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We often hear, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” but is this really true?
If you want to really understand men at a deeper level and enrich your relationships as a result, then read on.
As someone who was a serial cheater, I can truly attest from a place of compassion to this not being true. I broke hearts and I shattered my own in the process. I lived in the shadows and forgot who I was and who I had the potential to be. I only wanted to mask my fears, forget my pain and put pleasure into a body that ultimately was simultaneously attempting to hide my trauma, while feeling I didn’t deserve love in any capacity.
In this four-part series, I will share many of my personal experiences with infidelity, intimacy, sex, love, compulsion, guilt, shame, hiding in the shadows, running from my trauma, and how I convinced myself that my actions were “normal” and justified.
I will shed light on the nuances of what is actually happening when men cheat. I will give you insight into the minds, hearts, bodies, and pains of men. I will help you understand men and the life they live and hide, simultaneously. Importantly, I will help you to with how you can cease to attract men who are not ready to truly love all of you, while you step into loving yourself at a deeper level by choosing yourself—not your past, your pain, or another over you.
Let’s start with the big question we all want to answer: why?
We want to understand because we think it will bring us relief. While this can be true, we are often left salivating for more. In a world where we are so cerebral, the pursuit of knowledge brings us this false sense of peace and connection. If we understand, we somehow believe that all of our pain will disappear.
I cannot justify my past behavior. However, I can shed some light on how easy it can be to lose ourselves in our pain, project it on others, and act out in ways that are truly authentic to who we are or who we want to be.
Whilst there was some love in my childhood, I felt deeply isolated, scared, controlled, subjugated, not understood, and disconnected from myself and the world. My childhood was unstable, uncertain, and volatile. I experienced intense emotional and physical abuse as a young boy from my parents and witnessed them fighting immensely. I struggled to navigate my own inner feelings and expression.
Remember, our childhood experiences and the interpretations of these experiences shape who we become as adults and how we give and receive love.
My ability to communicate was hindered as I was fearful of being judged, ridiculed, not accepted. I was constantly seeking the approval of a father who was not present, abhorrent, and abusive. Yes, he loved his family, but emotionally he was so frustrated that he lashed out at us, constantly.
I was the eldest and with this came much responsibility (according to me and what was projected upon me). My father was someone I looked up to and he looked down on me. I felt I was never enough, not smart enough, not knowing enough, too loud, too present, or too awkward. Impressing him was one of my goals, yet it was elusive.
Many men experience this unworthy dynamic with their fathers and then project it into intimate relationships as adults.
This may look like trying to excessively prove ourselves by engaging in adrenaline based activities, being reckless with ourselves and others, being aggressive if we don’t get our way because we feel like we f*cked up, or feeling intense shame when we make mistakes and then take it out on our partners by either stonewalling or hiding in shame.
I felt like I was walking on eggshells. My parents were constantly arguing, physically fighting, yelling, screaming, and swearing. It felt like I was in a warzone at the time—hiding under my bed as a child was standard. Violence, loudness, aggression, and friction quickly became the norm. I felt sad and disconnected.
Importantly, as I was growing, I had no reference point for healthy masculinity. To be a boy meant to explore, but to explore was dangerous in my home. If it did not align with my father’s values, it was not approved. I remember being in my room crying and playing with Lego (it allowed me to imagine a life of play, fun, safety, and openness) as an escape or running to the arms of my beautiful grandparents, but even then that was difficult, my father was tyrannical and I did not wish to make life harder or worse for myself or others.
To be consistently disapproved of was difficult and painful. I experienced hyper-sensitivity as a child (both emotional and physical). My hearing was magnified and it scared me, my sense of my environment was magnified and I could not talk to anyone about this, so I did my best to hide these feelings. I sought attention and the way I did it was to “play the victim.”
I did this to keep myself safe. I felt that if I was perceived as “weak,” I would be let off from punishment. I also wanted to be seen and heard, so this at times worked for others, my mother or grandparents.
Later on in life, I used this victimhood technique to justify my cheating, which was an escape from feeling restricted (more on that later).
I manipulated, made others feel guilty, and kept pushing down my shame by making them feel sorry for me. I gaslighted others because I witnessed my parents do that to each other so much. It was the norm for me.
To be asked, “What is wrong?” or “Are you okay?” was such deep relief. To be seen and paid attention to felt safe. We all wish to be safe; I simply wanted to express myself safely. I was so curious as a child, so inquisitive, but no one could answer me, nor did they want to. They were too busy suffering internally themselves—fractured and broken in their own way. So, as an adult, I learned to be seen through seeking validation from others.
Sex, women, prostitution—they were all quick fixes.
My fragile ego needed to be seen and what better way than to pay someone to make me feel better? It was a slippery slope and I was slipping. Ladies, men will do this. They will go to places that make them feel good, particularly if they have been suppressing so much. They need a release valve without knowing they need one and they will seek the easiest accessible and most intense way to do this to feel that reprieve and forget about their hidden pain.
What I really wanted, unconsciously, was approval from my father. I remember when I was about nine or 10 I contracted some form of a virus in the bones of my legs (my femurs). I could not walk; I was in the hospital and in pain. When I came out, I received much attention from my parents and grandparents. I remember my grandmother and mother making me so much food to welcome me home. This attention felt good and, for a brief moment, I felt safe and loved without compromise or condition. I at times reflect on this and wonder if parts of me “manifested” this illness/condition to find some reprieve in my childhood?
I witnessed my mother suffer immensely. This was painful, to say the least; I had so much adoration for my mama. She was there when she could be. She tried, yet she was also paralyzed. As a child, my brother and I would often fight for the love of our parents as we wanted to be loved and feel safe. My father was rarely present and when he was, we were all so tense.
Life was a struggle for him. All he perceived was the negativity of it. For him to play with us was such a chore, challenge, and something that appeared to annoy him intensely. I saw the pain in my mother’s eyes; I felt her heart hurt because of this. My father was so scattered and controlling (something that came from fear and anxiety) that this became the norm. From here, I began to (mis)understand what a man was “meant to be.”
I also saw myself as him in my relationships: controlling, abrasive, short-tempered, and impatient. I was becoming what I hated.
I remember coughing and my father screaming at me for making noise. I recall playing too loud or running around and my father stunting this expression. I recall spilling water, dropping something…and my father being so angry, yelling, swearing at me, shouting. There was so much frustration, tension, and fear. My body would be in constant tremor…I recall my mother being so upset, trying to protect us, but making it worse as they would fight harder, treat each other poorly and cause more tension. I just wanted to go away, hide and be with nature where I felt safe.
To constantly view this disappointment and deep pain in my mother meant to be consistently saddened. The gender roles I observed were unhealthy and not equitable. There was disrespect and “difference” was simply not celebrated, but rather judged, critiqued, and considered “less than” by a father who was a bigot, and every other ‘ism under the sun.
I moved closer to protecting my mother. I did not know it then, but as I explored these previous interactions as an adult, I realized there was emotional enmeshment and entanglement with my mother. I became an “adult” too quickly. I felt the burden of responsibility projected upon me from a young age. This caused disharmony within me, whilst also allowing me to see the world from a robust perspective. The disharmony was that I struggled to be in a committed relationship as it felt like annihilation. I never experienced safety as a child, so Peter Pan syndrome was where I lived.
I didn’t get a childhood, so I became an immature boy in a man’s body.
This emotionally projected enmeshment coupled with my survival-based maladaptive coping strategies laid the foundation for how I received and gave love. I hid from the world, too scared to express my truth and be honest. I did not want to burden my mother or father with my pain, so I held it and kept it inside. This became the norm for me and in relationships. And is the norm for most men. Like many men, having absorbed the societal lesson that “emotions are weak” and simultaneously not having learned the tools to express mine, I felt paralyzed.
This also reinforced my belief that the well-being of others was more important than my own. And as an adult, I took this behavior and walked in the shadows, either too ashamed to be seen for who I was, too scared to express myself, or feeling unworthy of being seen and heard. I convinced myself that I basically didn’t matter…this made me angry and so feeling powerless and frustrated that my release valve became cheating—finding a way to bring pleasure to my mind and body as I had become conditioned to.
This took me to then express and experience the opposite during my teenage years (but I’ll get to that in the next part). Expressing my truth, being honest, and speaking openly became challenging. I observed my father move in the shadows, my mother hide so much from the world, and a family that would not openly discuss life caused me to retract.
As an adult man in relationship, I was inconsistent with intimacy. One day there and present—over-sharing, over-giving, and overcompensating. Other days, I was absent, angry, projecting my unconscious frustrations upon my partners, reliving my childhood without even knowing it.
Men will be who they detest the most and they will suffer in silence, but only up to a certain point. They will then act out and not know why but need to defend the fragility of their ego and this often means “win the fight” at any cost. Perhaps you can relate to this inconsistent way of showing up?
He loves you, then he pulls away. Chances are he is stuck in a trauma loop and does not know how to free himself.
Can you free him? No.
Can you support him while honoring yourself? Yes, but you must want to and in order to do this, your sense of self-worth must be high.
Our greater collective will heal from us coming together, not continuing to tear each other apart.
This is the first article in a four-part series. Read part two here.
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