I have been slowly working on a long letter to my wife. An attempt to explain why I am irrational - not excusing it, because I don't need to, but trying to explain it because it is hard on her and the fact that it's her fault doesn't make it easier.
While I was working on it, I kept picking at this idea that has been on my mind for a while now. It is the idea that the trauma of an affair discovery brings to life a very raw part of our psyche. I do not know (obviously) if it is an actual part of the brain but that's by the by; anyway I call it the reptile. (There are parts of our brains that are basically the same as parts of bird and reptile brains, that probably do some really basic stuff.) The reptile is this really basic part of us that is really only concerned with: is this safe or unsafe ? It is really simple and isn't part of any reasoning process, it is an animal kind of intelligence. It says, the last time you ate a mushroom that colour you got really sick, don't go near that mushroom! It does fear really well. It kicks off an adrenalin rush. If it senses a threat it tells us to be ready to fight for our lives. With our experience of having been deceived, the reptile goes into overdrive. It has to because instead of having to process a single event, it is suddenly dealing with a year, or five years, or however long a period, of time that was actually unsafe without our knowing it. So we remember that day when we were in the kitchen talking about whatever, and it seemed okay at the time, but now we know that there was this terrible threat happening. The reptile is absolutely terrible at telling the difference between the present and the past because it was probably built for brains that didn't really do much long-term remembering. So we sit there and remember something from a year ago and the reptile reacts as if it were happening right now. It screams: Danger! Fight for your life! And you get that physiological response, ready to fight, even though the threat is actually long gone. And it can go berserk even during a totally normal situation: That other time things looked just like this there was a terrible threat happening! Fight! Flee! Do not trust! This person tricked you! I am pretty sure we have this in common with others who have gone through trauma, especially victims of crime. Because the reptile is so stupid, there is no point reasoning with it at all. It is like an abused animal taken into a shelter; it is no good saying "you're okay now, get over it" to a starved and beaten dog; you have to feed it, love it, be patient with it, and let it slowly trust again. And even then it will never be quite the same. (In fact that dog will probably be both more loving to those it trusts and fiercer in the face of threats.) I think this is why we are often asking, "what is wrong with me?" We have that rational part of our brain thinking one thing, and the reptile brain feeling its own completely independent things. The reptile even has a point. The rational brain and the reptile brain are inevitably going to be out of sync for a long time after d-day. It is not that we are jumping around and changing our minds all the time, it is that we have two minds responding at different speeds and in different ways to the same stuff. And they need to be treated in different ways to heal as well. The rational brain needs reasons, the reptile brain just needs warm blankets, sunshine, stroking, soothing, and time. I don't know if this helps anyone else, or just sounds crazy. But I am finding that if I remind myself that there's me, and then there's the reptile, and it's totally natural for the reptile to take longer and respond independently, then I am a bit less hard on myself.
Maybe it is okay, maybe it will be okay.
BS, d-day Feb 2017, 16 mth affair.