Beautiful, engaging, and successful are three words that come to mind when I think of Lori. On the outside, you wouldn’t think she was suffering to the degree that she is. Though, in saying that, I know it’s all too common that who we put out to the world is often a very different person than who we are on the inside - especially when we are suffering. We do this because we are afraid to show the world who we really are – mostly because of shame, feeling uncomfortable… and fear.
However, we often don’t see it that way see it that way; rather, it just feels like a sad place to be in our lives.
Lori is the oldest of three. Her parents are still married, but her upbringing was difficult. Her mother was critical and abusive. To this day, they still hold a dynamic and unhealthy relationship. However, it wasn’t until very recently (despite previous therapy) that Lori decided to take the time to examine her history, her life’s narrative – and really wants to make lifelong changes. She recognizes that if she doesn’t take concrete steps, she will not only lose her marriage, but also lose a bigger part of herself along the way. She wants to be so much more than she is.: a better person. A person that she respects. A person that is respected. So, that has become her new narrative – she is in the process of creating her new narrative for the present and her future. She knows she has to be different because how she currently sees the world and herself is not only affecting her marriage, but also her work relationships and quality of life overall.
The unhealthy relationship that exists between Lori and her mother has been replicated in intimate relationships too many times. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence: people repeat cycles even though they desperately want for something to be different. For example, she knew that how she treated her husband was wrong, but continued to behave in ways that created more distance between them despite her yearning for closeness. It wasn’t until she hit the ‘near breaking point’ in her relationship that she stopped dead in her tracks. It was here that she started to take a different path - not just with her marriage - but more importantly with herself. She wanted to face her fears.
The Work Begins.
Soon after starting therapy, Lori started to take responsibility for her actions towards her husband. This was a concrete and doable step for her, one that she could do and feel good about doing, which helped put her on a more positive path. She learned to face her fears - and face herself - with what had become of her life and her own being. It wasn't always pretty and made for many tearful sessions as her reality became more real.
‘I gave Michael a truly heartfelt apology and I feel like it shifted our relationship a bit. I made it clear that the past damage I caused isn't ok. I was verbally abusive and hurtful to him when I was frustrated. But my sincere apology is inexcusable; I promised him that I'm actively addressing changing those behavior and patterns and I think that did a lot in the way of fostering respect and showing compassion. I opened up to him about it: I explained that it was partly a by-product of my upbringing and partly because of the shame I felt from how my mother verbally abused me. Not to displace blame, but instead to help show that I'm not a mean monster - I just need to feel better about myself and learn a new way.
Our days and nights have been very serene, without the usual egg shells or conflict. I should mention we talked a TON about moving logistics as all of our relocation details (a usual trigger point)needed to be handled yesterday and I’m happy to report, no strife and lots of proactive partnership.
I've felt at peace with myself and everything happening in my life. Added in some bonus self care - eating well, sleeping a little extra, yoga, a bath, baking cookies.
I’ve also been dedicating my attention to just being more aware of my attitude and reactions to people or things. Is this a compassionate, positive approach to whatever potential trigger? If not, how can I be more solution focused, understanding of others, and allow myself to "roll" with inconveniences? Can things be funny?
All and all, feeling good. Supported. Empowered. Hopeful!’
For Lori, it is necessary to take the time to help her connect the dots and make sense of the abuse from her mother so that she can begin the process to not personalize everything (as victims of abuse often do). To create a new narrative for your present and your future, it’s about asking yourself how you would like it to look – taking a solution focused approach as a guide, as your end game, as your future – one that you create for yourself.
Lori needed to acknowledge the hurts from her mother and own it. She needed to recognize how the cycle has continued and establish short and long term goals to break the cycle.
She identified her core beliefs, which are: I am a bad person, I am flawed, I must have done something wrong to be treated this way (because why would my mother treat me this way), I am unlovable because it feels like my mother doesn’t love me. She learned to identify the ‘schemas’ that reinforced her core beliefs. For example, if she feels unworthy of being loved or is lovable interactions both good and bad between she and her husband will be ‘butted up’ against her core belief and she will interpret these exchanges as bad and validating about herself. That’s how that works.
Some of the things that Michael has said to her have forced the abuse from her mother to become more clear in her mind from and the collateral damage in other relationships – both personally and professionally. "We fight too much," "I've never fought more with anyone than you," "everyone says you’re difficult," "you're never happy with me or your job or your life."
When I heard these things from Michael, I realized I needed to figure out if I'm a malcontent who is constantly creating or perpetuating drama, or if these comments are part of the "chicken or egg" situation we talked about yesterday. Maybe it's both? Or a complete misunderstanding? Either way, I need to process and find a way unpack all this negative feedback. Right now it feels too scary, too personal, and too condemning of my future happiness. My goal is to cultivate contentment now and in future relationships.
Today I woke up feeling strong and clear - and most importantly willing to do the work. Whether that's actively looking at my actions and making changes or more subtle things like simply learning how to forgive and like myself.
This is a great example of starting the path of self-love, self-respect, and creating greater self-worth…
As a writer, I love the narrative reference. What better one to write than your own future?
And, that is what she has started to do… create a new, healthier narrative that she can take with her, own, and be proud of. She is learning to face her fears, which over time, have become enhanced and magnified only to find that with small goals, she can turn the corner, and make a life for herself that she can be proud of!