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Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Session 7

the heart-racing stress reaction I had when listening to the recording of session six marked out what is called a "hot spot". as I listened to it every day, I realized that I was really angry that Scott had made me responsible for meeting his every emotional need.

after the event where he threw books at me and at our petite two-year-old daughter, Scott took out the trash. then for weeks he asked me every day what he ought to do. then every day he showed me what he did, whether it was putting dishes away or wiping off the table, apparently to gauge my approval rating of his efforts.

it was so exhausting. why did he need my feedback so badly? when I cleaned the toilet, I didn't ask anyone to look at it and praise me for the job. I'd probably cleaned toilets a thousand times during our marriage, all without a scrap of fanfare. fanfare would have seemed very strange for something as mundane as cleaning a toilet.

MUNDANE. that was it. that's what was bothering me so deeply. his voracious need to elicit praise from me for the most mundane of household contributions wore me out and fueled my feelings of anger and resentment toward him for requiring me to cater to him emotionally.

mundane is:

1. of or pertaining to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven; worldly; earthly: mundane affairs.
2. common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative.
3. of or pertaining to the world, universe, or earth.

putting away dishes... taking out the trash... wiping off the table... these are all in the category of banal and unimaginative. they are tasks common and ordinary, such as I did every day when I drove to the office, adjusted my desk chair, and went through technical issues that had been assigned me as I waited for my first technical support call of the day to roll through the queue to my station. I can't imagine how my manager or co-workers would have felt about me if I'd required positive feedback from them every time I made made it through one of the everyday tasks we all were expected to perform. it required no imagination to drive between our apartment and the office building where I worked, it simply required some attention and diligence so that I made it there alive.

so, why? why did he tell me all I was good for was to serve his physical needs, then turn around and offer up these opportunities for me to praise him? he was like a child testing the boundaries of his control to see how far he could push me. every time he successful pushed me toward the edge, he felt more excited, more thrilled at his control over me. when he'd finally pushed me toward the point of breakdown, he gave himself permission to assault me. he killed any hope of saving our relationship that day, as my soul bled out and died. I finally stopped forgiving him for abusing me, and I shut him out for good. I didn't want to see him, talk to him, or let him touch me. I didn't want to listen to him, so I stopped. I could no longer bring myself to even fake the appearance of respect the cult expected me to show him; he simply did not deserve it and had done nothing to earn it and everything to destroy it.

so then, his sacrifices of good behavior were simply attempts to elicit praise from me in order to reassure himself that he was doing a good job as a husband. perhaps he was afraid that I would leave. if it weren't for the cult I would have already been gone.

because I was reacting to my recorded reaction to the event, we covered the event again in session until I could get through the event without severe reaction to the aftermath, until I could discuss the disintegration that follow the assault without revulsion and anger.

multiple times I spoke it out loud, and the escalation developed a pattern. not a mirroring pattern, which can diffuse, but an escalation pattern that made it evident that his goal was to push me as far as he could and that the power intoxicated him. adrenaline is a drug to some people. Scott has always made it clear that it's a drug he can't live without. that day he was going to get a fix, and he was going to use me to get it.

I tried to explain that I thought it would be fair for him to help out while he wasn't working.

he called me names. he had a smile on his face, like it was enjoyable.

I tried to explain that I wasn't trying to nag, I just felt like I couldn't keep up with the housework while working two jobs.

he snidely asked what else am I good for... implying that he felt I wasn't good for anything. he looked excited, like insulting me was fun.

I got upset and tried to explain that I was feeling overwhelmed and just needed his help.

he mocked me. he was even more excited, like this was the best entertainment he could imagine.

I screamed and threw some books on the floor.

he yelled and threw dozens of books at me, and at our daughter.

I screamed at him to stop because I was afraid our daughter would get hurt. our daughter was screaming in terror because daddy was hurting mommy.

that he gave himself permission to throw books at me was bad enough, but that in his need for excitement, his thrill at the adrenaline rush of crushing me, he gave himself permission to put our daughter at risk was something that I simply couldn't wrap my head around. why was it so fun for him? why did he think it was his right to treat me like that? how could his self-righteous wrath entitle him to harm his own child?

because in his mind, he was better than me. smarter than me. more interesting than me and he needed me to tell him that. if I was unhappy with my life with him, it could only be because of a flaw in me.

the truth of it, however, is that he hurt me because it was fun. he hurt me because I wasn't a real person. it was all about narcissistic control. he manipulated like a child, craved attention like a child, lashed out like a child.

I'd gone into session seven feeling a bit depressed. I left feeling a whole lot lighter because I took back that control. he doesn't have it any more.


Mia, you write so well.

Mia, you write so well.

I'm so grateful to have met you online and to be partaking of this time in your life. Your pennings are memoir to me and they inspire me to continue to approach my own story. They move me with anger, empathy, compassion.

And, I get goose pimples with your last paragraph.

thank you! I'm glad that

thank you!

I'm glad that you're inspired to express your own story. writing has helped so much in the processing of what seemed like a huge pile of depressing baggage but is really just the unfolding of my own strange and eventful life. I'm finally gaining perspective: I'm not under the pile; it's in the road behind me and I can look back and see what it's made of now instead of only feeling the weight of it.