Revisiting empathy

view paintingPlaying with color: An interpretation of my view, 16″ x 20″, oil on canvas

Progress not perfection, is a running theme around our house. A conversation amongst betrayed spouses this morning regarding empathy made me think of, well, a bunch of my blog entries, but specifically this one: And then it all went to s*%t.

That blog post a mere three months ago, stirred up a whole lot of conversation around empathy, around sex addiction in general, and also around my mental health, which has been a running theme of some commenters for months and months. One commenter states, “I hope the two of you make it, but for you to be sitting on the side of a hill sobbing your heart out says you are far from ok.” This particular commenter is not a betrayed spouse. Pretty sure I didn’t even need to say that, but I am just going to. My comment back included this “Yes, I agree. Sometimes I am far from okay. I was happily living my life with a man I have known and adored for 30 years. We have two great children and a successful business and then one January day in 2014, I get a call from an older woman with a smoker’s voice saying she is having a relationship with my husband. I was thrown into shock and trauma. It is taking me a while to heal from that. I have made lots of progress, but some days I do sit on the side of hills and cry. I mean honestly, that has only happened once so far, but I have cried in my closet, on my bed, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, at a restaurant in Hawaii, in the shower (many many times)… I write a blog because it helps me to talk it out.” And that is called trauma. Trauma after betrayal, and a lack of empathy are also not just a sex addict thing. Lack of empathy is very much a process by which people rationalize and compartmentalize behavior they don’t want to accept or own. If they don’t acknowledge your pain, they don’t have to own it.

The comment conversations on that particular blog entry also battled on around empathy. Some believe there are people who never have had empathy and therefore it won’t come out of them, ever, and cannot be taught. I, in particular, don’t believe that at all, but we are all entitled to our opinions. All I can really write about is my own experiences, and that brings me to a blog entry a couple weeks after the above, entitled: The highjacking of empathy. In that post I am responding to a blog comment in a previous post, a portion of which goes like this:  “OK can someone explain to me what the difference is between a person who compartmentalizes their actions and someone who lacks empathy? Isn’t, easily and habitually, compartmentalizing nothing but a manifestation of a person who lacks empathy? In my understanding it is the lack of an ability to empathize that allows people to compartmentalize.”

And a snippet of my response, “I actually think it is the other way around. Google defines compartmentalization thusly: Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves. In my husband, I think it is the necessity (driven by his addiction) to compartmentalize (disconnect from his conflicting values and emotions) that allowed him to temporarily block his empathy.”

In those blog posts and comment responses, just a mere handful of months ago, Blue Eyes was still struggling with showing empathy towards me, at least in the way I expected him to. I have written about how Blue Eyes does exhibit empathy. He showed empathy towards the pain he had caused our children by lying to them, and he cried, it was honest and deep, and he showed it right after d-day. He has been highly compassionate towards other sex addicts in his groups and his intensive. On a daily basis, I was suffering and I was expecting Blue Eyes to come to my rescue, to validate me, to understand me. He couldn’t. He couldn’t break through, in a matter of weeks, or even months, everything he had built for decades. I have been the most important person in his life and he knew the man he really was, not the magic man in the costume trying to be everything for everyone, but the man underneath, the cheater, the liar, the addict, he knew that man could not show himself, ever, for fear of complete rejection. And then someone ripped off the mask and he was a failure. He had failed me in nearly every imaginable way. To carry that full burden, his reality of his own failure, and the burden of my gut wrenching pain, was too much.

I am happy to report, after months and months of recovery work, Blue Eyes now spontaneously shows empathy towards me. As he has broken through, carving away at his own demons, he has made a space for me, and for really understanding the magnitude of what he has done. Making room for my feelings is part of his healing process, but the real breakthrough is, as I heal, he is able to release some of that fear and shame that revolves around what he has done. His truest empathetic moments happen out of the blue. The real bursts of empathy do not come from my prompting or even my pain, but as I heal and as I accept my new reality and release my fears, he is grateful for me, for who I am. He thinks about me and everything I have endured and wonders why I am still by his side, he acknowledges how grateful he is that I am by his side, and he breaks down. Blue Eyes doesn’t think the way I do. The things that bother me, don’t even enter his conscious mind. He will never feel my pain, and I will never feel his, but we have compassion for each other. Day by day, we are enjoying this journey more, we are enjoying life more.

As I continue painting as a form of healing myself and releasing the trauma for good, I am now working with color, mixing it, blending it, watching it flow on the canvas, playing with brights and impressionist strokes of vibrant hues here and there. The above painting is my fantastical impression of the view out my bedroom window.

Progress, not perfection, that’s what it’s all about.

Peace. ❤

16 thoughts on “Revisiting empathy

  1. Beautiful painting!! I been ruminating on this post, because I wonder if BE had, during the course of all the years of acting out had imagined the fall out of you ever found out. And I wonder if whilst wondering, there was ever a scenario for him where you stayed. So I further wondered (😁) if when you actually did find out in his head you were already gone, and so therefore he disconnected, because in his version of events you wouldn’t stay and do the hard yards…..that’s what I wondered!

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    • You are too cute. I love all your wondering ways, I am a wonderer too. On this particular topic, however, I don’t wonder much anymore. I have been over and over and over this with BE. I have read so much about sex addiction and learned a lot over the past 20 months. One of the reasons it gets to me when people denounce sex addiction. For us it is brutally real. My opinion is, BE addiction grew and grew and as it grew, he started doing more things that were clearly wrong and violated the spirit of our marriage, but as he dipped his toe in, and then eventually was full on swimming in his secret, addicted sex life, his rationalizations grew. His compartmentalization grew. His fantasy world had a life of its own and in that world, there was literally no space given to consequences. He did not think about, “what if Kat finds out,” because the longer he went without me finding out, the bolder he became. He had convinced himself that I would never find out, when addiction was controlling his brain. This is very common behavior amongst addicts. That and the fact that they think they can stop, by themselves. Every single time he went back to his drug, he swore he would never do it again. He could never allow himself to do that again because it was bad, he was bad, and if I found out, his world would come crashing down. But then, the addiction in his brain took over once again, as did the rationalization.

      Then after d-day, I do believe he was in fear every day that I would leave. He had not thought about it before, had never allowed himself to entertain such negative and destructive thoughts because it would obliterate his fantasy. It would change the dynamic of the acting out. But, after d-day, after he had given up the secret sex as his coping mechanism, he did fear my leaving, but I am pretty sure that is not what blocked his empathy. His empathy had been blocked, habitually by his brain a long time ago. That pattern is difficult to break. He had to really really think about the actual consequences to me and that is incredibly painful for him to do. His brain had protected him from that pain in the past and the protection was strong, cemented in, if you will. It can take months or even years for them to break through to that place again. What he may have had early on in our relationship, the connection to me and the longing to keep me safe and to not hurt me, had been circumvented by his growing addiction. It really is about self protection on the part of the addict, but not necessarily because it’s not worth it to connect for fear of me leaving, but really just because they had already buried those feelings so deep, it was going to take quite a few months of shoveling to get to the spot and uncover it. He doesn’t really think consciously at all about why he is or is not able to do something. He has no ulterior motives. His emotional thought processes towards me are very stunted. He was a very good actor in that he had me believing for 30 years that he made decisions based on my welfare as well as his own and also what was good for our coupleship and our family. The truth is, he was emotionally crippled in respect to intimate relationships. He was emotionally stunted in his relationship with me and he was doing a lot of pretending. I have had to let it all go. Release myself from the burden of making this about me. It’s not about me. I have grieved for the past and all I need now is for him to show he is progressing, he is learning, he is reshaping those parts of his brain that were dysfunctional. It has all been a lot to absorb. Sex addicts are not like your average man, or husband (even one who had an affair). They are unique animals that carry a lot of baggage and a damaged frontal lobe. I really am grateful for all the resources out there.

      Thanks, Owlie, for the comment, and congratulations on becoming a Godmother. I am likewise not religious, but I am also a Godmother and proud to be so. It is an honor!

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      • I really admire you Kat, I admire your tenacity and strength and the way you have sought to fully understand your husbands behaviour. I hope that one day BE has the same understanding, and is able to adequately articulate himself. I’m sorry if I seemed to have simplified it, it’s a difficult and complex problem.
        And you’re right it is a honour, I’m looking forward to spoiling that little girl rotten! X

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not simplifying, I think, merely trying to understand something that is incredibly difficult to understand. It has sort of been my life for about a year and a half. The shock is barely starting to wear off. I always appreciate thoughtful comments. I wish I could snuggle that beautiful baby! ♥️

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  2. Would love to see you post a timeline of your paintings from just before D-day through to the present time. I wonder if your use of colors, style, technique,subject matter (do those things change in an artist? don’t know…I’m artistically ignorant) would reflect your feelings and emotions and progress through the healing process? You are fortunate to have painting as an outlet…and you are talented as well!

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    • You know, I wasn’t painting before d-day. I hadn’t painted for about five years. Our older son is an oil painter and he had absconded with most of my paints and brushes when he headed off to college. I had been in a painting lull at that point and didn’t replace my supplies. I knew I would one day, but things were so hectic during that time. I had painted a dozen realist oil paintings or so under the guidance of an art instructor, but I am still very much a novice. A few months before d-day, I decided to start back painting again, in my head, but hadn’t done anything about it except sign up for a painting workshop, which after d-day, I quickly cancelled. Earlier this year, I signed up for that same workshop and that has invigorated me again although I have switched back to oils for the time being from the acrylics I was trying at the class. This is all very much practice. I find that the most frustrating part for me at this point, is the color aspect, the mixing, getting the right color, using color more freely, so that is what I am practicing with. I am also switching from realism to impressionism. Even posting the paintings here on this anonymous blog is quite daunting. Thank you for the compliments.

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  3. Loving the painting. I recognised it straight away …..so how good are you to do that?
    It is such a process isn’t it? The main thing is that you keep on moving in a positive direction and these men will always have little slips ( not in the SA sense but in the way they handle situations) otherwise how will they learn the right way?
    I should have kept notes on all the places where I have been brought to my knees in grief and crying. Let it out. Let it go. Try and stop it? No way. It is all part of healing ourselves and it will never be pretty.
    Good on you Kat and your honesty in your blog.
    Take care xxxxx

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