I woke up this morning with a realization. It’s been sitting under the surface of my consciousness for years. I just haven’t been able to truly see it. Or, maybe, I’ve kept the blinders closed up so tightly to keep me from seeing it. To protect myself.
You see, this is the root of all my anxieties. And those fears only became amplified in my marriage.
It all starts with childhood.
I had a grandmother who used shame to control her kids and grandkids. Common phrases said to my mom and uncles were “I do all this for you and this is how you repay me?” and “Kids are seen but not heard.” She was very dismissive about the emotional state of her family, while at the same time doing everything in her power to make our family look pristine and perfect on the outside.
I had a mother who was so worried about how the world (especially her parents) perceived her, that the message her little boy learned was he had to be perfect in everything he did. He learned that perfection wasn’t for him, it was to protect his mother from the shame and judgment she felt if he didn’t meet the family’s high expectations.
Add a biological father who couldn’t manage his own shame and fear of judgement, that he disappeared from this little boy’s life. Instead of being the father this boy needed, he ran and shirked his responsibilities.
Mix this up with a step-father who was physically and emotionally abused by an alcoholic father and who was forced to grow up fast to support his family in his pre-teen years. This man built an emotional wall of rage to protect himself from his own demons.
All this little boy wanted and needed was to be nurtured and loved. He had grand fantasies of becoming a super hero to save the world. He had a kinship with Bilbo and Frodo, because they too, were small, and yet they were large beyond their means. He had a vision to fly a 747. Not just any airplane, but the BIGGEST one there was. It wasn’t because he was vertically challenged that made him feel small. He felt small because the people around him never saw him.
He only wanted to be seen.
Nature vs. nurture. Such an interesting concept. I see so much of both in my daughters. And I see so much of each in myself.
I connected with my step family recently and it was quite interesting hearing stories about my biological father and finding out how similar the two of us were, especially when he was never around to influence me.
And, on the other hand, I also see that the way I was raised, gave me traits I continue to carry on to this day.
“The more we hone this ability to meet life in a neutral state, without attributing “goodness” or “badness” to what we are encountering, but simply accepting its as-is-ness, the less our need to interpret every dynamic as if it were about us. Our children can then have their tantrums without triggering us, and we can correct their behavior without dumping on them our own residual resentment, guilt, fear, or distrust.”
As Dr. Shefali explains, the majority of parents try to heal their own childhood wounding through their children instead of allowing their children to be the separate beings that they were born to be.
“Children Are Not Easels”
Dr. Shefali Tsbary
Our natural personality gets shaped and molded by how we are nurtured. And if we were nurtured by parents who were parenting out of their own childhood wounds, then, as children, we adopt coping mechanisms to protect ourselves from them.
My natural instinct is that I’m more sensitive than most people. My daughter was giving me a hard time yesterday because I cried when we watched How to Train a Dragon Three. Thank God she didn’t see the waterfall that was pouring down my cheeks during Isn’t it Romantic!
As much as I’m sensitive, I don’t think I’m as far up on the scale as an empath. I would say I feel what others are feeling, however, for some reason, I have a tendency to internalize that pain. Maybe that has been my natural inclination, to take everyone’s pain and manifest it as my own.
When I felt emotionally neglected as a boy, I had no problem expressing my pain. At home my emotions were always shut down. I wasn’t allowed to feel. I don’t know how much money my step-father made off my whining jar. I’m sure he made quite a bit. And yet, the whining jar was nothing compared to the fear I had about showing emotion around my step-father.
I grew up walking on egg-shells. Wearing my emotions on a sleeve was like poking a stick at a wasp’s nest. My step-father’s armor would crack and verbally his rage would explode like a volcano. He never hit me, but I could see it in his eyes. Extreme hatred and anger when emotions were expressed.
As an adult, I realize the demons my step-father struggled with. I now have empathy for how he managed his life. I also believe he was doing the best he could. He wasn’t his father. I mean he didn’t hit my mother with a baseball bat like his father did to his mom. But I also believe he didn’t like who he was. What I, as a kid, viewed as hate, was probably more connected to the inability to maintain a sense of control, something he was never given as a child.
Unfortunately, my step-father’s childhood wounding caused emotional bruises of my own.
In addition, the kids at school thought my sensitivity was something to make fun of. It was a game to watch me go into my own childhood version of rage. And, of course, if I went as far as to start a fight, I ended up in a heap on the ground with a circle of kids laughing at my tears as I was being pulverized by some boy.
I spent many days on the grassy field hidden by the fog hiding out sitting in my own pain or isolating in my room curled up on my bed fantasying that if I was severely injured and on my death bed in the hospital, then maybe my parents, family, or friends would show concern for me.
I learned early that it was not safe to show emotions. Showing emotions was the quickest way to get judged by someone else. It was the quickest way to have my feelings dismissed. It was the quickest way to push people away from me. And yet, I always wanted my pain to be acknowledged, to be heard, to feel like someone cared.
In order to be seen and heard, in order to gain approval and worth in life, I learned I needed to perform. I needed to accomplish things, show things, do things. And I was not allowed to make mistakes. Mistakes would shame the very people I was trying to gain approval from.
The more I did, the better I did, then I would gain the love of the people closest to me.
And yet, even that was never enough.
I mean, really, it wasn’t about me. It was about my family dealing with their own emotional trauma. But I didn’t know any better. I internalized that I was the weak link in my family. As much as I fantasized about them worrying about me in the ICU or how sad they’d feel as they stood over my embalmed body in a casket, I never believed they would really feel that sadness.
I truly believed they would have been better off if I never existed in the first place.
How does one find ways to cope with such deep feelings of self-loathing and self-hate?
How does one find a way to deaden the pain, when there’s no one to turn to?
How does one get others to see themselves, when all one feels is invisible to the world?
Lewis Howes podcast featuring Dr. Shefali Tsbary
Listen to the 25:15 – 28:30 of the above podcast. (Really, when you have time, listen to the whole thing! Great insight about changing the way we parent). This part answers the question: How do we remove our ego as parents and come from a place of love?
“The way I describe ego is not simply a narcissistic desire to power over. The way I define the ego is that when we were young, we weren’t seen for who it is we are. As a result of that, we had to survive. Now in order to survive, we had to contort and distort and pretzel ourselves into a version of who our parents wanted us to be. Just to fit in. Just to survive….
“The nucleus, the core of the authentic self is now being denied and is increasingly invisible. So, it needs an invincible shield to protect it because now it’s disintegrating, there’s nothing inside. So it creates this false self and I call the false self the ego. The ego was created to survive, but eventually will create suffocation. So we have to kill the ego.”
– Dr. Shefali Tsbary
As a teen, this is where my pattern of addiction formed. My addict was there to help me cope, to survive. My addict deadened the feelings of loneliness and isolation. My addict found the pleasure part of my brain, allowing me not to feel the pain that I had carried for years. My addict give me a brief sense of what I thought was happiness.
My addiction became that shield.
Of course, drugs or alcohol weren’t on the list of substances I could do. I mean, if I wanted to be rebellious, I could have. But the wrath that I would have had at the hands of my step-father, the shame and distance I would have received from my grandmother, and the disappointment and judgment that my mother would have gotten from others kept me away from illegal substances.
My sex addiction therapist said I was set up from the start.
My family was a family of secrets. We did not talk about our issues or our struggles. In fact, as my Grandmother had said, “We’ll talk about this once, then we will never talk about it again.” Feelings, thoughts, questions, comments, everything that dealt with emotions was shoved down because it was not discussed.
In addition, I grew up in a sexually charged household. My parents subscribed to the Playboy channel when I was 11 years old, had naked leprechaun cakes for St. Patty’s Day parties where they showed taped versions of The Greatest American Stripoff, and my step-father would verbally objectify women and constantly made sexualized jokes and comments.
Secrets with sexual undertones was what was normalized as a child.
The thing about sex addiction, is that it’s never about the sex. This is what’s so hard to explain to non-sex addicts. It’s about the build-up, the chase, the expectation of what might be. It’s the fantasy, the what if’s, the fear of doing something wrong. It’s about trying to find connection, even if it’s the illusion of connection. An illusion of connection is better than the pain of isolation.
Sex addiction is more about getting into a trance state, that’s very similar to being drugged or drunk, and remaining in that state for as long as possible. The longer one can stay here, the longer one does not have to feel the emotional overload of life.
Many people now experience this same trance-like way of coping by becoming absorbed in social media and their cell phones. How many hours disappear when someone is flipping through Instagram or Facebook? People can end up in an emotionless void for hours on end.
Addiction becomes a coping mechanism. A way to protect oneself from the repetitive negative self-talk that had been internalized by the very people who were supposed to show nurturing and love.
A person who feels deep hopelessness and meaninglessness, may turn to addiction to, as Jim Seckman points out, “seek a greater depth of peace and fulfillment, but only finds greater emptiness and pain.”
A simple video about addiction
In his article titled A Longing for Something More / Spirituality and Addiction, Jim states:
“We become spiritually malnourished, believing we have found peace, abundance and fulfillment in the very thing that will rob us of it. In addition, we mistake:
- Numbness for Peace
- Indulgence for Abundance
- Gratification for Fulfillment
- Intensity for Intimacy
- Control for Safety
- Perfection for Competency
In a sexually based society, where sex is used to sell and we are bombarded with sexual messages daily in music, TV, and movies, it’s understandable that many people believe that the way to connection is sex. It’s a mistaken belief that sex is what connects us to others.
When an addict enters that trance state of their addiction, pain, negative self-worth, and all other negative emotions disappear. The body is flooded with dopamine, adrenaline, and whatever other chemicals makes one feel good.
But here’s the catch…
With most sex addicts, the minute orgasm occurs, this illusion is shattered.
Snap! In an instant.
Here one minute and gone the next.
And what fills that void is the onslaught of shame and guilt that slams oneself to the ground.
It’s not the hazy remembering of the embarrassing things one did the night before while nursing a hangover. It’s standing at the edge of a cliff looking over the side, hearing a rumble behind you, and before turning completely around, an avalanche sweeps you into the abyss below.
One minute your standing with your feet on the ground and the next minute you’re in an endless emotional plummet.
I struggled about adding the description about my personal experience with sex addiction because I had thought it would take away from what I was writing. I feared that one’s own interpretation and judgments would cloud my message. Then, I realized, that’s the whole point of this post.
I’m making a guess that there was empathy and compassion reading about my struggles as a child, however, I’m also guessing that there was less empathy when it came to trying to understand the struggles of a sex addict who betrayed his wife.
Remember, we are our own worst critics. Very few people judge one harsher than one judges oneself.
When a sex addict comes out of that trance state to find they have once again stepped outside their own moral code, self-judgment cuts to the core of who they are.
For me, take the combined messages I received as a child from my parents and grandmother. Not only did my powerlessness over my addiction confirm those messages as truth, they were amplified ten-fold when I looked in the mirror.
Addiction is a vicious cycle. It’s the only way one has learned to deal with emotions and, without any other tools, the emotional rawness of the pain that one has when not in the addictive state, only brings him full circle back to what he knows can take that pain away.
As a teen, my sex addiction was a coping mechanism to get me through adolescence. It was my “invincible shield”.
And yet, as an adult, the addict that had protected me, suffocated me. It destroyed me. And, in the process, my addict destroyed the ones I loved.
When two people stand in front of an altar, they recite vows to one another. These vows become their commitment to their marriage. These words are given power because, staring in each other’s eyes, they are said to each other. They are said in front of their closest friends and family. They are vows that are said in the presence of God. Their vows tie the knot between the two, establishing a mode of conduct that society decides what is appropriate and what is not.
On a side note, I have not been to a wedding were vows were said that allows a couple to be human. That they will make mistakes, that it’s ok to make mistakes, and that together they will grow from those mistakes. Even though I like the Ten Wedding Vows Based on Relationship Science, they still do the same thing as the vows we have all heard.
Wedding vows become words that tie us to judgement.
Judgement from others if these vows are broken.
Judgement from those who believe a couple should work on a marriage “till death do you part.”
Judgement from those who don’t understand, nor are willing to try to understand, why one partner has stayed in a marriage when another partner has broken their vows, especially if that person had been unfaithful.
Judgement from those who don’t understand why one partner continues to hope, believe, and try to reconcile a marriage, when it’s obvious that the other partner wants out.
Judgement from one spouse to another because they haven’t lived up to the expectations that they had promised years before.
We put rings on our left ring finger and the world creates an expectation as how these two people will live the rest of their lives. Any decisions they make as a couple or as parents are scrutinized and looked over. Any individual character defects of one, must be character defects of the other. Gossip between friends, family, and co-workers further slides the blade of judgment through the souls of these two people.
We bring our own fear of judgement into our marriages. This is all we learned growing up. We learned we had to be perfect and act a certain way to achieve love and acceptance. And now we fear that if we don’t achieve these unrealistic expectations, we too will be judged.
We have not learned how to parent ourselves. We have not learned how to treat ourselves with gentleness and self-love. And we go into marriage expecting two people, both with childhood emotional baggage, to do it “right.”
Add kids in the mix and guess what?
We bring our own fear of judgement into our parenting. This fear adds tension to the marriage.
Oh crap! That’s my parents. That’s my grandparents.
At this moment I feel much empathy and compassion. Right now I feel a raw sense of sadness. I feel guilt. For I too, have judged my parents and grandparents harshly. I too have judged their decisions and their parenting skills. I have allowed my pain that they could not be there for me because “they” created such a toxic environment growing up that I have lived a life of bitterness and resentment.
I have blamed them for making me into the monster I had once been.
They didn’t know any better.
I didn’t know any better.
I too, have placed that same burden on my girls. I fear that their actions define who I am as a father. So much fear of judgement, that I also don’t allow my girls to be human.
I want a do over.
Such is life. By the time we “get” it (or sort of get it; I don’t believe we ever truly get it) we have already damaged the next generation.
This morning I woke up struggling with a conversation I had with my wife yesterday.
I’m so grateful that we both have the ability to be vulnerable with one another. I’m grateful that I no longer, at least I make up that I no longer, create the same toxic environment I grew up in that made her feel unsafe around me.
I’m grateful for her honesty.
She, like so many of us, is immensely afraid of judgement and how others perceive her. And, as I have learned in my journey of healing, that person or thing, externally, which we are most angry or afraid of, is really a wound within ourselves that needs healing. I could hear in her voice how much she judges herself for her decision to not only have stayed with me all these years, but to have said said yes in the first place.
All my life, I’ve tried to prove myself, so I could get validation, so I could have worth. I will push and push and push, so I can succeed with the hope that maybe this time, this time, I will prove I am worthy enough for love.
I did this as a child and I continued this pattern in my marriage.
Rafiki lately has been repeating himself, “When are you going to stop trying to fix Phoenix? You keep searching and searching, but you aren’t living. You are not who you once were. When are you going to accept Phoenix for who he is and just live life?”
I have lived life in a veil of shame. And my wife carries my shame. She has carried my shame for years.
This morning though, I realized something else. This is what inspired this post.
I’ve come to terms with who I was, what I did, and who I’ve become. I do not justify, nor excuse my actions. I have spent my time trying to understand how my actions hurt the ones I love and I have tried to do what I can to help my wife heal and let her know I am there in any capacity she needs me to be. And, in the process, I have taking what I’m learning to you, my Fledglings, to hopefully help you heal from any struggles you may also have.
We are not alone.
In many ways, I have let go of the shame of my actions. I still hold onto the shame of hurting my wife. But what I realized this morning when I woke up was that I live in the veil of my wife’s shame.
Her shame that she has stayed with me all these years. Her shame to have said yes to a marriage she wanted to say no to. Her shame because she did not stand up to her moral and values so many years ago. Her shame, because still, after three years, she has not finalized the divorce.
There’s no blame here, just acknowledgment.
Recently, I was told I’m a linear thinker. I guess I try to make logical out of what is illogical. And I believe, that’s the part where judgment comes in. Everything must make sense or else we will be judged for our actions. Why did you do this instead of what can I do to help you with where you are at today?
It really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why my wife stayed when she wanted to leave. It doesn’t matter why she said yes to a marriage she wanted to say no to. It doesn’t matter why it has taken so long to finalize our divorce. It doesn’t matter why we’re still friends. Nor does it matter that we’re still trying to figure out the pieces of ourselves and what went wrong.
We worry about all of that because of judgement. We fear about being judged for our decisions.
There is such a fear of judgement from others, that instead of finding the good in our relationship, we keep turning back and focusing on all that was bad. Instead of placing energy into healing, our energy is placed on recreating and reliving the pain of the past. We continue to drag the past into the present with the fear that it will forever taint our future. And in doing so, we do taint our future because we keep hurting ourselves today.
Maybe we do that because this is our comfort zone; to sit in the pain and blame. I mean, it’s what we’ve done since we were a child.
We put on blinders that prevent us from seeing how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown. It’s like we are still standing at the fork in the road eight years ago when our journey of healing started. My wife still stands at a point in time way before that.
And it all comes back to…what do people think?
I’m not dismissing my wife’s pain. I would never want to do that. I can see it in her body when she’s triggered. And still, as the young boy inside of me who absorbs pain as his own, I internalize it with a constant voice whispering in my ear, “you caused this, you caused this, you caused this.” She adds to it with the common response, “do you blame me?” Head down, feeling the shame flood through my body, I’m speechless.
I want to help her heal, but that’s something she can only do on her own.
What I realized this morning was that my wife has been judge, jury and executioner of my addiction and who I once was. It doesn’t matter who I’ve become, what I do today, tomorrow, or in the future, until she can let go of her shame and blame, I will always be judged because of my previous actions.
In the past month my wife has taken ownership for our divorce because she never left. This is one of the first times I’ve heard her take ownership over the dissolution of our marriage. I’ve always been the fall guy because of what I did; I have always accepted that it was all my fault. Even Rafiki has pointed out how much I have defended and protected my wife from her part in our marriage.
To a large extent, it was my fault. I created the trauma that my wife will now carry with her for the rest of her life. And worse, because of both of our actions, she will carry the fear of judgment to explain why it took her so long to leave.
I have seen her fear what others would think about her staying with me. I just never realized how much of that fear was due to her own judgment towards me and also her own internal personal judgment towards herself for staying with me in the first place.
We are our own worst enemy when it comes to judging ourselves.
The Judgement Trap
I need to break free from the judgment by my wife. I also need to let go of the judgment I have towards her for not wanting to reconcile our marriage. This is the trap we continue to put ourselves into. We point fingers at one another for our own pain.
How do we break free of judgement?
How do we break free from the fear of judgement from others?
How do we break free from judging ourselves?
When I started my morning routine today, the verse of the day from my bible app was Romans 4:7-8:
Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord.
I’ve got it all so wrong! All I’ve been searching for is approval from my parents and my grandparents. All I got was shame and judgement.
All I’ve been searching for was some sort of connection. Any connection so I didn’t feel lost and could deaden my pain. All I brought upon myself was more isolation.
All I’ve been searching for was approval from my wife. Believing that she holds the key to me finding self acceptance and love. I was searching for approval from someone who had already judged me the moment we said our vows.
I was told by a friend many years ago. “Phoenix, God has forgiven you. When will you forgive yourself?”
The key to breaking the trap of judgement is forgiveness.
And we have already been given that! We NEED to believe we’ve been given that, so we can heal ourselves.
If you’ve already been forgiven, then it doesn’t matter what others think. Forgiveness cancels judgment.
Forgiveness doesn’t imply one can continue doing the same things that hurt another. It allows a clean slate, a fresh start.
Forgiveness allows us to shed the negative beliefs of the past so we can grow to be the people we were meant to be in the future.
Andy Stanley states in Part 4 of his series, Me & My Big Mouth, how Apostle Paul gets to the root of the issue:
“If you are going to get this right, you must get rid of all bitterness. It’s difficult to be a builder if you’re bitter. And of course, the way you get rid of bitterness is forgiveness. And forgiveness is deciding that someone in the past doesn’t owe you. It’s deciding, I’m going to give someone in the past what they don’t deserve so I can give the people around me now, what they do deserve. That’s what forgiveness is. And if we are able to gather up our bitterness and our anger and take it to the streets and leave it there, then we have the potential to become the heroes in our own stories.
“And the reason why this is such a big deal, and you know this. Hurt people. What do they do? Often times they hurt people. Bullied people have a tendency to bully people. Neglected sons become absent fathers. Neglected sons become demanding husbands. Abandoned daughters become suspicious wives. And on and on and on and on…”
This is also the power of the 12 Steps.
Addicts must admit that they were powerless and that their lives had become unmanageable. They had to believe that a Power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. They had to look deep into their character defects and give those defects to their Higher Power. They had to make amends to the people they harmed and continuously, take a daily personal inventory and when wrong, promptly admit it. Then they must pass this message and practice these principles in all their affairs.
It’s changing and growing so we can live a more fulfilled life!
Oh, we can judge. We can shame. We can guilt.
We use these as our weapons to protect ourselves from the same arsenal that others use against us. But why continue to do to others what we don’t like done to ourselves?
- When will we all put down our swords and see that each one of us is human?
- When will we stop throwing out the spears of judgement, injuring those that don’t see eye to eye with us?
- When will drop our shields of addiction, disassociation, and walls so we can let others in?
- When will we know that our decisions have already been forgiven?
- When will we learn to forgive ourselves?
- How do we hold someone accountable for actions and yet not judge them for those same actions?
- How do we find forgiveness when we are in pain?
- How do we heal from betrayal when we are crumbling inside?
- How do we not allow our fear of judgement dictate how we parent our children?
- How do we let go of the past, so we can enjoy the present?
We are human. We will make mistakes.
When we shame or blame, we are placing our judgment onto another.
We hate being judged. So why do we do this to another?
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Let’s all break free from the judgement trap.
High School Musical
With awareness there’s change.
I pray I have been able to plant a little seed that will hopefully germinate into something beautiful for all my Fledglings to help you on your journey of healing.
I pray we can continue to shine the light of awareness so others can find hope in the darkness.
I pray we can find forgiveness for ourselves and the ability to forgive others who have harmed us, so we can break the ropes that bind us.
I pray we can learn to parent ourselves, to nurture that little child within us. That inner child who craves not only to be loved by others, but needs to be loved by ourselves.
Loving ourselves, all our imperfections, is the shield we have against the people who still hold judgment against us.
It’s not what “they” think that’s important. It’s what you believe about yourself that seals the deal.
God, grant me the serenity
To Accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
We can break free from the chains of judgment.
It all starts with loving ourselves.
And when we truly learn how to love ourselves, we can then truly love our neighbors and all their imperfections.
With love, judgment won’t even have a chance.
We can rise from the ashes. We will Soar with the Eagles.
Together, with love, We Can Heal!