Posted by: Marie | April 7, 2009

(41) A trapped tiger

Post #41
[Journal entry written to my therapist on Sunday, June 15, 2008]

Hi, Mark –

How cool!  My housemates found a piano at a church garage sale on Saturday for $100 (plus $45 to deliver it to the house).  It is in good condition (few scratches) and it is mostly in tune.  So, I have a piano readily available to me!  I played it for about an hour on Saturday evening.

I will be giving both my housemates piano lessons – Susan wants to learn how to read music and she wants to understand the music theory behind the songs.  Erik just wants to learn how to play one song (Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”) all the way through, but he doesn’t care about reading music.

Of course, I pulled out all my old music and started remembering my favorite songs.  I am so excited!!!  I haven’t had easy access to a piano since college.

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In our session, you said something that gave me an “ah-ha” moment . . . if the person I’m touching can’t determine the spirit/intent of my touch, it might not be safe or appropriate for me to be touching that person.  That blows my mind.  (You mean, I’m not responsible for managing the other person’s thoughts?  They have to earn the right to be touched?  Wow!)

I guess the reverse is true, also.  They have to earn the right to touch me – and I have to earn the right to touch and be touched.  Hmm . . .

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After our session this week, I was definitely in a black mood.  If I was allowing myself to go to bars alone, I would have been sitting at a bar that night, getting drunk.  Instead, I went home.

Since I’m not eating ice cream right now, I didn’t have that chemical rush/release, either.  I did eat some cookies, but it just wasn’t the same.

I finally fell back on my old standard – picking my face.  But, the blackness of my mood was much bigger than picking could relieve.

I felt like a trapped tiger – I couldn’t settle down, I just wanted to be violent, to hurt and destroy.  But I knew I needed to stay in my safe place – I couldn’t trust myself to leave the house.

In the end, I was stuck with just sitting with my anger, in my room.  That was tough.

I finally figured out what happened in our session that brought out the blackness (and caused me to be pissy towards you at the end) . . . in the session, you were able to address the majority of my fears concerning the role-playing.  As a result, I started feeling safe – I was able to soften my grip on my emotions and they started coming out.

So, what you were seeing was old stuff coming up – it had very little to do with the assignments.

However, having said that, I did identify something that is a trigger for my anger.  I tend to get angry when I feel like I’m not being heard.

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During the night after our last session, I uncovered the root cause for my fear of role-playing – which is: I learned and have been embracing the following core belief . . .

All expression of strong emotion can be divided into two types:

#1) Expression that cannot be suppressed – it can’t be helped, it comes out despite best efforts to hold it back (acceptable to display)

#2) Expression that can be suppressed (not acceptable to display)

In other words, I have a responsibility to express as little emotion as possible.  The only possible reason I could have for engaging in Type #2 expression is to manipulate the person(s) to whom I am displaying the emotion.

For example, crying could be used to get out of punishment or to inflict guilt.  Anger could be used to intimidate people so I “get my way”.  It is my responsibility to be the cool, reasonable person in every situation.  It is my responsibility to consider and protect the interest of everyone involved (my interests rank lowest in priority).  This is a sign of true maturity.

In keeping true to this core belief, I have become a master of filtering all my expressions of emotion.  When I feel emotion rising to the surface, I immediately test the suppression-ability of that emotion.  If it is too intense for me to hold back, I let out just enough to relieve the pressure to the point that I am able to bring it back under control.  By doing this, I feel I am living up to my dad’s standards, at least in this one area.

Now, you come along with your role-playing . . . by asking me to express strong emotion when I have proven that I can suppress it, it seems that you are asking me to be irresponsible, immature and unnecessarily dramatic.

When I ask myself what would happen if I was unnecessarily dramatic, I don’t have an exact answer, I just know it would be very, very bad, maybe even immoral – I know my dad would be very disappointed in me, if he were still alive.  So, yeah, this creates a little bit of anxiety for me.

If I were to openly express emotions in your presence, I would need to know that you know that I am capable of suppressing the emotion (which I’ve already proven) and that I’m only expressing it for therapeutic purposes.  I would never be so irresponsible as to express that much emotion in the real world.  If I did “lose control” during role-playing, I wouldn’t really be out of control, I would only be pretending I am – at the drop of a dime, I could rein it back in.

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There is another source of anxiety for me:  I don’t know how to dramatically express emotion.  When I was young, I was required to override natural reactions.  For example, when I was whipped, my body’s first reaction was to collapse and curl up into a ball from pain and fear.  Instead, I was required to lock my knees so I would stay standing.

After the whippings, I was not allowed to cry for more than a few seconds – sometimes, after I quit crying, I would experience those hiccups/sob things – they were involuntary, yet I was required to stop them.  If I didn’t, I would get whipped again.  I discovered I could override my breathing pattern and stop them.  A five-year-old should not have to develop that skill.

When I was in my teens, if I disagreed with my parents or raised my voice, I got slapped across the face so hard that I could feel my teeth shift and my vision would go wacky for a few seconds.  It didn’t take much of that for me to learn to just comply, at least outwardly.

I have even required myself to shut down feelings.  As a result of my experiences with fire fighting, motorcycle racing, bungee jumping, skydiving, spelunking, etc., I have learned to override my natural responses to fear.

So, when I think about dramatically expressing emotion, I find that I have no idea how to do that.  That part of my brain has been paralyzed for so long that I wonder if it is dead.  When I ask myself, “How would you like to physically express that emotion?”, I have no answer – my body feels paralyzed and frozen.  The connection between my emotions and my body has been compromised significantly.  I am afraid that you will ask me to “cut loose” and physically demonstrate how I feel and I won’t be able to do that.

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And, finally . . . maybe you are introducing to me the possibility that there is a third type of expression:

#3) Expression for the purpose of expression – for the purpose of demonstrating this “passion” you keep talking about.

I can see that Type #1 expression is necessary and therefore should be allowed.  I know that Type #2 expression (at least the manipulative version of it) is unnecessary and therefore should not be allowed.  It then stands to reason that, because Type #3 expression is unnecessary (what possibly could be its purpose?), it should not be allowed.

In contrast, it seems you are telling me that Type #3 expression is necessary and should be allowed – that it should be vigorously encouraged – in therapy and in real life.  This just does not compute for me.  How can it be considered necessary?

Maybe . . . just maybe, it is necessary because God created me to be an expressive creature (a passionate creature, to use your words) – maybe I need to be expressive and passionate in order to keep my spirit alive and well.  Maybe my dad was wrong – maybe there is a way to be expressive and passionate while also being responsible and mature.

This possibility feels almost unbelievable to me – but, at the same time, it generates hope and calls to something deep inside of me.  It feels like it could be the lubrication I need for my paralyzed responses.

– Marie


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