Are you betraying yourself by pretending something works when it clearly doesn’t? Are you putting up with outrageous crap simply because you are afraid? Are you hoping, that if you keep your head down long enough, it will all go away?
A long time ago, before I had children, my husband took a second wife. My heart was shattered. I pretended I was fine.
We were living in Washington, D.C., not the Islamic Republic of Iran, where he was from. I had nothing of real value to lose if I packed up and left. The other woman— an old girlfriend who, last I’d heard, had been languishing in some mental hospital— had blamed him for her troubles when she’d called him for help. Being a practicing Muslim, he decided that God had afforded him a way to alleviate his guilt.
I was insane with fear. Not just because my parents had been right to disapprove of this union, or that, karmically, this is what trapping him with a pregnancy had cost me, but because I’d worked way too hard to just let him go.
I told no one what was going on, not even my closest girlfriends. Especially my closest girlfriends. Because I was ashamed, afraid that they might recognize the ugly truth for what it was— that I had zero self-respect, that I was sitting still for this instead of leaving —and run away in horror.
I couldn’t admit that my marriage was a nightmare. Nothing but I-told-you-so’s waited for me back home at my parents’. Sure, I could’ve stayed on in D.C., got my own apartment, built a successful career, developed some satisfying hobbies, but that would’ve required faith in my self. Without this man, I had no idea who I was. I couldn’t bear the thought of being unloved and alone.
The second wife lasted six months. I considered myself the victor because I had stuck my head in the sand and waited it out. Throughout the rest of our ten-year marriage, I held my breath. Because it was only a matter of time, I figured, until he pulled that stunt again. We both knew that if I had tolerated abuse before, I’d tolerate it some more.
After the divorce, I dated the safely unavailable–including the guy who lived in Italy, the man who had a wife, the miraculously cured narcissist, and the guy I didn’t even like. Instinctively, I knew I was the problem, not they. My husband hadn’t done me the harm all those years before. I had. After all, in the United States, to stick around for polygamy is a matter of choice. The person who’d sold me cheap all those years ago had actually been me. The person who had decided to accept misuse had been me. Me, me, me. . I knew that, if I’d let one man run roughshod over my boundaries, I’d likely do it again.
I couldn’t trust others because I couldn’t trust myself.
Putting up with a second wife is pretty extreme, but there are plenty of ways to sell yourself out.
Are you in a soul-sucking job because you can’t face a questionable employment market?
Have you been with the same guy for seven years because, maybe, if you’re really patient and really cheerful, he’ll end up marrying you after all?
Are you up to your eyeballs in debt and wiping out the shoe sale racks?
Oriah Mountain Dreamer, an author I admire, puts it this way:
“We betray ourselves when we deny the change that terrifies us. When we maintain the external illusion that all remains the same. If someone names the betrayal, everything begins to unravel.”
If you are betraying yourself, just think of the cost. Nurture your essential self. Respect your own boundaries. Give yourself a reason to trust yourself.
Ann Sheybani, 48, is a high altitude mountaineer, ultra-distance runner, and blue water sailor. She is a speaker, coach and author of the popular blog, Things Mama Never Taught Me. Visit her at www.annsheybani.com. © 2011 Ann Sheybani