I can’t afford a psychologist, so I am writing to you. After three years together, my ex and I split two months ago due to a physical threat. I filed a restraining order and let him go emotionally. I was doing fine until recently, when I discovered that he was married and concealed it while we were together. He had previously told me that he was divorced. I feel disrespected and I need him to apologize to me. I am angry and resentful. I really feel that he owes me an apology. He needs to acknowledge that I was there for him and for his kids. I did things for him that I never did for anyone else. To be treated like I did something wrong is causing conflict in myself. Please help.
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want: To be over him? Or to win? ’Cause if you ask me (which, of course, you did), the conflict stirring inside you is really about power, not closure. Your ex overpowered you with a threat. Then you restored your sense of personal power by filing a restraining order against him. That choice allowed a sense of balance to prevail. But to maintain equilibrium you must do the internal work necessary to discover why you remained in an abusive relationship for so long. You also need to acknowledge the parts of your personality that contribute to the tension-building-explosion-reconciliation cycle of abuse. Therapy is the best way to do this and organizations like Women Escaping a Violent Environment and the El Dorado Women’s Center have low-cost counseling available. Please use it.
Another concern: The discovery of your ex’s lie should strengthen your resolve to be free of him. Instead, you are using this information to try to re-establish contact. That seems self-abusive, to me, and disrespectful of law enforcement and the legal system. Seeking an apology seems like typical abuse behavior: You think he will acknowledge your pain and change. Then you reconcile, temporarily, before launching into the tension-building phase all over again. Why not be grateful that you discovered what a scoundrel he is? And why not be jubilant that you are rid of him?
One last thing: If you feel resentful about things you did for him or his children, it’s a sign that you overextended yourself. In the future, either extend your boundaries so you are pleased to do for others or admit to your heart’s limitations and restrict your giving. Resenting your past choices only serves to keep you connected to the history that you are trying to leave behind.
I was very interested in your July 12 column about the shadow. The Deepak Chopra quote—”An eruption of irrational feelings isn’t the same as releasing them. Venting is not purification. So don’t mistake an outburst for catharsis.”—really caught my attention. After years and years of venting, I agree that it does not lead to catharsis. How do I release the shadow’s control?
In addition to the breathing exercise suggested by Chopra in that same column, you might try www.thework.com. It’s a deceptively simple writing process that reveals and releases the shadow—that part of our personality that we tend to disown because it struggles with fear, guilt and shame. I have found the Work useful in a variety of major crises and minor inconveniences. There are lots of free resources on the Web site (and Byron Katie, the creator of the process, is also on YouTube), but if you want a personal introduction to the Work, join me on September 27 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Learning Exchange. Register online at www.learningexchange.com.