Fulfilled from Within: A Psycho-Spiritual Reflection on Cheating-Pt.1

Fulfilled from Within: A Psycho-Spiritual Reflection on Cheating-Pt.1 August 30, 2013
by O’Shan Gadsden 
R3 Contributor

I recently began reminiscing about a long-term patient I treated while completing my pre-doctoral internship (our equivalent of a residency).  I continue to be struck by some of the material we explored. I met with this young, intellectually astute, and beautiful young woman twice a week for a nine month period. Most of our work focused on her difficulty understanding her anxiety; setting boundaries with lovers; resolving and mourning her hostility and rage toward her neurotic parents; and gaining voluntary control in a way that would allow her to be fully present with herself, and no longer handicapped by unfulfilling and emotionally abusive romantic relationships-No Small Feat indeed.

I remember the moment a cord was struck in me—- we were exploring her anxiety about her then boyfriend befriending and spending time with his ex-girlfriend. We explored it from many dimensions. We wondered if on some level the behavior of her boyfriend was a pattern of his insensitivity; yet another testament of his inability to understand her needs.  We wondered if he understood how his behavior and overall emotional unresponsiveness had contributed to their relational woes. We also wondered whether on some level this relationship activated unresolved feelings of unworthiness; feelings that have much to do with her father and his new wife with whom the patient hates sharing him with.  As we explored these possibilities and many others, the patient kept repeating her feeling that her boyfriend’s action was in some way “CHEATING” on her. 

Now cheating is no new concept to me, but on this day it took on a new tone. Knowing this patient’s history and my own, I wondered what was being activated in her by this relationship that on some level I suspected had very little to do with the relationship itself. 

Cheating. What a powerfully charged and loaded word; especially when it comes to the domain of romantic relationships.  Many books, TV. talk shows, preachers, and relationship therapists have tackled this psychologically/emotionally charged construct. Hell, we all have experienced, whether directly or indirectly what it feels like to have been cheated on. And if we tell the truth and shame the “devil”, many of us have also been guilty or last least charged with this offense.  So, I wonder if we could take a different look at this construct of “Cheating.”  An exploration that moves beyond the surface and explores this construct from a metaphysical/psychospiritual perspective.

The Merriam-Webster definition of cheating is: (verb) to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit, trick, or artifice; to influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice; to practice fraud or trickery; to violate rules dishonestly.
Let’s start with, “to deprive of something valuable.”  Before we can engage in a discussion about what we consider to be relational deceit, trickery, boundary violation, and dishonesty; it seems important to explore the white elephant in the room that seems to make being “cheated on” so visceral.  It seems to me that whenever I have been in therapy with patients who have been “cheated” on; many times at the root of their disgust is the feeling that the other-the person whom they cherished, valued, loved, and wanted to be theirs alone had by sharing their love, body, time, and resources with another person, DEPRIVED them of SOMETHING VALUABLE.

Wow! What a loaded concept. Deprived. Something Valuable. To be deprived suggests to be owed something; or not receiving something that one deserves or is rightfully yours. It can also connote a sense of lack.

Disclaimer: I am neither condoning nor making excuses for those deemed cheaters. I know what it feels like to be cheated on. The pain of having boundaries violated. Yet, I also believe from a metaphysical perspective that nothing is always as it seems. Events and experiences do not just occur. There are usually schemas about the self and others that often attract our experiences into our lives.  What I mean by this is that although people play a part in our realities and can impact our lives in many different ways; our realities are more powerfully informed by our own thoughts (conscious and unconscious) about ourselves and the other. Ok, station break over.

May I ask you something?

Can someone really deprive you of something? What is the something that you really feel owed? If you don’t receive “it” from the other, are you really lacking anything?  What is “it” you are really saying you deserve from the other, that cheating takes off the table?  Can one person be responsible for giving you all that you feel you deserve emotionally?  Grant it, these questions could take this conversation in so many directions. We could discuss this from a feminist perspective, a religious perspective, a moral perspective, and/or an economics perspective.  However, I wish to challenge us all to think more deeply about all that gets activated when we are in romantic relationships.  More deeply about the projections we make of the other, as it concerns their ability to love us; give to us; and be there for us.  Deeply about how unresolved father and mother wounds can distort what we consider to be appropriate boundaries and appropriate expectations of the other. 

What I am suggesting i

s, that it seems to me there is a possibility that what makes getting cheated on or having our expectations of the other unfulfilled so emotionally charged, is that many of us already come to our relationships feeling emotionally/psychologically deprived.  Deprived of the attention, love, and mirroring that we needed and deserved during our developmental history. Many of us already come to these relationships not just seeking companionship with a whole other, but to use (consciously and unconsciously) the relationship to resolve prior pain; and to receive something that the new other is not responsible for.

No, I am not suggesting that one should stay in an emotionally abusive relationship. Or stay in a relationship where the other continues to violate agreed upon boundaries. Hell, no! Get out! Tell that dude or woman, enough! I am better than this, goodbye.  However, I am suggesting that we do take some time and sit with ourselves and take an honest look at our relational patterns. You might be surprised to discover that this is nothing new for you; different person same dynamics.  I am suggesting that in order to appropriately choose a good mate or to be able to leave a situation that is not good; one needs to be more thoughtful about how the combination of our needs, hurts, and wishes get played out in our relationships.

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