It’s a struggle as old as time itself. The thing that separates the more evolved species of the world from the less; the ability to control baser instincts, emotions, and drives in favor of higher levels of logic. As Mr. Spock would often say when asked by his crew mates how he felt about a given situation, “What I feel is irrelevant”.
(And for those who aren’t Trekkies like I am, that’s a reference to the Star Trek race called Vulcans; a species represented as the most highly evolved, intelligent species in the entire series. Achieving this status through generations of learning how to suppress and control their emotions, to the point where all that matters in their society is pure, unbiased logic.)
Now, I’m not saying I would prefer that kind of existence; not even close. Emotions are beautiful things sometimes; they’re a big part of what makes life worth living. Love. Joy. Peace. Happiness. Those are all beautiful to experience, and can leave us awed and grateful for our lives. But that having been said, I definitely have moments when I wish I could perhaps at least turn the dial back a little on my emotions, and allow logic to instead step forward and take the wheel.
Healing from the abuse, I found this wish became stronger than ever. I’d walk through the day tormented by feelings that were so painful I wanted to just curl up into a ball and never go outside again, and to my frustration when I’d speak to family or friends most of the time the response I’d get was in the vein of “Stop letting him live so rent free in your head, Meghann; it doesn’t do you any good”. This response would not only shut me down, but it would frustrate me, because deep down I knew they were absolutely right. It was the same conversation I’d have with myself internally; logic versus emotion.
And to my frustration, I’m not a Vulcan. My emotions were determined to be felt and validated, no matter how hard I tried to put them away.
What did I feel?
Unloveable. Dirty. Tainted. Disgusting. Branded. Foolish. Stupid. Worthless. In short, I felt like there was no hope for a happily ever after for me, because I was too tainted by everything he did to me to ever find a man who could love me again.
I had done some foolish things while in that relationship; and while therapists and other experts insisted the lies I told were purely an understandable response to a dangerous situation where I was trying to keep the peace, I only feel shame that for a brief time…I became a liar. Because I’m not a liar. Quite the opposite; I’m as honest as the day is long most of the time. And I carry a lot of shame over that.
How would a new man feel if I told him that I had lied to a previous partner once? How would he ever see me as worthy? And how would a future man feel once he learned that I didn’t leave Randall even after I first discovered his infidelities and his lies? How would he feel after he learned that I allowed myself to get pressured and pushed and manipulated into an open sexual relationship? How would he be able to respect a woman who in essence allowed herself to get treated like complete dogshit over and over and over again, and failed to stand up for herself even as her partner and all his friends mocked her and used her and lied to her and abused her? How could any man of worth ever love or respect that?
And what about the Herpes? The STD that guarantees no matter how many years pass, in a sense the consequences from that particular violation will always remain. And it also means in some way, I always will have to bring up my relationship with Randall before engaging with any new partner.
I hate that. I hate it so, so much. And I hate it even more when I hear his voice in my mind, mocking me as he turned to say to a friend: “I can say whatever I want, man; she’s got Herpes…she’s not going anywhere”. [Read: The Sentence That Changed Everything]
It isn’t logical…but each time I think about that, I burn with shame. I feel dirty. Something in me shrivels up and wants to curl into myself, never to come out again.
I know logically it shouldn’t be that way. I know all the things I’d say to someone else feeling this way; I know I’d tell that person it isn’t their fault. That they shouldn’t feel ashamed. That anyone else they meet will understand that and feel the same way. I know if it was anyone else, I’d trot out the statistics of just how many people in America have the HSV I and II viruses, to demonstrate its not something to be ashamed of, its just another fact of life but it will be okay.
That’s what I’d say…and what I’ve tried to say to my more emotional side when I’m laying alone at night in my bed. But to my frustration, at least sixty percent of the time it wouldn’t work. I’d remain alone in the dark, feeling utterly despondent about what the future might hold for me.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is recovery from abuse in its’ purest, most undiluted form. It’s days and nights where you don’t even see the point in going forward any more, but you keep putting one foot in front of the other anyway simply because it’s all you know how to do. It’s being crippled by doubt and shame and embarrassment at all times, and feeling as sensitive as an exposed nerve; reduced to tears or angry outbursts seemingly at the drop of a hat. It’s feeling at times like a numb automaton, and at other times feeling like a wild, feral animal.
If you’re lucky, you find a group of friends and family who are there to support you and be patient with you as you navigate these treacherous roads.
But hear me when I say there are no shortcuts. There are no platitudes or magic words that could make everything better. You will heal as fast or as slow as you’re going to heal. The name of the game is patience. And on days when you can’t seem to get your emotions under control with logic…be forgiving of yourself. Let it go. It’s not a reflection on your strength or your abilities as a person.
I’m as logical as they come; some have teased that I am part Vulcan, because I’m always the one in a situation to put my emotions aside and try to analyze any conflict or issue from a neutral standpoint. And in fact it was that tendency that almost got me into more trouble with Randall, because I could rationalize or justify almost any of his behavior when under the influence of his explanations and justifications.
Of course it’s understandable that he wants to have sex with other people and struggle with infidelity…don’t you see? He never really got to sow his wild oats as a teenager before the legal system caught up with him. It’s just something he needs to do now, and get it out of his system. Of course he has anger issues…he came from an abusive childhood and then spent years in prison, where it was fight or die. Of course he’s socially awkward and inappropriate at times…he never had someone to model good behavior.
Oh yes…I could justify all kinds of things, with his help. He knew full well what a logical person I was; and you’d better believe he used that to his fullest advantage with plenty of points to back up his arguments.
In the middle of it, it all seemed relevant and sensible. But then when I’d try to repeat it to others, not surprisingly they never came to the same conclusions he’d guided me to. And now, with time and clarity, I don’t agree with those original conclusions either…which becomes yet another source of shame and embarrassment for me. After all, surely only a really stupid human being could be so easily duped into basically getting turned into a doormat for all kinds of horrible treatment.
Oh I certainly understand at this point the clinical reasons for everything that happened; I understand psychopaths and narcissists and sociopaths, I understand what happens when a woman is in an abusive relationship, and I know that ultimately everyone encourages the victim to not blame themselves for what happened during the course of the relationship. The sins are on the abuser, not the abused. I know all of that, and understand it logically; it’s what I would tell anyone else in a similar situation too. But emotion never has much to do with logic; and emotionally, I am sometimes downright overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and embarrassment.
I wish I had some kind of magical answer to fix it; some pearl of wisdom to pass on to all those struggling with the same thing. Unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to find a solution myself. There is truth to the statement that time makes things better, as I can report with enough time I was no longer haunted with the feelings every minute of the day. But beyond that, there is no magical cure; you have to just continue putting one foot in front of the other, and living your life. Accept all the invitations you receive, and take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. Meet people. Make new memories that don’t involve the abuser or fill you with shame. And above all else, surround yourself with people you trust; they will be there to give you support and hold you up when you don’t have the ability to do it yourself.
And don’t look for the cure in someone else either, it has to come from within. I tried this myself, I have to confess; throwing myself back into the dating game with the idea that if I received compliments and praise from another man, I might feel better about myself. Unfortunately, people can’t change how you feel about yourself, only you can do that. And really all I found was I’d leave a date – even a really nice one – feeling more ashamed than before, because in my mind I was sure such a good guy wouldn’t want to be tainted by someone like me.
You have to find the love and the forgiveness from within. It won’t come easily, and there will be days where it seems horribly unfair that you should have to suffer so much so long after the abuser was ejected from your life. But keep trying. Don’t give up.
I’m far better now than I used to be, but I’m not perfect yet. I have days where something triggers an emotion, and I emotionally shut down. Days where I exasperate my family because all I want to do is sit on my bed and stare lifelessly at the wall or lose myself in a marathon of Star Trek reruns. But it does pass eventually, given enough time. I’ve learned to be much more forgiving of myself. And much more patient. I’ve also learned to not just accept, but embrace my emotions far more than I used to, because unlike logic, the emotional reactions I have to things connect to my intuition and ultimately help me make decisions that are right for me. Had I been doing this while with Randall, that relationship might have ended a lot sooner than it did, as I wouldn’t have allowed him to continue hurting me so badly emotionally. That hurt and that pain was my heart telling me Randall was nothing but poison in my life…and I wish I’d listened sooner.
So while at times I know emotions can be frustrating, ultimately I find I don’t completely agree with Spock’s assessment that they are “irrelevant”. They’re part of who we are.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. For singles, visit Lasting Connections. To work with Meghann personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.
**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities