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Trying to be gentle with myself

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This topic contains 18 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  anita 6 days, 13 hours ago.

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  • #238035

    Flávia
    Participant

    For many years – almost 30 years of marriage – I thought that I was like a defective product. I was constantly reminded by my ex husband that I was a good housewife and took good care of the kids but that I was not the woman he wanted, inspite of all the years we had been toghether. I have a doctorate degree and I teach at a University, here in Brazil. Before being a professor, I have worked hard in private schools and have always helped him with the house expenses. All the time, I was told that I was stupid, fat and other things like “you don’t know how to dress up” even when other women or friends told me I looked nice. I started to develop a kind of panic every time I had to get dressed to go out. He often disqualified my opinion in front of other people and because of being a christian, I thought I just had to be patient and show him love. I suffered a lot, but I thought that he needed help and that I was part of the help he needed.

    At some point, he started to ignore me. Even when we were with a group of friends, he didn’t talk to me or look at me. I simply wasn’t there. After some 4 years of real harsh arguments and lots of sadness, just when I was making my mind about divorce, I found out he was fooling around with a woman who was in the same church group as I was. My youngest daughter (she was 21 years old)  found out about the woman and told him to confess it to me. He told me he thought he was in love with her. That was the end for me. Well, I did get a divorce last year and I am much better now. I pay my own bills and I don’t have anyone telling me how inadequate I am. The problem is that I developed one distinct behaviour: I still demand perfection of myself – sometimes I still act like everything I do will never be good enough.

    I am in therapy and I think I have been making some progress. I still worry about the future – Am I going to be alone for the rest of my days? Will I ever find someone who can appreciate who I am? I try to be gentle to myself – but it is not easy. I have dreams where I am in situations of extreme shame – and I tend to overthink simple decisions, worrying about the people involved: will they agree? What will they think? Everything seems bigger than it really is.

    I think that chatting with you can help me get stronger… Thanks for listening!

    Flávia

     

     

    #238059

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Flavia:

    I would very much like chatting  with you. What a shame  that you had this unkind and quite cruel of a man for a husband, I wish it wasn’t the case.

    I need to get away from the computer for the next sixteen hours or so, when I return I  would like to re-read your post and anything you might add to it before I return (please do), and I will respond then. I hope other members will answer you as well.

    anita

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 6 days ago by  anita.
    #238133

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Flavia:

    Congratulations, by the way, for getting that divorce!

    You wrote: “I still demand perfection of myself- sometimes I still act like everything I do will never be good enough”- this is a habit-of-the-mind, a mental habit. You are used to think and feel this way, so you keep thinking and feeling this way.

    “Will  I ever find someone who can appreciate who I am?” – I think it is very possible.

    Your ex husband, he decided early on to place you in that less-than spot in the marriage, and himself in the way-way-more spot, the superior spot in the marriage. That was convenient for him,  what he wanted, not  because you were less than him but because  he needed you to be that. And  you cooperated with his cruel plan, making it the reality of the marriage.

    You need a man who has no  such plan. Get  to know the man first, before getting  emotionally invested, look for such a possible need to  put others down so to make himself feel better, in  control, in power. If you notice such inclination, end the beginning relationship immediately. Look for a man who will be genuinely kind to you.

    anita

    #238209

    Flávia
    Participant

    Dear Anita,

    Thank you so much for your answer.

    I guess now is the time to think things through and the more conscious I am of the processes the better. So, yes, I colaborated for the situation in my marriage, since I felt so bad but kept postponing a decision. It took me some time to understand that his way of acting was because he didnt really love me anymore – not only because of his emotional problems. He had an abusive, violent father, sometimes got really depressed but never went to get prefessional help.

    It hurts still – to remember how tied up I was – and I blame myself for letting the situation last as much as it did . One day, my daughter asked me ” Mom, why don’t you divorce him?” And I answered at that time that I didn’t have the necessary strenght.

    I had reached a point where the only thing I could do was cry. But when I realized that it was over, I told him to leave the house and that was it. I have no regrets. I am at peace with my decision.

    So what now? I think I’ll keep trying to change this mental habit and keep my eyes really open in case some guy comes along. What about meditation? Can it help me?

    Flávia

     

     

     

    #238211

    Prakhar
    Participant

    First of all, I’m really happy for you since you got a divorce.

    The pain of the past may now haunt you in the present. It sure is hard to not seek approval of others but it starts with 100% acceptance of oneself.

    You said you fear to be alone for the rest of your life. To overcome the fear, I would face the fear by imaging the scenario and then be okay with it. Once I’ve made peace with that outcome, I will seek the company of others from the place of abundance. You are complete and the addition of someone else in life would only amplify each other’s experience.

    As Anita suggested, make sure you know the man before emotionally investing in him. Also, don’t be afraid of going out, taking part in activities you love so you can find a like-minded man. Be open to people approaching you and don’t be afraid of rejection.

    Remember, you are enough. 🙂

    PS: Meditation is a great tool. If you’ve never tried, you may start with some guided ones.

    #238231

    Erin
    Participant

    I suggest to be comfortable with yourself. Learn who you are. Learn what you like and don’t like. Be accepting of who you are. Everyone is beautiful and important in their own way. Once you are comfortable with who you are you won’t worry what others think, as long as you’re content with your decisions and actions. I think the uncertainty comes from not knowing yourself.

    I suppose the only way to know yourself is to spend time doing things you like. Spend time alone. Work on a personal project or hobby. Find your interests.

    As for another partner, that will come in time. When you are comfortable with yourself you will naturally attract the perfect person for you at the time.

    Good work on getting the divorce!

     

    #238251

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Flavia:

    You are welcome. Your ex husband’s father mistreated  him and he  proceeded to mistreat you, a very common and unfortunate pattern, abuse begets  abuse. It is a person’s responsibility to not pass on abuse but he was not responsible in this most fundamental way.

    I wish he  did seek professional help early on and changed his ways. But he didn’t.

    You wrote: “I thought that I was like a defective product… sometimes  I still act like everything I do will never  be good enough”. As you can see, and I do see, having a doctorate degree, working as a professor in a university, being a.. good Christian wife.. none  of these change that core belief of not  being  good enough. I see  people achieve great things but the not-good-enough feeling remains. And they keep aiming at proving they are good enough by achieving more, but the feeling remains. The way to change this core belief, this feeling  of being  defective, less than is to notice the thoughts and feelings of that inner critic within and inserting  rational thoughts into the  mix.

    The inner critic, that is a mental representative  of a parent that was critical of the child. I suppose your ex  husband has a hold on that inner critic,  adding a lot to what it has to say to you. The voice of the inner critic is not  only thoughts,  dry thoughts but there is emotion to the thought, that feeling of shame, of distress. The thoughts are convincing because of the  emotion involved.

    When you hear such thought+ emotion, notice- what was the thought, what  was  the emotion, then relax best you can and substitute true thought for the distorted thought. For example, let’s say you wash dishes and notice you left dirt on a dish, a thought occurs to you: you can’t even do this one  thing right? What is wrong with you? And you feel shame and distress, hot in the face maybe, heart  racing a bit. Pause for a moment, breathe slowly, say to yourself: it is okay, I was distracted, no one washes dishes perfectly every time, everyone leaves dirt sometimes. The thing  to do is to  rewash the dish, so you do just that, slowly, put it away.

    Guided meditations, theme mindfulness is an excellent practice because  it slows you down, helps build the practice of pausing, noticing and correcting thoughts. When you correct a distorted/ abusive thought, a good feeling follows the correct/ true thought.

    I hope you post again. I would like to  communicate with you further.

    anita

     

    #238557

    Flávia
    Participant

    Dear Anita,
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>I read your message three times. To separate the thought from the emotion involved in the thought is an exercise I am surely going to do. It is simple and at the same time, difficult. I guess it will demand kindness from myself to myself. Your example was very clear. I am so grateful!</p>
    I  can see a consequence of my attitude: It makes me more vulnerable to people with a dominating profile. It has happened with a colleague of mine. She criticized a decision I made and I felt terrible. I was not wrong and time proved it, but for a long time, I doubted myself, I was afraid I had made a serious mistake. I see now that it was the shadow of the inner critic…

    I have a stepmother and she was very hard on me and my brothers and sister when we were young children. Guess it has something to do with me being vulnerable like this.

    So good to talk to you ..

    Flávia

     

     

     

    #238561

    Flávia
    Participant

    Prakhar and Erin,

    Thank you so much. I’ll write to you soon. I’ll be back tomorrow.

    Flávia

     

     

     

     

     

     

    #238697

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Flavia:

    It  is very distressing to be attacked by that abusive inner critic. Life would be way less difficult and unpleasant without that critic. This inner critic is  supposed to be there so that we act responsibly in a society, that is its purpose, to tell us to not drive too fast  so that the road can be safer for everyone. But way too often, the inner critic really is an inner bully. It is unkind, blaming, angry, aggressive. And that doesn’t  make us more socially responsible, it makes us suffer unnecessarily.

    When your inner critic tells you something you did wrong, and it does so aggressively, evaluate what it tells you and then soften its voice, restate what it tells you in a rational and kind way. Sort  of.. retrain your irrational inner bully  into a rational inner critic. Let’s say you find yourself driving fast on the road  and you hear the  inner bully saying something like: you are a terrible person! What is wrong with you…, retrain it, say to yourself: I didn’t focus for a  moment there and sped.  I should  be very focused while  I drive, not distracted in any  way, look at  the  speedometer,  pay  attention to other drivers, pay attention… good, good job, doing well.

    You mentioned your step mother. If you want to, share more about her criticism of you. Your inner critic/ bully may very well be her mental representative.

    anita

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 2 days ago by  anita.
    #239943

    Flávia
    Participant

    Dear Prakhar,
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>I guess I spent so much time thinking I lacked so many things that I forgot that every human being is complete in him/herself. For a long time, everything I could think about was that I was like broken or incomplete. I even thought of that as if I had a debt to pay.  Thanks a lot.</p>
    Flávia

     

    #239953

    Flávia
    Participant

    Dear Anita,

    Here’s more of my story. My mother died at the age of 31 years old and she left four children. Two girls and two boys. I was 8 and my youngest brother only 18 months old. My dad was always very affectionate to us but he got really depressed and we moved into my grandmother’s house so she could help him take care of us. After 2 years, my father married an old friend of my mom’s. Her name was Lucia. She was absolutely different from my mom. She was very serious and played only with my youngest brother, because he was a baby. My mother had a great personality, liked sports and was very cheerful. I know this not only from my memories but also from the stories my grandparents and my father told us. Unfortunately, back then, in the seventies, there was no way to detect a brain tumor like the one she had. So, after my dad’s marriage we went to a new home with a new mom and everything collapsed. We found out that in spite of the fact that we all tried to please her, to show affection to her, Lucia was very strict about everything and she’d hit us when she thought that we deserved. My dad worked a lot, so when he got home he was told about who did what and that was all. I remember crying a lot because I could do nothing – when she hit my brothers. As I grew up, I became like a second mom to my little brother and we just love each other a lot, until today.

    As a teen, I started to spend more time at my grandpa’s house ( my mom’s father) just to escape from Lucia’s criticism. She was always telling us how to dress, how to study, how to have good manners. It wouldn’t have been all bad if she considered that we were learning. It was like this: she would tell me to wash the dishes or sweep the floor and I would do it. Then she would “inspect” the job and find a flaw. And there was always one – or more.

    One day, I was about 12 years old, an old friend of my mom’s visited us and she told my father that I looked so much like my mom, that I smiled like her and other things. I  noticed that my stepmother didn’t like that comment. From that day on, I started to “connect” things – if my father was talking to me or helping me with my homework she would do something to occupy him, like she needed him to do something for her. She kept targeting everything I did and by the time I was 18, my dad thought it would be better for me to move to my grandpa’s house, as he was very sad with the remarks she made all the time about me. He told me the whole situation hurt him. By that time, my brother was studying in another town, my sister was busy in a technical course and kept to herself in her room, and the youngest still a teen. Lucia was very interested in being a wife, but not a mother.

    On the day of my wedding, Lucia told everybody in the house that she knew my marriage was going to be a failure. At the church, she sat in the last row. My dad was left alone in the first row with other relatives. My marriage started well and I was confident that everything would just be fine. Along the way, however, the relationship fell apart. I guess I repeated one thing: I was “used” to try to please a difficult person, to try to get his attention and love.

    My dad passed away in 2011 and I went home for some days. She asked me then to forgive her – and told me she knew she was very hard – cruel even – to all of us. I told her all was forgiven. The next year, she began to show symptoms of dementia and conversation is now impossible.

    Looking forward to our next conversation,

    Flávia

     

     

    #240075

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Flavia:

    As  I came to the end of your recent post I felt quite angry at Lucia, as angry as a person can be never having  met the person. I appreciate you telling me more of your story.

    I want to re-read  it tomorrow morning when my brain is fresh enough, so I can process it better, feel it with my mind and heart. And so, I will answer a few other threads shortly, then be away from the computer and  back tomorrow morning, in about sixteen hours from now.

    anita

    #244817

    anita
    Participant

    Dear Flavia:

    I apologize, I forgot to return to your thread yesterday until hours after turning off the computer. I would like you to know that I didn’t  forget because  your story wasn’t interesting or important. I will do my best for this to not happen again.

    I want  to retell your story in my own words, with quotes from you. It helps me process information when I do that:

    Your mother was about 23 when she gave birth to you and she died from a brain tumor when she was 31, you were 8. You have three siblings, two brothers and a sister, the youngest at the time of her death is a brother, 1.5 years old at the time. After  her death, you became like his second mother.

    Your father became very depressed and  moved into your grandmother’s house with his four children. Two years later, when you were 10, he re-married Lucia, and moved to a new home. Lucia played only with your youngest brother but not with the older three children. You “tried to please her, to show affection to  her” but she  was strict, very critical (giving you a task, inspecting it, and always finding one or more flaws, pointing those out to you), and she hit you at times.

    At 12 you realized that when your father (who  worked a lot) did something for you, like help you with your homework, she took him away from you, asking him to do something for her. She kept criticizing you and maybe increased her criticism of you over time. You spent more time at your grandfather’s house so to escape Lucia, and at 18, your father told you to move to your grandfather’s permanently because he was tired  of Lucia’s  criticisms of you.

    At your wedding, almost 30 years ago, Lucia sat in the last row while your father sat in the first with other relatives. Your father died seven years ago and at that time Lucia told you that “she knew she was very hard- cruel even- to all of us”, and you told her that “all was forgiven”. The year after she began showing symptoms of dementia and currently a conversation with her is impossible.

    As an adult, you earned a doctorate degree, worked hard in private schools  and currently and for some time you work as a professor at a university. Throughout your marriage you helped with house expenses, have been a good housewife and you have been a mother to your kids, and yet, your husband criticized you (telling you that you were “stupid, fat … don’t know how to dress up”, disqualified your opinions and then completely ignored you, as if you weren’t there, when in others’ company), and you thought of yourself as “a defective product”. There were “harsh arguments” with him for 4 years before you found out that he was fooling around with another woman. You divorced him following his confession of being in love with the other woman, last year.

    Your current problem is that even though you don’t have “anyone telling me how inadequate I am”, you tell that to yourself and “demand perfection of myself”. You blame yourself for staying in the marriage too long.

    My input: It is Lucia’s voice still criticizing you. Your inner critic is Lucia’s mental representative. When you wrote that regarding your childhood with Lucia: “I remember crying a lot because I could do nothing- when  she hit my brothers”. There really was nothing you can do when she hit your siblings, yourself, when she criticized you, there was nothing you were able to do. Your father wasn’t there, worked a lot, and when he was there, he didn’t stop Lucia, he let her do what she did. With no help from an adult at the home, you were indeed powerless.

    When you married, you married a man who did the same as Lucia. You had the power to leave him, but you didn’t really know that you had that power, you were too habituated in the  powerless situation of your childhood.

    “One day, my daughter asked me ‘Mom, why don’t you divorce him?’ And I answered at that time that I didn’t have the  necessary strength”- you were used to live in a situation without personal power, so you stayed. It is similar to this scenario I read about: if a baby elephant is kept tied with a rope, not big or strong enough to tear that rope, he tries,  fails and accepts it. Then when it is an adult,  easily capable of tearing the rope, it doesn’t try. He/she is too used to not having the strength when it young, weak and small.

    Same here, as the adult that you were, you were too used to not having the strength, being powerless for too long, so you weren’t aware that you did have the strength to  tear that marriage rope and move away.

    I hope you stop blaming yourself for staying too long in that marriage. It is understandable that  you did. How would you know you had the strength?

    Imagine yourself as that child, criticized by Lucia, not being protected by your father, what were you to do. A child cannot imagine fighting an adult much bigger and more capable and winning. So the child gives up and gives in.

    I hope to read your thoughts and feelings about my input and otherwise.

    anita

     

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 6 days ago by  anita.
    #248601

    anita
    Participant

    Dear  Flavia:

    I post this just in case this post may bring to your attention my reply to you that you may have missed  before.

    anita

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