Mira’s hook that clung to her mind and gripped her heart was of guilt. No matter what she did, guilt showed up to tell her that she was hurting someone else when taking care of her needs – that there was fundamentally something wrong with her taking care of herself. Guilt dripped a toxic yet familiar interpretation about what was going on. And it convinced her that if she were a better version of herself this would not be happening. She better sort-it out before it’s too late and she will be abandoned and exposed for what she really was, a selfish heartless monster. Wow! Not a friendly environment to live in.
The problem was that when she was not taking care of her needs she was not a better person. That said, she even became more aggressive, less happy. Her health was always affected too. So, there wasn’t really a choice but to be internally slandered by negative self-talk at the end of every day when she was about to close her eyes and go to sleep. It was exhausting.
She told me, there was a voice within that would tell her how awful she was for wanting to sleep alone and have her own bed. Mira was over-using of her empathic instinct, whenever she sensed her partner withdraw and express he felt rejected. She said “I panic that he would reject her in return”. This was so heavy in her heart that I suggested she write a letter to herself so she can hear her voice clearly, and learn what it has to say. She wrote a three-page piece in her journal.
Mira thought it reflected so eloquently how the reason behind her need to have a separate sleeping arrangement. She realised that sleeping in the “traditional marital bed” triggered her trauma taking her back to experiencing how she would disappear when she betrayed her body and psyche’s need for space. It was the behind-the-scene reasoning for what she would be denying from herself, if her need to restore her much needed sleep and life force by being alone, hearing nothing but her own heart beat and her own rhythm of breathing, was ignored. Bypassing herself caused pain beyond measure. She was hoping to convey that she had no choice but to honour her needs. She was desperate for Aron to understand so that he’d be able to “not take things so personally”. She was hoping this would make them closer.
That is why she offered to read to him this private note of hers. She was utterly surprised when his response was, ‘I prefer dealing with real problems rather than imaginary ones.’
It dawned on her that she could no longer wait for his approval, nor could she wait for him to understand what was going on for her. She later said that it was a defining turning point. She realised that she was “obsessing on his feelings while he was not able even to acknowledge hers”. She felt she needed acknowledgement to set herself free.
This internal movement felt like one more block pulled out of the original structure of their relationship. Mira said, “I knew it would affect”. She was curious about what this effect would be. “I was on my side now, making sure guilt did not kick back in”. It was now evident to her that guilt was holding her hostage with no real return.
Once the vile effect of guilt lifted, she could no longer ignore the fact that Aron was somehow not only incapable of meeting her emotionally, but that emotions were like a foreign language to him. She could see the whole thought structure behind it. He did not want to learn this language, and he treated it as a disease. The impression she had was that it was fundamentally “revolting and dangerous for him. He has a thick wall around him”.
Mira realised that this wall that Aron had towards acknowledging feelings was too big for her to pull down. Only Aron could do that. He would need to understand why it was put there in the first place, and the price it had if it satid. During our session, Aron could see that on some level the wall was working for him because it protected him from the range of emotions that existed beyond it. But it also blocked him out. Keeping him disconnected and not able to access an emotional vocabulary, an essential part of intimacy and connection. Since communicating his emotions was undeveloped, he seemed to consistently have two primary responses to their relationship interactions – feeling attacked or feeling reassured. Mira was very frustrated since her range of expression seemed to be so developed and varied. She yearned to share an emotional connection with him.
It also meant that when she did get a response from him, it tended to be either a list containing defensive evidence that invalidated her claims, proving she was the one at fault. A conflict triggered the core wound: a fear of being rejected and abandoned. It would usually make her give up and habitually prefer to come back to a non-confrontational state. I asked how she would repair?
She said “I would give Aron a signal like a smile or reassure him by saying, sorry you feel that way”, which, predictably, would make him move to his second emotion, of feeling reassured.
Then he would dismiss the content she expressed by ‘forgiving’ her for being momentarily emotionally insane. Now the peace had been restored, and there was no need to rock the boat any longer. All is forgotten and well until she’d unexpectedly erupt again because subconsciously, she resented the lack of a full resolution in the dynamic.
Mira’s new perspective freed her from needing his validation. Not only did she not feel guilty, but she also freed herself from the need for his approval of her feelings. She moved from a place of constant anxiety of his reaction and self-loathing for her needs to a place of awake witnessing and self-soothing. She decided she would no longer “fill in the gap”, but she would also stay engaged in the process of hoping for a shift in his point of view.
A part of her believed he was interested in making this change and a part of her was worried he might choose to withdraw. She understood that it was not in her control. If she were to set herself free, she would need to set him free as well.
She wanted this relationship to continue through the next stage of her life. She cringed at the thought of it not lasting. But she also knew deep within herself that this couldn’t happen unless she felt secure to express her individuated needs. Aron was initially clearly uncomfortable with this new power his wife was developing. He moved uncomfortably during the session as if he was assessing the extent of the damage.
When Mira expressed her commitment to their relationship while not abandoning herself, he responded with, ‘okay.’
This one word charged with emotion. It was an act of surrender, to an old and outdated perception of himself. He was hearing what Mira was saying for the first time without manipulating her out of it. He surrendered to how it made him feel, which was afraid, lonely, abandoned, rejected, unwanted, un-needed. Aron was in fear of losing Mira and in awe of needing to be able to find his internal resources. He had two choices: to feel defeated, cornered, betrayed and then retreat. Or he could start to be engaged in an authentic relational conversation. Mira was sitting on her hands as if holding herself from jumping to rescue Aron. She was not used to letting him sense the intensity of his emotions.
I gently asked Aron, ‘what is happening within you now?’
Aron took a moment before replying. He took a deep breath and a sigh. Then he said I don’t have words for all that is happening to me know. I reassured him that ‘not having the words’ is very normal for many people not taught to identify and express their feelings. What are you sensing in your body? I asked. He pointed to his chest and throat and said: ‘pressure’.
When I asked him if this pressure had a voice, what would it sound like he said: “it would cry”. At that moment, his eyes watered, and a tear came running down his face. If this tear has a voice, what would it say? I asked. Aron chocked but continued. It would say it was sorry; I wish I could behave differently, but I don’t know-how.
What is the feeling underneath the apology? I probed. It’s sadness he said and put both hands over his face. I’m sad that I’m such an idiot, he said. That is a judgement, not a feeling. Do you feel you are an idiot because you feel sad? I guess that’s what I learnt, he said.
Can you see how you might have internalised an inner critic over your right to explore your feelings? He nodded.
Where did you learn this? I asked. He recalled incidents while growing up with his stepfather and biological father that randomly visit him and his brothers. We ended the session after checking in with Mira how she felt about Aron’s expression of feelings when she reached out her hand towards his and said: “it makes me love you more.”
For Aron being able to explore his feelings, seeing his feelings and emotions, even the difficult ones as being ok, was brave and courageous. Aron could see that what had worked to keep him safe has become his most significant obstacle for intimate connection. Initially learnt from his mail role models while growing up about what it means to be a man and then justified as a spiritual approach to bypass his sensitivities. Mira learnt that freeing herself from the guilt to ask for what she needs can also free her partner in unexpected ways.