On the blog post about the feelings of loneliness in recovery a commenter wrote about “going blank” when she is asked how she ‘feels’ or what she “thinks” about something. This is something that used to happen to me as well and it is another one of those pretty common reactions that people have. The reaction of going blank or freezing at the question of “how do you feel” has an origin; it comes from somewhere and like all reactions it was something that I learned to do in order to deal with people. Freezing or going blank for me became a coping method and a way to survive but there is a reason that my mind learned to shut off and react like that.
I didn’t know how I ‘felt’ about anything either. I didn’t know why I had trouble expressing my feelings, I just did. And I had learned to ignore myself at such a young age that I didn’t know I was ignoring myself anymore. It was just how I lived and how I learned to survive or get by. Sometimes I could think in my own mind that I felt happy, or I felt blue or down, but I could not tell anyone else about my feelings. I would freeze at the question. The question was “unsafe” to answer.
In my post “Stop Crying or I will give you something to cry about” I talked about the message that we got as children when were told “to stop crying or else.” My feelings were invalidated. In being told that I didn’t hurt or that I didn’t have a reason to cry I was being told that I was wrong to have those feelings and I concluded that my feelings were wrong and therefore invalid and that I did not have a right to my own emotions so I shut them down and turned them off and that was how I learned to invalidate and then ignore my own feelings.
I also learned to be afraid of the consequences of my feelings; being told that they were “wrong” and having the threat of more punishment or more pain if I don’t stop “feeling” those feelings, I became afraid of my feelings too. I was afraid to feel anger because there might be a negative consequence so I shut that feeling down. SO I became afraid that the feelings were wrong AND that there might be consequences to having those wrong feelings. THAT resulted in being afraid to FEEL ANYTHING and it also made me doubt my own feelings when I did feel them.
SO when someone asked me “how do you feel about that” or “how are you feeling?” I didn’t realize it but my first reaction was FEAR. Without realizing it consciously, I was afraid that my feelings were wrong, that I had no right to them and that having them might lead to a negative consequence. All that fear was operating under the surface because of my childhood history and the fear dictated my reaction and my response. Deep down I was thinking “what do you want me to say? Instead of knowing and acknowledging my feelings, I was wondering what the “right answer” was to the question and I was considering what the safest response would be. I didn’t wonder how I actually felt about very many things anymore because years earlier my feelings had been defined as wrong and I had been defined as unworthy of having them.
This is what happens to children who have been invalidated or who have had their feelings invalidated. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know what I was feeling; I was also afraid to acknowledge my feelings in case they were wrong. Survival for me had become about making sure that I didn’t do or say the wrong thing.
Looking back at my life through that grid of understanding, it is no wonder that I struggled with such deep depression and dissociative identity issues. It wasn’t safe to be alive! It wasn’t safe to be me. It wasn’t safe to feel OR to acknowledge my feelings.
Getting my feelings back had a lot to do with realizing why I had shut them down and how they were controlled by others in the first place.
In my next post I will talk about the way I processed the question “what do you think?”
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