Posted by: Marie | May 14, 2009

(69) Truth is not always absolute

Post #69
[Editorial note about August 2008]

During my lifetime, it has come to my attention that I am naturally committed to truth.  My organic, unrefined way of participating in conversations is to challenge and examine every statement made by either party until the truth stands in all its purity.  As I became an adult and started learning about social grace, I discovered not everyone appreciates that approach.  I also learned not everyone’s truth is the same as mine – truth is not always absolute.

I have learned that when I feel strongly defensive, when the other party becomes defensive or when the other party is more committed to harmony than to truth, it is best for me to shut my mouth and wait for the conversation’s subject matter to change.  (Keeping my mouth shut is usually best because I have yet to develop the skill of understanding and applying conversational nuance in such situations – I seem to have missed that day in kindergarten.)

However, when Mark challenged my religious/spiritual beliefs, I found it nearly impossible to keep my mouth shut.  I felt like I would wither up and blow away, at least on an energetic level, if I didn’t defend my position “to the death”.  The conversation became so ugly that I questioned my ability to continue a therapeutic relationship with him.

During most of August, I struggled to understand why I was being triggered so strongly by Mark challenging my religious/spiritual beliefs.  I backed away from him and instead spoke to a number of women in my life about it.  With their help, I came to understand that my beliefs only felt valid to me when a male authority figure – whosever approval I was attempting to gain at the time – validated my beliefs.  I discovered this was true for my religious beliefs as well as for my beliefs about who I am and how I show up in the world.

When such a male authority figure would tell me my beliefs, opinions or feelings were invalid or wrong, I would feel as if he was discounting me, as a person – that he was invaliding and rejecting me, not just my beliefs, opinions or feelings.  That is why I was getting so angry with Mark – I felt like I was fighting for the validity of me, as a human being.

I believed that I (the person) was bad, wrong, stupid, irresponsible, invalid, etc. unless Mark acknowledge that my beliefs were valid.  I didn’t need him to change his beliefs to mine, but I needed him to acknowledge that my beliefs were just as valid and just as “right” as his.  I knew that was not going to happen – in his mind, my beliefs were so wrong that they would cause me to be eternally damned.  He was fighting to save my soul.

I came to understand that my behavior pattern was a repeat of my interaction with my dad – my dad made it very clear to me that certain lifestyles were not acceptable to him.  He was trying to scare me into not going in that direction.  He didn’t know I was already there.  I knew he would disown me if he ever found out how I really lived.  He died not knowing the truth about me.

I came to understand that I could separate myself from the opinions of men – what a man believes or thinks has no bearing on what I believe or think, or who I am, unless I choose to allow that influence.  I could consider Mark’s statements to be his opinion – nothing more.  I could listen to him, thank him for his input and then leave what he said hanging in the air – I didn’t have to give it any place in my belief system if I felt it had no value to me.  Either way, my beliefs, opinions and feelings are just as valid and “right” as his.

I researched this topic some more and discovered that the best way to deal with a situation like I was facing with Mark was to set boundaries.  Mark and I had discussed boundaries before – basically that I had very few in my life and the few I had were letting in the bad and keeping out the good.  But, I had no idea where to place boundaries with Mark or how to establish them.

So, I continued my research and got feedback from the women in my life – the result is the following “script” (contained in the next five blog posts), which I read to Mark at our next therapy session.  I wasn’t sure if he would respond in a way that would warrant a continued relationship with him – I wasn’t sure he would respect my boundaries.  Part of me wanted to not even go back and try to repair the relationship.

However, I felt I needed to go back and at least work through the boundary-setting process with him so I could experience it for the first time at this level.  If he didn’t respect my boundaries, at least I could feel a sense of completion around it – that I had acted out of respect and strength instead of fear.  As it turned out, Mark responded well to my script at our next session (August 25th) and we were able to really clear the air.

This whole process marked a major turning point in my healing.  It greatly affected all areas of my life.  It helped me understand why I felt so powerless in my attempts to stop giving away my body to any man who would pay a little attention to me – the need to find that validity and acceptance (to feel like I existed) was stronger than the need to protect myself from harm.


Responses

  1. I wrote a long comment and then realized that you are publishing material from the past.

    I’ll just summarize that my reaction was that this therapist sounds like he was not as effective and certainly not as respectful as a therapist should be, but that in spite of that — even in spite of his many failures — you had done some really good work.

    I am a Christian — even a serious, devoted, pious, whatever Christian — and I had brief experiences with a few Christian counselors that were just not very good. One was arrogant and belittling. The other was more understanding and respectful, just his methodology and philosophy of therapy didn’t work well for me, and he was totally okay with that. My best therapist was also a Christian, but had so obviously done better work integrating his faith and his practice — I think he would have been capable of keeping out of the religious argumentation, and even if he challenged your beliefs, would have done so in a much more respectful and helpful way, in a way that meshes with your worldview instead of simply assuming his own.

    All that to say that all Christian therapists are no more equal than all secular therapists.

    • Hi, Marcy –

      I really appreciate all the thought you put into your comment! While this whole situation was very challenging, the process I went through in handling it provided one of the most valuable life lesson ever.

      One reason the conflict was so heartbreaking for me was because we had done some really powerful work together — and because our relationship was, by far, the most emotionally intimate (and healthy) relationship I had ever had with a man. I really cared for him (and still do!)

      I do agree with you — a difference in religious beliefs does not have to be a deal-breaker.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!
      – Marie


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