Cognitive Dissonance.

One of the truths of the past decade, is that my understanding of interpersonal dynamics is terribly skewed. It’s like a picture, hanging on a wall. What do I use as a basis for it being properly aligned? Items askew must be adjusted in my world, so usually you pick one straight line – the ceiling, the floor, the edge of the wall – and use it to line up the square or rectangular decorations on your walls.

For almost my entire marriage, nothing lined up right. So I did the best I could, found the least offensive way to put some order to my life. I lined myself up against my husband’s beliefs, not always accepting, but not always protesting or standing up against the ones that were incorrect. My options? Leave. Work towards change. Adapt.

Leaving would have been too jarring early on. I had put so much into this ‘house’ even with all its nonplumb lines I wasn’t ready to give up on it.

My husband was too resistant to change, he clung to the worst parts of himself. I changed what I could, working on myself, but it is a very long process when you have the anti-support he was.

Which left me to adapt. Like the slender tree that bows before the storm, rather than something that snaps as it is caught up in the ferocity of wind and rain and fury.

In therapy, they call this cognitive dissonance.

Then: To keep myself calm in the midst of his rages, I had to remind myself that he had never hit me before, so the likelihood that he would lose control was very low. Even when he punched the wall a few inches from my face. On one level I knew it was rational to fear, on the other levels it was safer not to reveal it.

Now: Even when I tell myself I am safe in safe situations, it is still hard to believe. I worry that I am just fooling myself again. This means I’m constantly second-guessing myself.

Then: If I contradicted him, his fury would crest so high that I even began to doubt facts I knew without a doubt to be true. So I became silent of opinion, and suspicious of everything he stated.

Now: I associate his abusive nature and his false information together, and constantly equivocate when giving my opinion, in case I inadvertently speak something untrue. If I even give my opinion at all. Others see this as me lacking self-confidence, which is true, but it comes from not having a solid understanding of what around me is true and what isn’t.

Then: For a time we shared a commute home. He would often rant and pontificate and yell about how much he hated his job, how much they hated him, how he wasn’t progressing as he’d like and all the stupid people he had to deal with. Five days a week, almost an hour and a half a day. By the time we got home, he would ramp up so high, that once he punched and shattered our windshield while I was driving. Once, when I expressed discomfort about the way he was driving, he began driving even more recklessly. If I drove, he would complain about my driving making him feel unsafe.

Now: I feel most at ease when I am the one driving and in control of the car. However, I get tense when I make mistakes, or if I start talking about topics with someone that might solicit their strong opinion in the car. This means sometimes thoughts come into my head which I am not yet comfortable to voice in a moving vehicle.

Then: There was a feeling that I had to say “I love you” back, every time he said it to me. And he would say it often, especially after an incident. It was his reassurance to himself that we were okay, and not responding would have been a flare-up. It became automatic, and felt like a lie, and I hated myself for it.

Now: Every time I respond with ‘I love you’ to someone, I stop and think about it. Sometimes I catch myself before I say it at all, because I never want to get back to that place.

Then: At one point I had assessed our home and considered ‘safe places’ in it. If necessary, I knew the bedrooms would allow me to push out the window screens and get outside. I knew to avoid the bathrooms, because there were no exits. None of the rooms in our home had a lock, and there were times I wish that were not the case.

Now: I still prefer seats that give me a view of the entrances to an area. I still ‘case’ an area for entrances and exits, even if it isn’t conscious, even if I ‘feel’ safe. I know this is hyper-vigilance.

There came a point in time where I looked myself in the mirror, and frankly told myself his illness could kill me. I asked my reflection, seriously, “are you prepared for that?” Because I meant my marriage vows, because I believed (or had convinced myself) his actions were a result of illness and not choice. So, after thinking about it, I said yes. I prepared myself for anything that would happen. So long as we were fighting this illness of his together, I would be right there in the trenches with him. It’s also one of the many reasons I gave up on ever having kids.

When he was angry it felt like he was always one impulse away from doing harm, and that it took great effort for him to release his energy at other items and not me. Careless, reckless driving (him). Him jumping out of a car on the freeway during stop and go traffic in a moment of road rage (I was driving). Raging in the kitchen, where we kept all our cooking knives (I never forgot his threat). I rationalized what I had to, to stay calm. To stay as safe as I could and remain in the situation.

Cognitive Dissonance.

These past few months, everything is reversing. My expectations are wonky and not everything lines up the way I expect. I feel lucky that I met a guy who surpasses even my basic expectations. He’s taught me that my bar for how I’m treated is far too low, simply by treating me with value. It’s been eye-opening, to say the least. And almost comical, in how different the reactions are between Guy and Ex to similar stimuli.

Right now my world is still a heaving deck on a stormy sea (to mix metaphors even further in this post). Anxiety has been high this week.




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