When I watched the first episode of Big Little Lies, I hated it. I thought it was silly, irrelevant, tacky. No one actually lives like this, I thought. I don’t care about these women and their fluffy, perfect lives.
And then I watched the second episode. I’m not sure why I kept watching after such a strong negative reaction to the first. Maybe the pretty actors, the beautiful California coast or more likely the fact I had just signed up for HBO Go and was determined to make the $14.99/month worth my while.
I’m very glad I watched the second episode. Well, a part of me is glad. Another part of me wishes I could go back and stick with my first assessment; the part of me that would rather not face a lurking discomfort. You see, in the second episode of Big Little Lies, it becomes clear that something is not quite right with the relationship between Celeste (played by Nicole Kidman) and her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). The almost-too-beautiful couple has a strange dynamic – they precede their lovemaking with a sprinkling of violence. At first it wasn’t clear to me whether this was mutual passionate desire gone a tad kinky or if something was terribly awry. By episode three it becomes crystal clear that the power is one-sided; it lies with Perry. There is no safe word or backing down on Perry’s end when the violence goes from kinky to abuse. What rocked me to my core, though, was not the physical abuse, it was the way in which Celeste tries to reshape the story she tells herself. As soon as Perry gets that look in his eye, the dark blood-thirsty glint, Celeste becomes combative, snarky, she even sometimes hits Perry first.
To anyone not intimately familiar with the dynamics of an abusive relationship, this probably seems stupid and unrealistic. But I immediately and instinctively understood what she's doing: she’s trying to change the narrative in her own mind. She’s convincing herself that these are episodes of mutual anger and abuse. If she can shift the paradigm in her own mind, if she can tell herself this lie and truly believe it, then it’s not really abuse because they are both complicit in the dynamics of the relationship.
Right after my daughter was born, I discovered that my own “perfect” husband was not who I thought he was. As soon as I made that discovery, his mask came off, and I experienced intense emotional abuse.
When I finally walked away, crawled away, really, I went through a grueling grieving process. Eventually I realized that what I was grieving was not the relationship: it was that my story, my own reality and everything I thought I knew had been smashed to dust. I was forced to look at myself and some of my own issues that had lead me to ignore my inner compass and instincts.
When I first met my ex-husband, I saw him lie to others. Instead of facing the reality of “he is a liar” I thought, “he’s lying because of a, b and c, but he would never lie to me.” I managed to filter out any bad behavior and focus only on what fit my paradigm.
The first time you drown out that little voice saying “this doesn’t feel right,” it’s hard, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.
When we tell ourselves these little lies, when we make the decision to keep engaging with someone or something that negatively impacts our emotional well-being, we are also actively silencing our gut instinct that is whispering, “this doesn’t feel right.” We shut down the immense power that we are born with.
Celeste is a beautiful, intelligent woman. While I watched the show, I wondered, what was the first little lie she told herself? When Perry first started to show her who he really was, how did she change the narrative in her own mind, how did she filter out the data so that she could avoid facing the reality of the situation? For me, the first little lie I told myself was: he’s doing it because he loves me.
Oftentimes, our lies start out small and they’re easy enough to swallow, much easier than facing the reality of the situation. Facing the reality could mean acknowledging that we have to make some big changes and change, even small change, is hard. It might even mean examining a deep-rooted issue or belief and finding out it’s false. Facing reality might force you to strip yourself down and start over.
I had to re-learn that I was enough, that I didn’t need validation from someone else to complete me. I had to understand that if someone does not meet your standards or contribute positively to your emotional and physical well-being, you need to disengage, i.e. drop him/her like a hot potato. This sounds simple. Trust me, it is not. But once I really understood that I am my own mirror, that I do not need approval from anyone else, it was the most freeing and powerful change I have ever made in my life.