Recognizing the importance of listening to our own inner knowing place, even in the darkest times: a story of enmeshment and emergence from an emotionally abusive relationship.
When others are interpreting, analyzing, advising or directing you –
they are really only communicating what they believe would be appropriate
for themselves were they in your situation.
Remember this if you choose to hear their views…
Remember, too, that in the deep knowing place inside of you,
you are the world's best and only authority on you!
Practice listening inwardly instead of outwardly!
Some months past my 35th birthday, after three years of being my own significant other, I entered a relationship that changed my life. It was compelling from the start, stirring longings that I hadn't experienced since my painful, childhood relationship with my mother. My heart opened in ways it never had in any other adult relationship and I loved with an intensity I'd never before experienced.
I was drawn to the woundedness I saw in my partner. It resonated with my own. Each of us had been the rock, the nurturer – the one upon whom everyone else could depend. Those who looked to either of us for understanding/support repeatedly and unconsciously collaborated with us in keeping our own vulnerabilities invisible. So, we each were quite alone with our inner struggles and suffering.
At first, our coming together involved a conscious commitment to risk becoming visible (at least to each other) in these damaged places. We'd thought we might, at last and safely, explore being both our strong and our vulnerable selves with one another. Yet, less than conscious agendas and reluctances in both of us quickly led into more tangled emotional territory.
My partner, though sometimes sympathetic and tender was, more often, coldly distant and sarcastic. I readily got caught up in gyrations of conciliation, preoccupied with finding ways to re-create closeness and warmth in the midst of the freeze. I was persistent in my attempts to nurture, express love, placate, propitiate, cajole. More often than not, my attempts to bridge the gap between us only widened it. Still, occasionally warmth re-emerged seemingly in response to my exertions. These random rewards encouraged my escalating efforts and kept me obsessed with trying.
I was confused, filled with self-doubt, hurting. During the few years just before this, I'd begun to feel that I pretty well knew both my self and what I wanted. Now, for the first time in my adult life, I seemed completely lost to my self: utterly stripped. I could watch it happening. I would twist and re-invent my self in my efforts to avoid her glacial, critical distancing. I felt devastated by all of it, depressed most of the time. I loved and hated my partner in equal measure. Yet, I repeatedly dismissed my hating and my internal rageful ranting as my craziness, a perverse resistance to partnering.
Despite the intensity of the anguish and turbulence, I felt bound to the process: the struggle to make this relationship blossom. I felt sure that I could love my partner into a wholeness that would include her becoming able to love me in ways I longed for. I kept meeting her coldness with tenderness and understanding. I felt certain that my willingness to do this would eventually help my partner to heal the wounds that led her to be so mean and cut off from me.
My close friends were horrified as they watched me coming undone. They suffered anguish of their own on my behalf. They reflected. They interpreted. They implored. They offered all kinds of support to help me sever the connection. One couple even arranged for me to seemingly accidentally meet someone they thought might be attractive to me. Unable to fathom my participation in my own unraveling, they demonized and blamed my partner for all that was happening.
In the midst of my turmoil, I was continually bombarded by others' views, interpretations and advice. Friends, even a therapist I consulted during the worst of it, kept pushing me to leave the relationship. All agreed I shouldn't put up with what they saw as my partner's emotionally destructive treatment of me. All agreed I would be better once I'd left.
With all of this input overlaid on my agitation, I had to work hard to stay with my own inner knowing that it was important for me to continue being right where I was; that something important for me was going on here. It was work to keep honoring my conviction that this suffering was teaching me, growing me and taking me somewhere I needed to go. My coming undone felt like a significant (if still incomprehensible) part of my healing journey – not the doing of a demonic partner.
I asked my friends to stay out of it. I implored them to handle their own upset about my situation without expecting me to make changes in how I was handling my life. I asked them to trust with me that, despite appearances, healing was happening in me. Very few were able to give me that trust. With most, I had to disconnect entirely.
It took a long time for me to work my way through this challenging life experience. I was cracked open, scoured to the bone. Finally, after seven years, I began to accept that no amount of my caring or nurturing would ever heal my partner's woundedness or expand her capacity for self-love.
My exertions had only depleted me. I had exhausted my self giving to my partner the kind of loving I felt I needed from a partner, misguidedly assuming my loving would fix her enough so that she could then love me enough to fix me. It didn't work that way. It never does. I was filled with resentment and despair. I was bereft.
This long, excruciating journey taught me that healing into self-loving is always an inside job, a gift one can only give to oneself. It forced me to give up my conviction that anyone could love another being into wholeness and self-love. And, it moved me to give up my long-cherished fantasy that someday someone (outside my self) would love me so fully that I'd have to love my self.
As I worked on disentangling the many layers of psychic/emotional enmeshment with my now ex-partner, I simultaneously began what has become the most important work of my life. Over the past 30 years since I left that relationship, I've been passionately committed to the practice of treating my self as lovingly, tenderly, compassionately and unconditionally as I'd hoped some fantasized lover might. I've been becoming the fiercely loving, protective Big Momma who can love me into wholeness and self-loving. (See The Little Ones Story and Coming Home for more about this process.)
Often our voyages into darkness are ways that our pasts become present. Unresolved material from earlier times reappears in the context of our current life. As we live through this current version of the repeating story, we have an opportunity to move further both toward becoming conscious of the process and toward bringing resolution to it.
The devastating experiences with my ex-partner were my past become present: my partner's cold, mean treatment of me was an emotional replay of my mother's treatment of me as a child. My spiraling exertions and obsession with trying to fix my partner paralleled my years of trying to fix my mother. My despair and rageful internal ranting were also the same. This time around, I was able to go all the way through to the other side: I learned to stop trying to make someone into the mother for whom I yearned, to stop giving to another the very mothering for which I yearned and, instead, to turn that mothering toward my self.
The advice and reflections from all my caring friends asked me to abort the incomprehensible, agonizing process in my life that was being so excruciating for them to watch. Listening to my own inner knowing, I was able to choose to stay, to live fully into this long cycle of devastation. My dedication to seeing it through to its own, organic resolution opened me to the most powerful healing of my life.
May you find the courage to consider choosing to listen inwardly, especially in the most confusing times and particularly when others are having a lot to say about what they think you should be doing.
Remember, too, that when we pour loving onto someone who does not love him or her self, the person devalues and trashes both that love and the one who gives it. Groucho Marx described that person's basic attitude years ago: "Why would I ever want to join any club that would have me as a member!"
Consider being incredibly gentle with your self.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE if you recognize your current situation in my story, remember that the only wounded one your love can ever heal is your very own self. No matter how exquisitely you love, you cannot love an unavailable or emotionally or physically abusive partner into wholeness. Healing into wholeness is always an inside job, one best reinforced by a therapist or a support group.
If we are in a relationship with someone who treats us poorly, it is our selves that we need to love and heal, not our partners. Getting support to help us to give our selves permission to turn our unconditional loving toward our own selves is important. A good therapist and/or Al-Anon group can offer that help.