This morning my wife and i did the one-word emotional check-in and I had a difficult time sorting out what I was feeling. I knew there was some confusion and inner conflict and some kind of mild trigger – but couldn’t quite sort it out. Part of it had to do with the holiday and the expectations that I knew were part of the celebration. Part of it was connected to memories of family holidays when I was a kid. Part of it was probly a heightened sensitivity to everything because of all the recent vulnerability.
First the expectations – My wife had planned a great dinner and made all the plans, preparations and arrangements. We would have our two married kids and their spouses with us and everyone would contribute to the feast. She was happy and excited and wanted me to feel that way too. I knew that the way I was “supposed” to feel was congenial, jovial, welcoming, sociable and happy to see everyone. Of course there was nothing wrong with any of that. But I was not responding in the desired way – instead I was feeling anxious and didn’t know why – and that was frustrating to both of us – and it was neither of our faults. My wife was set to be the life of the party and I wanted to hide under the table.
Next the childhood memories - What was bothering me – I eventually figured out – was that the pressure to perform in the “right” way reminded me of times as I boy when I did not meet expectations – and the underlying message I received at those times – that I was a disappointment, was not adequate or acceptable = I was bad. I now know that I was depressed and could not fake the perfect appearance that my parents wanted from me. I can remember being told to “shape up, behave myself, snap out of it, straighten out” – and similar messages – delivered by the step-dad with set jaw and gritted teeth – basically being yelled at angrily to enjoy myself – or at least look like it – or else. It was very apparent that my feelings did not matter – were meaningless and of no importance or value - worse – they were an unwanted nuisance that was not permitted.
Holidays were a weird time around our house. Mom would work hard to make delicious meals – often cooking three kinds of stuffing so that everyone could have the kind they liked best. And she would decorate the house beautifully and set an exquisite table with the best china and silver and crystal and tablecloth and centerpiece. But there was always the possibility of things getting tense because of step-dad’s temper. I was always on edge because it didn’t take much to set him off. Even clinking your silver against a plate or letting your teeth scrape against a fork could cause an eruption. Getting a crumb in the butter was a federal crime. And heaven forbid if you let a slurp or any other offensive sound be heard. This was in a house with four boys. When I was 14, my younger brothers were 11, 4, and 1. I always felt like I was tip-toing bare-foot across a street strewn with broken glass.
Once all of that became clear to me, I was able to put it into perspective. I had read recently some post where the writer said something like = “it is MY body and I am reclaiming it.” That came back to me and I changed it up to be “they are MY emotions and I am reclaiming them.” I gave myself permission to accept and feel and own those emotions - of anxiety and confusion – the stress between wanting to have a happy time and feeling the pressure to act “right” and suffering the sadness of loss and enduring the fear of certain family members not relating well to one another or to me. I couldn’t talk about it while it was happening. I hadn’t identified all the parts and processes yet. once i had the right to feel those things, the pressure was off - i could let it go. So by the time the guests arrived, I was doing OK – and able to switch into auto-pilot for the rest of the day – be pretty well grounded and engaged and get to the point where I was actually enjoying the events and company. Everything went OK.
one word just couldn't cover it.
Edited by traveler (11/29/13 08:26 AM)
"My experience has shown me that I all too often tend to deny that which lies behind, but as I still believe, that which is denied cannot be healed." Brennan Manning, "All is Grace - A Ragamuffin Memoir"