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Therapy : The Oxygen Mask

Concepts in Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis

Concepts in Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently met my husbands therapist for the first time. We ended up staying for an extra hour and in those 2 hours I learned so much. There’s a lot of ‘she said’ and numbers involved in this post so apologies if I lose a few of you – a few times throughout lol.

Let me say that due to the nature of this post, this topic…this situation… I’m obviously not going to go into detail of anything that isn’t mine to share so any examples used are purely fabricated for the purpose of… Well giving an example basically lol

The first thing she did was explain all the transactional analysis stuff – which I’ve posted about here– but explained it so it made sense and was relevant to us. The bottom line is that my husband is REALLY hard on himself, maybe not out loud but he is nonetheless. I realised he had low self esteem on some level but I never knew quite the extent of it. For example spilling a drink… To me that’s nothing but for him he hates himself for it – all due to childhood.

She explained that he knows he NEEDS to change but some things he doesn’t necessarily WANT to… Not yet anyway. The reason he NEEDS to change… the reason he wants to WANT to change is to stay with me. He’s doing this for us because he knows that I cant live like this forever. (sounds like I’m a bitch but I need to look out for me too and basically he doesn’t want to lose me) She told me that it would be a long road but he has made so much progress already and I should be proud (I am) and that the trick is to make HIM feel proud of himself too.

She told me that some of his secrets, the things he doesn’t tell me aren’t necessarily BAD, it’s more that he finds hard to tell me because he’s kept them close for years, they’re his good memories and he wants to keep them and needs to learn that he CAN tell them without bad repercussions. I suppose in childhood he learnt (subconsciously) that if he didn’t tell then he couldn’t get in trouble etc so instead he kept everything to himself.

She then used the example of rating each “secret” on a scale of difficulty, 1 being ‘without MUCH effort’ (though for him that’s still a lot) and 10 being ‘wouldn’t tell a soul’. She asked me to give examples of a 1 – which I found difficult in itself as there’s not much I DONT find easy to disclose. So Instead I chose a 2… ‘My mum and dad split when I was nine and he has lived in America ever since’ That statement – for me- has been said so often that now it’s just another fact. I don’t LIKE that fact, I don’t LIKE the ‘awwws’ and the questions that follow but I find it relatively easy to tell. On my husbands scale that would be a ‘7’.

I was then asked to give an example (not necessarily true) of a 10 in my mind. I honestly could not think of anything of my own bad enough to be rated a 10. I mean telling someone their family member just died etc that’s pretty hard but that’s not MY secret is it? The therapist stepped in and said she would find it quite hard to think of one too but maybe if she had cheated on her husband then telling him would be a 10. I have to be honest here…I disagree…and that’s made me question whether I’m just too brutal/blunt/open….THAT for me would be a ‘7’ yes it would be hard but surely if I had cheated in the first place I wouldn’t find it that hard to hurt him anyway.

ANYWAY, seeing as my 2 (pretty easy) was the equivalent of his 7 (really hard) hopefully I haven’t lost you and you see the difference – AND my point. They explained the consequences of telling me (or anyone) anything over a 2, he feels physically sick the higher the number, he berates himself, he panics, he worries….and these symptoms or repercussions can last for days afterwards so basically whenever he reveals things I need to soothe him and thank him etc and at the same time try not to react too much either way -basically don’t make a big deal out of it but don’t ignore the fact he’s opening up…to me.

We agreed to state the rating whenever anything new has been discussed as some of them – to me- are so ‘normal’ i.e. ‘one time this guy at work….’ = ‘4’… that I often don’t realise that it was anything other than small talk.

To put it into perspective once more she asked him the following questions:

How many people have you told a ‘1’ ? – one or two (being me and her)
How many people have you told a ‘5’? – one (me)
How many people have you told a ’10’? one (me again)

Bottom line is...I am the one he trusts, I am the one he is opening up to and I am the one he wants to talk to and be himself with. It suddenly dawned on me that when we first started dating he would often say ‘god I’ve never told anyone that before’ about things which – again- didn’t seem like a big deal to me… well now it does. I asked if that’s the reason he married me – ‘I guess so’

She did ask me how it (our situation) affects me day to day etc but I will leave that for another post so I can pour my heart out a little without taking away from the stuff in this one as all of the above really did open my eyes to exactly what we are going through – and that’s the focus here.

When wrapping up our session she asked if I had any questions….

‘What would you say were the 3 things I CAN to do help….and what 3 things should I steer clear of?’

Oxygen mask made in NY

Oxygen mask made in NY (Photo credit: K. Todd Storch)

To help:

  • He’s already critical of everything so ease off – don’t ignore issues when they arise but think about wording and calming before exploding etc – basically give him a shit sandwich where you give a positive then the negative and follow it with another positive.
  • Thank him when he opens up – its really fucking hard for him to do so
  • Appreciate that he’s trying– for US

As for things to avoid she gave the example of the oxygen mask dropping when a plane is going down….

Who do you put the mask on first? (I said the kids lol) WRONG!
You put it on yourself and THEN help others because how can you help others if you’re not strong enough? Basically I need to take care of myself too otherwise I wont be any good to anyone, take a break, have some fun, treat myself… because I need to be strong for him…just like he is using therapy as his oxygen mask….so that he can be strong for me too.

xBx

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Guest Post – The other side of the glass: What does it feel like?

memory void

memory void (Photo credit: esmtll)

As promised, here is the first Guest Post from our mystery blogger

The other side of the glass: How does it feel?

I happened to come across the Comfortably Numb blog and I immediately contacted Beth. I wanted to give her some hope. You see, I have a unique perspective on all of this.

I was the one with PTSD. I was the one feeling numb.

Over the next few posts, I hope to give you some insights into what Beth’s husband is going through. I’ve also privately offered some suggestions to Beth, as my only hope is for her husband to feel once again.

I am by no means an expert, I’m just a survivor. If you are going through this yourself, talk to someone. Anyone. You can overcome the symptoms of PTSD and live a very normal and productive life just like I have. The treatments available today are much more advanced than when I had to deal with PTSD nearly ten years ago.

If you have a friend or loved one experiencing any of the symptoms, please encourage them to get help. Be there to listen and try to be as understanding as possible.

Without giving too much information, I dealt with female on male domestic abuse. An ex-wife abused me mentally, emotionally, and even physically over the course of our marriage. After dealing with this for many years, I was worn out emotionally. The marriage was loveless and arguments occurred daily. (This is a very simplified explanation of a very complicated situation. I’m just attempting to give a little back-story on how the PTSD came about.)

After an exceptionally difficult verbal fight that lasted twelve hours, I went to bed.

After sleeping a short three hours, I woke up the next morning in a fog. It was as if I was awake, but I was still dreaming. I had tunnel vision and nothing felt real. I could barely feel even physical touching, and when it occurred, it didn’t make sense to me.

I will never forget the look a young girl gave me when I went into a restaurant to eat. It was as if she could see the emptiness of my soul. She looked into my eyes and gave me the most…touching look. It was as if she was reaching out to me, through her eyes, to comfort me, because she immediately noticed the pain I was in.

I assumed I was experiencing all of this due to the lack of sleep. I assumed it was just a bad day and the evil feeling would be gone the next day. I was wrong.

Waking up the next day was stranger than the first. The fog had lifted from my brain, but The Void* was definitely there. I was emotionless.

What is The Void? The Void is what I call that feeling you have when you suffer with PTSD.

This is how I’ve tried to explain it over the years. Imagine that your beating heart is confined to a glass box that is in the same room you are in. You can see it. You know it is there, but you cannot touch it and you cannot feel anything from it. It functions physically but everything else is disconnected from it.

Imagine waking up and not being able to “feel” anything. No happiness, no sadness, no frustration, no sorrow, no joy, no elation, no anything. In my situation, the one emotion I could feel was anger, and quite often rage. Other than that, I felt absolutely nothing. You could have told me that my mother had just passed away and I would not have shed a tear.

The Void is pure emptiness in your soul. It is a suffocating nothingness. I used to talk long walks at night, because it was one of the few places I now felt comfortable. It was the one place the dark, cold, emptiness inside of me matched the dark, cold, emptiness on the outside.

The Void had moved in and it would take several years for it to move out. Thankfully, I made many changes and once I left that abusive relationship I started to heal. Other PTSD sufferers have a much more difficult road ahead of them. Their trauma is deeper or more hidden and their wounds more severe. However, my message is one of hope, and when The Void takes over your soul, you will grasp onto any hope that you can.

The feeling is wicked and evil. You don’t want to feel blank. You don’t want to feel empty. You don’t want to be nothing. You want to laugh and smile and cry and giggle…but it is gone. It is a very unnatural feeling and even though you know you are broken, you can’t just snap your fingers and fix it. So you learn to live with it.

What is it like to live without emotions?

That topic will be discussed in my next blog post. Until then, hug your PTSD sufferers. Hold their hands and kiss their cheeks. You will not get much, if anything, in return, but the person…the real person that is stuck behind The Void will appreciate it more than you will ever know.

* Every PTSD sufferer may not have the same level of emotion that they personally “feel”. Each trauma, person, and situation is unique. I’m just trying to give you my perspective to help you relate.

 
 

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