This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Accepting Our Sinful Self

Today’s and tomorrow’s posts are a response to a few of the comments received from Part 2  and Part 3 of my series The Midlife Journey: Understanding, Accepting & Embracing the Outcome.

Background
The original series referenced the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. In it the author spoke briefly of her affair and the end of her marriage.

TMHP
My sense was that, while she felt very bad about the deception to her children and then-husband due to the shaman affair, she believed it to have been a necessary part of her growth.

Yes, I believe this is how she feels, and yet I don’t think necessary is the best choice of words. I think that Sweetheart’s midlife crisis was a part of his growth. But was it necessary for him to get to where he is now by way of midlife crisis (infidelity being a part of the MLC)? No, there are many paths we can take. But so what. It’s after the fact; so necessary or not, he took the path of MLC and he cheated. What I think Elizabeth Lesser is doing is Accepting—as am I. She accepts that her reality is that she had an extramarital affair, just as I accept that Sweetheart—my presently wonderful, awesome and amazing husband—had an affair.

My memory is that the affair awakened her spiritually and sexually in a way she’d never experienced and that, once that had happened, there was no going back to her husband. It was as though her body had been asleep and now had become awake. She didn’t go into much, that I remember, about what was “wrong” with her husband. It just seemed that she had married young, had several children in a row, and had never “grown up” sexually.
You are right, she didn’t go into it much, but I don’t think that was because she was avoiding the issue; it’s just that this particular book was not about the affair and so she only used it to illustrate an example that lead to her breaking open experience—which was the pain of going through her divorce. I did not get the idea that she did not return to her marriage because after having an awakening through her affair she couldn’t go back. Her affair was a clandestine affair and when she ended it both she and her husband—from what I could tell—each weighed their options of staying and leaving. In the beginning of the book when she describes her meeting with the psychic, she makes a reference to her husband having changed his mind about ending the marriage and he was interested in reconciliation.

While she made a convincing case that the shaman affair was a positive in her life (that’s the clear impression I got from what she wrote) it was a disturbing read for a stander.
Oh, most definitely a challenge. That’s why I chose to read it. Though having read it I did not find it nearly as challenging as Grace is for Sinners. I think she acknowledges the affair as something that pushed her into necessary changes and for that she is grateful. So am I. Sweetheart cheated and I wish he hadn’t, but I am still grateful for
what it brought before us and what we have done with it since. I think that for Lesser, the positive experience was in what she learned as a result of her affair and what she did with that learning.

But the thing is, the book is not about her experience at all. She could have refrained from mentioning it without reducing the page count significantly. But readers may then wonder about her credibility if she left out any breaking open experience of her own.

I think Lesser knows what infidelity is. Conversely, Serena Woods, who feels extreme remorse and has repented, does not seem to understand what it is yet. She sees it as the act of sex, but she fails to see how after the sexual infidelity ended, she continued to contribute to the failure of her affair partner’s marriage by communicating with him and even hiding him. She fails to understand that when he needed help, she was the opposite of help. She does not yet understand Emotional Infidelity. And yeah, I said that she helped hide him…to most of us I imagine that would be pretty obvious that it is part of infidelity.

Disturbing book. Raises extremely difficult issues for anyone trying to stand.
Yes, this is why I feel it is important. I don’t think the book was great, though I do think it was good. But I wasn’t highlighting the pages with new insights—a marker for me of excellence. I think it is important to face the uncomfortable, because that is where we are challenged to grow and challenges enable growth.

Broken Open is not a book I recommend for Standing. I chose to discuss it because I feel it is an example of someone who had an affair, chose to leave her marriage and yet she herself matured and chose joy. She did not get stuck in a Replay existence or become a Cranky Codger. She’s an inspiration to many people and I think that at some point, we as betrayed spouses need to extend forgiveness beyond the MLCers.

There were a few great comments on this topic, so tomorrow’s post will complete my responses.

Series NavigationAccepting Our Sinful Self Part II

Comments

Accepting Our Sinful Self Part INo Comments

  1. RCR,

    Thank you for directly responding to my comments. As always, your insights are illuminating.

    In my read of it, Lesser's book is a real-life story of what Jungians call "individuation," the process/journey of allowing the pull of our soul to "break through" in our lives. By accepting this process the person seeking individuation is empowered to become the person they were meant to be, and they come to understand and embrace the reason why they were put on this earth.

    To Jungians, individuation is all. It is the Holy Grail of each person's existence and it is worth whatever price–ending relationships, disappointing those who depend on us, breaking vows, taking life-altering risks, financial sacrifice, emotional pain, facing deep fears, etc.–to achieve.

    Lesser makes a convincing case her journey was an individuation journey; that it was necessary for her to do the things she did (divorce her long term husband, the father of her children, and pursue a relationship with someone else to whom she was deeply drawn and whom she eventually married) in order for her to realize her full emotional and spiritual potential. She believes if she had stayed in her marriage she would not have become the person she did, would not have accomplished the things she has and would not have found the emotional and spiritual fulfillment that she seems to have found.

    For her, the "breaking open experience" was clearly worth the price.

    (continued in next post)

    • Okay…sorry but I am responding before finishing again.
      I want to correct something you have said about Lesser.
      She DID NOT marry her affair partner. Her relationship with him lasted one year and she ended that relationship and then she and her husband separated. She did not leave her husband to pursue the relationship, she pursued it 🙁 , ended it and then separated from her husband–but did not yet make a decision regarding whether to divorce him or not.
      The affair partner's name was Tom. Her 2nd husband was a man she knew–no affair–whose name was also Tom. The psychic mentioned she would marry this other Tom–not the affair partner.

  2. Nowhere in her story, that I remember, does Lesser make the case, looking back as she is after 20 years, that she could have achieved what she has in her life (great career, happy marriage, spiritual fulfillment, etc.) by staying in her first marriage so, in her case, it was necessary for her to destroy it in order to move forward.

    It should be stated, too, that her first husband sounds like a "regular guy." Not a bad man she needed to escape, just a man who wasn't going to help her achieve her soul's calling.

    Lesser's story made me question whether or not my MLCer is: 1. experiencing the "individuation" process and the 35+ year marriage for which I'm standing has outlived its usefulness in my MLCer's life and is an impediment to his soul's journey; and, 2. that MLC will, in some cases, require the sacrifice of the no-longer-nurturing/validating primal relationship, i.e. the marriage, in order to be resolved in the optimum way for the MLCer.

    Lesser's story, being well-told and convincing, brought it to a sharp focus for me. Hence my discomfort with it.

    The fact Lesser was deeply attracted to the man who eventually become her second husband while she was still married and, if I remember correctly, was tempted to be with him and drawn to him while still in her marriage (wasn't that the guidance she was looking for when she went to see the psychic? Which man she should chose?) muddied the waters for me.

    She was having an EA, if only in her heart, and is that the time to be making such a decision, when one is under the influence of infatuation/hormonal drives? I want to think not but, given the way Lesser's life turned out and the success of her second marriage, it seems there are instances when it is the "right time." Another uncomfortable issue for a stander whose spouse is having an affair

    I'm puzzled by the title of this post. Is the "acceptance of our sinful self" the need for the MLCer to acknowledge their "sin" or are you referring to the LBS accepting their "sin"? Or is it a general statement about everyone's need to accept the darkness in their lives, their shadow self?

    I have read most of the books by Jungian analyst James Hollis. Some people think Hollis condones MLC affairs (he would call them "mid like transition" affairs). He does not. In fact he writes graphically and disapprovingly about them. He does believe, however, that if a person's individuation requires leaving a long-term marriage they are justified to do so, even if the LBS and children protest and are crushed. His attitude (and those of all the Jungians I've read) is: "Don't hurt people if you can help it, but you must do what it takes to follow your soul's call."

    Like all Jungians, he believes that if you don't find out what you were brought in the world to do, to be, what the unique gift is that you have to offer the world, than you will have failed as a human being and you will die unfulfilled, not having known your "real" self, the person you were meant to be.

    • Here I go again…still sitting in Starbucks and responding, when I said wouldn't! So I won't promise not to respond again.
      Lesser did not go to the psychic to receive advice on which man to choose. She had ended her affair with Tom–the affair partner. She went to ask whether to divorce her husband. They were separated and it sounds as though he had wanted a divorce and then changed his mind; to me this sounds as though they may have both been cycling out of synch–when she was leaning out she may have been leaning in and vise versa.

      The psychic brought up the other Tom; Lesser did not ask about him. She had three Tom's in her life: the affair partner (re-reading it seems that she may have still been in the affair when she met the psychic, so I need to review the psychic chapter and the affair chapters one more time–later), another Tom was a novelist with whom she was exchanging letters, but had not met in person. The third Tom was someone she had recently met and it seems she found him intriguing…but he was not the affair partner.

      Now about my title: 'Accepting Our Sinful Self' It's meant to be general–so for everyone. Titling can be difficult and so basically I wanted something about Acceptance. I think for most of these responses to that series I made up a title as I answered the first comment and sometimes my response did not stay as focused as they were at the beginning!

  3. (continued from above)

    While the individuation concept is appealing to many trying to follow an enlightened, spiritually enhanced path, I remain deeply disturbed by the price that must, in some cases, be paid (if the Jungians are correct.)

    As I wrote in my earlier post, I wonder about the effect on families and children especially. It appears enlightened and advanced to say we are justified in paying whatever price to achieve our soul's highest calling, but when the price is deeply, permanently hurting other people and, in the case of children, changing their world dramatically and for their entire lives, can it truly be the right course?

    Where does our obligation to others end and our obligation to ourselves begin? Will these two needs always be in tension/conflict in our lives and, if so, is that simply part of what it means to be human?

    And, if that's true, just what is "sin" then? If there are times when we must deeply hurt others to do what's best for ourselves then can we say there is "right" behavior and "wrong" behavior?

    Lesser's story is provocative, indeed. And a good read for the stander as it brings forth issues we need to seriously consider.

    TMHP

    • First, I want to confess that I have not read past the first paragraph of your response. I want to apologize for not responding yet…as I'm traveling with Sweetheart. But I saw you mentioning Jungian individuation and I want you to know that my next posts–after this two-parter–is in response to your comment from the original series. I may now need to review your comment and see if I should incorporate more into my response!
      Okay…I'll return to reading and try and refrain from responding (this goes to the great comments from a couple days ago) until I'm home and have completed the coaching that is in my cue–it needs to be a priority.

      Oh my…adding this after having read all of your comments.
      Your questions…what fun and wonderful questions… they are a big part of the next series of responses. That doesn't mean I have answers, but life is questions.

  4. TMHP, I think that Lesser's Shaman Lover was not the same person she eventually married.

    I think you make a lot of great points and they are very problematic. I've been reading the Jungian stuff for years now and I do think it describes what happened to my WS. I am still very, very ambivalent about it being "necessary." The individuation process seems to me extremely amoral and narcissistic (including Jung's own behavior in his personal life!). It is problematic, to say the least. Damn the torpedoes! Everyone and everything is left in the dust.

    I think I have less issue with someone going through this for their own Self, than with Lesser who uses her knowledge to "help" others go through it, too.

    RCR, two more books I would love for you to read/review: The Survival Papers: Anatomy of a Midlife Crisis and Dear Gladys: The Survival Papers Book 2, both by Daryl Sharp. I love these short Jungian books that have so much to say. Warning, these are also very difficult reads for Standers.

    FWIW they didn't bother me nearly as much as Lesser's book! They do, however, make it crystal clear to me that the LBS is a bystander in the process. I think that's why it's difficult to read from a Stander's point of view.

    • I actually read the first one during my Standing years–not sure about Part 2. I like Daryl Sharp, but if I'm thinking of the right book–I know I read it, but there were a few I read that week or month–it seemed odd to me. Was it from the POV of the MLCer and was it a rambling from his position on the analyst-couch? It didn't feel coherent to me and sure an MLCer's mind might not be coherent, but the book didn't feel together enough to be made into a book. But I should re-read it.
      Daryl Sharp runs Inner City Books and I love those books–he published Hollis. I know their design style and am always on the look out at the used book store and I keep a booklist of all their books–so I can check off those I have.

  5. orwhatyouwill, I'm glad you brought up the issue of Jung's personal life. I've often wondered how much his own behaviour/choices influenced his theory of "individuation." At times I've wondered if the whole idea of individuation was simply Jung's way of rationalizing his unconventional/wayward behaviour as a spouse. Of course, he never had to pay a price for his actions–but, again, I wonder about his children who must have sensed something was going on.

    Jung lived at a time when divorce was unusual. His spouse appears to have accepted and accommodated his numerous, long-term affairs. I believe she even allowed one of his lovers to live with the family for a long period of time. How convenient! Easy for him to advise others to risk everything/hurt others when he was able to have his cake and eat it too. It does make me wonder.

    I tried to read The Survival Papers when I was new to MLC. It was too difficult, i.e. painful, for me then and I gave up. Perhaps I'll try again given your recommendation.

    I'm apologize if I was confusing in my post about Lesser's shaman lover. I did know the shaman lover was not the person she ended up marrying. I remembered that she had met and was falling in love with the man who did become her second H before she left her first H so that's where my narrative became confusing.

    • Yes it can be confusing–especially since there were so many men named Tom! But she does not say she was falling in love with the Tom she eventually married when she left her first husband. She described him in ways we think of as going with infatuation, but she did not seem to be thinking of him that way yet–which is why I said she found him intriguing. There's nothing wrong with that. I can be intrigued by someone and even feel they know me deeply without feeling infatuated or falling in-love with them.
      Hey, maybe some people find me intriguing! Years ago a writer friend was laughing at me during a critique group meeting and said I was such a character and she needed to write a book with me as the main character. I was flattered. I was probably sitting in her living room discussing her middle-grade novel in a very intellectual manner while wearing Winnie the pooh overalls and pigtails. But her marriage is safe from me!

  6. And speaking of behaviour having an influence over Jung's theories, I've wondered whether Hollis also left his spouse when he experienced his own MLC (which he describes in a number of his books.)

    He never states whether he left his wife and children or not. But it seems to be hinted at. He is currently married but I wonder if that is his first spouse.

    Does anyone know about this?

    • It is really very important to read or know about the author’s life before reading his books especially if he is writing about any opinion, I read books because I want to learn and I dont have a lifetime to exprience all the life’s lesson that I need to make my life joyful and peaceful .If what he is writing is not consistent with what he is doing in his life, then I will be subjecting myself to his fantasy.I have once saw an interview onBBC’sHard Talk of Paulo Coelh0, the author of several philosofical -romantic novels , he said that people always like toread the reverse of real life struggles, so he just twarts the proven moral teachings and philosophies from the religious books and viola – it becomes a best seller, he warns readers though to be careful of doing or acting out his fantasy opinions because he
      said he feels responsible for the mess it
      might cause in the reader’s real life. By the
      way he is a Brazillian and a Catholic!
      Regarding Lesser’s book, I think she is still struggling with peace and still confuse until now. She yielded in the call of the flesh and
      If she declares that she was satisfied about it, I believe her, but if she says that she is at peace with herself, i doubt her, for what the flesh wants is opposite if that what our spirit wants, and of course there will always be conflict and confusion! This is a simple lesson I realizeed from my beloved Bishop Sheen on his lecture about Temptation… You can see it on You Tube! It’s what MLC is all about, yielding into temptation. By the way temptations are not bad, knowing what to do with it can either make us joyful or miserable.

      I agree that the book is not worth reading.

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