In the series Separated & Sharing several portraits will be depicted of people who have experienced a divorce or separation. In this portrait Athilde Whyte (47) shares her story. She is a mother of 4 children. In her daily life she is also an NLP Master, Business coach and owner of business owner of her company FLOW-denken (Flow- Thinking).
Divorce can give children a better childhood
As a child Athilde witnessed her parent’s divorce, when her parents decided to separate after ten years of marriage. Her parent’s divorce has influenced Athilde’s perspective on relationships at a young age. Athilde had always pictured marriage as in staying together for ever for the sake of the children. According to her the consequences for children involved in a divorce were cruel. Her parent’s divorce definitely hasn’t left her any scars. Athilde – having gone through a divorce herself – did ask herself the question ‘what am I doing to my children?’ From her own experience she knew how awful it is to go through divorce as a child. At one moment she dared to look towards the other side to realize that a divorce would give her children a better childhood than they had before.
Athilde’s own experience of divorce
Athilde’s father is an alcoholic. As an adult she knows you cannot live together with an alcoholic. As known about alcoholics they do not consider themselves an alcoholic and are not bothered by it. Alcoholics mainly feel like they are a victim, which justifies their behavior. As a child she didn’t know he was an alcoholic. As a child she just saw him as her dad. Somehow she always felt hurt by him. This has given her an enormous stamina. A stamina she is proud of. However, she needs to see to it every time again that having this stamina is not coming at the expense of herself. She is always making sure to be aware of that. Because before she knows it she has become so loyal that she is not being loyal to her own intuition anymore. That is working well for her. In the past ten to fifteen years Athilde has learned to really love herself a lot and that encourages Athilde to prioritize herself in all contacts and all relations. ‘So it has become much easier to be both loyal and take good care of myself.’
Desire to feel the tension again and its released hormones
Stamina and a sense of responsibility are what her parent’s disrupted relationship has given her. ‘If I just would give my best at home, he would come home fine or they would not make a fight.’ She really felt she was responsible for that. It has been a true burden for her. When for instance she would go to school and something would happen in the class her ‘alarm system’ would activate. Athilde would get into some kind of state of readiness in which she would think: Oh my, what did I do this time? I should have prevented this. When a teacher would be upset because of two chatting classmates in the back of the class, Athilde would feel responsible. She would always take everything personal. It has taken quite some time to get rid of that. It’s not quite gone yet. This state of readiness has been activated during her childhood. Sometimes there still are situations that trigger that state of readiness. The weird thing is that she also misses it. Whenever life seems boring and nothing is happening she misses this adrenaline high she would have when a drunk person would come home. It’s either the tension or the hormones that are released at that moment, which she has missed for a long time. Then she would long for something to happen, in order to feel that tension, to release those hormones. Sometimes Athilde would pick a fight with her partner on purpose not realizing why she did it. ‘It just had to explode.’ Something you also can see with thrill seekers. They have the tension to be able to express themselves. At the same time it is a way to process emotions. You could teach yourself to work out for example, but when you have grown up in a home where there has always been a lot of tension and you are used to react to that in a certain way, these situations outside could be too peaceful. She has carried that absence of that state of readiness with her for a long time.
Her vision of a relationship of ‘staying together forever for the sake of the children’ has led to Athilde giving herself away completely and not being true to herself. She was willing to go this far, because she wanted to succeed so badly. Her parent’s relationship had influenced to her to such extent that she always would look for people with an issue. ‘No healthy Dutch boy, but always someone with a burden.’ This way she could be the lifesaver. Behavior that is common for children of alcoholics. They look for a partner to ‘fix’ hoping to heal their alcoholic parent as a lifesaver.
The theme: hoping beyond hope
Athilde didn’t have many relationships. In the relationships she has had she was always the one who was verbally stronger. When she was fifteen Athilde started a relationship with someone who was five years older. He became like a second father to her and she wanted to re-educate him. In essence there was nothing wrong with her men, but they did come from protective environments, which they had never left. ‘They have hardly developed themselves in our relationship. I have always been a woman of the world. I have been everywhere and jump into anything. So I have always dragged them along.
My first relationship has taken too long. I had known already for five years that it wasn’t good anymore, but I didn’t leave because I felt sorry for him.’ A reaction which to her was clearly tracing back to her childhood at home.
Athilde wondered why she couldn’t just adjust somewhat more so she and her partner could manage to stay happily together. Hoping beyond hope, was the theme of her life. Sometimes this drives her absolutely berserk. She already has let go of and left behind a serious amount by learning to love herself a lot. Ahtilde does realize very well that ‘hoping beyond hope’ was born in her childhood, which gave her this enormous sense of loyalty and stamina. When she hurts herself and is not doing herself justice it always traces back to ‘hoping beyond hope’. Her current relationship doesn’t feel right. She already knows this for the past three to four years. Still every time she thinks ‘You know Thil, you also have a lot of flaws so okay work on that.’ Deep down she knows very well that it is ‘hoping beyond hope’. But she feels awful to dive in to that sadness again and it also feels like failure to her. ‘Why can’t I just have a relationship with a man I can grow old with, a man appreciating me for who I am? An equal relationship. A man to be feted by would be so awesome.’ She has always feted her partners and there hasn’t been one who feted her. Then she would often think: ‘You are nagging, you are so discontented, because he does this and he does that, appreciate it. I can go on and on about it.’ She hasn’t experienced love as reciprocal. ‘I give, but I hardly receive anything back in return. So it is actually a fix-project again.’ His and her fundamental expectations of life appeared to profoundly different. Some months ago Athilde has decided to end the relationship. Recently she has chosen for herself and has started to live on her own again. She has had three relationships that ended in the same way, in which her expectations of the relationship were disappointing each time.
Her inner child
Her inner child kept by her side from childhood at home to the adult woman is today. As an adult woman Athilde knows that loyalty, a sense of responsibility and an enormous stamina have been her points of improvement. She has always had a good eye for the people in need of help. At the same time she has never sat at the table with her inner child as it were to drink a cup of tea or to make a walk, something you see a lot with people who are stuck in a repetitive pattern created in the past. To acknowledge the inner child and to give her a voice, next to you or across you. The inner child to whom you can say: ‘It is okay’.
She feels, thinks that her relationship with her inner child is okay. She has given it a lot of thought and attention. ‘But I do believe that in order to become more complete my inner child holds a bigger part of my key. I do believe that too.’
Perfect altar of love
Little Athilde as it were every time sees a man she would like to fix because it didn’t succeed with her dad. A scar that cries for attention, for caring, for healing. At the same time there is also the adult woman longing for an equal relationship, longing to be feted. She dares to find the perfect altar of love, she has no doubt about that. Does she believe that she may transmit a certain vibration, so it can surf on her frequency to which she can say: ‘I like to have that kind of man.’ Athilde is absolutely convinced of that. She is going to do it different this time. Now she knows what kind of man she wants, I wonder if she also knows what she can offer that kind of man. Will the adult Athilde with all her collected wisdom be able to say: ’This is what fits me, me as in who I am now or me as in my inner child?’
‘This gives me homework to find out. My first response would be to say that in the years I have been with this man, I have learned to love myself. I have learned to uncover a lot of patterns within myself. With it I have left a lot of issues and now it is time for the next step. I think that what you are saying is part of that next step.’
Athilde clearly states she wants to stop, it’s over. She can now start her own journey. When you take a distant from someone, you take more space for yourself. The chapter with her current partner is about to close, not with their child.
Athilde knows exactly what she will do: ‘First I will create space for myself. I do not know how long that is going to take, but it will be ready when it is ready. But first I will go for my own space and for what I would like, for what is important to me. I think there is a lot to discover. I want to take all the time it takes. Only after that I expect there will be space again for another relationship.’ Athilde is willing to create space to clear the white noise from her relationship-frequency.
Granting it to each other as parents
Athilde has four children. She already has divorced the father of her first three children. How will she handle her second divorce with child? Will she apply the lessons of the visiting arrangement and the parenting plan with her older children to this separation or not because it happens to be another type of family? Or would she like to do it differently?
‘No, I will do it the same way as I did with the oldest children. My ex and I have settled it well. Our divorce has been like a text book example. We didn’t want to stay together anymore, but we do still love each other a lot in a way. I believe he is a great father and he believes I am a good and kind mother. We’ve always granted it to each other. Despite the situation we do want the best for our children. Until now we have managed to do so. Back and forth it goes very easy. He comes at my place, I come at his place. There is never a fuss. It is very easy. If one of the children wishes to see the other or wishes to have it different as planned it is fine. One time he visits the parent-teacher-conference, the other time I do. Sometimes we call each other fifteen minutes in advance and that’s just fine too. It works well. In all honesty I have to say that I do expect it will happen the same way with my current partner. I will give it my best to do so.’ Athilde is also a supporter of partnership in parenting after separation. According to her that is possible as long as both parents have the interest of their child at heart.
Influence children’s image of a relationship
It can happen that a relationship doesn’t succeed based on equal partnership, but equal parenting can succeed when you are willing and able to see each other as equal parents. Athilde’s oldest three children have already been through a divorce. She and their father are executing parenting very well. Probably because she wants to prevent that her children will go through the same as she did when her parents divorced. To what extent does Athilde believe that she has influenced her children’s image of a steady relationship?
‘I have absolutely had influence on that. But my influence has also been that the most important thing in life is staying true to yourself which includes some difficult and complicated stuff, but that there is only one person that can take of herself and that can make herself happy and that is you. You yourself are responsible for that. And our children (13, 15 and 18) know that better than anyone. The most extraordinary is that my oldest two pointed out to me that I was not doing that myself. ‘Mum, we may become who we would like to be, but why do you allow all of this to happen to you? Please explain? You are not taking good care of yourself.’
‘They do apply it to their lives. That’s so awesome. They have all been to a Waldorf School. A school where you can be who you would like to be as a person, as a human being not as an achievement. They have – especially the oldest two- had problems with their father. They had the same problems with him as I had with him and which have been reasons for me to divorce him. I have never shared this with them before, but it is a fact. I have always said to the children: ‘You know, I get it that you are disappointed by your dad, but that disappointment comes from you, because you have a certain expectation that is not being fulfilled. So that means that if you hold on your expectations, you will stay disappointed. When you are able to see what and where your dad is actually delivering, you will have a great relationship with him.’’ And to their father I have said: ‘Just give them some space to figure this out, because it is also partly puberty. Now it is against you, next year it will be me.’ The girls have managed this so well. Their relationship with their father is great again. Not that they are at his place that often, but they do see when to consult their dad and where he is a great dad. Before they would only focus on his shortcomings and what they were missing. They completely managed to change their perspectives. The cool thing is they talked this through with their dad. Initially his reaction was: ‘ Ah, this is coming from your mum.´ They responded: ‘Dad this is not fair. If you don’t want to take us seriously we don’t wish to talk about it.’ And our middle one persisted. ‘Dad don’t come to me, you just need to figure this out with mom.’ That man picked it up very well. My ex has grown a lot in this process. It has enriched us both.’
Releasing expectations and the past
Has Athilde just like her daughters have been able to release expectations with respect to her own father and with it the expectations of her partner?
‘Yes I have. Thought it has been a tough lesson. You feel like your whole world is released with it. You are releasing a piece of your youth. I have done this exercise 18 years ago when I was 28. That was when Lotte was born. Up till then I was in completely control. My biggest challenge was the difference between my head and my heart. Somehow I never managed to get these two in alignment. I have always felt like I was balancing all the time. After giving birth my body interfered heavily resulting in psychoses. Just about anything happened to have me get back into my body. I have picked up that lesson, as scared as I was. I have asked for professional help. I have spent time in a psychiatric ward in a hospital. I refused to take medication, because I don’t believe that is the key to my recovery. With physical therapy, physical work, conventional homeopathy, dance therapy and creative therapy I finally managed to get back into my body. At that time the most important process was indeed to release that piece and look my own expectations in its face and replace it with another reality.’
This happened around the time her oldest child was born. After giving birth Athilde had psychoses.
‘Giving birth was so extreme. Up till then I had been used to controlling everything. And then your body starts to produce these painful contractions. I really thought: I don’t think so. I am not going to do this, what a misery! So initially I had no control over it. Anything that could go wrong with medical assistance, did go wrong. Eventually it took me 12 hours. My body was worn out and put on hold. They had to generate the contractions just to deliver the baby. The afterbirth didn’t come. There was this intern who waited for five hours, too long. I lost 5 litres of blood. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Lotte was a cry-baby. Looking back I think: poor child. Of course she was a cry-baby, I get that. I also have come to experience to know I didn’t cause it but did influence it. It was intensely suffocating. I felt so responsible and I wanted give it my best. I felt I wasn’t. I was giving it my best, but whatever I was sending out to her, she didn’t register. She got all kinds of medical discomforts like ear infections for instance. What is it you don’t want to hear. Yes, looking back I really get it. I have picked it up seriously. Eventually I managed to not give any attention to it until I started to have delusions and show psychotic behavior. And then I thought to myself: Oh girl what are your doing, do you wish to stay scared or are you willing to confront yourself? I have called the psychiatrist and told him it was time to confront myself, because this was not going right. I could come over the next day. Conventional homeopathy created the breakthrough not to be scared anymore, because I kept being afraid. I took some grains and I started to cry. It took a long while and then there I was finally. That’s when I dared to face the untouched pieces. At the time Lotte was about 1 year old.’
Athilde puts it beautifully: ‘… and then there I was finally.’ She had been protecting herself of course for a long time. She almost built a fortress around her. It is known that when women who have a certain amount of ‘unfinished business’, scars or trauma’s, for instance like growing up with an alcoholic parent, these fragments are literally reborn, released at the moment of giving birth. Delivery is releasing. An untouched fragment that thinks: she is coming out now, but so am I. It must have been a tough experience.
‘It has been, but I wouldn’t want to have missed it. It has made me a better person. I am proud of that, I am happy about it. I am also happy with the part that happened before delivery. That’s what I mean. I truly love myself in all my colors. I couldn’t have done one thing without the other. I am grateful for it. I do believe I did a good job. I have allowed everything to come on the moments it was possible and when it was time to do so. I didn’t want to force things. I just let it happen. I have accepted the challenges when it was time. I also feel that now. It has no use to think: I should have done this or that. I love Johan with all my heart. I care for him and now I feel it’s time for a change: Athilde-time. Not that it hasn’t been like that before. It is not because I am unsatisfied. I do see what he has brought me and what he has given me. But it doesn’t suffice anymore.’
Individual growth versus the growth of the relationship
Athilde is now 47. She has entered a new stage in her life. A relationship can grow with it or not. What I often notice in my profession as a mediator and during relationship coaching sessions with couples is that they have grown as an individual, but somehow their relationship wasn’t given the permission to grow along. It is something both individuals should be aware of and it is something both individuals need to work on in order to uplift the relationship.
‘I do grow fast and I feel it too. It feels great and I don’t see it happening with the other. I have tried to bring up the topic for discussion so we could talk about it. It requires the both of us to be open about it. Now I can manage to let it go. For a while I did feel guilty about it. I thought to myself: I will do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I secretly still have this feeling every now and then. On balance, how I am telling it now is how I am really feeling it now.’ Every now and then she feels like she has to do it. Obviously, because she loves this person.
‘It is also very helpful to know what I don’t want. I am also happy for having these feelings, because that’s when I know: oh yes look. This is what I didn’t want. I can be grateful about that too. It may sound woolly, but it really is like that.’
Role model of a partner
My dad already taught us at an early age that most wise lessons are never presented in a soft way. They are like tough exams, which require hard word, blood, sweat and tears. As a child it was already very clear to Athilde what she didn’t want and what she did want, which resulted in a drive to manifest this in a relationship and looking as such for ‘projects’. Her father is her role model of a man in her life like in a relationship, like the one she has perceived between her parents. Her father is an alcoholic who drinks away his pain. Despite that fact Athilde realizes she looks a lot after her father. ‘Yes my father has always drunk his pain away. He didn’t find the partner in my mother to support and stimulate him to challenge himself etc. They have only brought out the worst in each other.’
When you choose a partner, chose someone you can trust, someone you can build a future with. That wasn’t the case when it comes to Athilde’s parents. Despite the fact that her parents brought out the worst in each other, she actually learned the lessons of duality at a very young age, We all have our dark sides.
‘My mother was mentally very unstable. She attempted four times to commit suicide, before I turned 10. My dad pursued a criminal career. Our family was often mentioned in the newspaper. Someone got arrested and our name and shame was mentioned in giant headlines on the front page. We lived in a small village in Drenthe. It was hell.’
‘The good thing is that two years ago I have decided that it’s time for me-time and I have started to do things with who I am. Thanks to all that has happened I only need three sentences to see someone’s full potential and issues. Because of this I have become a terrific mirror. That’s why I have decided to coach people. I am good at doing that. I really enjoy it. I am successful in it. I like serving others. This way I am doing that in a healthy way. Last year I have accepted an assignment form the NS (Dutch Railways) as an interim manager in a changing environment. So there is plenty of stuff to work with. When it comes to complications I am being served well and I love it. This spring I have said to myself: ‘No Thil stick to the plan. You are really going to do what you would like to do.’ In order to do so I needed to get out of comfort zone. I happen to be very shy.‘
Shy Athilde most probably is her inner child, because mature Athilde is quite the opposite. ‘That is actually that piece you mentioned earlier. That is exactly that piece of which I said to myself four weeks ago: ‘Now it is done. Stop it. From now on you will become visible and tell your story. With your story you can help people. That is what I am doing now.’ Shortly before this interview she had given an interview in Dutch magazine VROUW (Woman). An interview that produced a lot of attention including negative response. She has recorded a vlog with a coach. The day after she had been asked to speak at and be a member of a panel on the Day of Poverty, a big convention this autumn. ‘I do feel now it is time to share this story.’
From trauma to top program
It is amazing how Athilde has managed to turn her trauma into some kind of top program. Whereas many people have invested in various expensive educations, she has had the best education with her parents. ‘That’s right. And with my relationships. On top of that I also have been in debt restructuring five years ago. God, it was hell. Horrifying.’
You are never given more than you can handle
‘Absolute. That’s what my coach knew how to formulate poignantly. She made a resume of my story. She introduced me in that vlog and said: ‘Everything is in it. That’s why you are so inspiring.’ Can you imagine that I did sense that fragment of shyness. I do believe that you always have a choice. As a child I have always expressed this. You can always chase. You can chose how rotten and boring it is at home, but you can also go out and play and enjoy the beautiful weather to enter the drama afterwards when you get back home. There is no need to go through life as a victim. Life isn’t feasible, but you yourself are responsible for the route you pick. In that respect I differ from many, That’s where I find my strength and that gives me power.’
Vulnerability versus strength
Athilde has the courage to show her vulnerability by sharing her story and at the same time she shows her strength with it. Her company is ‘Flow-denken’ (flow-thinking). When you look at a flow from a physical perspective, you’ll see the combination of strength and vulnerability otherwise there can be no flow. Otherwise it will be just still water. Athilde believes you can influence that state of being. That is the beauty of the words flow-thinking and in-fluence.
That feeling of that little girl pops up every now and then. She has chosen now with her heart what feels right for her and it makes sense.
Put personal feuds aside
‘When you really love your child – as all parents do – wish the best for your children wholeheartedly and that they may become who they would like to be. In order to do so put your personal feuds with your ex aside. Because they don’t matter. It’s all about your child. Be that mature that you rise above yourself and please put your child’s interests first. I often do not see that happen. I think that is a pity. We absolutely did so. My children also don’t like that. I am sure of that. They also have their own things to heal, I am convinced of that. As a parent you shouldn’t appease your children. You can comfort them when they fall, but you are not responsible for what crosses their path. As a parent it is not your job to prevent them from falling and never experiencing pain. As a parent it is your job to have them face life as resilient and healthy persons. As a parent you don’t have to prevent everything, you cannot do that and you are not supposed to do so.’
Give your child space to experience
According to Athilde as a parent you are not responsible for whatever crosses your child’s path. Neither when it concerns a divorce, how strange that may sound. ‘You can comfort them, but they do get the space to experience it themselves, in order to make their own choices and having their own experience with the right support assuming they have mature parents. A lot of parents unfortunately are not that mature, rather a broken child in a grown body which also can be healed if they chose to.’
Athilde Whyte is an NLP master and business coach. Visit her website for more info: Flow-denken
About Su Changoe
Su Changoe is the owner of Tara Mediation. Tara Mediation guides couple who are considering a divorce or separation, couples who have decided to divorce and already divorced individual. For these individuals Tara Mediation provides the workshop ‘Claim your spot! – from partner to single’. More information www.taramediation.com
For more information about Tara Mediation, interview requests or images you can contact Su Changoe by phone: +31 (0)6 8100 6515 or e-mail: email@example.com Also visit the website: www.taramediation.com
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