Updated: Oct 30, 2021
The world I work with is dark. The divorcees I see hide behind a mask of secrecy and shame. My clients have relationships laden with unrepentant partners who have betrayed them through obsessive viewing of pornography, sex addiction and narcissistic abuse. Many of my clients described themselves as “dirty”. They flirt between exposing their truth and protecting their children, family, friends and church community from their self-defined “ugliness”.
They sit in silent agony.
Physically bound, locked, chained. Emotionally bound, locked, chained.
Imagine being in a prison you don’t realize surrounds you. It is a prison incased by an invisible, electric fence. You have no warning when you will bump into the border and be electrocuted. This forces you to proceed everywhere with caution. Some places are safe today, but not tomorrow. There doesn’t appear to be a clear reason why the boundaries change. And you aren’t really even sure why there are barriers. You’ve asked your “protector” to explain what is happening. What is this invisible sensation you are experiencing? Rarely do you receive clarity. Mostly, you survive in confusion.
Daily, you focus on attempting to understand the rules of your unclear confinement.
Eventually, you realize you are not going to survive if you can’t define the invisible barriers but at the same time, escaping feels like death. Slowly, moment by moment, you find questions seeping into your mind.
Let us return to my “Zoom” office with my client.
She is a bit late today. I wait and see her “enter” my Zoom room. I can make out a different backdrop behind her instead of the familiar kitchen. We are in her closet. Clothes are hanging around her and she is sitting cross-legged on the dimly lit floor. She is serious today. Determined.
She looks at me, ignores my opening welcome and says, “I have questions today. I need answers.”
I smile. Not to ridicule her, but because I am excited. I know we are going forward in her healing. I am eager to hear her questions.
She starts with an explosive breath and says, “Why me? Why am I still stuck here? And why is it so hard for me to see and believe the truth?”
I remove my smile. As a coach, I know “why” questions are frequently “stuck” questions because we probably will never know, “why.” I set to reframing the questions.
I respond matching her serious tone. “May I shift those questions a bit? I think we will be able to find answers if we change them up a little.” Her eyelids drop an inkling of an inch as she hesitantly agrees.
“Thanks. You tell me if these questions work:
“Why me?” Let’s change that to:
What made me appealing to him?”
“Why am I still stuck here? Let’s change that to:
When will I be able to move forward?”
“Why is it so hard for me to see and believe the truth? Let’s change that to:
How can I begin to embrace my reality?”
She nods with obvious hesitation and dives right in.
“What made him pick me? I mean seriously! What the heck is wrong with me? Am I that gullible?” I ask, “What do you believe is wrong with you?”
She wasn’t expecting that question. She takes a breath and says, “I just believed what he said. I wanted to believe my life was about to change for the better. He was so kind and giving. I even felt badly for him. He said he had a rough childhood, and his past marriage was awful.”
I respond, “So you were empathetic to him?”
She says, “Yup.”
I lean back in my chair. “That doesn’t sound like a flaw. Empathy is actually a wonderful characteristic. What would you think if I said he targeted you because of your empathy?”
She looks at me with curiosity, “What? What does that mean?”
I lean in and gently say, “Your kindness is what attracted him to you. He knew you would believe him and want to love him. His brokenness knew you were a safe place for him.”
She looks startled, and then looks down. “Oh. That makes my heart just ache for him.”
I nod. “Yes- you are a kind, wonderful, embracing, encouraging blessing to him. How do you feel when I say those words?”
She leans her back against the closet wall. Closing her eyes, she seeks the word to define this revelation.
“Freer. I’m not sure that is a word, but I feel a little freer and relieved I’m not a horrible person.”
I ask if we can move to her next question. She nods expectantly and voices her own version of the question again.
“If I am such a good, insightful person, why can’t I move on? Why do I feel so stuck?”
I ask her if we can reframe this to be, “When will I be able to move forward?”
She agrees, certain I will give her a time frame.
I ask her what she thinks of when I say, “DOA.”
She looks at me hard, raises an eyebrow. I see her trying to figure out if this is a trick question. She responds, “That is what people are when they get to the morgue! Dead on arrival.”
I concur. “Yup. You were Dead on Arrival with him. You didn’t really have a choice. Let me explain what I mean.
The D is Dopamine. It is a chemical released in your body when you are feeling really good. It kind of washes you over with good feelings. Would you say you felt good when you were with him?
She offers a half eye roll, “Of course.”
“The O is Oxytocin. It is also a chemical released in your body when you are forming relationships. It’s the chemical that helps moms bond to babies- we love them no matter what and it is Oxytocin that helps us. Sometimes it is even called the “love hormone,” because Oxytocin increases when we hug someone or have an orgasm. This chemical is the good, warm, fuzzy feeling we feel in our bodies when we are with “our” person. Did you feel warm fuzzy’s when you were with him?”
She is starting to see where I am going. She responds, “Wow.”
I end the explanation with the “A”. “A is adrenaline. We know what that is- it is the chemical released when you are excited about something. In this kind of relationship, it might be the excitement about an extravagant date, an unexpected trip or breathtaking gifts. It is thrilling for us to feel loved and adored. Would you say this sounds about right?”
She sighs. “I miss the trips. They were always exciting.”
I conclude. “Here you are, a wonderful, empathetic woman who got swept off your feet and your body is releasing these 3 chemicals all at the same time. Your body wants and is seeking those chemicals again. It actually isn’t your fault you want to stay or that you won’t turn your back on the relationship. Your body is working against the logic side of you. It’s an unseen battle raging inside you.”
Another sigh. This one deeper. “So, I’m stuck. Am I always going to feel this way?”
I can feel my pulse quicken, my breathing get shallower and my cheeks begging my lips to smile. I’m about to liberate her from one of her fears.
“Let’s think of it this way. Imagine the desire, or craving, like a wave. It wells up, crests and then subsides. Each wave pushes you closer to the shore, where your feet will hit the sand. When they find the sand, your feet will stabilize under you, you will stand, and the waves will cease. The intensity of the yearning will die away.”
“I never thought of it that way. So, it will stop eventually?”
Hope is about to rest in her heart. I respond, “Yes. How are you feeling now?”
She sits a little taller. “Freer.”
We tackle the last question. I ask, “Ok- are you ready for your last question which was, ‘How can you even begin to embrace your reality?’”
I can actually feel her heart pounding through the computer lens. Embracing her hell is the equivalent of embracing a rabid dog. She looks at me with a bit of animosity believing I am about to tell her something she has heard a million times like, “Just get over it. Just move on. Just let it go. Just, just, just.”
I flash her a smile, throwing her guard down a bit. “We talked at the beginning of our session of your truths- your genuine empathy and compassion for others. Can you turn your compassion and empathy towards yourself?”
She starts fidgeting- fingers rub her forehead, pressing deeply into her temples. Her eyes dart away from the screen. She inhales irritation because she does not feel deserving of empathy and yet, it is the main vice she needs to begin healing her heart.
Too kind to be rude to me, she waits for me to get to my point.
I ask her to say the words: “I have empathy and compassion for myself.”
I watch her face shift from animosity to grief.
From self-loathing to self-tenderness.
From confusion to understanding.
Her face muscles soften, her jaw relaxes, and healing tears find freedom down her cheeks.
She finally says, “Yes. I have empathy and compassion for myself.”
I ask my final question. “How are you feeling now?”
I have been blessed to witness partners find and express their voice. Their voice is released when they begin to look courageously inward, explore their truth, and embrace their inner sanctuary with words. Many partners have been held as silent prisoners in relationships for years, even decades. Speaking compassion for themselves is the beginning of freedom from their prison.
And it requries courage to take this step.
“I’m not denying my emotions. I have to be courageous enough to let them come.” (anonymous partner)
Perhaps, this song, Speechless, by Naomi Scott, will help you courageously seek your voice.
If you are a partner- please don’t endure this journey alone. Will you reach out to 1 safe person this week?
If you know a partner, will you listen to their voice? Will you choose to be a part of their healing?
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