I minimize my feelings because my father minimized them first.
Minimizing. It’s something I often do. Although I do it less often than I used to, I am sure I still do it far more than I should. I’m not sure what brought me to the thought because I think about so much. I analyze my world and everything in it. Every single thought, I have to fully explore it. I’ve known for a long time that part of this was a coping mechanism. When I was little, analyzing every movement, mood, tone, look, action, and reaction was essential to my attempts to keep the balance and strive to live in a happy world. I learned to watch everyone else to be sure I was prepared for what was coming, but I also learned to watch myself, just in case any little thing I did might set a new chain reaction off.
Along with the running analysis of my environment, there also came another coping mechanism – the art of staying small. Until tonight, I did not realize just how much of my minimizing actually developed as a reaction to my environment. Yet in twenty-one minutes, I realized how years of emotional guilt and shame all come down to that one little sentence. In just twenty-one minutes, I understood so much more about my life. This is what I learned (forgive me if it is a bit fragmented, it was a continuous stream of thought):
I’ve spent my entire life feeling guilty for feeling anything – feeling like I was wrong or bad for having emotions…like I shouldn’t ever be angry or hurt, like I’m a bad person when I don’t like someone for [hurting] me. When I say guilty, its not like “I ate that ice cream, I shouldn’t have” guilty, but seriously guilty – not owning things emotionally because my father’s (and now other’s) feelings were more important, and my feelings didn’t matter. What he wanted or needed came first, so I learned to protect myself. I had to make me small, and to protect people I loved, I had to not feel anything at all.
I didn’t tell about my abuse because my father taught me that my feelings did not matter to adults. My grandmother reinforced this when she basically told me that what my grandfather did was my fault. I also did not tell because I did not want my mom to get hurt. Years later, I don’t tell people when they make me mad because I don’t want their feelings to be hurt. It is safer to absorb the negative feelings I have than to risk the added emotion and guilt from creating a negative reaction in someone else because of course, negative reactions are my fault. I’m a bad person if I make others feel bad, and its all because that’s what i was taught…I just didnt realize that’s what I was taught.
It makes a little more sense now – that man and all his guilt…
Something else I realized was that I’m shy as a result. My mother tells stories of when I was little, before she and my father divorced. Back then, I wasn’t shy at all. I never met a stranger, and I loved everyone in the world. Yet, after she left, and it was just my father, brother, and I, I learned fairly quickly that it was really important not to show how I felt. I had to process my thoughts before speaking, and analyze my actions before following through. It was important that I did not act or speak in a way that would anger my father, or “hurt” anyone else, thus I turned inward and became very shy. After years of coping this way, it kind of just became a part of who I am.
And then…I realized something else. This is why, no matter how many times I speak in public, or how comfortable I am with a crowd, I always become unbearably nervous while in the midst of my speech. My voice wavers and I start to shake, even when I know the content and the people extremely well. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to keep myself calm and not let it get out of control, and yet now, I realize it is because I am not supposed to let others see my emotions. There is a recording in my head somewhere that says, “Stay quiet. Stay small.” and by speaking to others, I am going against that thought. My fear of being heard, or doing something wrong, of making others upset takes over – even when I am not worried about these things at all – my brain remembers all the lessons I have been taught and it tries to take control.