When I was in the USA spending time with Philippa we visited the Norman Rockwell gallery. If any of you are passing by or are close to Stockbridge please don’t miss it. What a treasure! For those of you who don’t get the opportunity the picture on this blog was taken at the gallery. It is a painting of the artist doing a self-portrait using a mirror. This is obviously the most accurate rendition of a self- portrait.
Would it surprise you to learn that both men and women use their relationships to distort their self- portrait?
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”
It is for this reason that falling in love is one of the most compelling experiences we have. It is why we are often reckless and undiscerning when we are falling in love. When a woman meets a man who is excited by her she feels beautiful, sensual, young, and blessed. When a man meets a woman who is excited by him he feels powerful and bullish. We love the reflection of ourselves through the eyes of the other. It is their gift to us and ours to them – to see ourselves beautifully.
Philosophers always say that romantic love is the poorest, lowest form of human love because it is essentially self-centred instead of being other-centred which love should be. We love the other because of what it is doing for us. Those early stages are typically referred to as the honeymoon phase – those balmy days when we feel perfect, when we can do nothing wrong, when nothing other than each other feels real. We feel almost divine – no wonder we are compelled down often dangerous paths.
Philippa talked about how this typified each of her destructive marriages.
“They hung onto my every word. I felt clever, insightful and above all, indispensable.
I loved it”.
Well who wouldn’t?
Her one husband needed help with his substance abuse problem. It was she who convinced him to attend AA. It was her solace, tender loving care and exquisite meals that coaxed him past his depression. The beginning of her last marriage was almost identical. He was recovering from his divorce when she met him. He depended on her to guide him, counsel him and love him back to his mental and emotional health. She recalls that early in their relationship he called her almost all day. At that stage she was still a co-dependent and so she loved it. This behaviour should have set off alarm bells. Why was he so insatiable? Why wasn’t he attending to his work? Why wasn’t he giving her space to attend to hers? Instead of entertaining these discerning questions she was immersed in feeling clever, special and blessed by his vision of her.
Even women who are not co-dependents love the reflection of themselves through the eyes of the man who loves her.
As the abuse becomes more entrenched into the relationship that reflection changes. It becomes negative and increasingly dismissive. It acts like an acid drip on her self-esteem. The woman who was told how beautiful she was is now being told she is over-weight or under-weight. The woman who was sexy is now being called a tramp and a whore. The dignified woman is now being called boring. The abusive man is seldom realistic or mature. He often expects his wife to look like she would if they were going on a date every day when he gets back from work. They cannot accept that their partners may have flu and feel awful. If she feels bad he feels angry. They will not accept that she may be pre-occupied with family issues or work problems. If the focus shifts away from him and onto any aspect of her life other than him, he is angry. Her work, friends, family or her own self reflections are all threats to him. They threaten to remove him as the focus of attention and any threat must be destroyed.
Constant criticism is one of the characteristics of an abusive relationship. Instead of feeling like a goddess she begins to feel inadequate, unworthy and unattractive. Instead of feeling charming, funny, trustworthy and insightful she feels stupid, boring, and hysterical. Whereas she used to be trusted she is now accused constantly of being opportunistic and unfaithful.
Look at the photo of the artist and his self- portrait – it holds the potential for wisdom:
- Falling in love is a beautiful time in your life and seeing yourself through his eyes is a gift.
- That gift is a work in progress and so it must change
- In some cases it will become mature and realistic
- In other cases it will become negative and destructive
- Enjoy the gift but value realism – it is more sustainable
- Reject abusive labels – they are distortions of reality
- Be careful of men who blame their partner exclusively for the failure of their last relationship
- IF YOU FEEL INDISPENSABLE HE IS TOO NEEDY TO HAVE A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP.
Please don’t look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you are gorgeous! Hold your realistic self- esteem quietly, deep inside you and protect it from dangerous men.
“How can you say that women shouldn’t look in the mirror and tell themselves they are gorgeous?” Philippa asked me with incredulation. “It’s exactly what we’ve been told we should do.”
“I know women are told to do that and I think it’s ridiculous. It was written tongue in cheek. Some women simply aren’t and a self esteem must be much more grounded than thinking you are gorgeous. I wrote it precisely because its beyond silly and unhelpful.”
“OK, now it makes perfect sense. I’m posting the blog,” she said.