If you have made it this far, thank you. I am dealing with a lot of guilt and shame that I don’t know how to process. Any advice would be appreciated.

    #406709
    Helcat
    Participant

    Hi Emma

    I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, likely for similar reasons to your husband. Your husband likely has this condition too. I have difficulties with watching certain content on television because it triggers my PTSD.

    Your husband needs professional help. I have had therapy, quite a lot of it. You have been living with the side effects of his untreat condition for too long.

    I do not blame other people for being able to watch and enjoy shows with content that triggers me. If I did, that would be controlling and abusive. I do not withhold and bottle up issues for years. I freely discuss issues when they occur with my husband. There is no wonder when all of the years of his resentment came out at once that you were not receptive to it.

    You think he is being unfair, because he is. I think you have been a very patient partner and have endured much as a result of his untreat condition. Even today you suffer as a result of it.

    The only question I have for you is do you still allow your family to treat him poorly? Has this behaviour changed? Honestly, it seems like the only thing you have “done wrong”. Lying about watching a tv show is an extremely minor issue.

    I would suggest reading about verbal abuse. In my opinion, his behaviour is verbally abusive.

    #406712
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Emma,

    I agree with Helcat that your husband needs professional help. When at the beginning of your relationship he had a bout of depression, left his job and “spent days at home sitting in the dark, spent hours at night talking and crying”, your reaction was very appropriate – you suggested he should seek professional help. But he refused. Instead, he started burdening you with his deep emotional problems, problems too big for you to resolve. He even called you at work once, threatening to hurt himself, so you needed to rush back home.

    He put the blame on you for not respecting his triggers, i.e. not adapting your behavior so not to provoke his trauma – when in reality, a person with PTSD has so many triggers that it’s impossible to avoid them. As you yourself experienced, his triggers became more frequent over time (The episodes of depression started to happen more frequently. It started off about once a year, then it was twice a year. He would get angry about seemingly minor things, like something on the news or something trivial on the TV.), and eventually, he was unhappy and upset about everything.

    Your only mistake is that you didn’t demand that he sees a therapist. Instead, you ignored it (I just started tuning it out and not listening), which probably triggered him even more.

    It’s good that you are aware of your own limitations:

    I was not willing to start what would be a difficult conversation. I don’t feel comfortable talking about emotions and I have come to realise that I have a lot to do in this area to develop emotionally.

    Nevertheless, it is NOT your duty to tip-toe around his triggers. He needs to seek help, if he wants to have a semblance of a healthy relationship.

    He still doesn’t feel in a place to make a decision about whether he can be with me, which I have found difficult. He has very black and white views on things, and I have put myself into the black category.

    No, dear Emma, HE has put you into the black category. You don’t belong there. You did make mistakes in the relationship, but the biggest problem is his refusal to seek therapy and then blaming you for triggering him. He is his biggest enemy, not you.

    He cannot believe anything I say and even though I have made great efforts to educate myself and try to change, I have so much against me.

    You do indeed. What you have against you is his stubbornness and his refusal to seek help (and take responsibility for his healing, instead of blaming you).

    I am really trying to see things from his perspective, but I can’t silence the voice in my head that says he’s being unfair and I’m just not this horrible, bad person he thinks I am.

    You are right. Don’t silence this voice, because you’re not this horrible person that his traumatized self is accusing you of!

    However, when I look objectively at the things I have done, it could be seen as abusive, and that really upsets me.

    Well, you did make some mistakes, e.g. ignoring his problems instead of urging him to seek help. Tuning out instead of telling him, with empathy, that you cannot live with him if he continues to blame you instead of seek help. But you haven’t been abusive to him, that’s for sure. The real abuse happened earlier in his life and he has been suffering the consequences since.

    #406713
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Emma:

    Any advice would be appreciated“- It helps me to understand a story better when I re-arrange it chronologically (including quotes) best I can. Therefore I will do so with your story before offering my understanding and advice:

    Your childhood was “not particularly happy”. You had “a poor relationship with your stepdad and (your)  mum”. As a child and a teenager, you struggled to make friends and focused on schoolwork. You enjoyed reading books and you watched a lot of TV. Your long-term memory is bad and you “struggle to remember a lot of things” from your childhood, “can hardly remember anything about being a child”. Growing up and onward, you “don’t feel comfortable talking about emotions and… have a lot to do in this area to develop emotionally”.

    His childhood included “traumatic events that had happened earlier in his childhood, the blackest, darkest parts of him and how tormented he is”. He has clear memory of the childhood he experienced since he was 3. At 16, he suffered “a traumatic sexual assault… at the hands of an older woman”.

    Your relationship: At 19, just out of high-school, you met him (23) and he became your very first boyfriend. Early in the relationship, he told you about the sexual assault he suffered 7 years earlier. He offered few details and you didn’t ask questions. The two of you slept together 6 weeks after meeting, and moved in together 4 months after meeting. Living together, things where good for a little while, as far as you knew, and you spent a lot of time watching TV. There were specific things on TV shows that triggered his sexual assault trauma. He commented to you: “You watch disgusting things”! Your response: you switched it off and apologised.

    Two-three months into living together, he went into “a deep bout of depression… left his job, spent days at home sitting in the dark.. talking and crying” about his sexual trauma, and at times, he talked about hurting himself. You tried to get him to see a doctor but he refused.

    A year into the relationship you (20) got engaged to him (24), and had your son a year (or two) later. The two of you got married 8 years into the relationship, when you were 27 and he was 31.

    Sometime along the way, you started watching a certain popular TV show that includes  “a LOT of the content that upsets (your) husband”, that is, suggestions or depictions of the sexual act or activity that triggers his sexual trauma. You knew that it would, and he knew of the content of the show, so you watched it when he was not around,  and lied to him about watching it when he asked you if you watched it. As time went on, you let go of trying hard to hide the fact that you were watching that show (“didn’t really actively try to hide it”), had CDs of it and mentioned it on your Facebook page, and so, you figured that he knew that you were watching the show and he was okay with it.

    Throughout the years, his first depression episode shortly after you moved in together happened about once a year and then “started to happen more frequently.. “twice a year”. You wrote about his depression episodes: “He would get angry about seemingly minor things… obsessive over certain things, like problems with neighbours or issues at work. It got to the point where it seemed like he was unhappy with everything”.

    Your response to his unhappiness: “I just started tuning it out and not listening”, and the two of you “grew more and more distant from each other… essentially living partly separate lives”.

    In November 2021, he asked you if you watched the show and you replied truthfully, “yes”. His response: “This reply broke him… (he had)  a mental breakdown. He was in an awful place for weeks, unable to sleep, unable to eat, he couldn’t control his thoughts, he was having blackouts”.

    You wrote about his response: “That simple act of watching a TV show and lying to him about it caused him to question everything… He believed I was on the same page as him about certain core values and beliefs, but if I could watch this program, it meant I wasn’t. It showed no respect for him and no acknowledgement of the terrible things he has had to go through… Every bad thing I had ever done came out, every time I had ever made him feel bad or disregarded him or belittled him… all my other bad behaviours were brought to light. He said how controlling I had been over our son… putting so many rules in place for everyone. He felt like a babysitter, not a father. He said I talked down to him, only thought about myself, had to be right about everything even when I was clearly wrong….”

    Your response to his response: “I just couldn’t accept that I had been so terrible. I couldn’t understand why this affected him so much, why he was so upset. .. And I argued back..  I tried to justify myself, explain that he wasn’t seeing things right. All I could see was the situation from my own perspective and I couldn’t see my actions in the way he did”.

    Most recently, you (36) wrote about your relationship with your husband (40): “My relationship with my husband is on the rocks and I am mostly to blame. I am really struggling to accept all the things I did wrong and take accountability for my actions and behaviour… the difficult truth is that I have behaved poorly and immaturely… He still doesn’t feel in a place to make a decision about whether he can be with me… He has very black and white views on things, and I have put myself into the black category. He cannot believe anything I say and even though I have made great efforts to educate myself and try to change, I have so much against me. I am really trying to see things from his perspective, but I can’t silence the voice in my head that says he’s being unfair and I’m just not this horrible, bad person he thinks I am. However, when I look objectively at the things I have done, it could be seen as abusive, and that really upsets me”.

    And now, my understanding: you did not mention that you are a psychotherapist or any other kind of a healthcare professional and I assume that you are not one. Let’s say that you were a certified psychotherapist:  treating your husband wouldn’t have been possible because of the lack of objectivity that is necessary in a therapist-patient relationship.

    His childhood traumas, including his sexual trauma at 16, are deep and ongoing and all took place before he met you: none of it is your doing, none of it is your fault. Because it is not possible for you (or for any woman in the role of his wife) to treat him and guide him through healing, the best you could have done for him would have been to support him while he sought and received professional help.

    You were right to suggest that he sees a doctor, but he refused.  As tragic as his childhood traumas which were not caused by him,  it has still been his responsibility as an adult husband and father to seek professional help. He failed his responsibility to himself, to you and to your son.

    You and your son are co-victims of his childhood traumas.

    You wrote: “That simple act of watching a TV show and lying to him about it caused him to question everything… He believed I was on the same page as him about certain core values and beliefs“- I don’t think that it is true that before Nov 2021, he believed that you were on the same page as him about core values and beliefs and that he didn’t question things about the relationship. I think that his deep episodes of depression through the years involved such questioning and doubts.

    But if I could watch this program, it meant I wasn’t. It showed no respect for him and no acknowledgement of the terrible things he has had to go through… Every bad thing I had ever done came out.. … He has very black and white views on things, and I have put myself into the black category. He cannot believe anything I say…“- he used this incident of asking you if you watched the program (something he suspected or knew already) so to focus his anger on you and unleash it on you.

    Every bad thing I had ever done came out, every time I had ever made him feel bad or disregarded him or belittled him…talked down to him, only thought about myself, had to be right about everything even when I was clearly wrong….“- all this reads like projection, projecting his childhood abusers unto you: as a child and a teenager, he felt bad, disregarded, belittles, talked down to, etc., by his abusers who thought they were right about everything even when they were clearly wrong, even when they abused him.

    You wrote: “I just couldn’t accept that I had been so terrible“- but you were not and are not terrible. He projected his terrible abusers unto you. Likely, he doesn’t have it in him yet to confront his real abusers, and he feels relatively comfortable to confront his abusers by proxy, meaning using you as a substitute for his abusers.

    All I could see was the situation from my own perspective and I couldn’t see my actions in the way he did“- I think that the true perspective is that you are a co-victim of his childhood abusers and currently, his victim as well.

    I am really struggling to accept all the things I did wrong and take accountability for my actions and behaviour… the difficult truth is that I have behaved poorly and immaturely” – you behaved imperfectly. No human behaves perfectly.

    In addition to being human and therefore imperfect, you have your own childhood traumas with which he didn’t help you, did he? I think that your childhood  traumas are the reason why, as a child and teenager, you focused on solitary activities such as doing school work, reading books and watching a lot of TV- instead of interacting with your mother, step-father, and peers. (I think that the reason you don’t remember much of your childhood is that much of your childhood took place alone).

    I hope that you post again. I would very much like to read more about your thoughts and feelings.

    anita

    #406714
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Emma:

    I forgot to add my advice: (1) Prepare- practically and emotionally-  for the possibility of separation from your husband. Although I don’t think that he will initiate a separation, at least not for long, it may be what is right for you and for your son.

    (2) Suggest to him, once again, to seek individual professional help from a medical doctor and/ or from a skilled psychotherapist/ counselor. If he still refuses, suggest couple therapy- for the purpose of healing the marriage or separation.

    (3) Seek psychotherapy for yourself, at least for the short term.

    anita

    #406723
    Emma
    Participant

    Hi

    Thank you for your comments, although it has been difficult to read them. I am so conflicted.

    I know that my husband has a lot of issues, and he understands that as well. Before, he was very resistant to admitting that he had unresolved trauma, but he does now. However he firmly believes that he is so damaged that nobody can help him. He believes that any sort of therapy will likely make things worse, and I can see from reading other men’s experiences of therapy that it can happen. Therapists are predominantly female and for men that have suffered at the hands of women, therapy can be an unforgiving and unhelpful place.

    One of my husband’s dominant feelings is of being alone. When I failed to support him in the way he needed, failed to listen properly, failed to stick up for him to my family, that reinforced those feelings of being alone. He has been suffering alone for the majority of his life. He was always different to other children (he is highly sensitive and empathetic) and things affected him in a deep and violent way. He has always been very adverse to violence, whether in real or fictional form, and he cannot understand how anybody could enjoy violence as entertainment. He found it easier to avoid others as he got older, as they tended to affect him in a negative way.

    I can understand a lot of what he is saying. He feels like all he has done is try (he is incredibly hard working and he has picked himself up more times than I know) and all he gets is the raw end of everything. Nobody is trying to do anything for him. He is alone. Everybody around him behaves how they want and he has to deal with the consequences of it while they just get on with their lives.

    There are a lot of things I could have – and should have – done differently in our relationship. I have not connected emotionally with him as I don’t know how. I can be distant and I prefer to focus on the practical side of things rather than the feelings side, which means I am hard to get to know properly. I don’t even feel like I know myself sometimes, and this is something I am exploring and trying to rectify. I can see that I was controlling in a lot of ways, not letting him get involved in raising our son, and I have a lot of regrets about that. I have a tendency to micro-manage people and I have an incredibly stubborn streak that makes me argumentative and unwilling to accept that I am wrong. He is not the only person to have mentioned this and it has caused me to clash with people before. These are things I want to change about myself, not just for him.

    In terms of what he wants from me, he says he just wants me to have absolutely nothing to do with the things that are damaging for him. By engaging with it (in his eyes) I am saying it is okay and I am part of the problem. I can see his logic and there really isn’t a sensible argument to counter it. The only argument would be “I will watch what I like because I am entitled to” and that just seems like a very childish and selfish thing to say.

    I have considered leaving many times. There have been so many occasions where the relationship just feels too hard. My husband sees it as giving up when the going gets tough. He wants me to face the consequences of my actions, to be accountable and understand what damage my actions can cause to other people, whether I intend them to or not. This is a difficult lesson to learn but I accept it is an important one. Nowadays we are taught that we can act however we like, say what we like, do what we want, and other people just have to go along with it, but sometimes there are consequences to being like that and we can hurt people. So far I have avoided consequences and now it’s catching up with me.

    I love my husband, I want to build a life with him. I want him to be happy and to be able to live his life in the way he wants. Right now, that seems very far away.

    #406724
    Helcat
    Participant

    Hi Emma

    Male trauma therapists exist. Every organisation usually has at least one male therapist on staff. Therapy does bring up a lot of raw emotion. But you have to go through that in order to heal. The mechanism for PTSD is based on avoidance. Avoiding those feelings, memories causes them to become intrusive.

    It sounds like you have tried to do a lot for your husband. You have done your best to support him. But you aren’t a therapist, untreat his PTSD will continue to deteriorate.

    I think that you are aware that your husband’s view on media is wrong. Otherwise you wouldn’t have watched it secretly throughout the marriage.

    Some have no personal connection to violence. On television when you have no personal connection to it, it remains fiction. When you have a personal traumatic connection violence shown on tv it triggers related traumatic memories. You are watching a fictional story, your husband relives his past.

    That being said, he needs to get over his need to control what you do in an attempt to make himself feel better and his false beliefs about what it means for people who do partake in media he is triggered by.

    You face the consequences of your actions every day. It sounds like he wants to punish you for years of hidden resentments. This is abusive. It’s not your fault that he hid his complaints. One complaint as it arises is easy to bear, easy to resolve. Years and years of complaints… there is no realistic way that you can cope with or make amends for something that happened years ago that you weren’t aware of. He wants to paint you as the problem instead of facing that his resentment is the consequence of his behaviour -his refusal to discuss things that occurred.

    He needs to forget the past between you and focus on the present. Bringing up the past in arguments is never helpful.

    Nowadays we are taught that we can act however we like, say what we like, do what we want, and other people just have to go along with it, but sometimes there are consequences to being like that and we can hurt people.

    Ironically, I think he needs to heed his own words. He treats you however he wants, blaming you for his feelings. Demands that you accept  to his punishment. Demands that you don’t watch shows that he doesn’t like.

    You are an individual person, not an extension of him. What you want and feel matters too. Just as much as what he wants and feels.

    I don’t think leaving is giving up when the going gets tough. I think it’s about protecting yourself. You have been there throughout all of his pain.

    To have a happy life with this man he would need extensive therapy. He would need to forgive you and stop trying to punish you for past mistakes and start fresh. He would need to accept that you are a different person, that you have your own independent needs and desires. He would need to stop relying on you trying to make him feel better and learn to manage his feelings himself.

    #406726
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Emma,

    Before, he was very resistant to admitting that he had unresolved trauma, but he does now. However he firmly believes that he is so damaged that nobody can help him. He believes that any sort of therapy will likely make things worse, and I can see from reading other men’s experiences of therapy that it can happen. Therapists are predominantly female and for men that have suffered at the hands of women, therapy can be an unforgiving and unhelpful place.

    This is just an excuse he is giving you. As Helcat said, there are many male therapists out there, also among those specialized in trauma work. In fact, among the famous trauma therapists, two of them – Bessel van der Kolk and Peter Levine – are men! Claiming that nobody can help him and that therapy will make things worse is nothing but avoidance (and avoidance, as Helcat said, is the modus operandi of people suffering from PTSD).

    He wants me to face the consequences of my actions, to be accountable and understand what damage my actions can cause to other people, whether I intend them to or not. This is a difficult lesson to learn but I accept it is an important one.

    He wants to you face the consequences of your actions – i.e. to admit that it is you who are causing him pain. At the same time, he is refusing to take responsibility for the pain that his trauma is causing him. It is NOT primarily you who is hurting him, but it is his trauma, which he refuses to address. You are accepting this distorted view of the situation – that it is only you who should change and completely adapt to him, whereas he doesn’t have to do anything on his end.

    You are taking 100% responsibility for something that is maybe 20% your responsibility, if that. You are accepting his view and his perception of the problem – where he is free from responsibility and it is only you who is to blame, and only you who should change.

    Can you see that?

    You might have made mistakes in the relationship, and I believe you when you say that you have issues with showing emotions, and even with showing empathy. But even if you had been the most understanding spouse, always tip-toeing around him and trying not to upset him – he still wouldn’t be happy, because unresolved trauma renders the person unable to be happy. He would still be troubled, angry and upset, even if you had been an angel around him.

    I understand your desire to change and become more empathetic, but please don’t accept his view of the situation and his request: that it is JUST you who needs to change, but not him.

    The fact that you are so easily blaming yourself and exculpating him tells me that you may have issues with self-love, and that maybe you were blamed as a child too for something that wasn’t your fault? You said:

    My childhood was not particularly happy and I had a poor relationship with my stepdad and my mum (I think mostly on my part).

    “I think mostly on my part” – are you saying that the relationship with your mother and step-father was bad, mostly because of you? Because you reacted badly towards them, but they didn’t react badly towards you?

    If so, it would be similar to how you currently see problems with your husband: that it is only your fault and your responsibility, and none of his.

    #406721
    Digilligence
    Participant

    True

    #406738
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Emma:

    You are welcome. *** this post may have a lot of excess print because I pasted into it from online sources. If it does, I will copy the following and submit it a second time, hopefully with no excess print.

    He firmly believes that he is so damaged that nobody can help him“- nobody includes you, doesn’t it? He firmly believes then that you cannot help him…? Will you try to convince him otherwise?

    I failed to support him…  failed to listen properly, failed to stick up for him to my family… There are a lot of things I could have – and should have – done differently in our relationship“- you are taking personal responsibility for his misery and for the relationship. Taking personal responsibility to what is happening in one’s life is part of what is called Internal Locus of Control, while blaming others for what is happening in one’s life is called External Locus of Control.

    “He firmly believes that he is so damaged that nobody can help him. He believes that any sort of therapy will likely make things worse… He has been suffering alone for the majority of his life. He was always different to other children (he is highly sensitive and empathetic)… He feels like all he has done is try (he is incredibly hard working..) and all he gets is the raw end of everything. Nobody is trying to do anything for him. He is alone. Everybody around him behaves how they want and he has to deal with the consequences of it while they just get on with their lives”-

    – did you hear of the Poor Me Syndrome (PMS), Emma?

    naked divorce. com/ poor me syndrome, the new PMS: “‘It’s all right to sit on your pity pot every now and again. Just be sure to flush when you are finished.- ― Debbie Macomber

    “Everyone has had moments of self-pity… a little bit of self-pity can be helpful, but it’s when we get stuck in this mindset that the problems will really start to set in… Shifting the blame from yourself to others is a coping mechanism and one that we’re all guilty of. Some people, however, turn this into Poor Me Syndrome (PMS)…

    Poor Me Syndrome is also known much more commonly as Victim Mentality. This means that someone’s locus of control is external. In simple terms, this means that they believe that things happen to them. They are not in control of their own lives. Failures are someone or something else’s fault. People who have Poor Me Syndrome are rife with pessimism, anger, and fear.

    “On the other hand, people whose locus of control is internal, believe that they have the power to mold their own journeys. They know that their success and failures are a result of their own actions or inactions.

    “Someone who has Poor Me Syndrome will often avoid asking for what they need, they will stay in their situation or make it worse by refusing to take action. This could be a feeling of powerlessness but could also stem from habit… they are identifying and wallowing in their challenges instead of creating and owning opportunities.

    “In Layman’s terms, Poor Me Syndrome is long-term self-pity. It’s blaming other people and environments for your conditions and unhappiness…
    <div class=”entry-content”>

    “Self-pity and Poor Me Syndrome don’t sound that great when you read about it right? Why would anyone want to languish in unhappiness?…  So,why would anyone want to feel like this? Here are just some of the reasons:

    * The blame game: You don’t have to take responsibility for anything that is happening in your life if you simply blame it on other people.

    * Attention: When you talk about how much is going wrong for you, you are likely to get someone to listen to you. People will listen to your dramatic stories (not that they don’t get tired of them).

    * Pity: When you wallow in self-pity, you are bound to get the sympathy that you are looking for, as people will feel sorry for you in the beginning.

    * (Get) Your own way: When it looks like it’s you against the world, people are less likely to criticize you and your choices. In fact, it may seem like people are more willing to give you what you want.

    * Drama: Being constantly embroiled in drama gives you the opportunity to ignore your problems and revel in being the center of attention.

    * You can complain: When you have Poor Me Syndrome, you feel like this gives you the right to vent how you want, when you want, and where you want. You are ‘going through a lot’ and this gives you license to complain

    drmk consulting. com/ how to deal with the poor me syndome: “People who habitually exhibit the Poor Me Syndrome tend to get on our nerves. That’s because they consistently display the same joy-sucking, self-sabotaging behaviors, regardless of the situation. This can really put a damper on any friendship or relationship, and therefore needs to be dealt with appropriately.

    “But what exactly does it look like when a person suffers from Poor Me Syndrome? The diagnosis may not be scientific, but there are a few unmistakable markers that you might recognize. For example, with a pity-hungry person, the result of any given circumstance is predictable: Events turn out terribly, just as expected. You may notice that he always assumes the stance of victim, taking everything personally and turning others’ words and actions into purposeful attempts at thwarting him…

    “Out of this thinking naturally flows the idea that others are treated more favorably and have it easier in life, etc. Others’ successes are devalued, and their own failures are not their fault, but the result of circumstances out of their control. ‘Woe is me’ is their relentless daily mantra! These people are hard to be around daily basis!…

    “When this person fails, the response is to blame circumstances or others instead of evaluating the situation and trying to fix it. This is a victim mentality that will not allow the Poor Me person to make changes, shift gears, and move forward.

    “Another factor in the development of Poor Me Syndrome may be an innate tendency to feed off constant comparisons (e.g., social media). The desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is a recipe for failure…especially when the Joneses are probably going broke themselves! However, for Poor Me individuals, their own personal shortcomings may be overblown by comparing themselves to the inflated, fairytale personas displayed all around them on social media… Without help, coaching, and systematic intervention, they may remain like this for the rest of their life…”.

    A humorous take on PMS, Laura richards. co. uk/ top 10 poor me syndrome tactics: “Sporadic, loud and unsightly outbursts of awkward sobbing to the tune of  ‘I’m the victim’ “’Everyone’s ganging up on me’  ‘Everyone is out to get me’ ‘I lost my job’ ‘I’ve lost everything’ ‘She made me do it’ ‘I’m having such a tough time of it all’, ‘You have to understand that I’m fighting for my life here’ ‘These are my darkest hours’…

    “Disheveled appearance, unkempt hair, unshaven… general aura of fragility and powerlessness… including the sudden onset of fainting, passing out, heavy breathing… Claims of a terrible childhood and/or being abused as a child, flipping the script to ‘me, myself and I’ and harking back to the fact, that you are indeed, the victim… The sudden onset of a disorder, memory loss, suicidal ideation, balling ‘I am better off dead’, ‘It’s all too much’, ‘I cannot go on’

    “Strategic flashes of enlightenment, and even redemption, at critical moments including ‘I’ve had a period of self-reflection and contemplation’.. “I’ve been on a change programme’… ‘I’m a changed man’… That’s My Two Cents: My Top 10 Poor Me Syndrome Tactics, I mean, signs and symptoms to look out for.”

    Does any of these or all ring true to you in regard to your husband?

    In regard to your part in the relationship: “I have not connected emotionally with him as I don’t know how. I can be distant and I prefer to focus on the practical side of things rather than the feelings side“- I understand your tendency to withdraw emotionally from people and remain emotionally distant (the reason you spent most of your time as a child doing school work, reading books and watching TV, the latter two continuing into adulthood), but it is also possible that connecting with a man like your husband is not possible. Think of this, if you will: has he been able to connect emotionally with anyone long-term (beyond a moment here, a moment there)?

    Maybe the reason the relationship lasted this long so far is because (1) it is impossible to connect with your husband long-term, and (2) it suits you to not be emotionally connected.

    I can see that I was controlling in a lot of ways, not letting him get involved in raising our son, and I have a lot of regrets about that“- it may be for your son’s benefit to not let your husband get too involved with his son.

    I have a tendency to micro-manage people and I have an incredibly stubborn streak that makes me argumentative and unwilling to accept that I am wrong“- seems like you have made a 180 degree turn as expressed in your two posts, seems like you are now willing to… be managed by your now stubborn and argumentative husband, a shift of roles perhaps?

    </div>
    In terms of what he wants from me, he says he just wants me to have absolutely nothing to do with the things that are damaging for him“- if he is referring to you watching violent TV shows (and if your son is exposed to those shows), I would agree with him. Personally, I used to watch TV and movie violence but I no longer do.

    He wants me to face the consequences of my actions, to be accountable and understand what damage my actions can cause to other people..“- reads to me like he has taken the moral high ground, positioning himself as morally superior to you. I am sure that you need to improve some of your attitudes and behaviors (I am still improving mine), including avoiding arguments, accepting when you are wrong (and when you are right), and improving your emotional awareness and communication with others, but I don’t think that you should be taking instructions for such improvements from your husband.

    anita

    #406843
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Emma,

    I don’t want to minimize your husband’s suffering in any way, but it occurred to me that his extreme sensitivity and reactivity to certain scenes on TV is a little bit like having allergy to certain foods. When someone is allergic, they have an extreme negative reaction to things that other people have no reaction to whatsoever. In fact, other people can even like those same foods that the person suffering from allergy is terrified of.

    If the husband is allergic to certain foods, is the wife a bad person for partaking in those foods sometimes, when she is alone, and when there is no way that he could be harmed? Mind you, she isn’t forcing him to eat those foods, she isn’t secretly putting those foods into his meals. Neither is she telling him that he is too sensitive and too weak for not wanting to eat those foods. She isn’t harming him in any way. Is she a bad person for that? Should she give up those foods completely, so that her husband wouldn’t feel betrayed?

    You say:

    He is alone. Everybody around him behaves how they want and he has to deal with the consequences of it while they just get on with their lives.

    I guess everybody around him behaves as if he didn’t have food allergy. They treat him as an ordinary person, not someone who is super sensitive. Maybe they don’t even know that he is suffering so much in everyday situations?

    He was always different to other children (he is highly sensitive and empathetic) and things affected him in a deep and violent way. He found it easier to avoid others as he got older, as they tended to affect him in a negative way.

    I can imagine that he suffered a lot as a child, e.g. at school, because children can be cruel. And if he was super sensitive, it would have affected him a lot. But his withdrawal from people continued into adulthood too. And it’s probably not because everybody was nasty to him, but because he was extremely sensitive (“allergic”), and so everyday interactions with people (comments, jokes etc) affected him negatively.

    I am sorry for his suffering, and I understand where he is coming from – but the problem is that he is coming from his wounded and traumatized self. As such, he wants to live in a world where everyone adapts to his condition, instead of trying to heal the condition. And he wants you, first and foremost, to adapt to his condition, to not partake of the foods he is allergic to, and to defend him before anyone who isn’t aware of his condition and might say something “insensitive” or “offensive”.

    In short, I think he wants you to defend him from the nasty, insensitive and violent world – as he perceives it.

    I want him to be happy and to be able to live his life in the way he wants.

    Well, I think the above is what he wants. Are you sure that you want it too?

     

    #406845
    Emma
    Participant

    Thank you for your comments. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what you have all said.

    I can see that everything is not my fault. I feel I have some clarity on what my part has been and I have things I want to work on. But I know that I am not solely responsible for my husband’s trauma and pain, which is what I need to keep reminding myself.

    I think that he does have a victim mentality, but I don’t like the term ‘Poor Me Syndrome’ because I feel it trivialises his pain and experiences. Victim mentality can be a coping mechanism for people who have suffered trauma and it becomes a thought pattern that can be difficult to recognise and even harder to get out of. He has suffered – and continues to do so on a daily basis – and I can see how easy it would be to get sucked into that way of thinking. He is not doing this to get sympathy, as he pretends to the whole world that everything is fine. I am the only person he has ever told all of this to. I don’t believe he wants to be like this, but I also don’t think he can see that he is standing in his own way.

    I have found a male therapist who I think would be a good fit. He specialises in male sexual abuse and is an advocate for issues affecting men. I have gently approached the subject with my husband and I hope that he is seriously considering it. While he doesn’t believe it will do anything, I said that if there’s even a small chance that things could be better for him, that he could sleep without being disturbed by nightmares, that he could wake up in the morning without feeling the way he does, then isn’t it worth trying? I am not going to push too hard because I know he will get resistant and think I am just trying to put the blame back onto him again, which isn’t what I’m trying to do.

    In the meantime, I will continue to work on myself, to keep my eyes open to the injustices and unfairness around me, to listen to him and support him in whatever way I can. And I just have to hope that the future holds something better than this.

    #406846
    Helcat
    Participant

    Hi Emma

    It’s great news that you found a male therapist who specialises in trauma. Getting the right therapist and the right treatment is half the battle. It should be noted that there are many styles of therapy and a therapist may use more than one style. A patient can say if a specific style isn’t helpful. Personally, I found CBT to be too intense. When I discussed the issue my therapist was able to switch me to a different kind of therapy that was more suitable.

    I hope your husband gives therapy a try and things improve for you both! You both deserve to be happy. I’m glad you gained some clarity and I wish you luck working on things. 🙏

    #406847
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Emma:

    The first part of this post was written before I read your most recent reply, and the second is after.

    First part: sometimes it’s easy to form an opinion about a person/ a character in a story, and get overly invested in that opinion to the point of dismissing possible evidence that contradicts the strong opinion.

    There are two main characters in your true story: Emma (E)  and Emma’s husband (H). As I first read your original post, I felt a dislike for H and I formed the opinion that H is all these negative things that you expressed and that I repeated and elaborated on in my replies. And I formed the opinion that E, as imperfect as she may be, is H’s victim.

    But more often than not, the reality of relationships is not that of a bad guy/ good guy, which is often depicted in cartoons and certain movies. Reality is more complex: the two parties of the relationship interact with each other in so many ways, for so long, and each contributes to what the relationship becomes.

    In the future, when I read about a relationship and I form a dislike for one of the two people in the relationship, I need to be careful and keep my mind open to view all the information in front of me, not just the information that fits my preformed opinion. In your story, an example of information that you provided and that I largely ignored because it didn’t fit the strong preformed opinion is: “I have a tendency to micro-manage people and I have an incredibly stubborn streak that makes me argumentative and unwilling to accept that I am wrong. He is not the only person to have mentioned this and it has caused me to clash with people before. These are things I want to change about myself, not just for him”.

    Second part: good to read that you can see that everything is not your fault, and that you have some clarity about what is your fault and what is not your fault. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to accept fault, that feeling of guilt can be terrible, and the inclination really is to reject it. I made lots of progress in this regard and when following realizing that I made a mistake and feeling the beginning of that terrible guilt, I say to myself: Everyone makes mistakes. Good people are not people who don’t make mistakes; good people are people who learn from their mistakes. What can I learn from this mistake? I then make a mental note of what it is that I learned and how to behave differently in a similar situation in the future. Following that- I feel better, guilt gone.

    “He is not doing this to get sympathy, as he pretends to the whole world that everything is fine. I am the only person he has ever told all of this to”- this is a significant piece of information. At 40, he has never told anyone but you about his abusive childhood and sexual abuse at 16, not a single person?

    anita

    #406848
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Emma,

    you are welcome. I am really glad that you aren’t putting all the blame on yourself. Also that you realize that “he is standing in his own way” – if he continues to reject therapy. I hope he will accept it, although I must say, his conviction that therapy won’t help him isn’t very encouraging.

    I am not going to push too hard because I know he will get resistant and think I am just trying to put the blame back onto him again, which isn’t what I’m trying to do.

    I understand that you don’t want to pressure him or demand anything at the moment, but rather work on yourself and “keep my eyes open to the injustices and unfairness around me, listen to him and support him in whatever way I can.” In other words, you want to work on developing more empathy, on becoming more attuned to him and his emotional needs, which you haven’t been so far.

    And I just have to hope that the future holds something better than this.

    Well, the future can only be better if he too decides to change, to work on his trauma and heal. If only you change, I am afraid it will be a little like you becoming a “perfect mother” to him – someone who will care for him and protect him from the evil world. That’s because if he refuses to work on his trauma, he will remain identified with his wounded inner child, and he will need a mother, not a wife. So please be aware of that as you proceed.

    At the same time, maybe he will be more willing to work on his trauma once he feels that he’s got your support and that he isn’t alone with his pain. So you changing might have a positive effect on him, that will encourage him to seek help.

    I am rooting for both of you and the success of your relationship!

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