Counseling has been getting real these days. My counselor called me on my constant referral to “the terrible wounds” that have resulted from my marriage and asked me to define them.
Off the top of my head, I couldn’t. Partly because I had stuffed them into a deep dark hole so I wouldn’t have to feel them any more.
This, by the way, quite aside from being unhealthy, doesn’t actually work, if anyone is considering it as an option in dealing with emotional pain. Because they still hurt. Plenty.
And partly because it took some time to unravel the feelings and really pin down what was causing the pain.
So my counselor assigned me the task of journaling about my wounds.
The first day I wrote about why I didn’t want to write about them.
The second day I dug the least painful of them out, detailing what the action was that hurt and what, specifically, that made me feel.
I finished journaling that day and started to go about my day when I realized my heart really, really hurt. Which, of course, was to be expected.
But I had stuff to do. So I shoved those feelings right back in that pit and slammed the lid down, knowing that this was not even close to what my counselor was hoping to accomplish with this exercise, but scheduling the emotions for later when I didn’t have groceries to buy and children to chauffeur all over town.
I managed to get one more day of journaling in later that week, and finished up a final entry in the waiting room before my next appointment. Each entry dug a little deeper, so by the time I got to the final one… well. I had a panic attack there in the waiting room. Which was probably the best timing I could have hoped for.
With a shaky voice and trembling hands, I read out the highlights of my entries to my counselor, who gently pointed out two things:
- Although I claimed that my husband had taken away my voice by being impossible to communicate with, due to his gaslighting, deceit and inability to admit mistakes, he hasn’t actually taken it away. I still have it. He just won’t respond to it. But that’s his problem, not mine. The time when I felt like I could not be heard is in the past, and will never happen again, because now I know better.
- My husband’s deceitful behavior, while definitely being wrong, was not the evidence of lack of respect or love for me that I attributed to it. That is what that behavior would mean if I were to do it. That comes from my playbook. In his playbook, hiding the truth, covering up his mistakes and not letting someone get too close is actually, in a twisted way, a sign of love, because if he values someone he is afraid they will leave if they see who he really is.
This changes everything. Because while it doesn’t excuse the behavior or make it right, it takes away the parts that were hurting me the most – the assumption that I am a helpless victim, and the assumption that he doesn’t love me.
And yet this changes nothing, because knowing that doesn’t make me any more ready to subject myself to living with that behavior. He can love me to the moon and back, but I’m still not willing to live with someone who lies to me. And this is precisely because I am not a helpless victim. If I was, I would not have finally spoken up for myself and taken steps to protect myself and my children.
It also takes away the idea of abuse. Certainly, he crossed the lines a few times, but abuse implies intent.
Does this make the pain any less? Not a whit. But once again, recognizing it as pain induced by a pattern of bad behavior rather than abuse gets me out of the Victim Chair.
And the Victim Chair, while it seems like the place most likely to garner sympathy from others, is not actually a comfortable place to rest. It’s miserable, it’s powerless, it’s hopeless and it’s scary. I do not recommend it, no matter how enticing it seems.
Because the pain is bad enough. You don’t need to add all that on top of it.
The second you realize that you are being mistreated, the second you start to speak up, the shackles on that Victim Chair release. The hard part is convincing yourself to stand up and walk away from it.
But as I have just discovered, each step gets easier. Each time I tell myself the truth about the situation instead of bidding for sympathy by painting it broader and blacker than it is, that Victim Chair becomes more obviously the instrument of torture it actually is and recedes farther behind me.
Which is why today, just one day after standing up and taking a tentative step away from the Victim Chair, I am feeling joy for the first time in longer than I can remember.
Real joy – not passing contentment or fleeting happiness. Deep, soul-satisfying joy. Letting go of victimization has let me get past the paralysis of pain. It has let me see my own sins and mistakes – maybe not in causing the pain, but in reaction to and adjacent to the initial problem.
And seeing my own sin, admitting my own shame, has led me directly to deep gratitude toward the Lord for what He has done for me. From salvation, which would have been enough, to leading me, guiding me, rescuing me, comforting me, challenging me and encouraging me. I deserve none of it, and the more I realize that, the easier it is to extend that same grace and mercy to others.
And the easier it is to heal from the pain.