Numbing: Because it’s Safer in the Short Term

I had my weekly therapy appointment yesterday and we started to address/ readdress an issue I have had for a long time.  I have written about it many times.  I box my emotions.  I have trouble, to the point of emotional constipation, with expressing my emotions.  It is difficult for me to legitimize my feelings.  I cannot allow myself to feel without explaining or reasoning it away.  I cannot honestly remember feeling just because I felt the way I did, except of course in times of trauma.  In most other times feeling was almost always accompanied by “you shouldn’t feel this way because…”  It was how I coped, how I survived, and now these ways of living are maladaptive for me.

Allowing myself to feel now, is scary.  I’m scared of being overwhelmed.  My therapist says that if I continue to keep my emotions boxed up they’ll come back to “bite me in the ass.”  And I know this is true but I am afraid to feel the negative emotions.

Another part of the reason why it is difficult for me to legitimize my emotions is because I feel like it’s my fault.  It is my fault I couldn’t express what I needed/ wanted.  It is my fault for not being able to ask.  It is my fault for whatever Mom gave me not being enough of what I wanted or needed.  I wanted to feel like I mattered.  Most of all I wanted and continue to want to feel like it was okay for me to feel the way I did.

I related this one story to my therapist yesterday.  I think I was about 7 or so, maybe older, maybe younger.  I went into the kitchen where Mom was sitting at the kitchen table and I knelt down next to her. In doing so I smacked my chin on the table.  Mom said something like, “Are you okay?  That must’ve hurt!”  I remember shaking my head and trying so so so incredibly hard not to cry.  Somehow along the way growing up I learned that crying was a bad thing, at least for me.  And yet, I saw my sister cry and get her boo boos kissed.  She stayed home sick from school whereas I puked my guts out in the middle of the kindergarten lobby.  She, I felt, milked her “injuries,” whereas I sucked it up, stuffed it down, swallowed my hurt, and carried on.  And she got the attention, love, and respect, I felt/ feel I lacked.  I did not/ do not feel appreciated for the extraordinary efforts I made to do what my parents wanted or what I thought they wanted.  (Perception is reality, as my therapist points out.)

I remember many times when Dad would look at us/ me and just because we weren’t smiling  at the moment (we weren’t frowning either) he’d say, “What’s the matter grumpy?” And he’d make these infuriating mocking frowny faces.  It’s not like we were upset or anything.  We just had these neutral expressions of the kind everyone has.  Just thinking about it pisses me off and I remember how much, especially when my sister and I were little, it confused me.  Having your emotions and expressions questioned like that is enough to set anyone on edge.

Self Imposed Isolation

There is this scene in the movie “A League of Their Own” that at many times I feel I can relate to.  I’m transcribing it from memory so it may not be 100% accurate.

Kit:  Have you heard how Mom and Dad introduce us to people?…This is our daughter Dottie. (Said with reverence)  This is our other daughter…Dottie’s sister. (Said dismissively)

While this wasn’t directly done to me, because my sister was always into things, into performing, I felt this way at times.  Once my sister entered high school (she was two years behind me) it wasn’t long before teachers and peers started referring to me by way of my sister.

I am learning, as Kit did in the movie (or at least it was implied), to be my own person.  Or as my therapist referred to it yesterday, “see with my own glasses.”  I have, in moving away, begun to establish myself as a separate person.  What I am working on now is trying not to reference my likes, my preferences, my personality traits, according to what my family thinks I should like, I should do, what I should do better, what is and isn’t good enough.  I am working on overcoming my fear of liking what I like and being who I am.  (P.S. Mom if you are reading this, this is not about blame.  It is about how I feel. So don’t get all hissy with me. See: I bet you think this post is about you)

A very difficult part of this is allowing myself to be truly seen.  You think it would be easier to do this with a therapist you like and trust, but it is not.  For me it is so damned difficult.  I want and need the emotional release that comes with being deeply emotionally vulnerable with another person (read bawling my eyes out and still being emotionally “held”…therapists and students of psychology will know what I am talking about…and maybe parenting experts too.).  Part of my difficulty in being emotionally expressive with anyone, let alone my therapist, is a terror of being “seen.”  When you are I am emotionally vulnerable I feel as if all of my “walls” that I have put so much effort in maintaining will come down and that is partly where my terror comes from I think.  The fundamental feeling of being wrong (bad, flawed, etc.) that I have held onto for so long is so painful and isolating and it feeds into my fear of being “seen.”  “I can’t let myself cry here because what will she think of me?  Don’t let go here!  Don’t lean on her.”  It is difficult to explain because it is not totally a conscious thing either.  Part of it is, part of it totally is, but I can’t entirely account for the mental and physical contortions I put myself through to prevent myself from breaking down.

This is also why I have difficultly making and relying on friends more than just surface “acquaintance” type relationships.  But that is a whole other post…