Desperate to be loved?
There are so many other titles, that would sit just as comfortably with this blog …
Stay, or leave?
Aching to be loved.
The Codependent Cycle.
Needing to feel loved … but needing the pain to stop!
Emotional Abuse IS Domestic Violence!
In love with a Narcissist.
The sessions I find saddest and most challenging, are those when a couple visit my counselling room, and as one partner proceeds to describe a litany of painful incidences, the other partner sits, almost frozen, revealing no emotional response to acknowledge the hurt their partner feels, let-alone show remorse or empathy.
In such sessions, I take a deep breath, knowing this will not be a short therapeutic journey – there are many layers of healing to negotiate, before either person has a chance of creating a healthy loving relationship, with themselves, let-alone, anyone else!
The self-perceived ‘victim’ of the relationship usually begins the session, keen to find a way to stop their pain, usually by changing something in the perceived ‘abuser’. They relate incident after incident of injustice, each clearly traumatising – the repeated affairs, the repeated abandonments, the repeated lies and deceptions, the repeated angry outbursts, the repeated broken promises, then, the repeated moments of hope and apparent loving reconnection, to just be repeatedly dashed!
It’s the ‘repeated’ that is problematic in ‘toxic’ relationships.
It may not be physical abuse, but their patterns of pain mirror the domestic violence cycle – first the phase of mistreatment, then the buy back phase of elaborate apologies and charming, but empty, promises, to be followed by the mounting anxiety, as the promises are yet again broken. The cycle relentlessly repeating, and with each turn of the cycle, a ratcheting up of the pain.
So why would a person stay in such a ‘relationship’?
Let me tell you a really common story – a compilation of client stories, with fictitious names, but a similar theme of emotional abuse, permeating all such toxic relationships …
Sally and Eddie are one such middle aged couple. Even before I meet them, their intake forms have given me some premonition of the turmoil and pain that is about to be exposed in my counselling room.
A lot is riding on this counselling. A long marriage. Three children almost grown up and and at various stages of leaving home. Financial security and lifestyle. This couple are at a cross roads, one they have been heading towards since before their first child was born!
The tears quickly brim in Sally’s eyes.
My heart hurts. I feel shock. Shock not just at the litany of painful incidences Sally just relayed, but the way Eddie has disdainfully closed his eyes and given dismissive huffs throughout Sally’s telling. I guess he doesn’t want to hear, or see, the inconvenient truth so chronologically laid out in my counselling room.
I need to clarify – I’m still struggling to comprehend all that just tumbled out of Sally’s mouth.
“So … when did it first feel, that Eddie … ‘didn’t care’ about you?”
My question is hesitantly put into the room, but Sally’s response doesn’t require much reflection.
“Oh that was when I was pregnant with Bridget.”
“Um,” I buy some time trying to prevent the shock showing on my face, as I look at my notes to calculate, “Bridget who is now … mmmm, 19 years old?”
“So … so, 20 years ago?” I again haltingly say. Even after decades of such sessions I’m still shocked by our ability to suffer years of pain in the blind hope, a situation will change, that an abuser will see the need to change.”
“Oh ….” A more reflective “Yes,” softly comes from Sally’s lips. Even though I have only repeated Sally’s own words back to her, it’s as if she’s hearing the awful exposed reality for the first time in her life.
I hold the pause. The first Sally has allowed in the session. Then I go on, gingerly laying Sally’s previous statements out for us to view, knowing Eddie won’t be too pleased with this, “And since then, there’s been many affairs … like 6 or more … and one of those, 5 years long?” I am only paraphrasing a small part of what Sally has already told me at the beginning of the session.
“So, what has made you decide to seek therapy now … after 20 years, of affairs and hurt?”
It’s a really obvious question and I can see Sally is truly perplexed at the reality this question highlights.
But Eddie is quick to try and divert our attention from the obvious. and begins his version of events as to what has brought them to this moment in my room.
Eddie’s narrative is light on true detail, and meanders. He hints at ‘the’ affairs, careful to keep them at arms length. I find it hard to follow his story and need to interrupt to clarify, but any answers to my questions dissipate in Eddie’s retelling. His skill of bamboozling the listener and subverting the real story is seamless, and I realise, well practiced over 20 years!
It’s as if he’s stitching together a patch work quilt of denial and diversions, to protect him from accountability and responsibility. There’s plenty of patches of ‘poor me’s’ mingled with patches of ‘wonderful me’s’, all eloquently stitched together with the thread of innuendo, leaving the listener questioning Sally’s reasonableness in all of this.
I realise the patchwork quilt that Eddie is stitching together in my room, is the marital quilt of “ignorance is bliss”. Eddie needs it, to hide his shame under it.
Later in the session, I even see Sally dive under Eddie’s denial quilt as she aligns with him to placate a threatening burst of his anger. It seems Eddie’s “ignorance is bliss” quilt is also used to protect Sally from feeling her own shame too.
I take time to centre myself – it takes immense concentration to hold these two narratives – the denial one and the shame one. Slowly, gently, I keep lifting corners of the “ignorance is bliss” quilt to gently coerce little fragments of shame out into the daylight, until at the end of the session, Eddie, now quietened and less defensive, thinks out aloud, “I’ve always wondered why she stays with me.”
All these years, the quilt, has been created and regularly had squares added to it, in an attempt to hide Eddie’s profound sense of inadequacy.
Following Eddie’s statement of rare vulnerability, Sally, head bowed, mumbles, “I’ve never felt unconditionally loved – never, in my whole life!”
I struggle with the sad reality of Sally’s desperateness to feel loved, and how it has kept her wrapped in pain, trying desperately to feel a sense of love and warmth under the “ignorance is bliss” quilt.
It’s a beginning – a beginning of unravelling childhood attachment trauma that created further relationship trauma in adulthood. I know where we will begin session two, Using somatic trauma therapy to support Sally as she begins to heal from not feeling loved and wanted in her childhood. Eddie, will be more able to tolerate that too, since the focus will be off him being the ‘bad guy’.
The question I’m wondering is, can I hold and support their pain long enough for them to both begin to heal. It would be rare for someone so lacking in empathy as Eddie presently is, to stay the course of relationship therapy. It would be much easier for Eddie to grab the tatters of his “ignorance is bliss” quilt and bolt, blaming the therapist in many a colourful description of inadequacy! Eddie is really good at projecting his own feeling of inadequacy onto others. Sally is carrying her load of ‘Eddie inadequacy’. I need to be mindful not to pick up any he hurls my way in this therapeutic process.
But I’m willing to give it a try, if they are.
I just wish Sally hadn’t waited so long to reach out for help.
Neither of them is feeling much warmth under the worn and tattered “ignorance is bliss” quilt.