Bruce's Blog

The Real Task of Integration

It seems the reason I formed a false self to please my folks is that I wasn't getting the necessary instruction on how to handle my emotions. Some emotions were too powerful to just ignore, though I probably tried. I formed a false self who didn't respond to emotions, counter-dependent is what they call it, where I became the opposite of dependent, which isn't independent. I would refuse help, and make it a point of pride never to need help.

I never learned to deal with emotions. When I start to feel a negative emotion, I could quickly push it down to where I didn't feel it. I'm very good at it. Thing is, ignored emotions never just to away. They linger, and some make me angry. But I have no one to be angry with, so I was angry with myself. Being counter-dependent, I was the only one around. [Again, if your kids are not angry at you, they are angry at themselves.]

My job now, in integrating, is to feel emotions. It's a tricky thing. I have a hard time feeling good emotions, just as I suppress the negative ones. So I spend time just trying to feel emotions, and learn that feeling them isn't a bad thing, the way it was when I was five. then some strong negative emotions seemed very dangerous (like concluding your mom wanted you dead). But now the emotions aren't bad at all. I just need to let myself feel them. Practice.

 

What I did feel growing up

I did feel some genuine feelings growing up. All are bad feelings, sadly. Loneliness, sadness, those I suppressed very well. But emotional pain, or pain that comes from a social situation going bad for me, that I felt acutely. I felt guilt, mostly over things I wasn't responsible for, and that was a real feeling. I felt responsibility for others feelings, but my own feelings seemed to just be in the way. And lots of guilt for wanting to feel good feelings. I had learned that feeling good was not for me, and I took that very seriously. Not yet sure why.

Most of the bad feelings would linger for the day, then disappear during the night, and I'd start fresh in the morning. Most days I felt nothing at the end, but maybe once a week I'd be miserable inside, happy outside, and go to bed hoping the pain would go away. I think most of the time it did, but a few times it lingered for weeks. I covered a lot of bad feelings by "thinking," ore pretending, that I felt good feelings.

But I didn't feel love, ever. That one to me was a total counterfeit. I thought it was a lie, a way to get your kids to obey. What love really meant to me was that my parents would give me the hope of affection if I did what they wanted, but that affection never materialized. If I didn't do what they wanted (chores, homework, whatever) then guilt was mine to enjoy, mostly for the shame I brought my parents by being disobedient.

I'd always be afraid of the Bishop's office. Talk about guilt for sins of omission. And the real guilt for having feelings and wanting them to go away.

Oh, I look back at my school photos, in kindergarten I looked happy. In first grade I looked worried.

What Do I Feel Right Now?

I'm trying to do three things, but I think I need to concentrate on just one right now: identify my feelings, particularly when nothing is happening. I'm good at "thinking" my feelings, but when there is no need to have a feeling, I have a tough time coming up with what I really feel. I also wanted to say, "No," more often, and to ask for help, but those are back-burner projects for now.

My Fatal Flaw

According to Jonice Webb, the emotionally neglected all harbor what they consider their fatal flaw, something we feel strongly that if others discovered would result in banishment. Mine is that I fake most of my social feelings. I just don't feel them. I'm so concentrated on processing my feelings intellectually, "thinking" my feelings, that when I'm with people it takes a lot of work to process what is happening as I chat. At least I used to. As feelings slowly open up to me I can use them to help me process what's happening. Right now it mostly only happens with my family, but maybe it will expand. I'm sure it will.

Anyway, I can admit my flaw now, and realize (intellectually, at least) that this is something I largely had no control over. So mostly I don't feel all that bad that it's difficult for me to access my feelings. I was raised that way. That was my job as a kid.

Therapy

Adults who were emotionally neglected as children often don't know what their needs are. Their own wants, needs, and feelings are not only irrelevant to the emotionally neglected, they're invisible.
Jonice Webb, Running on Empty p. 138

Things I am now doing:

1. Moment by moment, or at least three times a day, sit down, clear my mind of all thoughts, and ask, "What am I feeling right now?" This one is tricky, because this is the situation where I am best at suppressing the feelings, and that because they are mostly the ones I "should not" experience: loneliness, self-hate, shame for feeling these feelings.

2. Say "No" during the day, when I need to. Boy this is a hard one. I always said "yes," then suppressed any hateful and jealous feelings afterwards.

3. Ask for help. This one is so very difficult, though Becky has helped a lot by making it clear to my mind that she wants to help me. But my feelings are that I should never need help, and that needing help brings feelings of shame and guilt.

There are four more things, but these three are a handful for me already. It's a really strange thing to find a book that so accurately pinpoints my most difficult things and has me do them. I used to feel great pride in not needing help, and in being helpful. I was encouraged as a kid to be helpful and not be demanding. And I was both of those things, though I always harbored a deep resentment for those I helped. I think a subconscious part of me wanted the help myself, but I was raised not to allow that to happen.

I'm sure glad I have Becky in my life. She's been great about all this.

Confirmation?

I had a chat with Mom last night. She confirmed that there was an expectation for me: I was the rock-steady kid, the low-maintenance kid, the one who didn't need a lot of work. She didn't know that I had picked up on this, and made it true by hiding my feelings and suppressing my emotions. She had no idea that I was suppressing my emotions, especially the most painful ones, and not learning to deal with them at all. There were probably a few outbursts in the 9-11 year old range, but by the time I was a teen I had all my emotions completely suppressed outwardly. I still felt the pain of a disappointing experience, but I kept it completely to myself, and didn't let on that I was miserable inside. I held to the image my parents wanted. Consequently, my childhood sucked.

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