Self-Reflection – The tool that made me realize the cycle of abuse!
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
After a bad marriage for 18 months I sent a notice of separation to my ex-husband and moved out of the matrimonial home. I started living in the Melbourne CBD, close to work and in a secure apartment. It had taken a toll on me and I was emotionally, mentally and physically drained, sleeping less than 5 hours each night. I was feeling guilty, regretful of my decision to marry this man and blaming myself for erroneously evaluating him. Throughout the 18 months there was never a pleasant day and I was under tremendous pressure being the first born and the eldest amongst all my siblings, a trend-setter in every way – the first one to earn a Master’s Degree, first to learn to fly Glider Airplanes, go to a foreign country for higher education and secure citizenship, to fall in love and get married to a man from another caste and community. And I feared being the first one to be divorced and a failure in relationships.
I earnestly wanted to analyze the conflicts, my husband’s behaviors, my response and my behavior and find the potential root causes of why the marriage and the relationship was a debacle – self reflection. You see I am an Engineer blessed with a scientific brain so it needs to process, analyze, dissect, eliminate and then draw conclusions. I was not going to give up so easily and I used the legal one-year separation period as the time to just do that. I understood that this legal separation period is an opportunity for both partners involved in the marriage to reflect, review, evaluate and identify the causes of the relationship breakdown and the conflicts. Once I had identified the problems it would be easier to resolve the issues, and or make an empowered decision to move away from the toxic relationship.
After I got settled into my new home I created a routine to maintain an excel spreadsheet where I recollected every major conflict I had, the reason for it, the husband’s reaction, my response and how we both attempted to resolve it and move forward. Initially it was painful, I would cry as I re-lived the experiences. Likewise expect that. This simple exercise in self reflection will help you understand yourself better, how you make decisions and how you perceive yourself. It can be used extensively for all kinds of conflicts: marital, work-related, friendships, business etc. The more you practice it the better you get at it.
Initially you may feel a bit overwhelmed, confused, and emotional, but eventually you will come to a point where the situation does not evoke any kind of emotion and you can look at things objectively. This is when you know that you have fully processed and healed from the hurt the conflict has caused you. I cannot and will not recommend a timeline for this healing as the ability to acknowledge and process grief or hurt is dependent on the individual. My advice is to be kind to yourself during this process, and be patient.
Use the below guideline and template to reflect on a challenging situation:
- Describe the situation of conflict.
E.g. My husband and I went on a trip to Bright, Victoria. After I paid the bills and checked out of the hotel my husband and I walked to the car park. When I got into the car my husband belittled and accused me of making him spend his money on an unnecessary trip. He walked away and did not return for 2 hours. I kept waiting for him in the car after the check-out.
- Co-creator in the situation of conflict may be your husband/work colleague/business partner/friend/peers. Describe how your co-creator responded to the situation during the conflict
E.g. The husband belittled me, used expletives and abandoned me and disappeared for 2 hours.
- Describe how you responded to the conflict?
E.g. I asked him why was he so upset when we had both planned the trip and I made all the bookings for the holiday. I was confused, sad, and hurt. I felt abandoned. I felt sad and hurt because we both agreed to this holiday. I felt confused because I paid for everything and didn’t understand his accusation to contrary. I felt insecure and not cared for because I was abandoned in a new place for 2 hours and given the silent treatment. I felt regret for even taking the trip with him.
- From your perspective what did your partner feel about the situation and how did they respond to any disagreements if any? Did he give a knee jerk reaction? Did he physically or verbally abuse you? Did he retreat into silence? Did he put the issues under the carpet and pretended that it never happened? Did he storm out the door? Who apologised first? Did he apologise at all? Did he blame you for everything?
E.g. He was angry and walked away.
- How do you feel about the situation of conflict? How did you emotionally react or respond to the situation?
E.g. I was experiencing a lot of grief, anger, confusion, sadness, abandonment, regret, and hurt… all at one time.
My emotions: Steps to Resolve
- What steps did each of you take to resolve the conflict?
E.g. When he came back to the car I told him how I felt and that his reaction was drastic, confusing, and unnecessary. On his part my husband blamed me for his reactions. He refused to talk to me and didn’t want to talk about it. A few days later when I casually brought up the topic and again expressed my feelings of abandonment my husband blatantly refused to talk about it or acknowledge it. He went a step further this time by asking me to make an appointment with a psychologist because he thought I was insane to dwell on an issue experienced on a past trip.
Actions to avoid in future:
- What actions did you agree upon so that similar situations of conflict can be avoided?
E.g. As the husband did not partake in any steps to resolve the conflict and instead blamed me for the whole fiasco I couldn’t do much then. I was anxious to go on any other trips with him and did not know what actions to take to avoid this conflict in the future. This was a curveball for me.
Eventually we went on another trip to Gold Coast and this time the reason for conflict was even sillier. My husband finished bathing and asked for the towel and a shirt to wear. I asked him which one would he like to wear and he responded “give me any shirt you like”. So I gave him the white shirt he bought a few days ago. My husband walked out of the shower, started verbally abusing me, used a lot of expletives and said “Have you ever seen me wearing a white shirt?” To that I responded, “that’s why I gave you the white shirt to wear? You did not have a particular preference, did you?” He pushed me aside, got dressed and left the hotel again for a good 3 hours this time.
I was blamed yet again for having poor choices when it was his wardrobe and he bought the clothes. That never got resolved, he didn’t speak to me for 2 days and never worked with me to understand his behaviour and responses. I put up with such ad-hoc aggressive situations for 18 months amounting to physical, emotional, financial and verbal abuse. I felt guilty and blamed myself for the conflicts all the time until I moved out and practised self-reflection.
Then it became clear to me that I was always wanting to resolve, to make it work, to understand the problem, to embody growth mindset but I was with a partner who did not want to evolve, understand his own behavior, had anger and communication issues, and had patriarchal tendencies which resulted in seeing women as chattels. As is common they perpetuate domestic violence yet blame the victim, they may or may not apologise, act better for a while until another fault, and are verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive…and the cycle repeats.
During all this period the victim is always confused, sad, hurt, guilty, regretful, and angry with self, and goes through a myriad of emotions. This is what dealing with a narcissistic person feels like. I truly believe that God was on my side and he was guiding me to see the red flags time and again but I took note of it only when I started to practice self reflection.
Love & Light