On stunting emotions.

You know, this is a post I meant to write when I was feeling stable and secure. But maybe my panic will somehow magically aid my writing. Give it that “realness” that people praise me for, though that always baffles me beyond belief.

Elizabeth Esther wrote a great post this week that kind of inspired this line of thinking. She and Hännah of Wine and Marble talked about purity culture, and how the conservative Christian culture in which they were raised taught them to strip themselves of their emotions. And it got me thinking and beginning to analyze my relationship with emotions over the entirety of my life. Then I stumbled upon this post of Elizabeth’s entitled “We Will Tell You How To Feel” and I sort of emotionally and mentally went into a crazy spiral of panic (which is really nonsensical considering the post is awesome).

Panic. Honestly, that is the single driving emotion of my life. It’s the constant. I can’t remember not being afraid. My earliest memories are chronic nightmares and coping mechanisms I had for calming myself after a nightmare.

Sad thing is, I still have chronic nightmares. I still employ these 20+ year old coping mechanisms.

Why? Why? Why am I afraid?

I’ve always been afraid of feeling too much.

When peers and adults teased me as a child, it hurt. It hurt badly. It hurt too much. I wasn’t supposed to react the way I did, but I didn’t know what else to do, how else to feel. With peers, I could harden myself and act like it didn’t hurt, which is apparently what I was supposed to do, even though it led me to suicidal thoughts and even a suicide attempt by the age of nine (and again by 12, and again by 14 – suicide attempts ended then, but suicidal thoughts have been another constant in my life). With the adults, though, I could never quite manage to pretend it didn’t hurt, because adults were my authority and I was supposed to trust them, and if they were teasing me and hurting me then maybe they were right about me, and they must have my good at heart.

I wasn’t supposed to be hurt.

I keep coming back to that phrase when I engage my emotions. Supposed to.

I’m not supposed to hurt. I’m not supposed to cry. I’m not supposed to be angry. I’m not supposed to be afraid.
I’m supposed to be joyful. I’m supposed to smile. I’m supposed to be gentle and submissive. I’m supposed to endure the race set before me.

It’s thinking of phrases like these that makes me see how conservative Christianity can be used to strip us of emotions, strip us of humanity, particularly women. There are Bible verses to this day that I cannot hear without breaking into a cold sweat and tremors and tears because of the way they were used against me, against my heart, against my soul. But just thinking that makes me afraid.

Maybe the fear comes from the supposed tos. From the expectation of perfection. From the belief that I have to do my best at all times, or else I am a moral failure, ethically destitute, unworthy of the emotional support of anyone, untrustworthy and unfaithful.

I don’t know.

I’m still sorting out emotions. I’m still flogging myself for having emotions that I’m not supposed to. It’s only been in the past two or three years that I’ve even heard that it’s okay to feel things, even negative emotions. I’m still so new at this. And I still feel like I have to squash my feeling, stunt my emotions, in order to be taken seriously, to be understood, to not be despised, to be liked (let alone loved).

I don’t have the answer. I’m right here where Elizabeth describes herself from several years ago:

Managing my emotions was turning out to be a full-time job. Once you start letting yourself feel, well, HELLO NIAGARA FALLS OF EMOTION, how do I stop you now?

I would let myself feel for awhile and then I’d go scurrying back into Not Feeling. It was safer.

Not Feeling does feel so much safer. But I know enough now to know that it’s really not in the long run.

I just wish…I wish that it hadn’t taken over 20 years for me to hear that it’s okay to be angry. I wish it hadn’t taken over 20 years for me to hear that I’m allowed to be sad, that it doesn’t mean that I’m a nutcase or a drama queen. I wish it hadn’t taken over 20 years to hear that feelings are okay, and that expressing feelings is healthy.

I can’t change the past. But I can keep stepping out into the future of Feeling, of Emotions Expressed, no matter how scary it is. And maybe the fear will abate as I experience relationships with others who understand the simple truth that stunting emotions does nothing more than dehumanize.

6 thoughts on “On stunting emotions.

  1. This book is an amazing read! I read it for my daughter but it helped me more than anything “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” It will blow your mind how wrong the environment was that we came from!

  2. Sorry, my first post got erased! Thank you so much for putting your words down. It’s great to know that I’m not the only one learning about emotions so late in the game!

  3. Thank you for this. I’m probably still the strongest mother zombie you’ve ever met, but i have hope that this message will one day be inculcated into my non-emotional being. Self-worth is a part of it too, and we weren’t allowed to have any of that either. You sound lke you are going to fare better than the previous generation has.

  4. Pingback: Of church, feminism, and safety. | crooked neighbor, crooked heart.

  5. Pingback: In which I am hesitant to call it abuse. | crooked neighbor, crooked heart.

  6. I’ve found my way here through the Spiritual Abuse Awareness link-up. And oh my. I relate.

    Thank you for sharing your heart. You’ve inspired me to do some soul-searching of my own.

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