Friday, February 10, 2012

Shame is My Enemy in More Ways Than One

I am wary rather than hopeful today. Cynical even.  Ugh.

Last night when I got home, my husband told me he had made a mistake that cost us money.  Not drained the retirement fund or anything that bad, but he made a hotel reservation for an upcoming special occasion for last week instead of next week.  His card had been charged as a no-show.  Big whoop, right?  People make mistakes.  It happens.  Move on.

As he told me this, he was not a grown man standing in front of me expressing frustration over a snafu.  He was a little boy in posture, fearing punishment.  He stood with shoulders slumped and head hanging down, his body shriveled into as small a space as he could make while standing up straighter than usual (missionary kid thing?) and twisting a tiny piece of paper in his hands compulsively.  He looked like maybe a six year old?

I don't remember all the details, but I pointed out the posture and the self-recrimination in his voice and told him it was unnecessary, that people make mistakes.  I told him if you want to challenge the charge, don't do it like this, repeating how you contributed to the snafu over and over; merely point out that the reset on their web page changed the date on you and you didn't catch it this time.  Ask for a credit. And if they don't give it to you, oh well.  People make mistakes that cost money all the time. It's part of the human condition.

At first he got offended, and told me that I wasn't "helping".  I would have none of it.  I plainly replied something along the lines that I didn't see how telling him to lose the shame and stand up for himself or let it go was hurting him in any way.  He agreed, but still his body trembled like I was going to spank him or something. He went upstairs to think and hopefully change his mind-set.

When I went up almost forty-five minutes later, he was crying.  When I asked him what was wrong, it took a long time for him to be able to stop crying long enough to tell me.  Here's what he was doing TO HIMSELF!

He said that he was crying because this hotel reservation for our anniversary, and we were a couple barely surviving (WTF?  Seriously?  After all the effort, love, forgiveness and good will I put into this relationship you dare to say it is "barely surviving"?  How insulting to me!  Where is this coming from?) and it is all his fault.

That is such bull.  He is crying because HE IS DEPRESSED.  He is shaming himself because that's what he does when he's depressed.  Our relationship has nothing to do with it.  And if the past continues to repeat itself, a shift is coming.  A shift from shaming himself to ascribing all that shame and recrimination as coming from ME!  I see where this is going.

Three options for me: puke because that is just a disgusting display of self-pity; storm out self-righteously because according to him all the love I have to give is apparently quite measly, or do the "Christian" thing and comfort him, tell him it's not true, etc.  I chose a mix of all three.

I did comfort him, but I was also angry.  I told him that anniversaries aren't celebrations of accomplishments, they are celebrations of people!  The point was to celebrate his wife and shower her with love, not to congratulate himself on what a fine husband ( or berate himself for what a lousy husband) HE is!  Just like the drunken binge on Thanksgiving, this is coming out of nowhere.  There is no reason for him to start assuming  that divorce is imminent.  It's all in his fricking head, but guess what?

This is getting really, really old.  If he is never going to shake this depression no matter how long he is in therapy, I am not going to stay in the marriage.  If his hobby is going to be berating himself and then projecting that onto me, I am not going to stay in this marriage.

I don't understand why he is not making any progress!  He's been in therapy for two years!  He should be BETTER.  I am getting stronger every day.

I don't understand why he still doesn't pray about this problems (He was indignant when I asked him if he prayed about it. Why would God care about that? he retorted.  This pissed me off too, because he said it in such a way as to belittle those of us who believe  GOD DOES CARE ABOUT US!) or why he doesn't recognize these thoughts as damaging, evil lies that should be replaced with the truth- God does love him!  Jesus delivered him from all shame and now presents him holy and blameless!  You can cast all your cares on God because He cares for you! It's like even though we are both Christians, we have two completely different dieties and doctrinal beliefs.

Or lose the religion completely and at least replace it with logic: People make mistakes.  It's part of being human.  It's no big deal.  He could ask himself "WHY do I hate myself so much over a little mistake?" and start fixing the real problem.  That's what other adults do all the time.

Seriously, I am tired of being this guy's rock and getting nothing back.  All the emotional support is one-way around here, and then I still get blamed for his depression!  You got that, didn't you reader, that his telling himself that he's such a horrible husband that I am going to leave him.  The real reason for his shame and depression has nothing to do with me or our marriage.

I am fed up with the bullcrap.

I don't know what to do, but every single time he pulls this self-pity crap about how awful our relationship is, he pushes me one step closer to the door.  I don't want to be part of an  endless cycle of self-hatred and abuse.  If he won't step out of that cycle, then I will step out of that door.

It's really ironic.  I didn't have divorce on my mind at all.  I was looking forward to the weekend.  Now I'm thinking he could be on to something.  Maybe I am being Pollyanna again, when clearly he is not getting any better.  It just sucks. He could have it all if only he wasn't stuck in such a mentally unhealthy place.  Ugh.

ps After he came back downstairs, he opened his laptop and for all intents and purposes ceased to exist in this plane.  I was getting grief from my son over making him redo his homework, and my son started acting physically intimidating and threatening, just like his dad.  His dad didn't even notice.  He just kept on playing Sudoku online, or minesweeper, or solitaire, whatever it was last night.  Ugh.  I do all the parenting, ALONE, even when he's right there.  I am so not okay with this.


  1. This post is very meaningful to me. I need to improve. If real women think this way, I can only imagine what my wife might think, at times.

    Thank you a thousand times over.

  2. It sounds to me like your husband is doing the self-fulfilling prophecy thing. He is so convinced he needs to be punished for his mistake, and he thinks the punishment should be losing you-- so he drives you further away in order to make that happen. At least, that's what it looks like from here.

    Somehow there's got to be a way to stop buying the ticket to ride that he's selling, but I have no idea what that would be. Hugs to you.

  3. Kristen,

    It is very frustrating to watch him get on the Shame Train to nowhere; even worse when he claims I put him on the train.


    It would make me very sad to know that you also punish yourself like my husband does. I have no doubt but that you found self-blame and groveling at least somewhat useful in deflecting your mom's insanity as a child. I am sure it was that way for my husband. :(

    Still, now you guys are adults, and we spouses are not your moms, and you don't have to play by that old, cruel inner script. You are both (no doubt in my mind) loved, supported and fully deserving of a good life. I hope you (both)find it. :)

    Incidentally, my husband just came home for lunch. He appears strong and happy in heart, and thanked for me for my encouragement yesterday. Now if he can just hold on to this feeling and this way of thinking for the rest of his life, it will all be good! =D

  4. I was more speaking along the lines of getting into my wife's mind and making decisions on what would make her feel valued and loved.

    I don't beat myself up in the same way your husband does, but I do have confidence issues which appear the same at times.

    In short, I loved this post because it helps me to turn my mind and heart more toward my wife rather than always focusing on the day to day busy-ness and complexities of life.

  5. Yuck. And what a time for you to deal with all this emotional crap, when the weather is so gray and yucky.

    I don't blame you for being fed up; it sounds like it feels like going in circles for decades now. Eventually you want to step off the merry-go-round!

    Hugs and prayers for you always, SS, I wish it were easier. Come on, spring!

  6. Yes, sunshine and birdsong for everyone! =D

  7. I don't want to be discouraging, but clinical depression isn't really something that can be completely cured. It can be controlled, of course, and depressed people and their loved ones can have good and fulfilling lives, but it never really goes away. Have you seen the commercials for Abilify (an antidepressant) on TV? I think those illustrate it so well. Controlled depression, instead of being something that weighs you down and keeps you from living and enjoying your life, becomes just an afterthought, just something that is always there, but rarely interferes. It never goes away for good, but it doesn't have to be in control.

    I know that my depression will never go away. The key, I have found, is in self-awareness. When I do have bad days, even though all the lies I tell myself still hurt like truth, I know that they are lies and that I'm not going to feel that way forever. I know the way I'm perceiving reality is skewed, and even though it feels awful at the moment, my reality is not what it seems to be during my depressed times.

    I've done that...what your husband is doing. I've pushed and pushed people, not wanting them to leave, hoping they won't, but pushing harder and harder until they finally do. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I guess I just wanted someone who refused to leave, no matter how hard I pushed. But people can't do you said, it's not fair to you to have to keep being the only source of emotional support. If it's going to be a lasting relationship, he has to do his part too. And I am finally learning not to push the people I love; it can be done.

    My heart breaks for both of you. You're both in tremendous pain. I wish I could help; all I can say is that I truly believe self-awareness is the key. If he can learn to watch what's going on in his own brain, to recognize the bad days and try not to feed them...but you've probably already tried all that. And maybe it wouldn't be the key for him. I know that just because it works for me doesn't mean it would for him. I just want so badly to help you.

    Anyway, thank you for your openness and honesty. I hope my word-vomit made a little sense at least. Take care.

  8. I have been thinking about you guys as I've been reading (slowly, oh so slowly, too much of myself in those pages to read quickly) all of Gabor Mate's books on the brain.

    One thing that he repeats often in the book on addiction (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts) is that the more often the circuitry of the brain is fired--i.e. the more often patterns of thought are followed--the more likely that circuitry is to be fired. So the more you think you deserve punishment, the more likely you are to think you deserve punishment. And, importantly for addition, the addictive process itself (even in process addiction in the absence of the effects of actual chemical substances) causes the higher thinking skills parts of the brain to atrophy. It also atrophies as a result of trauma, well, PTSD because of the constant triggering of the trauma sending the brain into "reptile mode". Making it even more impossible for an addict to "just say no" to their compulsion.

    Although Mate makes the connection between addiction brain patterns and OCD brain patterns (and the difficulty of breaking out of those patterns to fire a different circuitry), I see a similarity to any deeply ingrained habitual mental/brain habit: depression, rage/violence, addiction, ADD, OCD, cutting, even bi-polar.

    I know that my family was both using God as a drug and acting codependently as if God were the addict for several generations. I was raised in that spiritually abusive environment from birth. I have the genetics, the environment, and because of the "time served" the biology to be addicted/depressed/chronically ill. I spent 45 years ingraining those dysfunctional brain circuits into being. There really is no "just say(ing) no" about my choices: I cannot choose not to follow that brain circuitry. I don't say that to absolve myself of responsibility, nor to blame my problems on the parents. I say it to remind myself that the difficulty of the task is soooo much more than almost anyone understands and that every tiny, miniscule step away from that same old, same old is to be celebrated for the truly soul-wrenching effort that it took.

    I have spent two years trying to change my mental choices--Love is a Choice, after all--and usually feel as though I've got nowhere. Just today something came up about how I relate to my dad and, despite some huge gains in the last few weeks (after months and months of working and some professional help), I fell right back into the same old pattern of responding to him. My husband was disgusted with me, "how could you do that? you know better!" He's right, I do know better--even as I was doing it I knew better but I did it anyway. I tried to be grateful that my awareness of my dysfunctional response came immediately rather than the weeks/months/decades later but from my husband's perspective that was as nothing.

    You wrote in a recent post or comments that you lived with your grandmother for your very early years and that she saved your life. I absolutely agree. All the research seems to concur that the beliefs and patterns that are set up in those very early, pre-verbal/pre-logical years are crucial to how a person can deal with abuse/addiction/dysfunction later on in childhood or in adulthood. You had that love, you experienced the care of your grandmother as love, and even when you lived with your mom and her abusiveness, you had known love. It was like a rock-solid foundation in your psyche.

    Your hubby hasn't got that bedrock belief that he is loved/lovable. For him, love/worth/punishment are all tangled up in an unholy mess. It is exponentially more difficult for him to distinguish love from punishment than it is for you.

    All of that said, it might behoove him to change therapists. An exit counselor, a process addictions counselor, a good homeopath, even a shaman might make some inroads into his brain function that EMDR is stalling on.

  9. Hee hee I like the shaman idea!

    And on a serious note, thanks for sharing from your heart. I know that is not easy to type out for you, and I appreciate your transparency and kindness. Much, much, much love to you, Sandra.


    I appreciate your input too. I don't really want to think about him never being better, though it's getting harder to ignore as a possibility. :(

  10. I don't think Cheri is saying that hubs will "never get better" but that he can "never be cured." Depression, addiction, other mental/spiritual diseases can often be very well managed so that the sufferer really doesn't have to suffer all that often. But there will always be a weakness, a fault-line, where under stress, during times of less self-care, in the presence of specific catalysts, the symptoms/behaviors/"stinkin' thinkin'" will occur.

    I see it much like diabetes. It is an incurable disease that will kill you. But it is also the best incurable disease to have because all of its complications can be avoided with proper management, allowing the diabetic to live a long, productive, and meaningful life. But people never become non-diabetic, even if they get their glucose levels to resemble non-diabetic levels. They will always have to eat carefully, take appropriate supplements/medicines, and take a lot of extra self-care that most people never even think about.

    As a "recovering fundy", I see those same kind of fault lines in my psyche as I do in my physiology as a diabetic. With lots of spiritual hygiene, some good homeopathic remedies, and the help of my closest friends (who will tell me when and where I've gone off the deep end), I can live well, love God and serve people. But I will always have those fundy land mines lurking in mental background that will explode when I may or may not be expecting it. And I may or may not handle those explosions well.

    I hope my family considers it worth staying around even at the risk that I don't handle those times well but I really don't know why they do.

    1. That's exactly what I was trying to say, Sandra. Thank you. Depression can get better, it's important to believe that, but it's also important not to have unrealistic expectations of a cure. It's like's a process. We never have it all figured out, that's not the point of living, but we can do pretty damn well with the right support and introspection and thoughtfulness. :)