Attending Catholic school in Brooklyn, I felt loved by the Catholic nun who was my second grade teacher. But one cold morning that quickly changed.
We were lining up to enter the classroom when the nun suddenly shouted, “Spit out the gum!” Being a good Catholic boy, I’d never consider flaunting the rules, so I was stunned by the accusation. “I’m not chewing gum, I feebly replied.”
I was confident that my protestation would resolve the matter. But my innocence was shattered again: “Yes you are chewing gum,” the nun insisted. “Don’t lie!”
Ouch! I could feel my stomach churning and a horrible sinking feeling to be assaulted by a second accusation. Sinking into deeper trouble, I wondered if I should dare to protest again.
I trusted that if I spoke the truth, justice would prevail. Mustering some sheepish courage, I muttered: “But I’m not lying… look!” I opened my mouth so that she could witness the lack of evidence. The final blow to my dignity and innocence descended when she coldly responded, “That’s because you just swallowed it!”
Yikes! Nothing I could say or do would disabuse her of her perception. I was in an emotional prison with no “get-out-of-jail-free” card. I felt powerless, helpless — a tragic character in a Kafka-esque nightmare. The negative mirroring damaged the interpersonal bridge, which creates shame, as Gershen Kaufman discusses. Our relationship was never the same again.
I now understand this episode as an initiation into the rough and tumble of real life, where oftentimes we’re not seen as we really are. Being condemned as guilty evoked the shame of being falsely accused, disrespected, and bad. In psychological terms, I recognize this incident as an early attachment injury — a relational trauma that, if unrepaired, tends to be carried into our adult lives and relationships.
If you can identify with my experience, know that you’re not alone. The first step toward healing old shame and attachment trauma is to recognize it. There’s nothing shameful about acknowledging the multiple ways we’ve been injured in our lives — and realizing how it has affected our tender heart.
Softening Our Wound Activation
As a marriage and family therapist, I often see couples who unknowingly step into the minefield of each other’s old wounds. False indictments of having an affair or being attracted to other men or women, or other bogus accusations can reactivate old traumas. It’s impossible to defend oneself when the accuser’s mind is made up. There’s no way to produce evidence of one’s innocence. Continued protestations fall flat when a partner insists that they’re right and that you’re in denial.
How can we deal with such a quandary? Responding defensively to false accusations may only add fuel to the unfounded attacks. But saying nothing may convey that we’re guilty as charged.
Here are some guidelines that may help soften the cycle of accusations and defensiveness–and the resulting isolation and loneliness. And, of course, couples therapy may be helpful when couples reach such an impasse.
1. Be Gentle with Your Old Wounds
When you are feeling falsely accused, notice whether old wounds are getting activated. Does this remind you of something from the past? Is it evoking the sorrow or loneliness of not being seen or is it reminding you of painful breaches of the interpersonal bridge of trust?
If old, painful memories are surfacing, be gentle with yourself. Practice self-soothing by taking some slow, deep breaths. Bring a friendly mindfulness toward the sensations in your body that are getting activated; hold these feelings in a caring, gentle way.
2. Be Sensitive to Each Other’s Wounded Places
We all carry old attachment wounds. Revealing old wounds — letting your partner see your areas of vulnerability and sensitivity — may evoke empathy and understanding. Then, when you’re being falsely accused or attacked, you might reveal what’s getting touched in you rather than getting defensive or irate.
Maybe say something like: “When you ask if I’m having an affair, it really hurts me. I don’t know how to reassure you that I’m not. It touches an old place of not being seen and trusted.”
Perhaps your partner’s accusations are signaling old betrayal wounds or not receiving enough verbal reassurance or affection. If these wounds and needs were uncovered and expressed more directly, they might be heard more easily. If your partner is not able to express this, do your best to be gentle with their felt sense of insecurity, as well as being more present in the relationship.
3. Know that You’re on Solid Ground
When you’re falsely accused, know that there’s something going on with your partner. Perhaps some old hurt or fear is getting activated in them. Take a deep breath, stay in your body, and realize that this is about them, not about you.
Knowing that you’re on solid ground may help you to self-soothe rather than feel compelled to defend yourself — assuming that you are on solid ground (there is no affair, etc.). Maintaining your sense of self-worth and not succumbing to shame, you’re better positioned to hear the deeper feelings or insecurities that your loved one is trying to convey, even if their manner of delivery is difficult to hear.
Close relationships are the place where our deepest longings arise — and where our fear of loss of connection can be activated. Being gently attentive to what is arising within ourselves and being empathic to our partner’s wounds can help heal old injuries, build trust, and deepen intimacy.
John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT is author of the award-winning book about relationships as a spiritual path, DancingwithFire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and Love & Betrayal. He has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 35 years in the San Francisco Bay area and has lectured and conducted workshops internationally.
Deviant Art image by machihuahua
Source: Psychology Today
You’ve likely encountered a narcissist or two in your life. Perhaps a former lover could never put your needs first. Or maybe you’ve worked with someone who just couldn’t stop promoting his accomplishments long enough to do any work. Whether your encounters are professional or personal, there are telltale signs that you’re dealing with a narcissistic person. And when you are, establish healthy boundaries and keep an emotional distance.[caption id="attachment_1799" align="aligncenter" width="468" class=" "] Image by © Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis[/caption]
1. They make it clear they know everything.
Narcissists don’t hesitate to educate lawyers about the legal system or enlighten doctors about medicine. After all, they know more about everything than anyone else, and they’re not afraid to show it. In fact, they can be expected to argue, educate, and inform you about virtually every topic you bring up in conversation: “Here’s where you got that wrong. “That’s what most people think, but that’s not actually true.” They don’t shy away from disagreements or opportunities to tutor others about their way of thinking.
2. They insist on being the exception to the rule.
Rules are for people who aren’t smart enough to make good decisions on their own, the narcissist believes, but they know they’re exceptional. And so the usual rules, laws, or policies don’t apply to them. They’re often good at manipulating others to bend the rules for them, reinforcing their belief that they shouldn’t have to succumb to the same regulations as everyone else.
3. They project an image of superiority.
Narcissists care greatly about their image. They want to make sure they appear wealthy, popular, and elite. They’re often materialistic and greatly enjoy name dropping, as associating themselves with the hottest brand or famous friends makes them feel important.
4. They make a great first impression, but quickly wear out their welcome.
Narcissists’ charming personalities tend to win them favor with new people—at first. They may come across as confident, exciting—maybe the most endearing and engaging person in the room. But over time, their selfish tendencies cause people to run the other way.
5. They boost their egos by implying others are inferior.
Not only do narcissists need to establish how superior they are; they also tend to imply that everyone else is less intelligent, experienced, or likeable. No matter how much training or education someone else has had, the narcissist is he or she is the real expert.
6. They assume everyone adores them.
The narcissist truly believes that everyone from former co-workers to past lovers holds them in high regard—and assumes that anyone who doesn’t like them must be jealous. But while they can be very sensitive to criticism, outwardly they try to dismiss any negative comments about their personality or performance, and may try to punish anyone who dare express an unfavorable opinion about them.
7. They put their own feelings ahead of other people’s needs.
A lack of empathy is the most telling characteristic of the narcissist. They don’t care what other people need or how they feel. Everything they do centers around what they want and need. They don’t care what type of pain they inflict on others. While fundamentally unsupportive and manipulative, they can fake empathy when it helps them look better. But they lack a genuine desire to put anyone else’s needs above their own desires.
Author: Amy Morin
Source: Psychology Today