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  • Writer's pictureA. Mitchell


Painful Habits Come From Fear


So many of us walk around with so much pain. And by late adolescence we've already established several life-long habits to avoid this pain.

Life hurts.

The world can be a hurtful place. People walk around with unwavering certainty that they are separate from you and I. As a result, they often do things to us that they would never do to themselves. And we carry around a such pain from these interactions.

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We usually pretend, that it didn't hurt. We don't want to show our weakness. We know that they can't be trusted and showing our hurt emotions puts us in a vulnerable position. So, we're left with a bucket of pain and we're not sure what to do with it.

Some of us will try and put this pain on someone else through blame. Some of us will withdraw and become sad. Some of us will become angry and lash out. Some of us will distract ourselves. There are numerous strategies here and many of us are likely to use several.

What's your poison? These are numbing habits that temporarily dull our pain, sometimes so well we forget they are there.

Habits like these cause us harm.

*Abbey, a Vietnamese American was largely ignored by her spouse Trish. Abbey would make suggestions at home to make life flow more fluidly. Usually, these were simple suggestions that made a world of difference. However, Trish ignored Abbey most of the time and these suggestions were rarely followed. Abbey would sometimes mention the suggestion again, only to get the off-handed, 'meh.'

Abbey was not pushy and respectful of others. She didn't impose her suggestions on Trish. Abbey felt everyone had a right to their own agency in life. Abbey deeply loved Trish and gave her this agency.

Over a decade had passed and not much had changed between Abbey and Trish. Abbey habitually maintained this dynamic between them. In order to avoid the pain she felt, she withdrew and became depressed. Trish continued on with the relationship unfazed and largely unaware of her hurtful actions.

Abbey didn't know why she felt so badly all the time. She began to self-medicate with alcohol. Her drinking was never too problematic in her life but it served a specific purpose. Every time she felt Trish ignore her, she felt the urge to drink. And often times, she indulged until she got drunk. "Functionally numb," is what she called it. The biggest problem Abbey's drinking caused, were some digestive issues. She tolerated the digestive issues to accommodate the numbing. Quitting was out of the question.

The pain was too great.

Abbey's pain grew to such great levels, she became overwhelmed. Unable to drink more because of her digestive issues, she looked to her spirituality.

Abbey had been blinding herself to her life situation. Trish needed a comfortable and submissive spouse because of her habits. Abbey felt a pain from their relationship because deep down, she could feel that Trish found her convenient and safe. The love and respect Abbey had for Trish was not shared. Abbey was feeling the rejection from her spouse all those years. 'To be married all those years...' she painfully uttered a truth that captured her pain. 'She doesn't really love me.'

Recognizing this, Abbey became angry. "You've been ignoring me. You've been sabotaging this relationship. You do not respect me. Therefore, you cannot love me. I am leaving you." And Abbey left.

Abbey avoided the pain she felt in her relationship with a variety of habits. However, the pain never fully went away and alcohol provided only temporary relief.

The interesting thing about one of Abbey's habits, was not to say anything. She never wanted to be imposing. This was actually a cultural habit that Trish took advantage of. Abbey was taught by her family that one should never be loud and imposing. Growing up, she was taught that such things were considered rude and disrespectful.

Trish didn't know or understand this about Abbey. Trish grew up being physically abused. All Trish wanted was a sense of security and predictability in a relationship. A relationship where Trish wasn't in control felt too terrifying to her. Trish took Abbey's sense of self-agency away to maintain her sense of security in the relationship. She did this unconsciously.

Every time Trish heard Abbey make a suggestion about their home life, she felt an inexplicable twinge of panic. The panic triggered a reactive and thoughtless habit. Trish would feel annoyed by Abbey's suggestions, ignore her if possible, or she would shut the idea down. Unconsciously, Trish sabotaged Abbey's ideas to illustrate how they aren't going to work.

Abbey suggested keeping the dishwasher locked after it was clean. If either of them grabbed a clean dish from the dishwasher before it was emptied, they needed to lock it again. If the dishwasher was unlocked, the the next person knew that the dishes were dirty. This was going to save Abbey from extra unnecessary work.

The first time Trish heard this idea, she ignored her. This was one of the times when Abbey persisted with her idea because it was so simple. Trish ignored the suggestion and used the excuse, 'I forgot' or Abbey's favorite, 'It's too much work.' Abbey found a sign that attaches to a dishwasher saying "clean" and "dirty." The sign rotated and displayed the state of the dishwasher. Now it was painfully simple for Trish, she thought. However, Trish continued to ignore the situation and Abbey found her running a dishwasher twice because dirty dishes went in with the clean ones.

Trish found these things annoying and they only solidified her ignoring. Trish had a habit she was unwilling to part ways with. It provided a protective barrier from the possible threat of abuse. However, Abbey never hit or abused Trish.

Abbey was afraid of being imposing. Trish was afraid of being abused. Neither were true. Abbey was never imposing with her suggestions. Trish was never abused by Abbey. They both acted from fear and this harmed their relationship greatly.

Fear comes from the belief, 'we are separate.'

Habit is often a thoughtless reaction to our fears. Habits are persistent. Both Trish and Abbey had fears they didn't let themselves learn from and heal.

Fear is a passing emotion. Fear is only maintained by us avoiding them. Both Abbey and Trish were avoiding their fears through habit. Abbey brought her habits to her spirituality and something shifted. The fear dissipated and she learned the truth about the pain she had been feeling. Her decision was certain and resound. She knew what she had to do.

Abbey's habit of withdrawing and avoiding being imposing, was detrimental to her relationship. The habit pushed off the pain but created great distance between her and Trish. Her spirituality helped her find another approach to her fears.

Unfortunately, Trish's fear remained and she continued to ignore Abbey. More importantly, she ignored Abbey when she tried to offer a suggestion that might have helped their marriage. Abbey had too much dignity to continue on the way they had been.

Habits only harden over the years. Changing a habit typically requires an enduring persistence. Abbey was able to side-step the enduring aspect of changing an old habit by learning from it and healing it. This took Abbey all of 10 minutes to change a life-long habit.

Abbey loved Trish unconditionally and was deeply afraid that this was not reciprocated. It hurt a lot when she discovered what she had been avoiding all those years. Abbey understood why she avoided the pain but regretted she didn't come to terms with her pain sooner.

Abbey found the transition out of their relationship challenging, scary, and empowering. She hadn't realized how sick their relationship had become. Her love for Trish was still unconditional but she knew Trish couldn't be trusted. The pain of this transition was monumental for Abbey. While Abbey still talks to Trish, she maintains a safe distance from Trish's chaos.

Abbey let Trish go with love and out of love. Abbey knows her Oneness.


*Names, places, and gender have been altered to respect, protect identity, and confidentiality.


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