TexasTeacherMom

Haunted by the Past

58 posts in this topic

I really can't believe I'm sharing this here, because it is a very painful thing for me to do, but I've read so many other people's posts and everyone here seems really open and gives genuine advice.

I am really struggling with an event from my past that shook me to the core, and, ironically, now represents a huge crisis in my growth in understanding Objectivism.

I was raised Catholic, but with a very liberal mindset. I went to a Catholic university and during my senior year I had a 7-8 month relationship with another student. I was in love and we were intimate. I left after graduation for a summer internship, believing we would continue long distance and that we would be back together at the end of the summer when I returned. He was looking at law schools at the time and needed space and time to prepare for LSAT.

Well, by the end of the summer I learned that he had started dating someone new. When I confronted him, over the phone, he told me that the rumor was true, that we were over and he had found someone with whom he could share true affection. When I prodded him on what he meant he finally admitted that she was a virgin and that he could never have married me because I was not. It really devastated me that what we had could have meant so much to me, but nothing to him since it wasn't within the bonds of marriage.

I really spun out of control at that point and started doing very unhealthy things to dull the pain. I also dated some losers. I just felt like "what's the point of trying to find someone decent if I'm going to be judged unworthy by them." It was also a huge crisis in my concept of faith. I started to really look at what I felt was right and compare it to what the Church professed. I just couldn't see how he could justify the pain he caused me. He really thought he was doing the right thing, and I don't think his own "sin nature", to use his morality, actually dawned on him.

Fast foward to now, I have a great marriage, four healthy kids, a career I love and I'm working every day on my philosophical/ethical standpoint. I have, obviously left the church and my faith like toys from my childhood. But I have to admit that I become obsessed at times with dwelling on what happened.

Recently I saw some info about him on a reunion website. I knew I shouldn't look, but I did. It made me so angry to see him happily going on with his life and having a family. The worst part about it all was that we broke up over the phone so I never saw him or really said my peace. There is still a huge part of me that succumbs to a feeling of unworthiness when I think about him. It's like I start out at regret and spiral downward to the point of wishing I had never been born. (Not suicidal, just, wishing I had never had to feel that pain, and yet not seeing how I can be the person I am today without having gone through it.)

I know this is all so irrational. I feel guilty, too, because I should be happy with the love that I have in my life now. It's not like I still love him, but it's more a sense of vengance and it also connects me to some remnants of Catholic guilt that still haunt me.

I know I need to get a grip, and I am open to any advice or words of wisdom that anyone may have to share. I am also open to any recommendations of reading/listening material.

In a sense I think this could be a huge breakthrough and that if I focus on how I have grown from the event, that I can finally let go.

Do I sound pathological, or is this normal?

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It is really hard to guess what exactly is going on within your mind whithout being able to ask many more questions, but I will give it a shot. I would offer that you might try by defining the emotions you are feeling and then trying to answer why you are feeling those emotions. For example, it is perfectly fine to feel anger toward someone when you know they lied to you or cheated you. In other words, if this man made all sorts of promises to you and then dumped you when he recevied what he wanted it is perfectly rational to be angry. It could also be possible that you looked at the reunion website to see if justice had prevailed on this man. Justice could have prevailed on him, you just do not know as you have not seen him since before you last talked. I would also offer that you judge yourself in proper accordance to your own morals and do not let other people sway your own thoughts about yourself. Again, in other words if you think it was wrong for you to have sex with him that acknowledge it as a mistake and attempt to not let it happen again. Or, if you think it was perfectly moral for you to have sex with him back then, which could have been in accordance to your judgement of him at the time, than recognize your actions as perfectly moral and that he is the one that was inconsistent in his morals.

I hope this helps.

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I think it is a good start that you are willing to do this introspection and to face your demons. Most of us here are not qualified to give psychological advice. Perhaps Scott may have something to offer, because his experience could help uncover layers of unconsciously held premises. I think you are being very rational in looking for reasons behind your emotions. I'm sure you will succeed, going by what you write. I can see that rejection by someone you valued would be a shock. My unqualified answer: recognizing that your value as a person is not determined by others (although it may be acknowledged by them).

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There is definitely a sense of wanting to see justice prevail. I really struggle with that, too because in Catholicism, I felt like that was very wrong. I was supposed to be happy for him, and forget myself and be the "loser" because I broke a commandment.

From an objectivist viewpoint, is it unethical for me to wish that he had ended up unhappy? (ooo, it feels icky just to say that.)

I felt morally right about the relationship, since I loved him and I was an adult, so sex was a healthy expression of that.

I have even thought about the fact that my current husband will be a better father to my daughters than he would have been, since he obviously would have imposed a double standard on her that would perpetuate this insanity that women are not supposed to have sexual freedoms that men enjoy.

I definitely have struggled with needing to be defined by others. I was in a state of mind where getting married would "prove" that I was worthy. I can see, now, how irrational that is. I am going to work on responding to my self criticism more constructively.

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I don't know how much of this is applicable to you, but let me share some of my own experiences.

Very early in life, I was treated unjustly by someone I should have been able to trust. After that I tried to put it behind me and move on, but something was weighing me down. It took many years before I found a therapist who identified the problem and showed me what to do about it.

She explained that I had suffered a serious loss, but had never properly processed my emotions. Painful emotions that I had set aside, didn't just go away. Trying to avoid or ignore the pain didn't work; I had to go through it. I had to get angry over the injustices and shed tears over my losses. My therapist guided me through the process, one difficult but bearable step at a time, and then I was free of it.

The unfinished business is finished and now I can look at anything in my past without fear or pain, evaluate it dispassionately, and learn from it. I rarely look back now, because I don't have to. The pain of the past no longer weighs me down so I completely enjoy the present.

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TexasTeacherMom:

Subconsciously, you keep seeing him as ideal. You never spent enough time with him to develop enough understanding to be able to see the flaws (that are obviously there). And so in your subconscious understanding, he remained the ideal man.

Now imagine what it does to a person who thinks that their ideal person treats them like crap. Can self esteem survive such a subconscious thought for long? Subconsciously, you are holding two contradictory ideas: One is your own evaluation of your worth, and the second is your ideal man's evaluation of your worth. But the subconscious cannot live with two contradictory ideas peacefully. It keeps integrating from your own experiences to decide which evaluation is correct and which is not (and so your negative evaluation of yourself may be building up from individual instances).

Can there be any desire to form relationship or enjoy the companionship of men if you expect the best of men to treat you like crap? If this is the essence of the ideal, there is not much to expect.

And can there be much desire to live if you cannot expect anything good from men (or even human beings)?

As long as this subconscious idea lives (that this guy is perfect), it sucks your livelihood. The only way to win, is to kill it. And the only way to kill a false idea is by studying the truth.

Now you may not be able to spend time with him and learn more about him, but you can reach back to memories from your relationship, including how he ended it, and try to replace the ideal view of him with the truth.

For starters - would you ever break up with a guy the way he broke up with you? IMO, he's a big coward.

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I obviously don't know you, but I really felt the emotional resonance coming through the computer screen, so if you would accept, with my best wishes, my two cents.

First off, as other posters have said, your self-image and self-confidence should always come from within and not be defined by a relationship or a job or anything else external. I get the feeling you are on top of that one more or less.

Second, men, (myself very much included) in our early twenties do not behave with the decency we might otherwise like. Indeed, now I have aged somewhat and the hormonal drive has slackened, I look back at some pretty raw behaviour that I would never engage in now.

The thing that really got me was this phrase

"When I prodded him on what he meant he finally admitted that she was a virgin and that he could never have married me because I was not"

This puts him on the same page emotionally at the Taliban! Setting that aside, the horrendous double standard makes him conflicted and not worthy of your concern or further thought. If I may, you 'dodged a bullet' with that one.

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I know this is all so irrational. I feel guilty, too, because I should be happy with the love that I have in my life now. It's not like I still love him, but it's more a sense of vengance and it also connects me to some remnants of Catholic guilt that still haunt me.

While I can't offer very helpful advice at the core of your conflict, this stood out to me as a serious barrier to healing. Stop thinking about what you believe you should be feeling, and focus instead on what you are feeling and why. You are suffering from a lot of unearned guilt, which is getting in the way of introspection. The fact that you feel anger and even a desire for this man to be punished for what he did actually does you credit. Who says you're supposed to be unaffected by an injustice and plow forward as if it didn't happen? You're supposed to get angry! So give yourself permission, because it's OK and healthy.

The other thing is that through this you may have to accept that this guy didn't get what he deserved. I could say that he probably was punished by himself, that he still feels guilty, that he loses sleep over it, but that may not be true. Maybe he's perfectly fine with what he did. There are evil people in this world, and that's something to be angry about also, rationally angry. Don't beat yourself up over experiencing rational emotions. As Betsy pointed out, this may be why you haven't been able to move on.

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I really can't believe I'm sharing this here, because it is a very painful thing for me to do, but I've read so many other people's posts and everyone here seems really open and gives genuine advice.

It takes courage to openly discuss personal problems. Hopefully just getting some of it off your chest has brought some relief.

But I have to admit that I become obsessed at times with dwelling on what happened.

In other parts of what you wrote, you seem to have some idea of what the core issues are. Others have offered reasonable possibilities, too. Something that might help verify these and/or uncover a more fundamental issue is looking more closely at the times in which you experience the obsessed dwelling.

I take from what you write that this happens periodically, that there is time between these episodes of obsession. If so, this means that there are triggers, as well as things that make it subside. Identifying the triggers is most important right now.

Start with the most recent episode and clearly recall the events that were happening in your life just prior to it, your thoughts at the time, your emotions, and anything different in your behavior. It is best to write these things down. Then go back to the episode before that and do the same thing. You could go back as many episodes as possible, but may not need to.

The purpose of this is identification, figuring out what is happening in different areas (events, thoughts, etc.) prior to and during these episodes. In all likelihood, common factors across the episodes and a related pattern will emerge.

Identifying the pattern will help you see the relationships among different things in your life, i.e., integrate your understanding. It will also likely help you identify the one or two core issues on which the pattern is based. At that point you will be in a much better position to know what to do about it. I hope this is helpful.

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I take from what you write that this happens periodically, that there is time between these episodes of obsession. If so, this means that there are triggers, as well as things that make it subside. Identifying the triggers is most important right now.

Start with the most recent episode and clearly recall the events that were happening in your life just prior to it, your thoughts at the time, your emotions, and anything different in your behavior. It is best to write these things down. Then go back to the episode before that and do the same thing. You could go back as many episodes as possible, but may not need to.

This is why I love having a resident expert here. I never would have thought to suggest this. :angry2:

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I take from what you write that this happens periodically, that there is time between these episodes of obsession. If so, this means that there are triggers, as well as things that make it subside. Identifying the triggers is most important right now.

I think that would be the right thing to do if she did not know what causes the negative emotions she has when she does think about this guy. But if she already knows what causes those negative emotions (her past experience with that guy), what is the point in putting emphasis on what triggers the memories?

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I think that would be the right thing to do if she did not know what causes the negative emotions she has when she does think about this guy. But if she already knows what causes those negative emotions (her past experience with that guy), what is the point in putting emphasis on what triggers the memories?

Yes, but there's more to it than just anger at the guy for his betrayal. She wants to know why this anger "haunts" her, why she is unable to focus on her successes and move on.

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I think that would be the right thing to do if she did not know what causes the negative emotions she has when she does think about this guy. But if she already knows what causes those negative emotions (her past experience with that guy), what is the point in putting emphasis on what triggers the memories?

Yes, but there's more to it than just anger at the guy for his betrayal. She wants to know why this anger "haunts" her, why she is unable to focus on her successes and move on.

Sure, but the answer lies in what happened with that guy. I don't see how looking at the things that trigger the memories will help solve her negative emotions or help explain why it is haunting her. It really sounds like the issue lies in what happened at that time and her interpretation of it, and not in something that is going on in her life right now. And so I think the emphasis should be to identify her thoughts and interpretation of what happened.

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I think that would be the right thing to do if she did not know what causes the negative emotions she has when she does think about this guy. But if she already knows what causes those negative emotions (her past experience with that guy), what is the point in putting emphasis on what triggers the memories?

The triggers are what cause the past to be a problem in the present.

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Yes, but there's more to it than just anger at the guy for his betrayal. She wants to know why this anger "haunts" her, why she is unable to focus on her successes and move on.

And another thing - from everything she described (problems with self esteem, extreme negative emotions about life) the one explanation that fits perfectly is that she idealized this guy. Why else would she feel low self esteem when thinking of the event? Would you feel low self esteem if some looser dumped you? Not likely. But if the man of your dreams does, the glory of men - then I'd probably sit down and ponder if something is wrong with me.

Also, the feeling of wishing to never have been born - it's an indication of perceiving to have lost a tremendously important value. Not just in the past - but also in the future. A value so big, that it almost makes life not worth living. This is not a simple reaction to being dumped - there is some generalization involved. The one that fits the most here is that she generalized from one particular man to THE man of her dreams (and any real-life man who might fit that category). It's not just A particular guy who can't be trusted and who does not approve of her - it's any man who is ideal. That's a really big value to lose, and I can see how it can make her feel that life is not worth living.

That's the best option I can think of, but even if this is not the false generalization - the interpretation of what happened that time and who she considers this man to be is the best place to start.

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I think that would be the right thing to do if she did not know what causes the negative emotions she has when she does think about this guy. But if she already knows what causes those negative emotions (her past experience with that guy), what is the point in putting emphasis on what triggers the memories?

The triggers are what cause the past to be a problem in the present.

I don't think so. I think the past is what makes the past be a problem in her present. Her past needs proper burial. The triggers can show some additional problem which is subconsciously related to this one - but the 'proper burial' is the main problem that needs to be dealt with first.

Why do you think that the triggers cause the past to be a problem in the present?

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Why do you think that the triggers cause the past to be a problem in the present?

Scott A., our expert, can add to or correct this, but a trigger is some presently-held premise that makes contemplating the past painful.

It is one thing to believe, "What a fool I was to ...." and quite another to think "What a fool I am to ..." The latter is painful and frightening.

The problem with most anxiety-producing premises is that they are held subsconsciously and what someone needs to do is to bring the premise to full awareness so that its truth can be evaluated. That's the hard part: knowing what the premise actually is.

A subconscious premise cannot simply be inferred from its effects because there are usually dozens of premises that can cause the same effects in different people. That's why being aware of triggers is so important. Triggers help pinpoint which particular situations cause problems for a particular person, thus giving that person important clues as to his particular problem premises.

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Why do you think that the triggers cause the past to be a problem in the present?

Scott A., our expert, can add to or correct this, but a trigger is some presently-held premise that makes contemplating the past painful.

It is one thing to believe, "What a fool I was to ...." and quite another to think "What a fool I am to ..." The latter is painful and frightening.

Actually, my entire analysis is based on the fact that she still holds a wrong idea - but that this idea (generalization) was formed in the past and is related to the events with that man. I never said that she no longer holds a false premise - just that the right place to dig would be in that event and not in what triggers the memories in the present. Events in the present are not the source of the emotion according to her description - they are simply triggers for the memories that cause the emotion.

The problem with most anxiety-producing premises is that they are held subconsciously and what someone needs to do is to bring the premise to full awareness so that its truth can be evaluated. That's the hard part: knowing what the premise actually is.

But in this case I think it's fairly obvious where the problem is: everything is pointing to that event.

A subconscious premise cannot simply be inferred from its effects because there are usually dozens of premises that can cause the same effects in different people. That's why being aware of triggers is so important. Triggers help pinpoint which particular situations cause problems for a particular person, thus giving that person important clues as to his particular problem premises.

When a memory is so powerful that your subconscious keeps calling it back to the present - I look at the memory, not at the events that were linked. The most important thing is to identify the source of the emotion. In this case, it is already known, so there is no point looking at triggers, but at what brings forth the emotion.

Anyway, we'll just have to disagree and leave it at that - I don't see what else to add here until TexasMomTeacher replies.

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There are a number of things to respond to in this thread. I'll have to respond to them individually, because each raises important and interesting issues. So, there will be a string of posts.

I also feel compelled to identify a particular boundary I draw in situations like this. The situation is that someone has chosen to discuss personal information in a public domain and invited comment on it. However, the amount of information provided, while somewhat detailed, is completely insufficient to warrant any conclusions about what is actually going on.

Also, I personally feel uncomfortable discussing the particulars of TexasTeacherMom's situation or the possible contents of her mind. She is the best person to speak on those things, and only if she so chooses.

My responses will focus on issues and principles of psychological assessment, not TexasTeacherMom's situation per se.

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Scott A., our expert, can add to or correct this, but a trigger is some presently-held premise that makes contemplating the past painful.

After rethinking a bit; I really like keeping things completely clear, and so I need to ask you something. Is there some implied lesson that I should show more humility here? That the right thing to do is to humbly learn from an expert and not to challenge his assessment with confidence?

It's not explicit, of course, but your choice of words might imply so. Well, even if the answer is 'Yes', I'm not offended. I'd just be interested to know why.

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I take from what you write that this happens periodically, that there is time between these episodes of obsession. If so, this means that there are triggers, as well as things that make it subside. Identifying the triggers is most important right now.

I think that would be the right thing to do if she did not know what causes the negative emotions she has when she does think about this guy. But if she already knows what causes those negative emotions (her past experience with that guy), what is the point in putting emphasis on what triggers the memories?

The point is that there are triggers, which means she doesn't know the causes. This is why she is courageously asking the questions. Put another way, if she knew the causes, she wouldn't have the triggers.

She has identified a core event related to the causes. But events are composed of many things. It is the particulars, including premises (such as they were before and then after the event), that must be assessed.

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And another thing - from everything she described (problems with self esteem, extreme negative emotions about life) the one explanation that fits perfectly is that she idealized this guy.

There are many possible explanations for her emotional reactions. She did not indicate the one you suggest. Therefore, you are speculating.

Why else would she feel low self esteem when thinking of the event?

Any number of reasons. We simply don't know.

This is not a simple reaction to being dumped - there is some generalization involved. The one that fits the most here is that she generalized from one particular man to THE man of her dreams (and any real-life man who might fit that category). It's not just A particular guy who can't be trusted and who does not approve of her - it's any man who is ideal. That's a really big value to lose, and I can see how it can make her feel that life is not worth living.

You have come to a conclusion, but you don't know enough yet. It is okay to speculate and ask questions, but they should be stated as such, not as firm conclusions.

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Scott A., our expert, can add to or correct this, but a trigger is some presently-held premise that makes contemplating the past painful.

After rethinking a bit; I really like keeping things completely clear, and so I need to ask you something. Is there some implied lesson that I should show more humility here? That the right thing to do is to humbly learn from an expert and not to challenge his assessment with confidence?

Not at all. I was the one being humble.

I was offering my amateur opinion of something Scott -- a professional -- had to say. It may be the case that I got Scott's point all wrong, so I was inviting his correction of my statements, if necessary.

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I'm here and I've been reading your responses in between being a teacher and a mom. I am fascinated and feel so greatful to everyone for taking the time to think about this.

I just typed a very long response, but it got lost somehow so I will summarize here:

I did idealize him. If anyone has read Wolfe's "I am Charlotte Simmons", you will maybe understand why. I came from a rural, lower income, but hard working family. My mom was a secretary. I never knew my bio. father. My stepdad was a carpenter, and an alcoholic. All of the cousins and siblings from my generation dropped out of high school, but I went to a private university on full academic scholaship. At college I always felt like an outsider surrounded by people of a completely different class. This guy was the first person of that class that I had ever had a relationship with. I felt like when it didn't work it sealed my fate.

My reaction to the rejection was to become very desperate and feel like I could never make it in that world, so why try. I jumped into a bad marriage with, guess what, and alcoholic, and finished my master's thesis while nursing my first child. Instead of fulfilling my dreams of law school, I decided I would avoid having to be around elitist types of people. It was a like a strage twist on a Cinderella story.

A huge trigger for these episodes of depression is when I feel underestimated by those around me. I am very intelligent but my manners are not refined. I am more comfortable with my "country ways". I think if I had been better equiped at the time to handle that rejection and had not blown it completely out of proportion, I would have made different decisions. I may not have had my daughter, and may not have ever married my second husband or had my sons, so I can't say I would do things differently looking back. But I do find it frustrating when I am around people who show by their manner that they think themselves superior to me in intelligence. I find myself wondering if having a doctoral degree or a law practice would garner more respect than being a teacher. I know a lot of people think that public school teachers are the bottom of the barrell and that we can't do anything else, but for me it was the most practical way for me to earn a living as a single mom. I turn around and blame that frustration on the way I handled this man's rejection.

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