I hadn't seen Greg and Gina in a while. Their life has
been pretty hectic lately with lots of good stuff going on. Yet, Greg was
having some problems, so he called for a session. I saw him alone first. "I'm really angry," he said. "All
summer, she's been pulling away and punishing me; really raking me over
the coals. Why are there two sets of rules? How come she's allowed to be
angry when I mess up, but I'm not allowed to be angry when she messes
To make things worse, Gina and I had been on testy ground for the past several
months. Each time I disagreed with her, or in my characteristically
straight style tried to tell her that she was misbehaving, I blew it. She got very
defensive and felt attacked. One time she felt so hurt, she went flying out of my
I had to find a way to help her with her acting out
without alienating her entirely. Not only was she hurting Greg, more
importantly, she was hurting herself! Whenever this pretty young lady felt
slighted or hurt, she would retreat into a depressive pity pot. She became
self-absorbed and would isolate herself, distancing particularly from her husband. From the
time Gina was a little girl, the only solace she knew from her parental
abuse was that lonely dark hole she retreated into. I could not get her to understand that "licking her
wounds" was hurting Gina! She kept seeing what she was doing as self
"Why are you telling me I'm doing something wrong?
You are the one who taught me to take care of myself and put myself
first! So, when I'm mad at Greg, and I need to
be alone, away from him, to lick my wounds, I'm taking care of myself!"
That's when it hit me: she didn't understand the
difference between the ego and the self.
And, she's not alone. So, lets define the two terms - so
people can focus on learning to take care of the self:
The Ego vs. Self
There is no single, more relevant, important variable
than personal integrity for both the recovering victim and the
recovering abuser. Should I repeat that? Well, you get the picture.
For our purposes, suffice it to say that the ego is the
part of the self that most people present to the world. But,
unfortunately, far too many people confuse who they are with their ego.
Think about individuals who define their worth by their beauty or their
possessions. Or those people you know you have to be "careful"
around because they get defensive and/or hurt easily. These individuals
take their ego too seriously... These people live for the facade, and hide
When I refer to the "self," I am referring to the
"higher self:" The part of you that is connected to the Big Guy
or nature or the Universe, or whatever you believe in. Your soul. Your
center. The little
voice in the back of your head that knows - and tells you what you need to do. Most of
the time, you won't like where the little voice is telling you to go. You will compulsively
want to do what immediately feels good instead. Some of you instead
fall prey to compulsively doing what feels bad - as in compulsively
reacting out of guilt or shame. Either way, later, you're likely to find
yourself thinking along the lines of, "I knew I should have..."
There is confusion and self-doubt when the self is ignored.
the self is not splashy or loud. The self whispers while the ego SHOUTS. The more
busy-work, activity and distraction, chatter, or obsessive-compulsive
activity of any type (e.g., any addiction) interferes, numbs or distracts
your ability to hear the internal message. When you
"sit with your feelings" or "do nothing," you give
your higher self a better chance of being heard.
higher self also speaks to you through your physical body. Your body often
reacts to information from the self: you are so upset, you feel nauseous
or your stomach is tied in knots. You are so worn, you want to sleep. Your heart palpitates in
fear or your knees quiver; you have recurrent dreams or nightmares... The
self may be trying to talk to you! The self may be telling you that the
emotional "air" you are breathing is toxic. In most cases, it
is not the victim's job to learn how to deal with the stress of the
relationship; it is the victim's job to heed the body's warning signals -
and get out.
When we don't heed the body's message
and allow the emotional stress to go on for too long, our immune system
suffers or breaks
down. More and more, research is substantiating this mind-body (or
self-body) relationship. For example, childhood abuse is related to emotional problems in
adulthood. There is a correspondence between one's relationship and their health: abused women
suffer from more medical disorders than women who are not abused.
Self-Care or Self-Indulgence?
"Take care of the self", "be your own best
friend", "love yourself." If there is any question as to
what this means, always ask yourself: If I do (fill in), will I feel
better or worse about myself in the long run. What action enhances my
self-esteem? Even if you crave the immediate feel good fix, let integrity be your guide!
So, What's this got to do with Gina and Greg?
Greg was learning to listen to his inner voices that what Gina
was doing in her repeated isolation and pulling away did not feel good. It
hurt. He asked Gina to jump up a level of health by knocking it off
because her isolation was hurtful to him.
she was taking care of herself by licking her wounds. She was actually
taking care of her ego and doing her self a major dis-service. Removing
oneself from the situation is the first step in anger management. The idea
is to prevent more escalation in the heat of the moment. The problem was
Gina was well-practiced at removing herself, but she was using her
isolation time poorly; she was stuck.
entirely too much time "licking her wounds." In this space she obsessed
over how cheated she feels, how Greg doesn't get it, how she always
gets the short end of the stick, etc. In other words, poor Gina is stuck
in the dredges of the pity pot pit. She is symptomatic. Her pity pot helps
her feel "good" momentarily by focusing her anger on Greg's real
or imagined sins. There is satisfaction in pushing him away and hurting
him. This cognitive set does absolutely nothing to enhance her integrity.
In fact, her integrity is diminished! This is why taking a look at your
thinking is an integral part of anger management.
Challenging Irrational Thoughts
Gina was "licking her wounds" by
engaging in irrational thoughts. The reality is that she is no more
"cheated" than most of us; many people come from abusive homes;
you can't go back in time, but you don't have to continue your own abuse today.
Furthermore, she doesn't always get the short end of the stick, but
she's actively focused on the times when she does. She does not have to
focus on thoughts that hurt and depresses her.
Finally, Greg is very imperfect. We all are. What
is the point of focusing on what he does wrong and how he should change?
Gina has no control over Greg's behavior. She does have control
over her own. Sure, it would be nice if Greg behaved in healthier ways,
but he's working on it and is rarely abusive. Gina however gives Greg
entirely too much power when she thinks that she will feel better if he
does (whatever). She momentarily feels better when she punishes him
by pushing him away as she once pushed mom and dad away. Unfortunately,
her habitual thinking style does no more than maintain her anger,
hurt, and depression. Ouchhh!
sensitive young woman was hurt in childhood. Her family did neglect
her. She learned to be defensive to protect herself. She had to in order
to survive emotionally. But, that was then and this is now. She no
longer has to remain in a place that hurts, and where her only
solace is to get even with crummy mom and dad by pushing someone away.
As long as Gina viewed "licking her wounds" as a healing
experience, she was going to continue to hurt.
Obsessing over how bad things are (were) and actively
selecting negative aspects to focus on keep Gina down, stuck, and hurting.
As long as she viewed her isolation and its concomitant wound licking as
caring for herself, she was in trouble. Now she understands she was not
taking care of herself, and her goals have changed. While she's "not
ready" to leave her familiar place yet, that's OK. She'll get there
in her own time, I'm
day Gina will love herself and further enhance her integrity as she
challenges her implicit, habitual and destructive beliefs; beliefs that
simply are not true! She will use her time and energy constructively:
by paying attention to inside to learn about what really is
bothering her... (By the way, she's already started to hear the
My very best to
both of them...