As a little girl, Dulce witnessed and felt the pain caused by anger, and she adopted a strategy of compliance to protect herself from strong emotions. She had negative experiences in her past from when she revealed her feelings and needs. She was shamed and blamed for expressing herself. When she attempted to be authentic, she was ridiculed for being overly sensitive, making a mountain out of a molehill, and way too needy. Dulce got the message early that it was dangerous to show her tender underbelly. She was so afraid that she might be judged and criticized, even humiliated, that she withheld her truth. She had been studying her entire life how to conceal, repress, and close off, thereby arriving at a level of mastery in disguising her true self.
She knew from her prior experience that whenever feelings got too heated, someone was likely to get hurt, and she feared that it might be her. So Dulce tried to ignore differences and avoid conflict whenever possible. When she did get angry, she buried the ugly emotion and pretended that everything was fine. She went on to rely on this tactic during her marriage, before she came to recognize its hidden costs. Although Luke and Dulce didn’t argue a lot, she spent years feeling like a victim whenever they did, pitying herself and sizzling with resentment over how unfair their relationship seemed to be.
Beware of Being Conflict Averse
It was Dulce, not Luke, who wouldn’t accept the angry feelings that erupted. When they did fight, it was often over her failure to honestly express herself. Luke would get angry when he uncovered feelings his wife had been concealing. Eventually the tension became unbearable, and Dulce could no longer keep up the pretense that everything was fine. Finally taking the risk of experiencing her anger, she was happy to discover that their marriage not only survived, it got much better. Their differences produced a healthy measure of conflict that infused their relationship with a passion that yielded deeper intimacy and honesty.
Becoming less afraid of the conflict that can arise from their differences is one of the wonderful bonuses that they both experienced in confronting anger more directly. Now Dulce doesn’t cringe when she anticipates a flap occurring between them, but instead feels a sense of curiosity and interest, perhaps even a touch of excitement. Dulce told me that she never believed that she could lose her fear of conflict, but she has. In her words, “For me, it was revolutionary thought to reverse this process and dare to attempt to live another way. To call this a miracle may seem a bit dramatic, but that’s what it feels like to me!”
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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