How You Were Raised To Feel About Feelings…

When I first started reading the section in The Food and Feelings Workbook: A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health regarding how you were raised to feel about feelings, I almost skipped the section. Mostly because I feel like I had a great upbringing and childhood, especially compared to so many people around me. But as I started to read it, I realized even if the upbringing was good, you may still have unintentional negative results from the way your parents reacted to you as a child.

For example, how did your parents react to you when you were sad? How about when you were angry about something? What about when you got excited?

The very first story that comes to mind is a weird one. I’m not even sure why it was the first thing I thought of. But it was one where we were at my aunt and uncle’s. Probably for some holiday. And they (my aunts and mom) were taking pictures of us. I still remember what I was wearing. I HATED pictures. It wasn’t like just one picture. There was always posing, and moving, and re-taking. And it was misery. Standing there, fake smiling. Listening to how cute my sisters were (maybe I was a little jealous, mostly I remember being irritated). After awhile (probably after one picture), I  was sick of it. And my fake smile turned to no smile. And my aunt and mom started making fun of me for being grumpy. They were probably trying to tease me to make me laugh, but I wasn’t having it. I remember crying, and being told I was selfish (which I’m sure I was, since everyone else was being nice and cute and whatnot). But I truly was sick of taking pictures. And not being listened to or cared about. Mostly not being listened to. I felt like a speck of sand on a beach. Like I blended in, wasn’t my own person, and no one cared about me.

Yes, it’s dramatic, but I remember feeling that way. And them teasing me only made it worse, only made me feel more isolated.

I hated that day. And I despise those pictures.

The more I thought about it, I remembered lots of times where I’d be crying or about to cry and be told to be a big girl. Not to be a baby. Those stories I’m conflicted about. On one hand, I’m glad my parents “toughened” me up. So I didn’t cry all the time. Criers get made fun of. But on the other hand, now I find sadness and crying to be a sign of weakness. An attempt to get attention. And I’m humiliated and disappointed in myself if I cry. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in front of someone in the last 15 years. If it’s bad enough to cry, I do it in isolation.

It was definitely a good defense mechanism to get me through grade school and high school. Looking tough. But I also correlate sadness and crying with being weak, being a baby.

And I remember times I’ve been excited about something, and been teased about it. So I also associate showing excitement with embarrassment or humiliation. I know no one did it to be mean, but it’s definitely put up a wall.

And after my boyfriend, I associate opening up, giving love, being loved, being vulnerable with being hurt, embarrassed, humiliated, pain, sadness, depression and everything else. In my mind, it was safer to not make myself vulnerable by opening myself up (just as I don’t show sadness or excitement), and therefore can avoid the pain and hurt that I determined always follows opening myself up.

I know my mom and aunts were only trying to get good pictures and were probably short-sighted or not thoughtful in their attempts to get what they wanted quickly. And I know with a bunch of us standing there and only me crying it had to have been frustrating. But I really, really felt unloved and misunderstood that day. And I still harbor that pain and hurt. But now I’m telling myself that feeling sad and not listened to doesn’t mean those feelings are wrong. Or will result in being made fun of. Especially now.

I’m sure even if I went back and asked my mom or aunts about that day they wouldn’t remember it. Just like a bully doesn’t remember being bullied but the person who was the target of the bullying remembers it specifically.

For now I need to realize that:

  1. Crying doesn’t mean I’m a baby or attention seeking, sometimes I’m just sad.
  2. If I’m sad, people won’t make fun of me.
  3. Getting excited about something doesn’t mean I’ll be mad fun of.
  4. If I don’t open myself to the potential of hurt by loving someone, I’ll never be loved fully in return.
  5. It’s OK to be angry. Being angry doesn’t mean I have to scream and throw things to make it known that I actually am angry. Rather I can feel and express the anger logically. Or even not at all. Just feel the anger and move on.
  6. I’m not selfish for having feelings.
  7. Showing feelings won’t lead to humiliation and embarrassment by others.
  8. Being wrong, confused or unclear about something doesn’t make me stupid. And people won’t laugh at my lack of knowledge. It’s impossible to know everything.
  9. Not doing something exactly right every time doesn’t mean I’m careless, or will be publicly criticized. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I only need to do my best, not the best there is.
  10. People who care about me won’t intentionally humiliate, hurt or deceive me. If these things happen they weren’t intentional, or the person who does them doesn’t really care. I don’t need uncaring people in my life.
  11. If I make a mistake I won’t be misunderstood as to have done it on purpose. I don’t need to fear being misunderstood at every turn.
  12. Irrational people can’t be rationalized with. Just because someone doesn’t listen to me, doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Or should be embarrassed for having my own opinion.

That’s all I’ve got. And it actually felt good to say those things!

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