The other day I received a phone call from my friend Linda. She was at work. As she said hello, I could tell she was on the verge of crying. I asked what’s wrong thinking something happened at work. She told me that her husband, James, has been very upset with her over a misunderstanding they had about dropping the children to daycare in the morning.
On face value, the misunderstanding was a case of miscommunication at best, or mishandling of competing priorities at worst. But it turned out to be a vent for James to let his negative beliefs and feelings towards Linda again to well up and take hold of him. James accused Linda of making him late for work and gave her a mouthful of vitriolic insults she heard from him in the past whenever he would get upset over something. James ended up not going to work that day, as he chose to stay at home rather than be late.
Linda was deeply hurt and shaken by the incident. I told her that what happened was not her fault. I told her that she should not blame herself for James’ reaction and abusive behaviour. Perhaps his anger was justified by the fact that he felt disappointed and afraid of running late for work. But instead of deflecting his fears in the form of anger at his wife, he should have allowed them to flush through him. It would have lasted a moment or two, or even a day. However, it would have saved the hurt Linda felt. And it would have allowed James to work in future on better planning and co-operation in running the household.
If this were a one-off, one would probably tend to put it down to people overreacting and being stressed out with work and parenting. And there is possibly an element of that in it. However, Linda, having been verbally abused by James in the past, sounded on the phone to me like someone resigned to her fate. She deserved none of it. Nobody does. And yet, by their very nature, relationships with those closest to us, our partners and families, leave us exposed and vulnerable to feeling hurt. I deliberately say ‘feeling’ hurt, because whether a person intends to hurt us or not, to feel hurt is ultimately our choice. It is our choice because it depends solely on our response to other people’s actions towards us. We allow the emotion of hurt to inhabit our mind by believing that the words or actions which caused the hurt may be true. We may not want to admit this consciously, but being affected by what someone says or does is our choosing to allow them to do that. If we have feelings of self-doubt , then when someone questions our self-confidence, we tend to feel hurt on that account. They of course may not care, but it is us who allow the emotion to be felt. And then the emotion takes us for a ride. Outwardly, it appears that people hurt us either out of ignorance or lack of care and understanding. But if this happens to the extent that Linda has been experiencing every time James lost his temper, it becomes an obstacle in a relationship.
I told Linda that when James apologises, as he usually does after similar episodes, this time she should not let it again be swept under the carpet. She should not support his weaknesses, for fear of rocking the boat. If she is to help herself, she should encourage James to seek help. That is if she cares about being in that relationship in the future. Ultimately, if a partner is to help their significant other going through something like this, they should not support the status quo.
Self-blame and acquiescence after the storm perpetuate thoughts of resignation and apathy. Over time, with a negative pattern of behaviour that seems unlikely to change, these thoughts could lead to a belief of hopelessness. Negative beliefs take longer to establish, but once they grow roots in a mind, they attract more negative thoughts like magnets. They amass supporting negative beliefs of low self-esteem and fear. Fear of disturbing the status quo. Just as there’s a lull after a storm, partners in abusive or imbalanced relationships may find it easier to opt for the quiet period after a major storm, believing that somehow things would not escalate to that degree in the future. But what usually happens is that they buttress their partner’s negative beliefs towards them even further. They attract exactly the kind of behaviour they don’t want.
As foreign as they may seem to someone who is feeling positive, negative thoughts are able to permeate a person’s consciousness even when they are otherwise feeling happy or having ‘good days’. These beliefs can be compared to ships anchored in the harbour of subconsciousness. The longer they sit there, the more they become part of the scenery, or our core beliefs. Our core beliefs define who we are and how we do what we do and think. Every core belief has its counterpart. ‘I am smart’ is doggedly followed by ‘I am stupid’. If someone told us we were stupid as a child, at the time it may have been something we easily dismissed. But over time we face people and situations that may again expose us to the same belief. A positive core belief is much stronger than its negative counterpart. And yet we are constantly dealing with the hurt, embarrassments and fears caused by these limiting beliefs.The more deep-rooted these negative beliefs are, the more is at stake in the process of healing. Sometimes relationships cannot survive even after successful counselling, because healing may not be enough to overcome the hurt and resuscitate the relationship. Forgiveness is a very powerful belief that usually can help, but it must be genuine and mutual.
I saw Linda two days after the call. She didn’t mention how she felt. She was busy with work. In her words, she survived, and she was fine. That’s what she believed.