Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility
Last month I posted a page on emotional abuse. It was a topic that I realized I had not specifically focused upon previously. When I finished with that page, I was aware that it wasn't finished - that I had just written about emotional abuse from the perspective of learning to recognize it for the pervasive and damaging factor it is in our wounding. Recognizing emotional abuse is the beginning of becoming aware of the codependent patterns that set us up to be emotionally abused - and the beginning of a process of learning how to have a healthier relationship with our self so that we can start to have healthier relationships with others.
As with any facet of recovery, changing our behavior in relationship to emotional abuse is a process. It is a journey from living unconsciously in reaction to our old wounds - setting ourselves up to be a victim of our disease and other people - to learning how to find a healthy balance. To move into a place where it is possible for us to recognize what it means to be healthy and balanced it is necessary to move through different stages on our journey. We will gradually evolve and grow to understand: what it means to be emotionally honest with ourselves; how to protect ourselves by having boundaries; how to take responsibility for our own emotions; how to stop giving other people the power to emotionally abuse us; etc.
The recovery process, and the process of finding some balance, is multi-leveled and multi-dimensional as I stress in numerous places in my writing. What that means is that there are really no simple answers to the question "what do I do when I realize I have been emotionally abused?" There are simple answers that we need to hear on a basic level in the beginning of our recovery, but those simple answers are just the beginning of the quest. Each of those answers opens up a new range of questions. For example, telling someone they need to learn to have boundaries opens up a range of questions about what boundaries are and how does one set them. Any single topic or issue opens up a range of other interrelated areas.
Writing this article (which appears to require at least three web pages) has been difficult because of all the levels involved. I received some e-mails with some basic questions that I wanted to answer in as complete a manner as possible - but answering some of the basic questions takes me into some quite advanced levels of recovery. I realized that I had never really written previously - except for a line or two here and there in the middle of something else - about such issues as: the misconception of many recovering people that emotional honesty means we are supposed to be emotionally honest with all of the people in our lives; or, specifically about what our responsibilities are in relating to others.
So, I am going to attempt to answer the basic questions in a way that hopefully will be helpful to those new to the process - and at the same time discuss some of the more advanced facets that arise in relationship to the issues involved. I am going to use some questions from those e-mails to help me write this article.
What should I do? I know that I feel in my heart and soul that I have been abused. I really do think that they are hateful and selfish. I believe I have a right to be treated with as much respect and love as I treat others and myself.
Congratulations on recognizing that your parents were emotionally abusive towards you in the situation you described. And yes, you definitely have a right to be treated with respect. Recognizing that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect is a vital step towards learning how to protect yourself from behavior that is abusive.
This is a real good news/bad news event. The good news is that you recognized the behavior as abuse - the bad news is that this is not the first time this has happened. Your parents have been emotionally abusive to you your whole life. You mention that they just celebrated their 50th anniversary and that they were both addictive personalities. They did not just become selfish now. They are wounded people who do not know how to Love themselves in a healthy way - and they have never been capable of loving you in a healthy way. Their form of love was always emotionally abusive to some extent because they grew up in a codependent society with wounded parents.
The most simple way to answer your question about what to do, is to tell you that you need to get into recovery. It is only by getting into recovery that you can start to see this situation more clearly. My sense of the focus of your e-mail that culminated in this question, was that you wanted to know what you could do to get them to admit and apologize for this abuse - and act in the way you want them to act.
The answer to that is that they probably will never give you any satisfaction in that regard. You will need to let go of thinking that you need them to change for you to be OK. Any time we buy into thinking that we need someone else to behave in a certain way, to treat us in a certain way, to be comfortable with our self - we are giving power away and setting ourselves up to be a victim.
This is a great example of the different levels involved in this type of issue - and how important it is for us to start becoming conscious of the dynamics of our process in order to change our patterns.
It is important for any of us to be validated. When we first start owning our own Truth and standing up for our reality, it is very important to be validated - to have someone tell us "Yes, you were abused in that situation. I am really sorry that happened." Because we were discounted and invalidated in childhood (and for most of our adult lives due to our repeating patterns); because we were taught not to trust our own feelings and perceptions; because we learned to have twisted, distorted relationships with ourselves and our own emotions; we need validation from other people that what we are awakening to is in fact real and not some product of our defective, shameful self image.
At the same time, it is a codependent pattern to gather allies. To have people to complain to, who will sympathize with us and tell us how awful the other person/people were for abusing us. We gather allies that will give their approval to our self righteous indignation. When we are feeling self righteous indignation we are buying into a victim perspective.
It is vital in recovery to stop buying into the belief that we are victims. Anytime that we are focusing on the situation at hand and giving power to the belief that we are victims of the situation/people we have just interacted with, without looking at how that situation is connected to our childhood wounds - we are not being honest with ourselves.
We will feel like victims - because we have been abused. But feeling like a victim and giving power to the belief in victimization are two completely different things.
If we have a pattern of setting ourselves up to be abused - then that pattern is our responsibility. To continue to blame and complain is not healthy, is not recovery, is not honest. It is also not honest to blame ourselves. When we buy into the critical parent voice that tells us it is all our fault, that we are losers or failures who deserve to be treated badly, then we are being the victim of ourselves.
It is vital to start viewing our own process from a recovery perspective so that we can stop being dishonest with ourselves. In our adult lives, it is our childhood programming that set us up to repeat patterns. We cannot get healthy until we start to recognize that.
"As little kids we were victims and we need to heal those wounds. But as adults we are volunteers - victims only of our disease. The people in our lives are actors and actresses whom we cast in the roles that would recreate the childhood dynamics of abuse and abandonment, betrayal and deprivation.
We are/have been just as much perpetrators in our adult relationships as victims. Every victim is a perpetrator because when we are buying into being the victim, when we are giving power to our disease, we are perpetrating on the people around us and on ourselves.
We need to heal the wounds without blaming others. And we need to own the responsibility without blaming ourselves. As was stated earlier - there is no blame here, there are no bad guys. The only villain here is the disease and it is within us.
I want to make it clear that when I say "without blaming others," I do not mean to deny our anger. We need to own and release the anger and rage at our parents, our teachers or ministers or other authority figures, including the concept of God that was forced on us while we were growing up. We do not necessarily need to vent that anger directly to them but we need to release the energy. We need to let that child inside of us scream, "I hate you, I hate you," while we beat on pillows or some such thing, because that is how a child expresses anger.
That does not mean that we have to buy into the attitude that they are to blame for everything. We are talking about balance between the emotional and mental here again. Blame has to do with attitudes, with buying into the false beliefs - it does not really have anything to do with the process of releasing the emotional energy.
We also need to own and release the anger against those whom we feel victimized us as adults - and we need to take responsibility for our side of the street, own our part in whatever dysfunctional dance we did with them.
We need to own, honor, and release the feelings, and take responsibility for them - without blaming ourselves.
On the level of our perspective of the process it is very important to stop buying into the false beliefs that as adults we are victims and someone else is to blame - or that we are to blame because there is something wrong with us."
Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
In the situation you describe with your parents, you were emotionally abused. From a recovery perspective this is an opportunity for growth. This is an opportunity to become more conscious of your codependence. This may be the incident that causes you to become willing to start taking action to heal yourself.
Congratulations! This was a gift from the Universe. Please do not judge yourself for what I am saying. The hardest thing in codependence recovery is not to judge and shame our self for the awareness we are gaining.
Recovery is a process of peeling away levels of denial. Denial is a wonderful human survival tool that made it possible to survive the pain of childhood. It is also a powerful block to healing in our adult lives.
With each level of denial we peel away, like peeling the layers of an onion, there is pain and grief about the truths that get revealed. The Truth will set you free - but it is also very painful to see truth on a new level each time you peel away some denial.
There are a multitude of facets to the level that has just been revealed to you. It will be important to get more conscious of your self, your relationship with self (and all the parts of self), and of your history and patterns in relationship to life and other people.
It is important to use this opportunity as a new beginning - a doorway into a new way of living life. In order to do that, it will be necessary to start looking at how the incident relates to your childhood and to your patterns in adult life. You will need to get honest with yourself about: how you set yourself up in this situation; what your motives and agenda were (all of our adapted behavioral patterns are in one way or another attempts at manipulation); what your pay off is for being a victim; etc. As you get honest about these different aspects of the situation, the recovery challenge is to have compassion for yourself - because you have been powerless over the attitudes and behavior patterns you learned in childhood.
Recovery is not about blame, it is not about finding fault - the blaming and fault finding comes from the disease, the critical parent voice within. In order to heal and get healthier, it is necessary to take responsibility for our side of the street - and hold others responsible for their behavior.
I am going to discuss in the course of this article, some of the details of how to have healthier boundaries (both externally and internally), and what emotional honesty and responsibility entail. For the moment, let me say, that the simple answer to your question is you need to get into recovery in order to learn and grow from this incident (because if you do not, you will keep repeating the pattern.)
You are going to find that recovery is an adventure in which each question leads to another series of questions. Each revelation will take you to new perspectives
Early in my 12 step recovery, someone told me that all I had to change was everything. And that is the Truth. I needed to change my perspective of, and relationship with, everything. I needed to learn how to stop giving power to the belief in victimization that growing up in a dysfunctional society imposed upon me. I need to start to heal the codependence that caused me to look outside of myself for self-definition and self-worth.
Codependence is outer or external dependence. As long as I was focused outside of myself - looking for the princess who would fix me, or blaming the villains who were ruining my life - I was set up to be the victim of my self and others. In recovery, it was necessary for me to start focusing on my self and my relationship with self. I needed to start looking within for the answers.
"A very important part of my process of finding some balance in my life - of learning how to see myself and how I relate to others and life more clearly - was to get clear that everything in my process relates back to me and my growth process. I had to get past my codependent belief that I was doing something for you - or you were doing something to me." - The Recovery Process for inner child healing, Part 1
The emotional abuse you experienced from your parents behavior in this incident is part of the lesson plan in the school of Spiritual evolution you are enrolled in. That does not excuse it, or make it OK for them to treat you this way. What it means is that on a higher level they are teachers, instruments used by your Higher Power, to help you become aware that there is some healing to be done. It Truly is a new beginning. It is a wonderful opportunity to become more aware of your Spiritual Path. It is a blessed gift that will help you connect more clearly with who you really are - with your Spiritual Self. That really is good news.
The Process of Recovery
Recognition, awareness, is the first step in healing. Becoming aware is what is necessary before any conscious changes can be made. It is both a beginning and an ending. It is an ending in terms of our ability to unconsciously keep replaying our old patterns. In most cases, we will replay our old patterns some more times - will for the rest of our lives catch ourselves starting to go down those old roads - but we will never be able to do it quite as unconsciously again. It is the end of our denial on one level.
It is the beginning of recovery, of healing, of awakening. It is the beginning of being conscious that there is a new level of healing to be done. Recovery is a continuous process of beginnings and endings - of uncovering and discovering new levels on which it is necessary to learn and heal. It is a gradual process of making progress on the path to Self realization - of moving out of the darkness into the Light.
The dynamics of this process are basic. As human beings we have much more in common than we have differences. Basic human emotional dynamics are the same for all human beings. The details may differ but the dynamics of the wounding process and the recovery process are intrinsic.
Discovery, recognition, that we have been victims of abuse is vital. Rather that is emotional abuse, or any of the other kinds of abuse that also cause emotional abuse - physical, verbal, mental, sexual, spiritual. etc. It is vitally important to own our own victimization - and at some point start getting angry about it. Getting angry about how the behavior of others has wounded us is a vital step in owning ourselves - of honoring our Self.
I have often told clients that going from feeling suicidal to feeling homicidal is a step of progress. It is a stage of the recovery process that we will move into - and then at some later point will move beyond. An incest victim transforms into an incest survivor. Owning the anger is an important part of pulling ourselves out of the depression that turning the anger back on ourselves has created. It is often necessary to own the anger before we can get in touch with the grief in a clean and healthy way. If we haven't owned our right to be angry, it is possible to get stuck in a victim place of self-pity and martyrdom, of complaining and gathering sympathetic allies - instead of taking action to change.
So, it is very important to own our right to be angry. That is a stage of the process that also needs to be moved through so we don't get stuck in an angry victim place. In order to heal, it is usually not necessary to confront our abusers. For some people it is an important part of the process to confront their abusers with their anger. Hopefully this can be done in an appropriate environment - although sometimes that is not possible. What is important to emphasize, is that we can heal without confronting our abusers directly - because the relationship that needs to be healed is within. To go to a place where we are lashing out at our abusers will often be just going to the other extreme - where we abuse the people who abused us.
There was a point in my codependence recovery where I would rage in AA meetings at old timers who were shaming and emotionally abusive out of their untreated codependence - their rigid, controlling, black and white thinking. That was a stage in my recovery that I outgrew - that I realized was not healthy. It was not bad or wrong (although the behavior was sometimes something I needed to make amends for afterwards) - it was a stage in a growth process. I learned to confront that kind of behavior in a gentler, kinder - and more effective - way as I grew.
Sometimes in our growth we find ourselves lashing out and being abusive. When that happens we can make amends for how we expressed ourselves - we never have to apologize for having the feelings. We cannot go from repressing our feelings and being emotionally dishonest to communicating perfectly in one step. Communicating in an appropriate way is something we learn gradually - and something we will never do perfectly every time.
With all types of abuse, we need to own and honor our right to feel and release the grief and anger about our victimization so that we can move into a place of empowerment. In order to move into a place of empowerment, in order to start being healthier in our relationships it is vital to start getting emotionally honest - and start taking emotional responsibility. Usually, prior to being able to name the fact that we have been abused, we blamed ourselves for the abuse. Upon realizing that we have been abused, we will want to place blame for that abuse on the abuser. Eventually, we will move into a place where we learn to take the blame out of the process completely. We will learn to take responsibility for our attitudes and behavior that set us up to accept abuse, while also learning that we were powerless over that behavior because of our wounding - and therefore not to blame. We will learn to protect ourselves from those who would abuse us, while also recognizing that they are reacting to their wounding - and not really doing anything to us specifically.
This topic is another one in which I feel I have opened a can of worms. It looks like we have another multipart series evolving here because of all of the levels and facets involved. The next article will be Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 2. The third article in this series may have been more appropriate as the first. It focuses on the basics of Setting Personal Boundaries.