What I think I left out from my previous post, which was probably the point of it, was something I have said before.
Until I could process the idea that my parents intended to hurt me–both of them, not just my dad, but both of them–and sit with that long enough to connect it to specific sensations and perceptions, it just kind of floated around a this incomprehensible pain. It meant that when someone in the present does something intentionally to hurt me–or when I am not sure what their intentions even are–I can’t process that either, and I don’t respond effectively or in a way that’s thoughtful.
I think I should add as a caveat that I had a therapist for a couple of years who was around for the worst part of my long term relationship and worked with me after we broke up. I stopped seeing for her a while because I would end up in session feeling so utterly hopeless I worried about my ability to maintain my rationality. There was one day I left her office feeling frankly suicidal, and it was a bright day, beautiful sunshine, perfect breeze. I was meeting my partner to look for a desk we were going to buy for my birthday.
And I thought actually life isn’t hopeless, but therapy is convincing me that it is. It’s distorting my thinking to such an extent that I can’t keep in my mind the idea that there are bright spots in my life, there are things I enjoy that are good, even if it’s just sunshine and a new piece of furniture.
I went back to her after the relationship ended, although now I can’t adequately explain why.
But what I wanted to say about this therapist is that I think in light of my present understanding that she wanted me to respond to my abusive partner by being abusive myself.
When she said, “Set boundaries and enforce them.” I think she really meant, “Retaliate and punish her.” And I couldn’t do that. It’s wrong.
The reason I say that has to do with a sense that she believed as long as you followed certain rules of behaviour or claimed certain motives, behaviour wasn’t abusive. She used to tell me, “So how do you take care of yourself?” And I think she meant, “How do you still get what you want?”
So, for example, if we were having an argument and I said in the middle of it, “I need a break. I’m going for a walk,” (which I did), this wasn’t abusive behaviour even though my partner would feel abandoned by that, because I could simply decide for myself what taking a walk was supposed to mean, and if my partner understood it differently and felt hurt by it or punished by it, or if she began to fear disagreeing with me because I would leave her when that happened, that was on her.
Which isn’t to say it’s not okay to take a break during an argument. But it’s not really about behaviours. It’s about the impact of your behaviour, because in a couple that has been together for a long time, you pretty much know what that is.
She gave the example of a friend of hers who was being emotionally abused by her husband. It was happening in front of her. She didn’t feel comfortable with witnessing what was happening, and she said if it didn’t stop she would leave. It didn’t stop. She left.
Well, good for her.
But the impact of that behaviour was that her friend now felt alone and abandoned with a man who hurts her. It didn’t help anyone except her own sense of righteousness.
I don’t have any idea what one should do when someone is doing something intentionally to hurt you. However, it can help tremendously just to recognize that someone is doing that instead of having your brain shut down because this thought can’t be thought.
It happened at the end of the school year with a parent: You might remember her. She was flipping out about the kid in my class who is emotionally disturbed and disrupting class. During the conversation, she said something about needing to get some balls, and it helped me a lot to recognize that she was intentionally saying that to hurt me. It was the worst insult she could come up with and that’s why she said it. Whether that was true or not wasn’t probably the point. The point was she was angry and she wanted to cause me pain. Recognizing her motivation gave me a sense of control over the conversation, and I ended it at that point. It took me a long time to get there, because there was this huge WTF in my brain I had always gotten to before.
This feels like my parents trying to hurt me.
Yes, because that intention is the same. It feels the same because it is the same. The details are different, but the core element of it is not. Without the WTF in between, the whole process becomes a lot smoother. She is trying to hurt me. This is how I protect myself from actual harm.