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Why I Could Not Stand My Ex-husbandís Wounded Teenager

By Phyllis Stein
March 10, 2013

Another story about how what we are triggered by in other people is a gift to us for learning about how we are abandoning ourselves and how we can choose to do it differently.

As of a couple of columns ago, I have moved to acceptance, acceptance that my ex-husband, a man with whom I have had no direct contact for a long time and whom I do not spend much time thinking about, may not yet be done with his job of helping me heal.  Clearly, we will be done when we are done and it is out of my hands.  Even though I have been “unfriended,” we have Facebook contacts in common, and occasionally he posts a comment that shows up in my thread.  The comments are almost always what I experience as “smartass,” provocative, trying to be funny but not funny.  They sound like his wounded teenager in action.

I found myself saying to a mutual friend, in the context of one of these posts on her wall (and of interactions in the past), that, “I cannot stand (his) wounded teenager.”  Hearing myself say this kind of shocked me, because in Inner Bonding sessions, one of the important things that I do is to help people connect with and open to their teenaged selves.  I have a lot of compassion for wounded teenagers.  Why not this one?

Immediately, I realize that my ex-husband’s teenager is almost identical to my father’s.  Their mottos seemed to be that if they could provoke someone into getting upset, they could laugh triumphantly at their distress, because that meant they had won. The more upset the better! They both struck at seemingly random times.  As I see this, almost like cards flashing past, I see scenes from times I was little, with me desperate and humiliated trying to get him to stop it.  Only my mother actually could stop him, so he titrated it to what he thought he could get away with.  I realized that I learned to avoid interacting with him in ways that put me at risk, but he would often search for a weakness, something he could get me upset about, like putting my shrieking parakeet inside his shirt and laughing as I begged him to stop.  When he was much older, my father really did somehow open his heart and he did deeply and sincerely apologize for “not being much of a father.”  Oddly, at the time, I was only vaguely connected to what he was apologizing about.

I go back to my little girl again, the one who felt like a failure whenever he “got” her again and tell her, for the first time, that this whole situation was wrong.  I tell her that her Daddy could not deal with feeling helpless and vulnerable and that was why he acted that way he did.  I tell her that she did not cause this.  I tell her that I understand now why it never felt safe to show that she was hurt, that he really was cruel and really would take advantage of it.  I tell her that now I am here to protect her.  I tell her that feeling hurt is not a failure, it is not a defeat.  Wow!  It feels like a layer of armor has suddenly fallen away. 

Then I realize, as usual, that it was never about my ex being just like my father at all.  I had thought it was about triggering the memories of his cruelty, but the deeper story, the healing story, is that his wounded teenager was triggering my own wounded self.  It was my wounded self who was telling my little girl that his posts prove that it is still not safe for her to show her hurt to anyone, that if she does, she still loses.  My wounded self was saying that as long as he acted that way, my little girl could not be safe and since there was nothing anyone could do about him, she was stuck.  No wonder his posts felt so awful!  They felt awful because I simply did not realize that I was allowing my wounded self to manage this situation. 

So, now, with my loving adult taking care of my little one, I test again.  I imagine reading one of these posts from my ex-husband’s wounded teenager, and instead of feeling threatened, I feel compassion for the frightened abused little boy inside of him.  But as soon as I do, I feel a stab of heartbreak.  Surprisingly, the heartbreak is not about what happened between us in our relationship.  In fact, as usual when he teaches me another lesson, all of that feels completely irrelevant.  Rather, it is the heartbreak that I tried so hard not to feel growing up, that heartbreak that it felt so humiliating to have, but now the heartbreak is clean and true.  There is no shame in it anymore.  It was never about me, and there was nothing I could have done about it, but thanks to Inner Bonding, I can do something now without changing anything about anyone else. We are smiling now, my little one and I.


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