What Happened in Childhood, Does Not Stay in Childhood
by Yumay Chang
In my late 30s, I went through a gut-wrenching divorce. My ex-husband, someone I thought was in love with me, walked out suddenly.
I would have missed his exit entirely had I not woken up to the sound of his packing.
He was planning to take off in the wee hours before I woke up.
After that, it was a whirlwind of watching him in a string of relationships with women he met online. He lied about being divorced on his dating profile, showed off our joint assets as a lure, and asked several women to marry him after a brief courtship.
Simultaneously, he came after me for half of our assets, most of which was money I earned since I out-earned him significantly during our marriage.
This whirlwind of events left me completely discombobulated, and I sank into a deep depression.
It felt like an alien possessed my husband and turned him into a zombie that is now attacking me. He still resembled my husband visually, but the soul is gone.
The wakeup call
What helped me through these difficult times was the strength and support of my friends. They gave me much needed emotional support, but they also have the strength of character to tell me the hard truth, and the wisdom to give me sound advice.
One of them, who I will call Larry, asked me a poignant question.
“What did you learn from this experience?”
Specifically, Larry did not want to see me wallow in victimhood. He wanted me to take my power back by focusing on what is in my control.
“I married the wrong man,” I responded.
This answer wasn’t good enough for Larry. He wanted me to dig deeper and understand what drew me to my ex in the first place.
“If you don’t learn from what happened,” said Larry, “You will remain vulnerable to repeating the same mistake.”
Larry’s request was a wakeup call for me.
“A teachable spirit and a humbleness to admit your ignorance or your mistake will save you a lot of pain. However, if you’re a person who knows it all, then you’ve got a lot of heavy-hearted experiences coming your way.” ― Ron Carpenter Jr.
It set me off on a journey of introspection and healing.
I grew more as a person than I ever knew possible.
Why did I choose my ex?
Growing up, my father, a smart and vicious man, abused his family psychologically and physically, and he relished our sufferings. My mother, an abuser in her own right, stood by and did nothing.
Though I left home the first chance I got and cut contacts, the abuse left a deep scar.
This strong fear of being controlled led me to also reject emotionally mature, confident, and self-sufficient men. I was simply too afraid of being controlled.
“The initial trauma of a young child may go underground but it will return to haunt us.” ― James Garbarino
When I met my ex — a lanky, handsome, charming man who loves sports and seemed to worship the grounds I walked on, I thought he might be a safe match.
He had just landed in the US after backpacking around the world for almost two years. I was working a stressful corporate job, but secretly fancying myself a flower child.
He regaled me with tales from his travels, and I was smitten.
Little did I know that underneath his sunny, devil-may-care facade hides a person deeply wounded by years of being intensely bullied in school, and he suffered suicidal depression much of his younger life.
To survive, he betrayed his only friend in school to gain approval from the bullies. As an adult, he stole from his business partners when the situation suited him. The lesson he took away as a victim of bullying is that he needed to prioritize his own welfare and be selfish; it did not matter if his actions hurt anyone else.
"Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently." — Maya Angelou
He liked that I made a lot more than he does and could take care of him.
There were plenty of red flags, starting from the first date, but I ignored
them all. He pressured me to get married, and though I didn’t feel comfortable with it, I complied.
I was terrible at saying no.
For much of our marriage, I was the dutiful, high-functioning wife that worked a demanding job, cooked and cleaned for both of us, and managed the household’s operations.
My industriousness gave him more time out playing sports and having fun, and he took full advantage of it.
"What irritated me most in that entire situation was the fact that I wasn't feeling humiliated, or annoyed, or even fooled. Betrayal was what I felt, my heart broken not just by a guy I was in love with, but also by, as I once believed, a true friend." — Danka V.
The way my ex tried to sneak out, though abrupt and not age-appropriate for a 40-year-old, wasn’t a surprise given his disposition.
Does this fear still apply?
Once I realized that the fear of being harmed was driving my poor choice of men, I examined it critically. I see that I am no longer a child at the mercy of abusive adults, but a grown woman that takes care of herself.
It sounds simple, but for me, it was a revelation.
No longer bearing the burden of two, life suddenly became a lot more relaxing.
What do I want in an ideal partner?
At my girlfriend’s behest, I did Matha Beck’s Love List exercise and diligently wrote down the qualities I look for in an ideal partner.
Gone are the superficial things that don’t stand the test of time. My list focused on enduring, intrinsic characteristics that I value in people I respect.
From dealing with my ex, I learned that people who lack courage are often the most dangerous.
It takes courage to act with integrity, and cowardly people are prone to sacrifice others when it serves them.
I knew I could never be happy with someone who lacks courage or integrity, so I put “Courage and Integrity” on my love list in big, bold font.
Writing the list helped me solidify what to look for, and kept me focused, so I am not distracted by shiny objects like a handsome face (read this article if you’re curious to learn how to apply the list in the dating process).
“Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.” ― Dennis Prager
It took me a while to find a great guy. The dating pool is thinner compared to when I was in my 20s, and most emotionally well-adjusted men my age are still married.
I dated some so-so guys and one that made my life miserable — I overcorrected and swung from marrying someone like my entitled, irresponsible mother to dating someone like my emotionally unstable, controlling father.
Through the ups and downs of modern-day dating, I continued to invest in healing myself.
Instead of being my own worst critic, which only serves to continue the abuse of my parents, I became my own backer and best friend.
This inner work completely transformed my life for the better.
“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”
― Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
I realized that love, first and foremost, must come from within.
We have to feel safe in our own embrace before we can expect it from others.
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My name is Yumay Chang, and I run Life Is Love School, a global support group for childhood trauma survivors. I had a challenging childhood, and I know what it’s like to feel not good enough and not lovable. I learned through over two decades of research and plenty of trial and error how to heal so I can live a life of joy, love, and purpose. Now I help women that are successful at work but are unfulfilled in their personal lives do the same so they can also shine their brightest.
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