I Feel Like Finally Feeling My Feelings Feels Good

Posted: August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

The watershed moment happened in an unlikely place – the hall corridor of a hospital — and was tipped off from an unlikely person – a little old lady in a hospital volunteer’s uniform. I was searching for the grief therapy group I had signed up to attend in order to process my parents’ deaths, and nobody at the main hospital could tell me where I needed to go to find it. As I became more and more frustrated and angry, the tears began to well in my eyes and spill out over my lower lids (much to my determination not to let the public see me cry). Out of the blue, an elderly angel comes up to me and says “Oh honey, do you need a hug?”

I am not a very outwardly affectionate person. I don’t hug and kiss my close friends every time we see each other. I never enjoyed kissing my in-laws (a definitely huggy-kissy bunch) and I felt extremely uncomfortable safe hugging my students. So, I was definitely conflicted about getting a much needed hug from this elderly stranger. I decided to go for it.

In between sobs and hiccups, I was able to choke out “I’m here for the grief therapy group, but I can’t find it!” I must have sounded near hysterical at the moment, so she quickly stopped heading wherever she was going and immediately brought me back to the information desk and told them to get the hospital chaplain down here so I could get some emotional support. And after an extended chat with the chaplain where I divulged some pretty heavy duty material about the events which have occurred in my life, she said something that was the most thought provocative comment I’d ever heard anyone tell me: “You have never learned how to ‘feel your feelings'” Wow.

Looking back on my childhood, I see a long pattern of emotional invalidation  I had never recognized before this year: from my non-nurturing father, in the form of Catholic guilt from my mother, and through relentless teasing and bullying from my siblings. I was never physically abused or sexually abused, but the invalidation of my feelings caused me to question my very own sense of self. I was constantly being told by an overwhelmed father of six kids: “Stop spinning your wheels, Scooter” “Stop crying, you have nothing to cry about” “You have no idea what you’re talking about” – comment after comment where everything I said was doubted, discounted and dismissed. In order to stop having to hear it all the time, I just shut down my feelings and refused to share them with anyone — because to do so would put me at risk for judgment and further invalidation.

My one coping mechanism was to turn to intellectualism. If I couldn’t show people my value through my emotions then I was going to show them all how “intellectual” I was. I became fascinated by everything and anything — a knower of many things, a master of none, so to speak. I could debate and discuss virtually any topic that came my way. I could even discuss topics that weren’t of interest to me provided I was given enough time to research them first. I absorbed information like a sponge. I was determined to prove my worth through intellect, not emotion. The beauty of being intellectual is that it is a fact based function. Facts can’t be argued, discredited or disproved. There is nothing there of any emotional substance, therefore I wouldn’t get judged or invalidated — again. A brilliant alternative and safety net.

And I have been doing that since the day I walked into the hospital chaplain’s room and she told me to stop. It’s hard to change learned behavior when you’re about to turn 50. But, I’ve begun regular therapy to help me. I’ve found a wonderful psychologist who has been slowly assisting me in getting back in touch with my inner child, who is so much more damaged than I ever realized. Together, we are rebuilding my emotional self, and I’m just now starting to take emotional risks and recognizing how others’ comments and actions affect my feelings.

What I’ve noticed lately is the amount of feelings I’ve repressed and how I’m processing them now. Instead of pushing them down (like I did when my parents and brother died), I’m acknowledging them, putting the appropriate label on them and dealing with them accordingly. Whenever I start to feel “something”, I will say “sad, it’s sadness at this moment” or “anger, this is what anger feels like” and then I take a moment to let it wash over me. Unfortunately, the angry feelings are very strong – I’ve been snapping at a lot of people over the simplest things. I’ve had to tell my loved ones not to take my overblown reactions too personally – it’s all part of my therapy. Those poor folks.

I have a long distance to go in getting myself back in balance between intellectual and emotional health. But, with the continued help of my therapist, I see myself coming through this a much happier, much more enjoyable person to be around.

I know I can do it – because I feel it can be done.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Our parents must have read the same child rearing manual. sigh…

    On a brighter note, loving your writing :-). Thanks for another great post.

    Like

Got Something to Say? Say it Here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s