This last week has been huge shift for me. I’m being challenged at every turn. As I’ve come to accept my divorce and my current situation, as the pain in my body has subsided, and as I’m obsessing less and less about what I’ve lost and becoming grateful for what I’ve learned, I realize I have one more step to help me heal from my divorce.
I need to forgive my former spouse.
This is hard. I know that much of what happened in our marriage and divorce was my fault. I take on much of the blame. I held on to the shame and guilt for my past actions. I have let myself become the fall guy for the problems we had in our marriage.
My journey of recovery has allowed me to dig deeper into the childhood trauma that caused my actions. It has allowed me to understand my core issues, heal those wounds, learn how to parent my inner child, and learn how to manage those emotions that overwhelmed me years ago.
However, through this process, I realized that it does take two to tango. That I was not the only one to blame for our divorce. I am learning that my former spouse was not infallible.
Both of us had a part in our dance.
Unfortunately, this realization has created a pool of resentment that I struggle to get over. This anger has become toxic.
I know it’s there. I don’t ignore it and I work through it, and yet, I can tell, it’s still poisoning me.
The only way to completely work through my anger is to forgive my former spouse for her decisions that have led both of us to where we are today.
I have started praying for her daily. However, praying is not enough.
I need to understand all aspects of my former spouse to help me learn to forgive.
This is not coming from a place of guilt and shame about what I did to her. This comes from compassion and empathy. This comes from love.
She deserves to be free of my anger. I need to be free of that anger. And our daughters need to be free of that anger.
Holding onto that resentment only hurts the three most important people in my life.
Yesterday, I learned something new about my former spouse that opened my eyes to my own actions and who I was, and sometimes, who I continue to be.
“I think you’re an empath,” Rafiki commented a couple of months ago.
“What the heck is an empath?” I ask, flabbergasted.
“An empath is someone who takes on the emotions of someone else,” Rafiki lectures. “They absorb, into their bodies, both the positive and stressful energies around them. They don’t have proper boundaries or filters to protect them when they’re around others, especially when other people are deep in their own emotional turmoil. An empath is considered an overly sensitive individual reacting to the emotional energy of the people around them.”
As Rafiki explained empaths to me, my body felt the truth to what he was saying. I feel sadness and pain radiate through my body. I feel the fear of being known. In addition, I also want to cry. There’s comfort that, maybe for the first time, I could really be known and understood.
I remember as a child being teased because I was a “cry-baby.” I remember my step father scolding me for not being a “man.” I had a “whining jar,” where I had to put $0.25 anytime I whined about something. I’m one of few men who will cry at a romantic movie (my youngest daughter loves to tease me about getting teary eyed in a movie theater). I was also one who, when my girls were fighting, I’d instantly jump in the middle, RAGING at them to STOP the bickering because physically and emotionally it was overwhelming for me.
I feel my own and other people’s emotions on a cellular level.
I picture my former spouse angry at me because I “manipulate with emotion.” I can now see it’s not really manipulation. It’s more guilt and shame that I made her feel something that I too can feel deep in my bones. I feel her pain, coupled with the knowledge that I caused it.
“Phoenix, you did manipulate.” Rafiki jumps in. “You may have taken on your former spouse’s emotions, but you also did anything you could to change her feelings. You did this so you didn’t have to feel her energy. You didn’t allow her to just BE.”
I hate it when he’s right!
I hear my former spouse say, “I don’t have a husband, I have three children.”
I hear her ask for separation because I may be sober, but I’m not in recovery.
I hear her say I create an unsafe environment for her.
Of course I did! I was always reactive when my emotional energy became overloaded.
I need to learn more about this!
The Empath’s Survival Guide
This week I picked up a book at the library named The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff. It’s been on my hold list for almost two months now.
I started reading with the intent to learn more about myself and to give my adult tactics to take care of Little Phoenix.
I was not prepared for what I learned!
On page 14 there’s a list of questions to find out if you are an empath. I read through the questions…
Yes, yes, yes. Yep, I’m an empath! As usual, Rafiki is right.
Then the answers became no, not really, I don’t think so, nah, not that.
Wait, what’s going on? I thought I take on other people’s emotions?
While that may be true, to some extent I realized something else.
I learned that my former spouse was more of an empath than I was.
My score was a partial empath and my guess is, after looking at those questions, that my former spouse was a strong to a full-blown empath.
Knowing what it feels like physically and emotionally in my body, if this is true, I can’t imagine what it feels like to her. Someone who has rated much higher than myself on the empath score card?
I keep reading with interest.
If you’re an empath, how do you protect yourself from becoming overwhelmed by others?
One protection strategy was to envision a shield and to put that up when you’re uncomfortable with a person, place, or situation. “To place a shield around you puts an empath in a “safe bubble” where other people’s energy won’t drain you.”
My mind instantly thought of my former spouse’s “wall”. I have bitched and bitched and bitched about this wall for years. It’s been built up, brick by brick, and as hard as I’ve tried, I could never break it down.
I’ve always seen this wall as her way to keep herself from being closed off to me in our marriage. I have resented this wall. I remember her saying a couple of years ago she wished she could blow that wall up.
But she couldn’t blow it up. It was her way of protecting herself from me. It was her way of protecting herself from the world around her.
If she blew it up, she wouldn’t have protection from the energy of others. If she blew it up, I would have destroyed her.
I feel pain right now as I think about this.
No, no, no!
I resist that thought. Once again, am I going to take all the blame? I can’t do that. I always do that!
Whack! I hit myself with my own stick!
“Awareness is the first step towards change,” the Rafiki in my brain reminds me. “You did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. Do not allow yourself to fall into guilt or shame if you did not understand back them. Both of you could have learned and worked through this block together. She decided not to take that path. Remember, your former spouse still holds some accountability for the relationship. Your job is to learn and to understand your piece. Don’t worry or stress about what she is willing or not willing to look at. You are no longer a couple. That will be her own journey. This is a great opportunity of growth for you! Do not resist the wisdom that is currently coming your way.”
Reluctantly, I read further.
“Use your shield if you’re talking to an Energy Vampire.”
I flash back to the times I reacted, the many things I said in my emotional, irrational outbursts. The things I did.
What is an energy vampire? Could I be one of those…THINGS?
Usually, I read a book from cover to cover. That’s my personality. Lately though, I’ve done what’s unnatural for me to do. I jump around getting pieces here and there about what I want to know. So weird to see this shift.
Anyway, I stop where I’m at in the book. I quickly look in the index for Energy Vampire and jump to that chapter…
What is an energy vampire?
An energy vampire is someone who drains another person by “sucking the positivity and peacefulness right out of them.” Energy vampires are attracted to the openness and loving hearts of empaths.
I’m attracted to the traits of my former spouse. Still to this day, 17 and a half years and a divorce later, I’m still attracted to those traits. And boy did I ever suck the positive life and peacefulness right out of her.
I’m starting to get tired of labels. Maybe I need a break from learning about me?
I take a deep breath, look around the restaurant where I’m writing my blog, then continue…
“Super toxic energy vampires can make you believe you’re flawed and unlovable. You may tiptoe around them for fear of an explosion. Some attack with putdowns, blame, or shame. They can make you feel as if something is wrong with you.”
“An energy vampire is motivated by fear and insecurity.”
That totally fits me. I was so insecure and afraid that my former spouse would see me for the monster I really was.
I created what I believed.
Then I read the paragraph that matches our relationship:
“Sometimes, you might attract a specific type of energy vampire because of the mutual emotional issues you both need to heal. So, you enter into an unhealthy ‘wound-mate relationship,’ where you keep repeating the wounding process with each other. There’s an odd psychological comfort to this because it’s what you both know, what you’re used to. You become attached to a toxic person and can’t let go. This keeps you stuck in a painful cycle.”
“For instance, your low self-esteem attracts people who criticize you, and the criticizer attracts people they can belittle. Be careful not to perpetuate wound-mate relationships. Instead, let these people – whether they are friends, coworkers, spouses, or whomever – spur you to develop self-awareness and heal the initial wound. Then you can grow out of these relationships and find more fulfilling ones.”
My heart gets lodged in my throat. I am overwhelmed with so many emotions.
I feel sad, guilty, and shameful. Not overwhelming, mind you. Today, it’s a healthy amount of these emotions. I not only put my former spouse through a lot when it came to my addiction, but my own issues that I had no idea about, only made things worse for her.
I understand. I get it on a deeper level.
I feel a lifting of anger and bitterness. I feel enlightened, joy, and relief.
I could never have gotten to this level of understanding if I didn’t move out of the house. I wouldn’t be where I am, trying to learn more about her and me, if I wasn’t willing to learn how to forgive. Had I continued to hold on to the resentment, it would have blocked me from getting to know my former spouse and my influence on our relationship at this level.
I feel compassion. I feel empathy. I feel love.
How in the world did she put up with that for sixteen years?
I need to know more. I continue reading….
The Seven Types of Energy Vampires
I realize that I’m just like each of the seven types of Energy Vampires. As I go through each one, I see how I seriously drained my former spouse of life.
I now start to feel the guilt and shame trying to break through my own protective shield that I’ve put up. It’s getting harder to maintain these emotions in a healthy dosage.
I take a deep breath.
I was not safe for my former spouse.
I also realize that the friends my former spouse continues to hang out with are also Energy Vampires. She recreates the wound-mate relationships with those still in her life. They are like me, draining her of energy.
I will pray for her this evening.
To have that thought come automatically for me brings tears to my eyes. In only a few days, praying for my former spouse feels natural and right.
Let’s review the seven types of Energy Vampires.
I take another deep breath…
1. The Narcissist
In aftercare, almost seven years ago, my therapist said I exhibited the traits of a narcissist. While he said he didn’t see me as a complete narcissist, he did say that I had many narcissistic traits.
Now my stepfather was a full-blown narcissist. I easily modeled that behavior.
Narcissists are considered to be the most destructive to empaths, acting as if the world belongs to them. They need to be the center of attention and require endless praise.
Some of the traits I see in myself include:
- need to be the center of attention
- require endless praise
- must be complimented to get their approval
- if things aren’t done their way, they become ice-cold and punishing, withhold love, or give the silent treatment
- they are persuasive charmers and know what to say to emotionally seduce you
- it’s hard for an empath to leave the relationship
- narcissists can make empaths feel physically ill and depressed
- they can beat down self-esteem until empaths no longer believe in themselves
- they sometimes use a harmful technique called gas-lighting, which distorts another’s perceptions of reality by intentionally setting up crazy-making situations and then questioning the person’s sanity for reacting to the craziness
My former spouse always complained about my “craziness”.
2. The Rageaholic
My first thought to this title is my step-father. As I read, I realize that, I too, hold the same traits.
- Deals with conflict by accusing, attacking, and controlling
- Often yell to make a point
- Say horrible things they regret later
- These comments can tear through an empath’s vulnerable heart
- They can beat down an empath’s positivity and self-worth
- Empaths often experience sensory overload around yelling, arguments, loud noises, and loud personalities
- There’s a difference between venting and dumping (dumping is toxic to an empath and can traumatize them)
I see how I parented, jumping into sibling conflict trying to stop the fighting because I’m the Dad, that’s why! I remember the verbal bashing I would give my former spouse and later hold so much guilt and shame because I didn’t truly mean it. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
My mind goes back to my therapist explaining the two boundaries we need to have. One is to protect and the other is to contain.
I never contained. I never vented. As he pointed out to me, I didn’t just dump, I vomited on my former spouse.
I’m trying hard not to get overwhelmed with the knowledge of how much damage I caused in my marriage and my relationship with my ex.
Do I really want to know more?
3. The Victim
Crap! I don’t even have to read the rest. I already know I fit this piece too.
- the victim mentality drains empaths with their “world is against me” attitude
- they don’t take responsibility for the problems that happen in their lives
- other people are always the cause of their distress
- empaths often fall into the compassionate caretaker role with victims trying to solve their list of problems
- victims typically respond to any possible solution with, “Yes, but…”
- empaths may get frustrated and end up screening emails or calls purposely avoiding this draining person
I feel drained just reading about this.
The biggest complaint my former spouse has had in our marriage was how I flipped everything and made it about me. It was such a habit that I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. And yet, I always automatically went into victim mode.
I take a deep breath. Almost half way done.
4. The Drama Queen or King
Yeah, I’m addicted to drama.
- These types drain sensitive people by overloading them with nonstop dramas
- These dramas impose too much information and stimulation for empaths to process
- These histrionics deplete the empath
- Drama is a kind of drug that some people become addicted to; don’t enable that addiction
- Drama queens and kings get energized by the empath’s reaction to their drama, but they don’t get rewarded when we remain calm
That last note made me think a bit. The one thing that attracted me to my former spouse was her ability to remain calm during stressful situations. On the other hand, it also frustrated me because I couldn’t do that. I’d take my own anxiety and break her down until she completely shut down on me.
She’d put up a shield and I complained it was a wall that needed to be bulldozed down.
5. Control Freaks and Critics
And yet another one I don’t need to read the traits to know that I fit this to a tee.
- Always offer unsolicited opinions and proceeds to tell you whether you want to hear their advice or not.
- Continue to nitpick about the things you are doing wrong
- Empaths may take to heart a control freak’s disapproval, particularly if they lack self-confidence, so they end up feeling attacked, depressed, and tired
I tend to go into automatic “fix it” mode. We all know that’s because I’m a man.
Come on now, can’t I add a little gender humor to lighten the mood? It feels heavy right now.
Just the other day my older daughter was telling me some personal deep information. She started the conversation, “Dad, don’t try to fix, I just want you to listen…” Yes, even my girls know I have this trait.
I never asked my former spouse if she would like to hear my opinion or would she like to hear my advice. I just gave it to her unsolicited.
I’m getting worn out just reading all this. Two more to go…
6. The Nonstop Talker
OMG! My Fledglings have read my blogs. Would you say they are short or long winded?
I am one nonstop talker.
My former spouse always said I was a wall of words. My therapist in after-care said the same thing.
I talk my way out of stuff. Words mean nothing when you talk too much. Actions speak so much louder than words.
Come on? Do I really have to list these traits?
- Nonstop talkers can drain the life force out of empaths with an endless verbal assault
- They trap you and recount their life stories without pausing for breath
- They don’t give you any openings to interrupt them
- They can also move in so close physically, that they intrude on your personal space
- Empaths are incredible listeners (another attractive trait that my former spouse has), but often they make the mistake of tolerating chronic talkers for too long, then become exhausted
I can really see how my non-stop talking and my obsessive need to be heard drained my former spouse.
Stop the hyperventilating. Slow, deep breath. Only one more.
7. Passive-Aggressive People
Really? We are going to add this trait? Crap!
I was the master of passive-aggressive behavior. It was always “safer” for me to make my point without being direct. To be direct created conflict. I don’t like to rock the boat. Conflict is uncomfortable.
But, passive-aggressiveness. Oh, that was a way for me to make my point by avoiding any backlash from someone else. No one had passive-aggressive behavior down as well as me.
- Passive-aggressive people express their anger with a smile
- They sugarcoat hostility, but you can intuitively sense the anger beneath their pleasant façade
- These people seem so sincere, but they aren’t dependable
I just remembered one of my favorite blogs I wrote, Man in the Mirror, where I was passive-aggressive to an employee I was working with. I used the analogy that we were in a boxing ring and I was pulverizing him while he drank coffee unaware of the bruises that started popping up.
At least on a positive note, I am dependable. When it comes to my word, I believe I am trustworthy enough to hold it.
Rafiki’s staff swings and I duck.
“What?” I ask, surprised.
“Phoenix, you forgot something huge?”
“Continue,” I reply, feeling exhausted.
“Your addiction. You weren’t dependable in your marriage. You were unfaithful and far from sincere. Your addiction was a passive-aggressive attack not just on your former spouse, but all women.”
“Yeah, I know.” My shoulders sag. “That was one tough lesson for me to admit.”
“Don’t allow yourself to fall into guilt and shame. It’s almost been seven years that you’ve been in recovery; half of your older daughter’s life. You are not that person any more. But you still need to remember that you were that person. That person damaged your former spouse. You are where you are today because of who you were. This is why you’re working on understanding her and the damage you caused her. This is why you need to forgive her for her choices in life.”
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“Yeah, this stuff has really got me thinking.”
“That’s good!” Rafiki grins. “You can teach and old dog new tricks.”
I swing my own staff back at Rafiki.
The rest of the chapter explains how an empath should deal with the emotional hangover that an Energy Vampire creates in their life.
I feel extreme sadness right now. I think I have an emotional hangover of my own. Maybe it’s my own empathic traits that makes up what my former spouse has felt all these years.
It’s not guilt. It’s not shame. I really wasn’t aware of my actions and how they impacted my former spouse.
Let me rephrase that. It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware, it was that I was blind. I was blind to my own trauma, to my own pain, to the only thing I knew. I was so self-absorbed that I never truly saw her.
God, I so want to call her right now and tell her what I have learned. I want to share this blog with her. I want her to know that I see her and I’m continuing to change and grow. I want to give her an amends. I owe her so much.
That’s not for me to do. I would once again become an Energy Vampire sucking her dry for my own selfish need to be seen by her. To show I have more insight is just me being self-centered and trying to gain validation from the proof that I’ve done this work.
I sit here in a restaurant eating a burger and enjoying an extremely good beer (S’mores with a toasted marshmallow on my mug) and I just want to cry. I want to let all my emotions out.
I truly hurt my former spouse. It was not intentional. I didn’t know better. I do love her.
And still, I was that Energy Vampire that sucked the life out of her, out of our marriage, out of our family.
Someday, she’ll find out about my blogs; I won’t be able to keep this from her forever.
Someday, she’ll find out about my recovery process.
Someday, she’ll find out about the insights I’ve had working on myself.
It is not my job to point it out to her now. That was all I ever tried to do in our marriage. It’s the “look at me” and see how much I’ve done and how much better I am. It’s that child looking for Mom or Dad’s validation that he’s such a “good boy.”
I am worthy. I am enough. I am loved.
I now know this. I now believe this.
I’ve come a long way to grow and change. My next step is to forgive. That’s all that is important. Forgiveness doesn’t come with ultimatums; “I will forgive my former spouse only if she knows how much work I’ve done to change.”
I need to let my former spouse follow the path that God has shown her. I need to trust that God is guiding me in the direction I need to go.
“Look, Phoenix,” Rafiki points out. “You are now saying God more than Higher Power. What a change!”
I need to keep praying for my former spouse. I really, really hope she can find peace from her own childhood trauma and the trauma I caused her in her life.
I pray for her peace and her happiness.
Thank you, God, for once again continuing to open my eyes to things I’ve been blind to.
Thank you, God, for helping me learn more about my former spouse and how my actions affected her so I can break through the blocks that have prevented me from forgiving her.
Thank you, God, for giving me the space I’ve needed to grow.