Posts Tagged ‘emotions’

Denial patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Denial pattern: I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.

My therapist could attest to this one. He has often asked me things like, “How do you feel about that?”, and I’ve honestly had no clue. Other times, I’d been feeling intensely about something, but had no idea how to describe it. Nearly all the time, I “minimize” or hedge. For instance, I’d never be “angry”; instead, I might be “perturbed” or “unsettled” or “displeased”.

Within the context of Borderline Personality Disorder, this characteristic might be referred to as a mood disorder or as an inadequate sense of self.

Throughout my childhood and much of my marriage, I was required not to feel how I really felt. I was told that my (normal) reactions and feelings were wrong somehow, and was often told how I “really” felt or how I “should” feel. After decades of covering, hiding, squelching, and numbing myself, being allowed at best only to hint at what I meant, I finally reached the point of being very much “out of touch” with myself, sincerely having no idea what I might have been feeling in that instant before I’d managed to supress.

While I still believe that we shouldn’t be run by our emotions, I also now believe that we have emotions for a reason. They serve a purpose. If nothing else, they provide additional data. If I’m feeling happy about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing “okay”, but it could indicate that I’m feeling invested in the thing and am thus deriving pleasure, on more than just an intellectual level, in the success of the thing. If I’m feeling angry about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing (or me) “bad”, but it could point out that I’m trying (by force of habit) to ignore something that I shouldn’t, or that something is attacking me and I need to start defending myself. (Whether or not it’s acceptable to protect myself is another issue for another day.)

A very kind lady told me many times that I needed to learn how to “feel your feelings”, which made no sense at the time, but she worked hard at explaining. Her first rule was to use basal terms for my feelings. I’m not “perturbed”; I’m not “unsettled”; I’m not “distressed”. No, I’m “angry”, “scared”, or “sad”

As silly as that may sound, just the fact of naming my emotions with such bald terms was enlightening (though scary) and eventually freeing. After decades of being required to minimize and hedge and hide and cover, I was saying, explicitly and with no “shading”, how I felt. And I wasn’t struck by lightning; the world didn’t come to an end; people didn’t hate me; I didn’t become evil. It was okay.

Learning — from experience — that it was acceptable and safe to feel these things, and also to acknowledge feeling them, was one big step in my early recovery. Peggy, wherever you are: Thank you!