My first clue that who I was could be changed by a partner came when I found myself increasingly sarcastic and demeaning to an older woman intern, who was my lover. I was bothered by who I was becoming in the relationship. It seemed as if I was becoming more arrogant as well, and I wanted to know why? So I paid attention. She withheld time, sex, laughter and praise almost every day. I felt sad. That's when I became sarcastic, critical or bitter. That's when I saw why I was being that way only with her. As soon as I would put her down with demeaning comments, she laughed, wanted to have sex, and suddenly went from withdrawing to having lots of time for me. There was just one problem. I loved her and I felt pain every time I criticized or put her down. But I would do it rather than go through the withdrawal symptoms of losing her attention, praise, laughter and sex.
I was troubled so I brought up the conversation: "I don't like how I put you down or how sarcastic I am around you." She dismissed my concern. "I like it. Don't worry about it. It's fine." She did like it, but I did worry. Because her pattern of withholding everything I wanted from her: time, laughter, sex and praise when I did not put her down, and giving it generously when I did had changed me. I was now more sarcastic and demeaning to her than anyone I had been to in my entire life. She was Ok with it. I was not.
What I wanted was for her to give me what I wanted when I was nice to her, not when I was cutting. I wanted to know why she wanted me to be cutting over who I was when I met her: kind and sensitive. She was generally very passive and submissive. But she really fought me on this. She did not want to look at it at all and was anything but happy that I cared enough about her to want to find a win/win that seemed more honoring of her dignity.
One of the things I've noticed is that when someone fights me when I want to treat them better, I get angry with them and then this is not fought so it becomes harder for me to advocate for their dignity. The pattern is: "I'll fight you when you treat me well but reward you when you treat me bad." This seems so backwards that I feel very critical of someone doing this. They love the criticism, and agree that they are bad, which means in a strange way that they have "won" and convinced me that they really are bad. But they are a wonderful person except for this pattern (I've since learned from non-HAI sources that this is a symptom of childhood abuse in which the child was asked to pretend that they were bad and deserved their parent's abuse so that the parent would not feel guilty and the person grows up believing and feeling comfortable with the idea that they are bad).
Finally, I noticed during one sexual encounter that I wanted to slap her - a new impulse I had never felt before and was uncomfortable with. I told her, while making love. "I feel like slapping you, and it feels weird." "It's fine," she said. "Go ahead. I had another boyfriend who liked that." So I slapped her. It felt off. And I decided to put my foot down: Why was this woman who I loved refusing to give me what I needed unless I hurt her? Why was every form of abuse welcomed with open arms and every effort to suggest something might be going on fought tooth and nail? She denied that this was the case. I am a pattern analyzer to survive abuse and I was certain. It was only with her, and every single time.
She had several other symptoms of what I later learned much later (not from HAI) was trauma. I would bring up certain topics and she would fall asleep immediately. But when I asked why, she would deny that she did. Then she would fall asleep immediately when I tried to talk about it. There were other moments when she was absolutely desperate that I not leave her. But she would refuse to do very basic things I needed to feel safe and healthy. I did not understand why some part of her was petrified that I would go, while another part refused what seemed like basic things that I asked for, which seemed healthy, that would make me want to stay. I wanted to shake her: "I don't want to go, don't want to abandon you and will not do it if you will stop hurting me, fighting me in very simple ways that you can easily do that do not cost a dime, take more time or.... why are you fighting what I need, but begging me not to go?" I was doubly alarmed when this clearly did not get heard with any rationality. I'm a very direct person and I don't hide any of my thoughts since I hate it when other people hide thoughts and think I will guess what they are thinking. I was clear that I was dealing with a phenomena that was not rational and that she would lie to achieve some objective I could not understand, which terrified me and made me feel very lonely: How was I supposed to figure out what was best for her and my safety and health if the more I brought up obvious points of concern, the more she minimized it or lied about it. It was this clarity that something was going on that she would do anything rather than talk about that left me feeling scared, which for me turns to anger and criticism when the fear is amplified with further deception. So I did leave because I did not want to be scared, angry or critical or lied to or turned into someone less gentle.
I've had this question numerous times with women: What do I do when a pattern that seems dangerous becomes even more dangerous because she won't talk about it, which suggests on some level that if asked to choose, she will choose the pattern over the relationship if it is a conscious choice at all? All this time I have to listen to nonsense in the culture about how I'm only interested in having sex. This woman was a terrific lover and I loved the sex, but not at the cost of being turned into an abuser.
Questions: So far I'm dealing with elements of trauma in every single one of my thirty HAI relationships. I'm not going to go through all of them here because it is not necessary to diagnose the blind-spot. There have been symptoms of trauma in every single one of my relationships with HAI women, who have each lacked the articulating skills and coping skills to deal with that trauma in a healthy way. I would ask why, but the answer is obvious: they are all students of HAI's workshops with teachers who persist in not teaching key things. The question is why HAI, with forty years of observing these symptoms, and with facilitators who know about trauma, refuses to address it in any direct way? All HAI has to do is say prior to level one:
1) Read a trauma book. Here are a few good ones.
2) Trauma is in play in 95% of all American relationships. Here's why, how to spot it and some ways to respond.
3) This is a good conversation as part of safe-emotional connecting, to have prior to having sex.
4) Here's our book exploring faces of trauma at HAI.
Any one of these four responses would alert the participant that there are numerous invisible patterns at play in their HAI relationships that need to be treated with care and kindness.
Concern: As soon as I read "The Body Keeps the Score," I recommended it to all the facilitators. Jason's response: "This is not HAI's focus." If HAI's mission is a world where everyone wins and everyone is losing because HAI refuses to heal it's blind spot around trauma or help it's students, isn't that something that needs to be re-evaluated? Like this woman, is HAI suffering traumatic symptoms of a contract of denial of it's own. The behavior of the facilitators: endangering the life of a patient and jeopardizing the entire organization to avoid dealing with the leading cause of relationship break-up (something only someone who is informed of the extent of trauma and how it plays out sees clearly) so as not to deal with the topic seems bizarre until you understand the contracts of shame/trauma with the abuser that almost all of us have had to agree to, which include clauses such as: "This never happened." A leadership body in a shame/survival contract cannot help other people out of theres, which makes the organization largely impotent at it's stated mission.