I wrote this in 2007 over at my old survivor site, My Voice of Truth.
As an abused child I frequently detached as a way of coping with what was happening to me and even though most of my memories were devoid of emotion, it did not mean I was not experiencing emotion. My mother’s unpredictable violence forced me to suppress whatever internal turmoil I was feeling, in order to survive.
This pattern of suppression and detachment became natural reactions to crisis and anything that caused me any emotional pain throughout my adult life. After years of habitual suppression, any emotions related to the physical and sexual abuse in my childhood were very difficult to access or control. They were either elusive, hiding when they were appropriate to express or screeching out when I least wanted them to. For example, at my father’s funeral, I stood stoically over his grave and suppressed my emotions over the loss of the only real parent I’d ever had.
When faced with betrayal in my marriage, I carried on in life as if nothing happened; suppressing the deep hurt and heartbreak that threatened to consume me. In therapy when I described the abuse in my childhood there was not a tear shed in the telling. It was if an internal separation automatically occurred whenever anything in my life was too painful.
I was conditioned to NOT feel.
While I didn’t seem to have access to these feelings, I often reacted quite strongly to what may seem minor or insignificant to others. Feelings of betrayal, distrust, an impending sense of doom, fear, anger and an overwhelming sadness were triggered by often benign situations. It was not uncommon for me to sob while watching a scene in a movie which seemed to have little or no effect on anyone else around me (I did this during a scene in The Other Sister when Diane Keaton’s character watches her heartbroken daughter kick tennis balls in the rain and goes to her) or to become outraged over someone not saying thank you after holding a door open for them.
Things like someone cutting me off in line, an ill perceived close call in the car could trigger a reaction that was often disproportionate to the situation. And while I kept my outrage rather private by never really publicly going off the handle, even in my private moments of venting to a loved one or quietly sobbing in a movie theater, I always felt slightly less sane and out of control as if my sanity was somehow slipping.
My ex-husband and daughters endured years of these “venting merry go rounds” and met my rising vehemence with stares that implied I had morphed into an alien right before their very eyes. I, on the other hand, looked at everyone else as if they were the alien beings who just didn’t understand how things should work around here.
I figured anyone would get upset in any of these circumstances and yet there was a part of me that said, “Hmmm, just not this upset, Stephanie”.
I must admit that no matter how perplexed they were at my intensity, I couldn’t stop. In fact I didn’t want to stop. I was experiencing what I couldn’t experience as a child and in that moment it felt good to feel bad because for once it was my choice.
The power in that was at first liberating.
I could rant and rave, fume, yell and get myself all worked up in ways I was never allowed to as a child. Even a hint of anger was met with intimidation and violence while growing up. This was my time, my chance to exert some power and control over my life. The problem was that I often felt crappy, embarrassed and guilty afterward, especially when I would attribute qualities such as maliciousness to the offending party. Something as simple as one of my girls repeatedly not doing the dishes was often perceived by me as an act that was done purposely to me.
Each slight or perceived disregard was like a dagger into an already existing wound, stirring up the fear and distrust that were already there. Understanding this connection between my past and present is what inspired me to use these times to heal. I already had access to the emotions I thought were buried and I didn’t know it. They were there in my conflicts with loved ones, in my interactions with acquaintances or friends, even in my difficulties as a teacher.
All there to show me what I needed to heal.