Have you ever been told that you shouldn’t feel a certain way?
As a child I had preferences, feelings and even an opinion or two. This is exactly how children should live in the world - with curiosity and ideas of their own. These ideas often upset the apple cart of our compromised family system. Experts agree that in family systems that are in survival mode, upsets of any kind that do not fit with the family dysfunction are frowned upon.
As a young child I asked questions about my father’s long absences. I began to have nightmares and intruding thoughts about my dad dying or getting arrested. I had no facts to back up my fears but my questions were not being addressed so I made up a story in my head that made sense to a five year old. Where do daddies go? Maybe they die or maybe they get taken away against their will. I could not imagine a world where daddies left because they got a better offer.
In response to these questions and suggested scenarios, I cannot remember the specific response of my mother but I do remember an understanding developing - stop talking, stop asking, stop making stuff up. I stopped asking questions. I stopped asking for help with my fears and anxieties. I stopped trusting that if I asked for help, I would receive it. I felt ashamed and guilty and maybe just a touch of shame for not being “normal”. I thought the problem was....me. This became a pattern of coping for me that worked until it didn’t.
One saying we hear in meetings all the time is this: We are as sick as our secrets. This is a decent saying. Excavating our secret fears and frustrations that we buried so long ago can be challenging - we have worked long and hard for many years to not deal with problems we lacked the skills to address. Now we can begin that work.
Where do we begin? One place to start is to grab a blank journal and begin cataloguing all your feelings in chronological order. What was your first feeling? Work your way through your memories and pretty soon, you might notice a pattern to your emotional memories.