For some reason it's been an especially big week for blame in the various conversations I engage with, so I guess it's time to talk about it here, too.
I'm going to talk about this in the context of marriage relationships where the guy has a long-standing porn habit, because that's where blame has been manifesting itself most in my world lately.
I'm a visual learner, so I have pictures for how blame works in troubled marriages. (This may apply to other relationships as well. Let me know what you think.)
The problem starts with insides that are different from outsides.
In the case of Christian men who use porn, the "inside me" is looking at porn and signing up for Ashley Madison, while the "outside me" is polishing the halo and singing happy songs to Jesus.
In counseling terms, that difference between "inside me" and "outside me" is called "incongruence." That incongruence produces pain and shame. The more incongruence you've got, the more pain and shame you'll have.
Now. Most of us don't like to feel pain and shame. In fact, we'll do all sorts of cognitive and emotional contortions to avoid our pain and shame.
Those contortions, in counseling terms, are called "defense mechanisms." We all use them to one extent or another.
Denial is perhaps the most common defense mechanism ("Oh no, I'm fine!") but it's important to know about the others, so you can recognize them when they're coming at you.
There's not actually a defense mechanism called "blame," but blame is an underlying element of defense mechanisms that seek to push the pain outward:
Displacement: He's mad at his boss, but he comes home and kicks the dog instead. "The dog made me mad."
Projection: He feels highly entitled, so he thinks everybody else does, too. "You just always want your own way. You don't care about me at all."
Reaction Formation: This is where you're outwardly appalled and disgusted by the very thing you're actually doing. Josh Duggar, with his flaming rhetoric against sexual immorality at the Family Research Council, and a paid, affair-guaranteed Ashley Madison account? Classic. Shakespeare put it this way: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
Rationalization: "In a moment of weakness, pain, and unhealthy curiosity..." (RC Sproul, Jr this week on his Ashley Madison debacle) and the classic that we started with: "The woman that thou gavest me."
I also find that when a sexual addiction has gone untreated long-term, the wife is often a victim of gaslighting. (In the classic movie Gaslight, the husband would fiddle with the lights and then say nothing had happened, so the wife thought she was going insane.)
Gaslighting is "a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity." (So says Wikipedia.)
Gaslighting is not a DSM diagnosis, and it's not usually listed with defense mechanisms, but it's a set of behaviors that is pretty common with sexually addicted spouses, so I'm mentioning it here.
I don't think most of the men who engage in gaslighting as part of their sexual addiction are twisted psychopaths. They are just working as hard as they can to hold onto their defense mechanisms, so they don't have to face up to their incongruence and the pain and shame that's lurking. Gaslighting is simply employed as another way to escape reality.
Sex addicts are true experts in deploying defense mechanisms, and very often wives are caught in the line of fire, for this very specific reason:
The wife is often the ONLY OTHER PERSON ON EARTH who knows about the incogruence that's so troubling to the addict.
That knowledge MAKES HER THE TARGET of behaviors designed to draw her into questioning her own reality, so that the addict can continue to employ his defense mechanisms to avoid his pain and shame.
His reality isn't real, so yours can't be, either.
Also, if you don't recognize the defense mechanisms for what they are, and if you engage with them, you'll escalate the situation into pointless arguments about the truth of what's really going on.
You'll do that because you'll mistakenly think that your partner wants to face reality.
In fact, your partner is doing everything he can to AVOID REALITY, and if you'll be so kind as to argue and fight with him, he can then blame you for being negative and demanding, and that will provide a further and most excellent distraction from reality, on top of the defense mechanisms!
It's a crazy-maker, people!!!!
If this looks all-too-familiar to you, what next?
Argue if you must (most of us will try it for a while), but when you get tired of flinging yourself against that brick wall, it's probably time to get yourself some boundaries.
Remove yourself from being the recipient of all the blame, whether it's in the form of displacement, rationalization, projection, gaslighting, whatever.
It doesn't matter that he still believes all the lies.
Here are some example boundaries from Boundaries in Marriage, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Verbal boundaries might sound something like this:
- “If you speak to me that way, I will leave the room.”
- “I love you, but I don’t trust you right now. I can’t be that close until we work this out.”
- “When you show me that you are serious about getting some help, I will feel safe enough to open up to you again.”
Physical boundaries might comprise:
- Removing yourself from any situation that makes you uncomfortable
- Taking time away to think through situations for yourself
- Moving out for a period of time
- Separating from an abusive situation
Emotional boundaries could include:
- Bringing in a third party to help resolve conflict
- Finding a support group for yourself
- Attending counseling sessions for yourself
Ideally then, with no object for displacement, the addict will experience the pain, get desperate enough, and finally take responsibility for himself.
But even if "ideally" doesn't happen, you'll already have boundaries and a support system in place to help you deal with whatever less-than-ideal looks like for you.
So, there you go. A short lesson on defense mechanisms and boundaries.
May you not need it this weekend.
But my candles are lit for you, if you do.