Wendy started counseling with me because Terence, her husband of 14 years, had just expressed to her that he wanted to end their relationship. Wendy, terrified of being alone, was panicked. Within a few minutes of speaking with her in a phone session, I understood exactly the underlying cause of their relationship problems.
Wendy, coming from a family where she experienced much neglect, had a deep abandonment fear. In her family, Wendy had learned to be a caretaker, giving herself up and taking care of everyone else’s feelings and needs. Wendy had learned to put her own feelings in a closet, hoping that if she took care of everyone else, someone would care about her. As an adult, she continued in this pattern, taking care of her husband and children but completely neglecting to take care of herself. As a result, she was often very angry at Terence and her children when they didn’t listen to her or approve of her.
People often end up treating us the way we treat ourselves. Because Wendy was treating herself as if she was unimportant, Terence and her children also treated her as if she was unimportant. Because Wendy didn’t listen to herself, Terence and her children didn’t listen to her. Her fury at Terence and her children for not seeing her or listening to her further alienated them from her. Terence had reached the point where he was no longer willing to be at the other end of Wendy’s anger.
Rather than take emotional responsibility for her own well being, Wendy was making Terence and her children emotionally responsible for her. She was abandoning herself, just as her parents had abandoned her, and was expecting Terence to give her what she never received from her parents.
Terence was also not taking emotional responsibility. He had spent much of their marriage trying to make Wendy happy while ignoring his own feelings and needs. He vacillated between compliance and resistance. When he complied, Wendy felt better but he felt terrible from the sense of loss of himself. When he resisted, Wendy felt rejected and became enraged. Terence ended up feeling like he was a victim of Wendy. He blamed her for his misery and felt he no alternative but to leave.
I ended up working with both Wendy and Terence. Through working with the Six Step Inner Bonding process that we teach, Wendy learned to attend to her abandonment feelings herself rather than go after Terence or her children when these feelings came up. She learned that she was being self responsible rather than selfish when she took responsibility for her own feelings of safety, worth, lovability, happiness and joy, rather than making Terence responsible for making her feel safe and worthy. She learned that when she embraced the responsibility of listening to and taking responsibility for her own feelings, she no longer felt abandoned or angry.
Terence learned that he had another option other than compliance or resistance. He learned to take responsibility for his own feelings by telling Wendy his truth when she yelled at him or blamed him. Instead of being a victim, he learned to stand up for himself and set loving limits on how Wendy was treating him. He learned to say, “I don’t like being yelled at. I don’t want to be with you when you are yelling at me and blaming me for your feelings. If you can’t treat me with caring and respect, then I don’t want to talk with you or spend time with you. I don’t like being with you when you treat me this way.”
At first, Terence was reluctant to say these things to Wendy. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her his truth. He felt his truth was harsh and that he would be unloving if he said these things. However, when he was willing to take the risk of speaking his truth, he found that Wendy was actually grateful to receive the truth. Rather than getting angry and hurt, she appreciated his honesty, and told him that he was helping her to learn and grow by telling her his truth.
Terence ended up not leaving. Over a period of a year of doing their inner work, their relationship completely changed. In fact, he and Wendy have achieved a new level of love and intimacy in their relationship, beyond what they had when they first fell in love.