“From a psychological perspective, our relationship to the forbidden sheds a light on the darker, and less straightforward aspects of our humanity.” Esther Perel
My client, Mary, told me, “My affair made me feel alive.” Because she had been feeling numb, lonely and disconnected for so many years inside her marriage, that feeling of aliveness became like a drug to her that she doesn’t want to turn away from.
Most people go to where the answers are simple and straightforward: Her affair makes her feel alive. Her marriage makes her feel numb. Alive is better than numb, therefore, she should be with this other man. End of story.
Not so fast…
I find that many times the simple, straightforward answer is not always the truth. As human beings we love to snorkel on the surface because it’s quick and easy. To understand what’s really going on we often have to scuba dive deeply into the totality of the experience in order to make sense of it.
Mary has always done what a good wife, a good mother and a good woman would do. She has a great career as a college professor. She makes sure her two teenagers have everything they need. She takes care of the home, the dog, and makes dinner most evenings for the family.
From the outside looking in, her life – and the life of her family – looks like a storybook.
My mentor, Martha Beck taught me about the Social Self and the Essential Self.
- The Social Self is the version of ourselves that we let everyone see. Mary’s Social Self is the “good girl”, the nice, smart, reliable woman that everyone else counts on.
- The Essential Self is the most real, most authentic part of ourselves; we keep her hidden mostly because when she comes out, it makes others uncomfortable. Mary’s Essential Self was tired of worrying about what everyone else wants, needs, or expects from her and was finally asking the all-important question: “What do I want?” She was exhausted from operating from a place of duty and began tapping into desire.
Can’t you just hear the gasps? How selfish of her to have needs, desires and dreams for her own life.
In my experience, we can suppress the Essential Self for the first couple decades of our adult lives, but that doesn’t mean she’s gone away. She starts waking up in our 40s and if we continue to not heed the call, she’ll get really vocal and almost undeniable in our 50s.
After coaching Mary, what we realized was that her feeling alive didn’t have nearly as much to do with the other man as it did her finally giving herself permission to honor her Essential Self, to let that part of her come out and express itself.
She just happened to be giving herself that permission with him.
Affairs provide the opportunity to be what might look like a completely different person.
But maybe we’re chasing the feeling more than the guy and the circumstance that helped bring about that feeling.
***Later this month I’ll be hosting a live webinar, so keep your eyes peeled for that.***