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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Connecting the Dots

Monday, June 18, 2012

Connecting the Dots

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”   ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"How does he arrange (unconsciously) to have his wife disappoint him so often?" ~ Anonymous
Elizabeth Strout's Abide with Me, a moving tale of sorrow, hope and transformation reminded me of the first quote (Bonhoeffer is woven into Strout's story).  The second quote is one that I heard recently at a conference I attended on marriage counseling.  So what do they have to do with each other?  Truthfully, I don't fully know yet, but perhaps this:
In the talking that takes place here in my office, there is an attentiveness to both ideas, a coming together in the telling of one's own story that sheds a deeper light on why we are the way we are, feel the way we feel and do the things we do.  Perhaps underneath the pain that we know about is a pain that we do not yet fully know about.  And hand in hand with that are the patterns and feelings we experience that serve to protect us but somehow, in newer relationships, can deflect us from getting what we really want and need.
For example, a man who wants acceptance and support from his wife, but when she initiates sex, or tells him she loves him, in his mind, and sometimes outwardly to her, he dismisses her advances, is even annoyed by them.  His wife at some point stops initiating, and then he becomes disappointed and trouble spirals from there.  So does she have a role in this, surely,  but does he, as a colleague of mine asked at the conference, "arrange to have his wife disappointment him?" 
So on the conscious level, of course, if you reject someone often enough, they will stop trying.  But we could look a little deeper and as the man tells more of his story, we learn that he believes that his wife is only out for her own benefit.  He does not really believe she is being truthful when she seeks him out or reassures him, rather he is suspicious and doubting.  Why?  More of the story.  His experiences and emotional impressions as a child were not safe ones emotionally.  Often his mother expressed affection or interest in him only when she wanted something from him.  His father only expressed pride or claim to him ("this is my son") when he excelled at something publicly, in athletics.   Privately, his father was rarely home or attentive.  In order to protect himself from the disappointment of not feeling loved genuinely and for who he is, the man develops a skepticism and a distance from taking in love, even from a wife who is sincere.
Okay, so we all have mixed motives.  His wife most likely does want something from him, but she also most likely wants to give something to him as well.  But when he does not take in her affection and efforts, appreciate them, respond to them, he arranges in some way to discourage her, and then she backs off, and he becomes even more disappointed and unsatisfied.
There is more to the story, but it begins here, in connecting the dots between our past and our present, our unconscious, our desires and our behavior patterns.  And of course our feelings.  What do we suffer from?  What do those we love suffer from?  When we tell our stories, we can find out.  We can pepper the quest with grace and curiosity as we alter how we respond to ourselves and others, bringing new life into our narratives.

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