My former spouse reminded me of a remark I had made about her almost ten years ago. This was one of many damaging comments I made about my wife while we were married.
It’s important to realize that when we’re not mindful, words can become daggers that cut into the souls of someone else’s heart. Once we vocalize our faulty thoughts, we can never take them back. We leave shotgun sized holes in a person’s psyche that may never heal.
And sometimes, that person is us.
These stories become the poison that kills the inner child.
These injuries are brought into interactions with family and friends. They’re carried into relationships. They are passed down to children.
This cycle of pain continues from generation to generation, from person to person. People suffer. Society suffers.
There is a solution. It takes persistence. It takes time. It takes courage.
We may uncover parts of ourselves we don’t wanted to face. It may even mean we have to change.
Sometimes we must step into the dark to appreciate the light; experience the winter storms to cherish the summer.
Sometimes we must step into the dark to appreciate the light; experience the winter storms to cherish the summer. Click To Tweet
What’s the Solution?
“Ok, Phoenix. What’s the solution?”
Change the story.
We create that which we believe. If we allow someone else’s words to influence our beliefs about ourselves or if we make up stories about why someone treated us a certain way, we end up reacting to that lie.
Our couple therapist once explained it like this. In a relationship, we experience an emotion. We make up a story about that emotion, a way to understand why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling. This story may or may not be true. What happens next is we have a secondary emotion that ends up reinforcing the story we made up. This secondary emotion is the one we react to, causing the damage that disrupts the connection we have with our spouse.
Jack Cornfield gives a simple formula:
E + R = O
Event + Response = Outcome
Our outcome is determined by how we respond to an event.
And how we respond, is directly proportional to the story we’ve created.
We can have a certain level of control of our outcome. It all begins with one thing.
What’s the story you’re telling yourself?
Here’s a simple example: You’re driving your car, and someone cuts you off, speeding down the road causing you to slam on your brakes to avoid an accident. What’s the story you tell yourself?
“Asshole! Couldn’t he wait until I passed? There’s no one behind me. How inconsiderate! Damn selfish jerk!”
What’s the outcome from that response? Here you are feeling violated and feeling as if you were taken advantage of. I’m guessing that frustration and anger may also be masking the emotion of fear. And how do you release those toxic feelings? Cursing and venting? Bitching and complaining? Becoming snappy to someone else who then responds in kind? A response to an event like this creates an outcome of being grumpy all day long.
Now what if you just changed the story?
“He must not have seen me when he pulled out. Nice of him to accelerate and not hold me up.”
“I hope everything is ok and he gets his pregnant wife to the hospital in time. I remember the stress and fear I had when my wife was going through labor.”
“Wow. That scared the crap out of me. I’m so grateful that my Dad had me practice braking fast when I was learning to drive. My quick reflexes prevented us both from getting injured.”
We must be careful though. We don’t want to make up stories that keep us in denial about issues we need to work on. And yet, we also don’t want to make up stories to fill in the gaps when we don’t know all the facts.
What are some of the stories lies you have made up?
You’re Not Intellectual
Here’s the self-centered comment I had made to my former spouse almost ten years ago.
When my former spouse found out about an emotional affair, my justification for that relationship was that the woman I conversed with was more intellectual than her.
I can’t specifically state what became her story other than what I observed. I do know that she has always been critical about how smart she is compared to other people. She had a teacher in elementary school call her out in front of the class and she had internalized and believed that lie. My comparison not only reopened her childhood wound, but the most important person in her life, her husband, just shot multiple holes in her confidence and self-worth as a person, a wife, and a mother.
New Story (The Truth)
There are multiple truths behind that comment and they had nothing to do with my former spouse’s intelligence. These truths had everything to do with my own insecurities.
- I did not appreciate, nor did I even understand, the amount of work it takes to run a household and raise children as a single parent. My career took me away from home, and in essence, my former spouse was a single mom taking care of two young girls. I made up my own story that the lack of time she spent talking with me when I was gone was because I was not important in her life. I longed for connection to fill the void, the tremendous loneliness I felt when I was gone from home. Because she couldn’t meet that need, I looked for connection elsewhere.
- I was extremely insecure. Because my primary love language is Quality Time, being away from home created this huge empty abyss in my soul. I didn’t feel ok on my own. Daily connection to me back then meant quantity, not quality. I demanded hours on end so that I would feel “ok”. Raising two kids on her own, my former spouse never had the time to meet my unrealistic expectations.
- My former spouse’s life was babies and toddlers. She was a Household CEO. She was a manager, a mediator, a negotiator, an organizer, a problem solver, a cook, a maid, a chauffeur, a host, a teacher, a mentor, an event planner, a nurse, a nanny, and a supervisor. Just to name a few. There was little time in her day to stimulate her brain, to keep up with the news, and adult interaction. Her conversations were limited to a pre-school level and by the end of the day, when her husband required her to take care of his needs over the phone, she didn’t have the energy nor the ability to relate to the world he expected of her. She needed time alone to recharge her batteries and I expected that she recharge mine.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the pain my comment inflicted on my former spouse. I want her to know that the story I told was inaccurate. I want her to understand, that while she may still internalize what I said as truth, it is the farthest from the truth.
My comment had nothing to do with my former spouse’s intelligence and everything to do with expecting her to fill the void of loneliness within me.
My comment had nothing to do with my former spouse’s intelligence and everything to do with expecting her to fill the void of loneliness within me. Click To Tweet
My comment ten years ago was due to my faulty belief that love and connection meant a continual conversation with your partner at all times, a way to justify my inappropriate behaviors, and a way deflect my mistakes onto my wife.
When my former spouse went back to college, she has consistently been the top in her class. We have incredible conversations and, I believe, in many ways, she surpasses me in intellect. I am grateful that she’s moving beyond her limiting belief and becoming an inspiration for our daughters.
My Own Lies
As I sat staring into the darkness at one in the morning, I realized that my former spouse had also said things over the years that I turned around and twisted in my head. I made up my own stories, my own beliefs, my own lies, that I then claimed were true about me and how my former spouse felt toward me.
These faulty beliefs became my truths.
I wallowed in my own pain. I put up my defenses. I allowed myself to respond to my life, to the people around me, by trying to prove my worth and attack those who threatened my well-being.
My former spouse was the target of my anger.
I realized a year ago that it was time for me to also change my story.
When You Come Home, You Disrupt My Routine
My career takes me away from home four to five days out of the week, sometimes more. My former spouse had a set way of doing things while I was gone that worked for her and our girls. I had my own idea how to run a household. Unfortunately, our habits differed.
Out of frustration, a common statement she would make was that I disrupted her routine when I came home.
What I heard was, “You’re a burden and life is better and easier when you’re not around.” I heard the message that my step-father drilled into me for years: You mess up everything. You are a mistake. This faulty story furthered the belief that my former spouse was better off without me. If I disrupt her way of doing things, she doesn’t need me in her life.
What a crappy belief to have! I can feel that truth resonate deep inside my heart. I truly believed that someone else would be better for her and that I was no good for anyone.
Feeling as if I was a burden, that I keep messing things up, and that life for my family was better when I was gone, coupled with the loneliness I felt being away from home, I created what I believed. I turned to my addiction to medicate those emotions. I didn’t have to feel. And in living outside my values, I only kept proving to myself how unworthy I truly was.
Looking back, I never learned to ask my former spouse what she needed. I wasn’t flexible when I came home. I didn’t learn to adapt to her schedule and work as a team. Shoot, I didn’t even learn what her schedule was.
I came home and expected things to be done my way and my way only. I placed such high expectations on her that the day before I’d come home she’d have to scramble to make sure everything was done to alleviate the stress I would cause when I got anxious and upset that she didn’t do what I expected of her.
The problem was, my expectations always changed. One minute a clean house and mowed lawn was the most important thing. You know, so we could spend more time together. And the next time I was home, I told her not to worry about cleaning up because I was willing to help her. I kept her on her toes, constantly changing my mind.
No matter what, I always found something to complain about. She could never get it right.
Having different expectations and disrupting the routine my daughters were in, caused chaos in her already stressful, single-mother life.
The truth was, I literally would disrupt her routine when I came home.
Her story was truth. It had nothing to do with my value or worth.
Unfortunately, I believed my own lie. Instead of learning her routine and asking her for what she needed, I attacked her because I believed I wasn’t worthy in her eyes.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
There were times when my former spouse would tell me she didn’t think about me when I was gone on a trip. She’d say, “out of sight, out of mind.”
There have been very few days in the past eighteen years where my former spouse is not the last person I want to say goodnight to or the first person I think about in the morning. As I eat dinner alone in my hotel room, go for a walk on my layover, hear songs, see interesting sights or learn something new, I’ve always wanted to share that experience with my former spouse.
With our separation and when she asked for divorce, I spent hours trying to find ways not to think about her. I failed at every turn. That was why I wrote my first blog entry, Rafiki Didn’t Crack Me Over the Head. I need to enter the darkness of who I was so that I could rise from the ashes and heal.
Blogging allowed me a way to express my thoughts. A way to examine my stories. Rafiki became my mentor, challenging me in ways I had never been challenged before. Blogging allowed me the peace of mind that it was ok to think about my former spouse without reacting to the
stories lies I kept telling myself. I found a healthy way to care for my inner child.
Unfortunately, when I had heard, “out of sight, out of mind” many years ago, the
story lie I made up was that I was invisible. If my former spouse doesn’t think about me when I’m gone, then I must not be important. It was the same feeling I got every night when I asked my parents to play games or try to talk to them after a long day of work. Instead of taking even a few moments away from what they were doing, the book of TV show was more important than me.
What a painful belief to have when I closed my eyes and fell asleep at night. I believed I was invisible to the person I loved most.
Running a household as a single mom is incredibly busy and hard work. Sometimes, life gets so busy that my former spouse doesn’t have time to slow down to think about anything other than what she’s doing, let alone me.
When I compare how my responsibilities have increased at work, the work day flies by without much thought about anything else. I must stay present in everything I’m doing. And when I’m home, I see first hand how busy life gets for a single parent. Can’t the kids have another eight hours of school? I’m not ready for them to come home yet!
Another part of my faulty belief was due to my childhood wounding, in which I required constant reminding that I was worthy. That neediness placed a huge weight on my former spouse. I envied her self-confidence, believing she was comfortable without me and didn’t need me. My demands became more prominent, creating friction and causing her to put up an emotional wall to protect her from my blaming comments. This perpetuated a cycle of pursuing her while she shut me out.
I struggled with staying present, fretting about the future and dragging my past through the mud. And all this time, I watched my former spouse being present in the world, not focusing on what she was missing, but enjoying life.
My envy, my regrets and my worrying were the crazy thoughts that permeated my daily life. This is where I allowed myself to spend my days. Wallowing in misery, I dragged that pain into our relationship.
As I mentioned earlier, my former spouse and I differ when it comes to recharging our batteries. My former spouse needs quiet, alone time to center herself after a long day.
I, on the other hand, have always struggled with solitude. This is understandable due to my childhood trauma. Solitude equaled isolation. And I couldn’t be isolated. That’s why I always have so many different things to keep me “busy”. Sitting with just myself is incredibly hard.
I recharge my batteries through connection. With family, I recharge my batteries through FaceTime, text, or talking on the phone. In fact, I could be doing something else entirely, not saying a single word, such as reading a book, and be extremly content and happy because I’m not alone; my family is with me.
I didn’t understand my wounding so many years ago. Instead of learning how to manage my loneliness, I expected, after a draining day of caring for our girls, that my former spouse care for me. Those were the times she truly needed to take care of her inner child. She needed to mentally prepare herself for the next day of constant, unthankful demands placed upon her by two strong-willed toddlers.
I really flipped this and made it all about me.
If You Passed Away, It Would Be Like You Were on a Perpetual Trip
I don’t remember when my former spouse had mentioned this. It may have been when my parents died or some other time. And yet, I internalized it as it if she had just said it yesterday. The
story lie that I believed was that if I was gone tomorrow, it wouldn’t bother my former spouse because it would be like I was still at work.
My former spouse’s remark only further fueled the fire of lies I believed; I’m invisible. I’m a burden. I’m not important. In fact, that comment triggered a huge childhood wound I had.
When I was around 9 or 10, I used to wish I’d get into an accident and be stuck in the hospital or even worse, I used to wish I would die. Not in the sense of committing suicide. I didn’t want to do that. What I wanted was to be noticed by my parents. I used to imagine I was in a hospital room, either floating as a spirit looking down at my parents or sitting bandaged up in the hospital bed being nurtured and taken care of by them. I wanted to know I was loved, that I was worthy. I believed that if I was hurt, their pain of of losing me or taking care of me would force them to take notice of me and show me that they really did love me.
All I ever wanted from my parents was to be seen and I believed that death or serious injury was the only way to make that happen. When my former spouse told me I wouldn’t be missed if I passed away, secretly, I died inside.
Looking at this from a healthy perspective and also knowing the pain of loss and grief that I had when my mother passed away, my former spouse’s truth was actually a good thing. Really, would I want her to live the rest of her life stuck in pain and misery because I passed away or would I want her to live her life to the fullest?
Loss, especially to the people we love, be it death, divorce, moving away, etc… is one of the most heart-wrenching, physically draining emotions imaginable. I wouldn’t want to wish that misery on my enemies.
Love isn’t defined by how much someone hurts when we’re gone. Love is defined by how much we gave when we were alive.
Love isn't defined by how much someone hurts when we're gone. Love is defined by how much we gave when we were alive. Click To Tweet
In many ways, if I had died while we were married, my career would have been a blessing to my former spouse. Since I was not a part of her daily routine, sleeping next to her night after night, it would have made it easier for her grieve my death and move on with her life.
We Create That Which We Believe
It’s important to remember that our beliefs eventually become our truth. When we believe something, we focus on the things that support that belief, and eventually we prove that the story we keep telling ourselves is truth.
That’s the message of The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. Rhonda defines The Secret as the Law of Attraction, which is the principle that “like attracts like.” Rhonda calls it “the most powerful law in the universe,” and says it is working all the time.
The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fueled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth.
“The Great Secret of Life is the law of attraction. The law of attraction can also be called the law of creation. In other words, life is not happening to you, you are creating it.”
“What you think, you create. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you become.”
“Your current reality or your current life is a result of the thoughts you have been thinking. All of that will totally change as you begin to change your thoughts and your feelings.”
Now if The Secret seems too far-fetched for you. If the story lie you tell yourself is that we can’t change the universe with our thoughts, let’s look at this from a biological perspective.
Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroscientist who survived a stroke, describes the 90-second rule.
“Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.”
Have you continued to add to your story? Are you reacting to the emotions that pop up because of the story you believe?
Believe in the best.
Andy Stanley states in his 4-part series What Happy Couples Know:
“Happy couples know believing the best is a choice.”
Believing the best creates margin in your relationship. When you believe the worst, you react as if that’s true.
“The things that come most quickly in your life are the things you believe in the most. You can bring to you only what you believe, so you must believe to receive what you want.”
– Rhonda Byrne
You can bring to you only what you believe, so you must believe to receive what you want. Why not believe in the best? Click To Tweet
Change Your Story
“The dualistic nature of thought is a root of our suffering. Whenever we think of ourselves as separate, fear and attachment arise and we grow constricted, defensive, ambitious, and territorial. To protect the separate self, we push certain thing away, while to bolster it we hold on to other things and identify with them.”
A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life
– Jack Kornfield
Buddhists believe that most of our mental suffering comes from how tightly we hold onto our beliefs, thoughts, and perspectives. The goal of meditation is to recognize that thoughts are just thoughts.
The question to ask yourself is, are those thoughts true?
If the thought is not true or you have no proof to support its truth, then it’s important to change the story.
Stop telling yourself lies.
Changing your story will not happen overnight. Take it from one who tried nearly everything to change the psychological story that created such painful physical symptoms. I had chosen this perpetual cycle of pain by believing these lies.
Patience, acceptance, meditation, tapping, EMDR, and blogging has helped. And still, many times, I must continue to look inward to see what it is I’m really telling myself.
Awareness is the first step towards change. The next step is to take action.
When you change your story, you’ll inner soul will awaken. Your adult will connect with your inner child.
You’ll Rise from the Ashes and start Soaring with Eagles.
Remember, feeling alone is a breeding ground that feeds our lies. I do hope my Fledglings will comment below. Tell a
story lie you believe. How did you change it? How has that helped you? What did you learn? Let us join hands in community so we know we aren’t alone and…
Together We Can Heal.
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