I feel kind of in shock today and I don’t know why.
I had a pretty good week. I tried to create more of a structure for myself in the part of my day I have some control over, so that I had more of a chance for my emotions to come up—I started to see over the vacation how much I am holding things in all the time. I started to think if I can create a crack for myself that is really going to help, even if really I am not alone except for about an hour or two a day and I am keeping my emotions in for the benefit of other people nearly all of my waking hours.
The vacation gave me some space to let out some of what I was holding in and to process it, and when I did go back to school, I noticed that I was able to be more present with people when I got home in the evenings than I had been before. I was doing less of going through the motions and more able to connect with people, because I had a less intense private experience going on.
I should add on to that that I have a belief now that difficult emotions are uncomfortable for people, especially if they can’t easily identify with those experiences causing them, and people frequently do act in ways that will encourage having a different emotional experience from those around them to refrain from expressing or displaying those emotions.
We’re social animals, and the contagiousness of emotions and the need to replicate emotional experiences in order to empathize is mostly designed to help us cope with common problems. When people respond to the same experiences very differently, it’s distressing. That’s just how it is.
I have been noticing this all week—on the train with strangers and with students. When someone is emoting a lot over something I can’t see any reason to emote over, I find I want to get away from them. I want what feels like emotional noise to stop. I have less judgment about this, and it relieves me of years of guilt over not sharing more with other people or, when I did used to share, at the fact that it did not usually make me feel better—like even when sharing about myself, I’m kind of a failure.
A lot of times, the stuff going on in my head is what you share in only your very closest relationships. I don’t really have those, and generally the people around me are just not it. Not that I never talk about my experiences at all, but now I feel much more free to choose who I share with, what I share, and under what circumstances. I don’t feel caught in this weird space of all the things I am supposed to feel (confident to share about myself, supported relieved after I do share, etc.)
Yeah, mostly people don’t want to know. It’s not personal. And most people have no how to support me. That’s not personal either.
The other thing I’ve become aware of is a greater understanding of situations when I feel vulnerable and why I might feel vulnerable in them. I think this is a huge step for me. I think being able to notice and grapple with feelings of vulnerability—rather than denying or avoiding them—is huge. It means I have come a long way with processing trauma. Because, of course, that’s where it came from. Feeling vulnerable reminds me of trauma, so I don’t want to be reminded of that. I don’t want to feel vulnerable at all. Feeling I am not sure if someone will be interested in my idea at a meeting is the same emotional experience as not being sure if my mom’s going to beat the crap out of me. It’s not the same situation, but indeed it’s the same feeling—that requires having been able to cope with that feeling from the past enough to make the linkage that it is the same.
At the same time, I’ve begun to realize that because I have avoided feelings of vulnerability either by withdrawing or by armouring up and not noticing indications of rejection, I don’t honestly know as clearly as someone else my age would what might be expected or acceptable in a social situation. I might feel more uncertain than someone else. I’ve never really had a conversation with anyone and been fully present in that situation.
I know in the past I have tried to create certainty for myself and ignored my feelings of vulnerability, but it’s okay to feel vulnerable. It’s okay to feel “this may not be the best idea” or “this might not work out.” Sometimes it isn’t or it doesn’t. That feeling of uncertainty merely prompts me to pay more attention to the situation, slow down perhaps, be cautious perhaps, rethink it. It’s not actually a feeling I have to run screaming out of my own mind from.
I had to work at regulating emotions for a long time before it could be okay just to feel, but I am here.