I definitely do not have the answers you are looking for, but I do have a few observations.
I think that there is a ball of stuff here that you are lumping together to where it seems overwhelming.
In my experience, grief is not something we can control or fully manage really. It's a non-linear process, where you can visit different stages multiple times and for varying lengths of time. Eventually, some of the bigger emotions kind of are burned off in the process.
It sounds like you have a lot of avoidant coping behaviors and perhaps you want to ensure that you don't use them while at the same time not sending yourself off on the deep end. Makes sense. At the same time I think you are overwhelmed because you want it all to be right now, and true and lasting change is very slow. It's a process that is slow and only builds momentum with consistency.
Her becoming angry that I am being self-indulgent and minimizing her pain is something that I am very afraid of
Tell me more about this. This sentence gave me a few questions:
1. Why do you fear that? Do you fear it because this is a blow up often? What is precipitating it if so?
2. Have you discussed this with her? I can see that sometimes it's difficult to straddle doing our own work, being there for them, and trying to reestablish a direction. But, what I found was at some point by truly working on myself it's what enabled me to be able to do all the other stuff. I know that it is all urgent, but with open communication and coming up with some strategies together that in itself can bridge some of the gap.
It is probaby one of the biggest hurdles I have to not just processing grief but practicing self-compassion.
Self Compassion. Yes, elusive little booger. I eventually came to realize the following things about this:
1. You can't force self compassion or self forgiveness. Instead focus on things that help promote it.
2. If you can get to the place where you have worked through some of the things you have carried around with you since you were young at some point you can come to a place of just realizing that when we know better we can do better. I had no knowledge of what trauma was or the ways my own trauma had shaped who I was, once I could recognize it, then I could change my self-talk around it. I eventually framed it as, okay you can't change these things but what you can change is how you are moving forward. And when we are consistent it's not just helpful to our BS, what we are doing is also building a new recent history with ourselves. You will find that once you have been consistent for a fairly significant period of time you feel better about yourself, and will be better able to manage everything around you. The better you feel about yourself, the easier it is to see you are no longer the person you were at the time of the cheating (or other actions) and you can understand all the knowledge and skills you were lacking back at that time. Boom, you can see that person with a little more compassion.
3. Which leads me to the most important part of what I practiced to get self compassion - It's very basic self care things that you practice and become cognizant of.
Love is a verb. By having consistency in what you are doing is a way to show yourself that you care about yourself. Sounds very stupid, but I started making sure I was resting enough (mentally and physically), I made sure to exercise (oh the endorphins are a bonus help), eating better. And, I learned to when I was doing self talk to ask myself "would you say this to someone you love or your best friend?" Cleaning up those things can help in ways I can't even describe to you. Most everything is rooted in habits. Work on a few at a time. I practiced just exercising for about 2 months before I moved on to something else. Too many changes at once is too overwhelming and sets you up for failure which only adds to the shame you are trying to shed.
Every therapist says I need to forgive myself and speak to myself in a less harsh way. That I can't live under a microscope of carrying this burden forever.
I do relate to your feelings around this and the self flagellation which keeps you in a circular pattern rather than one that progresses forward. Stop trying to make yourself forgive yourself. It doesn't work. Ask me how I know. LOL! Focus only on the things I told you about reaching self compassion. Forgiveness (I think, not sure if I am there yet) is in a field way past self compassion. I have felt a lot more self compassion in the last year (which was year 3), it's a lot more comfortable of a place to be. Forgiveness? I am not sure I can forgive a behavior that I now abhor, but I do have enough self awareness, understanding, and progress that the lack of forgiveness isn't hurting me or holding me back.
This is part of why I've had so many therapists... I can't get to this place of self-anything because it feels indulgent and selfish. I had enough of that during my A. Taking any time for something that is about me/for me is upsetting.
I had that mindset. I thought if I wasn't sad or hand wringing it would make me a monster. That my BS would never be able to accept my remorse or sorrow.
No, this is the opposite of what is needed. What your BS needs is someone who is strong enough to lean on. This makes you dependable. If you can love and respect yourself, you will do a better job at loving and respecting them. In so many ways, the hand wringing and holding on to the shame is actually the selfish thing to do. It continues to make the relationship and recovery about you and how you are feeling. It makes your BS feel like they have to be careful as to not rattle you too much in your fragile state. But, it causes them to carry more of their own burden. At some point, I feel like most often it eventually causes the relationship to be permanently severed because they finally accept they can't rely on you.
Do the work. This is not selfish. Every single thing flows from your relationship with yourself.
As for having a particular faith, Fof9303, I do not. But for the first time in my life going through this process I have finally understood why so many people do. It has been tempting. But again, the idea of being forgiven and being able to give something up to a high power leaves me feeling upset.
I focus on spirituality. What I mean by that is some of the foundations of religions are the same and I think it's because there are some universal truths there. Two of the things that help me are prayer and surrender. While I don't want to break guidelines or say anything controversial - think of prayer as stating intentions, reflecting on what you want and saying it out loud or on paper. AND the bigger part of this is thanking God, the universe who whoever for what you have. Gratitude practices is something I would look a lot at. I start every single day with thinking about 2-3 things I am thankful for. I allow myself to connect with my gratitude which promotes joy. It also makes me notice those things more as I move through my day.
Meditation is also helpful in that way. My therapist called it thinning the veil between the heart and soul. Observing thoughts without judgment or putting labels of good or bad on them. Eckhardt Tolle has a great book called "The Power of Now" and this was a pivotal piece for me to read and practice. It took me 6 months to read all of it, not because it's long but because it's very dense and takes a lot of practice.
Surrendering is important because understanding we are really only in control of ourselves, not outcomes, or not other people and how they choose to react to us. This is a difficult practice but letting go of over thinking is a crucial element to healing. And, honey, I am as big of an overthinker as you are, if not worse.
Take away all the triggers of religion and I am still left feeling like I am underserving and am being selfish.
Feelings of underserving come from feelings of shame. This is another thing I think religion does a good job of in most have some principle that you were made with inherent worth. You are no less or more deserving of happiness than anyone else in this world. There is not something inherently bad about you that is unchangeable. Right now there is a post in WS called "Great Read", this talks about fixed mentality which is where you are. I also recommend looking at the book "Rising strong" by Brene Brown because she talks about how we carry this shame around and it hinders our vulnerability. We try and hide it by telling ourselves we have to earn things by hustling, and often trying to be perfect.
My perfectionism is the #1 thing that held me back for so long. It was my coping mechanism so that others wouldn't know who I really was. Because I felt that person wasn't good enough. Well, you know what? She is good enough. And so are you! By showing up and showing ourselves it is a practice of vulnerability, and to rebuilt trust and connection with our BS this is something we need to be way better at. I keep hearing "I am afraid to fail" in what you have written here. And that keeps you from getting to the good stuff that is on the other side of that fear.
Will processing the grief of losing the old marriage help any of this?
I am not sure. I do feel as a WS I grieved some of the consequences of my actions because it did change our marriage. But, as a BS the grief is different and stronger, because you are in a place where you don't even know what's real. As the WS, we know what's real. As a BS, there is a feeling of losing trust in ourselves and our instincts. The grief to me stems from that because it means the marriage that you thought you had all those years wasn't the way you saw it. Your spouse isn't who you thought. I feel like you will naturally grieve the losses you experience. But, that's not the thing to focus on.
Which brings me to the thing to focus on. Right now you are still so caught up in your feelings (as I explained earlier in this post) that you can't get to the remorse of what you did to her. You think you can, but you are taking up a lot of your emotional space with how you are feeling. That's natural, it doesn't make you a worse person or an unworthy person to R with. But, as your wife is grieving the loss of your marriage, you can't take her in fully because you fear what it means for you.
THIS IS WHY it's so important and brave to do the work and focus on that work, and why it's not selfish but necessary. The way you have framed this has blocked you from moving forward. You don't mean for it to be an excuse but it is serving as one.
And I am sounding like I need to get something out of the process in order to do it. Everything is so transactional with me...
Again, I think your framing here is off.
What if you framed it more as everyone needs motivation, and what is the healthiest way to frame your motivation? The way I frame it is this - I am stuck with myself. Forever. The longest relationship I will ever have is with myself. The better my relationship is with myself the better my relationships with others can be. The better I am the better I am for others, the better results I will have in what I am trying to set my mind on to accomplish.
Everyone is transactional to a certain degree because we all have needs and desires. Sure, we can give without expecting things in return, and we should be generous in our relationships. But that fountain flows from how generous we are with ourselves.
I am so sorry I have practically written a book here, but it's a long process and the only thing you have to do is stop trying to control everything at once, it's overwhelming you and rendering you unable to get past even some of the earliest steps. Shame and no self worth are the root of this, so focus on those things first. And as I said, the first step is getting consistent and serious about your self care and practicing better self talk.
Take care, and keep posting. Some of this self work stuff might get more responses over in the WS section. I would recommend putting up a post there as you dig into your work.
[This message edited by hikingout at 10:47 AM, January 14th (Thursday)]