Monday, July 26, 2010

Out of touch with Feelings

Some years ago, various well-meaning friends and counselors/professionals mentioned to me that it sounded like I "was out of touch with my feelings".

At first this statement really p*ssed me off. I had no idea what they meant, AND even worse, I had no idea what I could do about it. It sounded like a bunch of woo, or even worse, horse pucky. Being someone who excelled at lots of things over the years, it was also hard to hear that maybe there were some things I wasn't so great at.

Perhaps this is a nice way (euphemism) to say "heavy denial", and if so, it was/is true.

I was in denial about lots of things for many years - even long after I had been an active mormon. Through study, time and cognitive behavioral therapy, I think I have a better handle on what this means, on what it means to be out of touch with one's "feelings".

Basically, when growing up, some people are raised in families where authentic feelings are *not okay*. If someone is angry, scared or sad, these are not acceptable feelings. It's not good to be negative, and particularly be negative outside the family. There are rarely appropriate outlets for these feelings, and if there are, they are rarely taught/learned. Even at a time where someone was very sick or at a funeral, sometimes these feelings are not accepted. Think ("you're going to take drum lessons and you're going to like it - no matter what you want").  For the record, I am not saying that my own family never allowed outlets for feelings, just that it was something that I believe we struggled with.

Another friend talked about "choice" and "accountability" within families. This goes hand in hand with acknowledging and honoring feelings. Having choice means that children/family members are free to decide if they want to do something. They are free to say no. They are free to be sick (if they are sick).

Accountability means that if a person says no, or show up or does something, that there are consequences (positive or negative).

So for me, getting in touch with what I'm feeling is to think about specific feelings (anger, sadness, fear). I no longer focus on what other people around me are feeling. Other people and their opinions are important, but it goes back to that internal boundary I have talked about before (is it true? is it not true? and letting the not true stuff go).  I may have another post on the internal boundary thing.

Again, figuring out what others were feeling was a skill I learned very well from a young age (either from being raised mormon or being raised mormon in my family). It was better/easier/a coping mechanism to keep track of how everyone *else* was feeling, than my own wants, needs, likes or dislikes. What I liked wasn't so important, how I felt wasn't important because it wasn't useful. It didn't get me anything.

What was important was the family, the church, my peers, people joining the mormon church, etc.

I'm not suggesting that people should be completely self-focused or self-indulgent (that's another can of worms). But when I was able to start to separate what *I* wanted, my expectations of myself vs.other people and their expectations of me, it became easier to navigate relationships. Also, separate out what I could control, and what I could not control (other people's feelings or responses).

Talking about those authentic feelings can get scary for some families/some family systems. Sometimes people will claim someone is being "selfish" for setting boundaries, for being accountable for the things they offer to do and don't. A big part of being accountable is saying yes, but also being accountable to say no and not feeling guilty about it.

I would much rather any friends of mine said "no" to a party or gathering than show up and complain or be in a bad mood the whole time. I'd rather they took care of themselves. Honestly, gatherings where everyone genuinely wants to be there are so much better. You can tell when someone feels obligated or doesn't want to be somewhere.

I think this is a different message than what's given in some organizations (the LDS church, but other organizations as well). And it's unfortunate - because it means that people "fake" what they are feeling, fake friendships or relationships.

It's certainly an easier business model to force people to do things no matter what and not accept no for an answer. Or to use guilt, passive-aggression, intermittent rewards, etc. to get what you want. But the people who actually want to do something and be somewhere...they're the most motivated, and their enjoyment and gratitude shows.

PS. I don't know how mourning and grief play into this, but I think part of the feelings thing is accepting that some things/people/relationships are not the way you want them to be. Then after that acceptance, figuring out what you can do about it.

Each person comes up with their own answers to these questions, and their own decisions (and accepts the various consequences).

And PPS. This is even more complicated for men, who are taught from a very young age that most feelings are not okay. A good reference for that (I still need to read it myself) is "I Don't Want to Talk About it: The Secret Legacy of Male Depression" by Terence Real.  I'll read it and review it here at some point.

1 comment:

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