Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Sir Walter Scott
As time moves on from your divorce you can be sure of one thing: There will always be new revelations from your children. At times, they will rock your world and make you question your own memories. Whatever they are, it is important to understand the truth will make you free (if it doesn’t kill you first). Eventually, that new knowledge, however shocking, will help you let go of a past you may have been romanticizing and allow you to more fully release any lingering attachment you felt for someone who was clearly not the person you thought you married.
The worst revelations are of abuse to your children and they will require deep work on everyone’s part. Learning of infidelity, especially if it went on for a long time, is also painful and the collateral damage can have long-lasting effects on your children’s views of marriage and ability to trust. Finding out your ex may have been undermining you for decades, or asking your children to lie to you can feel devastating. Since none of these past behaviors can be undone, the only good option is working to create the best relationship you can have with your adult child.
If your child was seduced into keeping secrets and lying to you, the history of those behaviors will always be there. The messages can quiet down, they can even be eclipsed with years of new thoughts and positive interactions, but they can never be erased. As a result, they will effect your relationship in inexplicable ways. Accepting that, and assuming everything happens for your highest good, is your path to peace.
To complicate matters even more, when children have been manipulated by a parent to keep secrets they usually feel guilty and ashamed. This guilt typically creates resentment for the wronged spouse because, on some level, the adult child knows they colluded with the other parent. When they interact with the parent they lied to their guilt creates cognitive dissonance and all they really want is to get away as fast as possible. These mixed feelings are often felt as resentment. (See chapter on Guilt.) So, now, you not only have to bear the brunt of the toxic behavior you knew nothing about, but your adult child’s possible guilt, shame, and convoluted resentment towards you. Add that to your parental feelings of protection for your child, no matter how old they are, and you get a very complicated situation.
As if that weren’t enough, they are dealing with anger at the toxic parent for manipulating, bullying, cajoling, bribing, and intimidating them. This anger can easily morph into depression, or anger directed within. It can also appear as anxiety related to dealing with either parent over the potential fall-out of choosing to keep secrets or reveal them.
If you felt abandoned or neglected as a child these revelations may feel like a re-wounding, and trigger old issues. If you learned of new betrayals by your former partner this knowledge can easily catalyze bodily reactions that make you feel unsafe. Unsafe physically, emotionally, or with the adult child who shared the information. It is hard to trust after being betrayed. (See chapter on Trust.)
What can you do to heal your inner wounds and your relationship with your child? First, remember, they were young, impressionable, and wanted their other parent’s attention and affection. Both of which may have been given by making your child feel special through sharing secrets, buying things, acting as a best friend, denigrating the other parent’s values, and all sorts of other unsavory behaviors. But, your child did not start this dynamic.
If the lies, bad-mouthing, and deception have continued into your children’s adulthood your path is even more complicated as expectations of adults are usually quite different from those for children. The good news is all of it can be worked with skillfully, lovingly, and patiently.
Here are some suggestions to help you heal from an adult child’s new revelations:
Take plenty of time to let everything sink in. Do your best to react slowly. Talk with a friend, therapist, clergy member, or relative to work through the myriad effects of this new information.
Explore these revelation’s effects in your body. How do they feel physically? Where do you feel them? Patiently work to find words to describe what you feel in your body as this will take the focus off your thoughts, and help re-ground you.
What are you feeling towards your child? Reach deeply to find all your feelings, not just the ones that show up immediately. Whatever they are, they will change with time.
When the time is right, talk with your adult child about your reactions to this new information and listen to how they feel.
What are your thoughts? Can you do some journaling? Try writing a List of 100. This is done by setting a timer for 20 minutes, pre-numbering a page with 100 lines, and writing as fast as you possibly can about your topic. No censorship. That means you write down everything that comes up, even if it is the exact same thing you just wrote on the previous 10 lines. Topics might be: 100 reasons I don’t trust my adult child. 100 things this revelation taught me. 100 reasons I am glad to be divorced from this person. Once completed you can easily group your responses into percentages, see which thoughts and feelings come up most frequently, and work with those first.
Does this experience trigger others from the past? If so, what are they and what emotions do they bring up? I am partial to Internal Family Systems therapy as it is a gentle, yet very deep, way of working with difficult issues.
Look for the benefits as well as the collateral damage. No matter how earth shattering the news there are always hidden benefits.
Emotional pain is almost always soothed with a combination of time and kindness. You can calm your body-mind with yoga, massage, exercise, good food, journaling, talking it out, music, sleep, nature, Bach’s Rescue Remedy, aromatherapy (lavender, citrus, balsam fir needle, cedar, or any essential oils you like), tea (hot drinks without much caffeine have been shown to calm the sympathetic nervous system), an epsom salt and lavender bath, and anything else that reliably works for you.
If you like talking to yourself as a way to work through things you might be interested in some new research that shows how using your name, or talking to yourself in the third person (using “you” instead of “I”) can be very beneficial. It’s explained here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304831304579543772121720600.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your truth. Your truth when you lived it in the past doesn’t change because of some new information. It may change your opinion of your ex, but it doesn’t change what you felt at the time. Whatever new information has come to light says nothing about you and everything about him or her. You may think it says things about your children, but they were impressionable and needy. Even if the deception continued through their adulthood it is still not about you. They were indoctrinated, felt special, safe, and avoided conflicts with the manipulating parent, all if which created intense cognitive dissonance. Compassion for them and yourself is the best medicine.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang