This is part two of a series of articles on relationships specifically written for people who have experienced abuse in their lives.
Guy was my fiancé after my second husband, David, died. I wrote about David in my first posting. While it seems that I might be writing about Guy or even David, this article is about how I, as an adult who was abused in childhood, attempt to make certain my relationships are healthy ones.
Guy, who passed away many years ago, was nothing like David. He was calm, and easy to get along with, good with money and not impulsive. His anger evaporated in a second. He was not abused as a child.
Yet, everything I learned about healthy relating from my marriage to David remained valid. I did not get to change Guy, or push him around…even when I knew I was right. This is a very difficult idea to digest.
I live my life with my personal history of child abuse. I also lived my life with Guy with my history of loving and being loved by David. Then there is the fact that I am human, subject to all the faults, difficulties and idiosyncrasies of all human beings. These lead to many potential problems and pitfalls.
Sometimes I misunderstood him. Then I interpreted his actions through eyes of abuse. I sometimes forgot myself and expected Guy to act like David. Sometimes I was selfish, impatient, greedy and thoughtless.
This is a problem for those of us who were abused as children. It’s tough to digest. Abusive behavior is such a horror to us that when we behave badly, we are shocked and repulsed. So, we block out the idea that we are human and can mistakenly hurt the ones we love. This does not, however, make us bad and shameful.
Like most of the people who asked me for help with their relationships, I remain totally unaware when I misbehave. When I am in flashback, grief or `human failings’ mode, I am defensive, angry, hurt and totally convinced I am correct.
This was true for me with Guy. And true when we fought. I interpreted his actions by my feelings. It seemed as if he had just done something to me. Like maybe he attacked me. During these episodes, I was completely capable of unknowingly being abusive to the one I loved. And so are you.
This is true for everyone who has ever come through my office for help. It doesn’t mean we are abusive people. Nor can anything I am writing here be applied to dealing with abusive people or abusive situations. This concept is only about our behavior within a safe and loving relationship.
In the course of a flashback, I see and interpret the world and the behavior of my loved ones as if they are my past perpetrators. Well, if someone is harming me deliberately, I have the right to defend myself. Right???
Right and wrong. Right if we are being attacked. Wrong, if we are in a flashback and the other person is not attacking. Usually, they are not. I was attacked, just not now. Not this year. And not with this person.
Guy had his own temperament. Being easy going, I could hurt him and not even know it. He was mild mannered and not well defended against emotional injury. I had to take responsibility for my history and my current behavior. Think before I spoke. Be aware of his feelings. Actually look at him when we talked. Because he was subtle, I could only see the hurt in his eyes or hear it when he spoke.
This does not mean I was supposed to be a ‘yes’ person. We did argue. I was an equal partner in that relationship. My thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, hopes and dreams were as important as his. And his were as important as mine.
Being responsible in a loving relationship means I have to self-examine. This is so important for all of us. If I am going to be happy in a loving relationship, I must look at myself. And so must you.
Here are examples of the kinds of questions you can ask yourself:
- What am I thinking?
- How am I feeling?
- What just happened?
- Am I overreacting?
- Is my past intruding?
- Did I misunderstand him?
- Am I acting badly?
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©2016-18 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.