Posted by: Marie | October 27, 2012

(736) Managing emotions – Part 4 of 5

Post #736
[Private journal entry written on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 about a conversation between my therapist and me – continued from previous post]


Me: I just don’t have any hope of ever being healthy.

Edward: What would healthy look like?

Me: It would mean being able to tolerate relationships . . . being able to tolerate strong emotions . . . wanting to live . . .

Edward: Tell me more about that . . .

Me: I’m to the point where I’m not praying to die every day, but I’m still not ready to commit to living . . . to invest in the future . . . because I feel I must be “liquid” . . . I need to be able to dissolve who I am . . . dissolve my life . . . in a moment’s notice. I can’t have anything in my life that has substance . . . I can’t invest in relationships. And, I don’t know what that is about.

Edward: I imagine it is because your dad knocked down anything you created – anytime you put yourself “out there”, he knocked you down.

The Tea Garden by Martin Chen

Me: But, he let me be creative . . . I could paint or I could write a computer program . . . I could build something out of wood in his shop and he wouldn’t knock that down.

(Reaching down inside myself to connect with feelings in my body) I do carry with me this image that I would dread his coming around . . . and when he did come around, he would knock down some part of me . . . but, I don’t know what “that part” is – it’s not like there were tangible products he would knock down . . . or at least he didn’t actually knock down the tangible products of my creativity.

Edward: True, he didn’t knock down tangible products, but those things you created are things that fit neatly within his picture of who you are. It was okay for you to build things and to paint because they fit in with who he believed you should be.

But, he couldn’t handle anything that didn’t fit into that box. For instance, he couldn’t handle you showing up with authentic emotion. He couldn’t handle that so he had to knock it down.

In order to survive, you had to be able to dissolve “who you were” – to dissolve any part of, or any expression of, your authentic self that he disapproved of – in order to survive, you had to throw away who you were and submit to and comply with his vision of who you were.

I suspect you sometimes tried to express the real you in private moments, but you couldn’t express that out in the open. Or, if you did, you had to be ready to dissolve and tear down that expression as soon as your dad came around and showed disproval.

I suspect that you still are repeating that pattern now, and that every man whose attention and approval you desire is a threat to your freedom of expressing the authentic you – you expect every man to disapprove of the real you so you still aren’t able to put the real you “out there” when you interact with men.

Me: Yes, I think that is true . . .

But, I have no memory of putting myself out there in that way – and having my dad come along and knock it down.

Edward: It probably wasn’t one big “knock down”, it probably was a thousand small “knock downs”. Anytime you showed emotion, he couldn’t handle it, so he would shut that down, criticize you – tell you that you were bad for having emotion.

You don’t have a memory of being knocked off “a cliff” because you never got to climb beyond a height of five feet – you never made it as high as the cliff. As soon as you put one foot “out there”, he would come along and run it over and force you to step back into submission. I imagine that is why you don’t have singular memories of putting yourself “out there” in a big way.

(After a thoughtful pause) By the way, there is a big difference between pulling back and collapsing. You are tolerating things better because you are pulling back rather than collapsing.

Me: I don’t understand what you mean.

Edward: When you consider the possibility of “putting yourself out there” authentically, you say “No, I’m too afraid” and you pull back. You are afraid to put yourself out there because you are afraid that your dad – the memory of your dad’s words – or someone like your dad – is going to come along and knock it down.

But, you are tolerating things better because you aren’t dissolving and falling apart and not functioning – instead, you are pulling back. You are holding yourself – what you have to offer – in reserve.

And yet, there are still times when you get creative and the real you bubbles over and you don’t have control over it . . . you can’t help yourself, you can’t stop it . . . the real you bubbles over and shows up in an authentic way. It seems like you are having more and more of those times.

Me: Yes, that is true . . . like, with my students, I tend to be very authentic in my teaching – the real me shows up in a very powerful way – I can’t help being that authentic when I teach.

And yet, I can’t give myself permission to invest in the future.

Edward: That’s okay. You’re in the process of change – you’re getting there. I can see significant changes in how you are handling your emotions. (pause) I think I give you more credit than you give yourself.

Me: Yes, I can see where I’ve been able to handle powerful emotions better – and handle more emotions.

And yet, I still struggle with it. I still struggle even with pleasant emotions. For example . . . my piano recitals were awesome – they were a huge success, the kids did such a great job and families were so excited about the recital . . .

Edward: And congratulations for creating such a positive and successful experience!

Me: Thank you . . .

The recitals were so awesome and my response to that experience was to become very emotional but my emotions were “positive” . . . I felt joy and pride and a sense of accomplishment . . . I was grateful for the opportunity to impact these kids in such a positive way . . . so those were “good” emotions. But, they were overwhelming and I needed to binge eat in order to handle them, to numb them, even though they were “good”.

Edward: Thanks okay . . . this is a process. It takes time.

Me: I know. It’s just that the shifting and healing are so slow – sometimes I doubt I’ll ever get to the point where I really enjoy living – where I really feel healthy.

(Yet another pregnant pause . . . )

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


  1. I like how Edward is able to quietly point out your progress here in a way that makes sense to you. Must have felt pretty good.

    • Hey, Ellen –

      I really do appreciate when he acknowledges my progress . . . it often feels like we go over the same material again and again . . . and I get frustrated by my “not getting it”. But, then, I have break-through moments that catch even me by surprise . . . and those moments come only after lots of grunt work.

      Thanks for the uplifting words!

      – Marie

  2. It’s so interesting having an observer’s POV of your therapy process … what felt (and perhaps still does feel) excruciatingly slow to you looks lightning-fast to me. I’ve rarely known anyone to make such seismic shifts in therapy as quickly and resoundingly as you have done. I also made those shifts extremely quickly, and I notice that there is a significant parallel between us, which is that both of us were very drawn to the idea of suicide, but also had an internal ethos that mandated “living as well as possible while I’m here.” I’ve described this mandate to a number of people in my own life who were puzzled by it … who couldn’t figure out why, if I were okay with death, I wouldn’t be okay with giving up and letting my life just fall apart. It was hard to explain that ethos of (literally) “do or die.” I don’t know how common it is, but I do know that when someone goes into therapy with that internal mandate, and the therapist is the right fit, the results can be amazing.

    • Hey, David –

      Maybe it is that common ethos that causes me to feel understood by you. Just about the time I’m struggling to find language to sort through what I’m experiencing, you come along and give me the words I need.

      And yes, I, too, have baffled a few people by trying to explain how I can desperately wish for the release of death while remaining committed to fulfilling my responsibilities and to living the best life possible.

      I appreciate what you said concerning the speed of my progress. Therapy does seem painfully slow and redundant to me.

      It is interesting to me to revisit this time in my journey . . . I can see how the pressure was building internally . . . I knew something had to give and that, when it did give, it would result in a life-changing shift. I just didn’t know when, or what, or how . . . and I didn’t know if the shift would be for the worse or for the better . . . life ending or life affirming.

      The good news is that it was for the better . . . one frigid morning in February (2012), I found myself having a pivotal conversation with a pine tree on a mountainside. I came back down the mountain a changed person.

      I still am baffled as to why holding a 45-minute conversation with a gnarly pine tree could facilitate such a huge shift . . . but, I guess it is like being baffled as to why tectonic plates select a particular moment in time to shift. The answer, of course, is that the perfect moment finally arrived. It’s that simple.

      – Marie

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