I’m pretty sure I have feelings, after all I get happy, sad, angry, forlorn, depressed, stressed, etc, but I don’t often talk about them – to anyone, with the occasional exception of my husband (and only one of said husbands, the other gets the high level stuff that everyone else who asks how I’m feeling tends to get).
There are “good” reasons for this, as in my childhood and adolescence primed me to be someone who struggles to communicate and understand how I feel about things at any given moment. Childhood and adolescence are also known as our formative years, for very good reasons. We learn how to deal with the world around us, what things are appropriate to do or to avoid, how we should communicate, what we should communicate about, how to react to things, etc. Clearly major events during our childhood and adolescence impact on our formation as people, both positively and negatively, and those impacts last throughout our adult lives.
Now that I’ve given some background, let’s go back to me. When I was three and a bit, my mother had a stroke and I assumed adult responsibilities in my family – which mostly involved being responsible for my sisters and providing emotional support to my dad. Three year olds don’t actually have a very good grasp on what it means to be an adult. I wasn’t sure how to emotionally respond to this, so I didn’t. To an extent, this was my normal. I didn’t know anything else, it was just something I lived, and I’m not alone in this, children who end up translating for their parents when they family migrates or flees to another country, or children who have caring responsibilities for their parents or siblings have similar issues I imagine. Their experiences are likely to involve more trauma than mine, but my experiences have impacted me as an adult.
Combined with that is the general Australian reticence to talk about emotional things, a situation captured in “she’ll be right mate”, and my fractured relationship with my mother in the last few years before I moved out of home. My parents, the adults I spent the most time with as a child, were themselves damaged by their own childhood. My mother’s biggest lesson from her childhood was that children lie (which is epically fucked up), and dad’s (though he hasn’t said this to me) was to be very careful in what he shared lest it be used against him.
This did impact my ability to share with my parents, my father often seemed awkward (and he still is) when feelings were discussed – apart from the high level stuff such as “I got angry when …”. My mother didn’t believe me, and certainly didn’t believe me when I told her about serious things like being sexually assaulted or harassed at school. She never said this until much later in my life when she apologised to me for the impact this had on me, I felt that I couldn’t tell her things, so I didn’t. I envied my friends who had different relationships with their parents, where they could talk to them about things.
Before I moved out of home, my mother had taken to “talking with me” which was more her talking at me while I did my best to remain calm and not get upset. Our relationship immediately before I moved out of home was incredibly toxic (it has since been repaired), and I felt that even showing the slightest bit of emotion (usually crying because the words she was using I felt were to wound), was to let her “win” whatever battle we were currently fighting.
All of this combined with bullying at school when we moved to Bendigo, because I was different to everyone else, means that the safest route is to not show much emotion, to not talk about it, and to sort stuff out myself. Sorting stuff out myself is slow, slightly faster if my husband is available, but as he’s suffers from depression himself, that’s not always an option. I know I avoid talking about me by talking about all the interesting things I’ve learnt, read, or seen. It’s easier to be interesting than it is to talk about how I feel about things.
There isn’t much of a way forward in this that I can see. The defensive mechanisms I developed as a child are incredibly hard to undo as an adult. I know it is possible to relearn behaviours, but there needs to be motivation to do so and right now I don’t see a need. I’m doing mostly ok right now, apart from my work being incredibly overwhelming, and feeling that I’m juggling too many things (which given the number of things I’m juggling is not surprising). Right now, I’m doing as well as pretty much anyone else in my situation would be.