“That sense of loss grew within the humans who had been left behind, left to live without unicorns. Even the ones who had never seen a unicorn, never heard of a unicorn, felt the passing of something sweet and wonderful. It was as if the air had surrendered a bit of its spice, the water a bit of its sparkle, the night a bit of its mystery.”
(Bruce Coville, Dark Whispers)
Loss of innocence. Shattered hopes and dreams. Identity crisis. These are common feelings among those of us who’ve been through the trauma of a relationship with a psychopath.
It is alarming to consider that our nicely ordered life, with its predictability and safety and certainty, actually exists on the edge of a vast and unknown wilderness. Our homes and our selves are our basic places of safety. When violated, we have nowhere to go to feel safe. The fact that this violation was perpetrated by someone we thought we knew and trusted leaves us shaken. We find ourselves in a seemingly irreconcilable opposition between this wilderness and the civilized and familiar place we once inhabited. Only when we can take that new paradigm, and accept it and integrate it with our old one, does our fear and uncertainty about ourselves and the world resolve. (Liminality, the Unsettling Space of In-Between).
How can you do that? Looking at things from the perspective of what you’ll gain—instead of what you’ve lost—can be helpful.
“When the storm comes, pray that it will shake you to your roots and break you wide-open. Being broken open by the storm is your only hope. When you are broken open you get to discover for the first time what is inside you. Some people never get to see what is inside them; what beauty, what strength, what truth and love. They were never broken open by the storm. So, don’t run from your pain — run into your pain. Let life’s storm shatter you.”
(Bryant McGill )
SENSE OF IDENTITY
Psychopaths threaten our sense of self, or our self-identity. They throw us into a spiral of self-doubt. When it’s over, we may be left feeling that we don’t know who we are anymore, which is disturbing. Don’t despair, because an identity crisis may occur at any time in your adult years when you’re faced with a challenge to your sense of self.
The psychoanalyst Erick Erickson is known for his theory of the eight stages of psychosocial development. This theory identifies a series of eight stages that a healthy developing individual should pass through from infancy to late adulthood.
One of those stages is “identity vs. role confusion” (adolescence, 13–19 years). Adolescents “are confronted by the need to re-establish boundaries for themselves and to do this in the face of an often potentially hostile world.” (Stevens, Richard (1983), Erick Erickson: An Introduction).
Through trauma, we are confronted by the very same thing!
What is often mistaken about Erickson’s theory is that once we go through one of these stages, we’re forever done with it, and we progress in a linear fashion to the next. That was not his intention. He did not define identity as a fixed entity, but rather as a process that motivates a person in a particular direction. The development of identity is both a life stage AND the entire life cycle. Erickson saw it as a process requiring adjustment and readjustment to constant change. He said a person had to “derive a sense of identity out of change itself, out of the ability to choose change as the basic element of life.”
Erickson described identity as a firm sense of “the inner sameness and continuity” within one’s own life, and confidence in “the sameness and continuity” of our meaning for others. It provides us with the ability to experience a sense of who we are, and also act on that sense. The opposite of that, an identity crisis, represents a breakdown of the sense that there is sameness and continuity and meaning to our life history or story.
You are not going to change into a completely different person, nor will you be exactly the same as you were before. Instead of thinking of this trauma as one that takes something away from who you are, think of it as one that adds something. It will take some time, but chances are good that you will end up knowing yourself better than you did before.
A person has to “derive a sense of identity out of change itself, out of the ability to choose change as the basic element of life.”
“He had gone away and he could never go back anymore. The gates were closed, the sun was down, and there was no beauty left but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of youth, of illusion, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.”
(F. Scott Fitzgerald, All the Sad Young Men)
LOSS OF INNOCENCE
A “loss of innocence” is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. It is usually thought of as an experience or period in a child’s life that widens their awareness of evil, pain or suffering in the world around them. What we experienced was that evil, pain, and suffering, but within ourselves and our own lives. The feeling of having lost our innocence has an air of wistful longing to it (as well as being surprising to many of us!). We may come to realize that we’re better off without it, though, like this writer did:
“And I realize, that although I prayed for my innocence and naivety back, I now have a deeper awareness in my own ability to make an educated decision based on what I want; although I wished to disappear from it all, I now see the strength I earn from fighting through; although I swore that no one would ever understand, I now have a better understanding for other victims; although I cursed the years I lost because of abuse, I now appreciate every moment of the life I have; although I wanted to hate a world with so much pain, I am surprised by how much love surrounds me. I am more than what someone tried to make me. I am more than just a girl left alone on her floor. I am more than an empty shell, a sleepless night, a silenced voice. I am more than what has happened to me.”
Or we can regain our innocence, but in a different form:
“When we are old enough, we return ourselves to innocence, knowingly. Not like the innocence of childhood, but the wise, informed, innocence of aging. We dance anyway even when it’s not our music. We do silly things even when the silly places are closed and we’re tired and we have to be silly alone. We laugh at the light. We suspend disbelief. We make jokes in the dentist office. We return to innocence because innocence returns us to the newness of things, and we are at last old enough to receive the gifts of things, to delight in the delight of things given. Because innocence returns us to the surprise, the gift of the moment. We return to innocence and innocence receives us with joy, repays with joy the only-ness of this moment, this gift, this giver, this giving.” (The Return of Innocence, Psychology Today, Bernard L. De Koven)
Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.”
Maybe Virginia wasn’t aware that plenty of people spend a good part of their lives trying to ‘awaken from the dream.’ Mindfulness, Buddhism, and a lot of therapy are a few of the methods they use. In the movie The Matrix, Neo had to choose between the blue pill (which would let him continue to live in an illusion) and the red pill (which would awaken him to reality). He chose the red pill. Awakening more to reality isn’t a bad thing, but it can be shocking when you aren’t given a choice in the matter.
“Virginia Woolf writes: ‘Illusions are the most valuable and necessary of all things.’ When illusions are ‘shattered by contact with reality,’ Woolf observes, the collision ‘leaves the mind rocking from side to side’ and makes for ‘a moment fraught with the highest danger for the human spirit.'” (Virginia Woolf on How Our Illusions Keep Us Alive, Brain Pickings). While it may be a moment fraught with the highest danger for the human spirit, it doesn’t mean that it’s one we can’t find our way through successfully.
Many of us survive and even thrive on illusion. But when those illusions shatter, we see the cold, cruel world as it really is. Does this mean we will walk around every day with our spirits crushed and thinking of how cruel reality is? To me, it means is that we will be better able to avoid the hazards that were always there, but that we were unaware of.
Some of the illusions that psychopaths shatter:
The illusion that everyone has goodness within. The illusion that everyone is basically the same as we are (everyone has a conscience and the ability to love, for example). The illusion that if you’re a good person, bad things won’t happen to you (this is called the “just-world fallacy,” which leads to a [false] sense of security). The illusion of being immune to being conned or duped. The illusion that your partner loved you and had your best interests at heart. Learning the truth about these things is nothing less than deeply and profoundly shocking.
So, when our illusions shatter, what happens next? Are we “robbed of our lives,” as Virginia Woolf wrote?
When our illusions shatter, something takes their place:
We develop wisdom. We come to value and cherish our own humanity and compassion, having experienced what a lack of it means. We get clear about what’s truly important to us, what we need, and what we value. We learn what makes us vulnerable, and therefore human. We learn to protect ourselves from toxic people who traumatize us and waste our time. And so many other worthwhile things.
It’s easy to think that who you were is better than who you can become.
Instead of thinking of it as having had something taken away from you—your self or your innocence or your illusions—think of it as something added. What have you added, or will you add—once the period of doubt, mistrust, and uncertainty is over? You may not know the answer yet, but it may surprise you.
DON’T ACCEPT disillusionment with life, bitterness, regret and an inability to trust as the outcome. If that’s where you are, it just means you aren’t finished yet. Keep going!
“Hope drowned in shadows
emerges fiercely splendid––
(Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams)
♥ The new you… boldly angelic, perhaps? Claim it!
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