(Links at end of post.) My husband died in 2009 of heart failure. My life changed drastically for the better.
Over the years I developed coping mechanisms to help protect myself and cope with my crumbling life.
I am now learning to overcome these no longer needed behaviors to be healthier mentally and emotionally. I am sharing these behaviors here to hopefully help someone see my behaviors in themselves so they can get help.
1. I apologize unnecessarily. Unnecessary apologizing is a placating behavior used subconsciously to put the victim in a hopefully safer position of submission. It gives the one being apologized to, the position of dominance.
After the initial awakening I still thought this was the best way to preserve peace in our household. I was wrong.
When one partner has absolute power over the other partner, it becomes a heady position for the abuser. The abused develops an increasingly submissive role which may affect them the rest of their lives even outside of the relationship.
Advice: Be aware of the frequency and situations when you apologize. Work on stopping unnecessary apologies. Stop abusing yourself; especially after your abuser is no longer there to abuse you.
2. I “fold” mentally sometimes when confronted by a strong personality, especially male salesmen, or some doctors. When a doctor is explaining something to me I nod and think that I understood everything but when I try to remember what was said, I sometimes forget or forget to ask questions I wanted to ask because “they were in a hurry.”
This was a coping mechanism to just shut my mind off about how or why I did something when I was afraid my husband would be mad. It was a subconscious behavior to protect me from saying something else that might upset him. At times I just thought I was so stupid and I couldn’t tell him what he or I had said just minutes before.
If it gave him power and made him feel more in control, then maybe he wouldn’t hound me about whatever I had done wrong. Maybe not the best plan, because it caused him to get frustrated and my self esteem to decline. But I had no control over it. (I also was working 12 hour night shifts as a nurse. I know my Circadian Rhythm was quite messed up which can affect many mental faculties.)
Advice: A strange but really effective way to overcome being intimidated, especially when there really isn’t any intimidation intended, is the Power Pose or Wonder Woman Pose. (https://www.bustle.com/articles/64462-how-the-wonder-woman-power-pose-might-actually-help-you-get-ahead-at-work.)
I actually was amazed when I tried it! Before the person I always felt inferior to, came into the room, I stood in the Wonder Woman pose and said to myself, “I am strong, I have nothing to fear. She is no better than I am.” I was appalled!!! It worked! We conversed like two intelligent adults!
3. I still try to give away my power where friends are concerned. Sometimes if a dear friend does something that hurts my feelings, I have trouble telling them. This behavior improved when my friend of over thirteen years told me she WANTED me to tell her if she hurt my feelings or did something that bothered me. She told me that she VALUED MY OPINION!
Can you imagine how amazing that felt!! She wanted me to tell her what I wanted to do; where I wanted to go!! For so long I gave away my power to avoid arguments. If he asked where I wanted to eat, and I suggested a place, he always had a reason for not wanting to go there or the next two or three places, until I just went along with whatever he wanted to do. It is okay to say that I don’t want to go somewhere or do something.
Advice: Decide on those things that are important to you. If you two can’t decide then agree to go separately or find a place you both like. Don’t just give up every time.
4. I still second guess myself and question my decisions or memories. Everyone deserves to be allowed to make mistakes without fear of reprisal, insults, and belittling. Mistakes can be learning experiences. But because I had a fear of failing or making bad decisions, I just let my husband make the big ones. After all he was so intelligent! Well, truth be told I was intelligent too. But I forgot that. I became a second class resident in my own home.
Advice: Take responsibility for your actions, your opinions, your choices, your life! Do not give away your power over your life. That is yours to keep! If you are afraid of ruining your life, then you may be aware that you are on the wrong path.
Be aware of your self image. Has your self view declined into self hate? Make changes or get help to bolster your self esteem and confidence. Make good friends who truly see what a wonderful person you are. Focus on your accomplishments!
5. I still carry more guilt than I should for our marriage and the way it turned out. I sometimes think, “What if I had been stronger?” “What if I had left him when he refused to get counseling?” What if, what if, what if? The past is in the past.
I am a new woman
I feel like a new woman, taking charge of my life. Healing is ongoing. I now know that I was strong all along to have endured and survived emotionally and mentally all that I went through. Now is my time to heal and to live for me.
I am now 10 years away from his death. I remind myself that I was a victim. I remind myself that I did the best that I knew how to do. I had little or no preparation or experience on how to disagree strongly and healthily.
I loved my husband and knew he was sick. I could not prevent his death because his eating habits were his and he did not take well to reminding or nagging. I was not responsible for his behavior. I was responsible for mine.
Advice: Talk with your true friends who love you or a counselor who can help you see things realistically. Stop beating yourself up over the past. You can make a new life and future given some help and some time. Stop the guilt train!
One last statement. I thought I could just tell him that I forgave him on his deathbed. I did to some small degree. But how can you truly forgive someone, (not forget) until you have cut the ties that bind you to those behaviors, memories and the pain until you see them, understand them and overcome them? It takes time, perseverance, self love and self compassion, understanding and strength. But it is so worth it!