Handling my emotions and emotional regulation

I have become to understand that I suck at dealing with my emotions. Somehow I have lived my whole life so far without ever fully acknowledging the fact that emotional regulation is something which I never learned. It really is a skill.

Instead my emotions are some odd variety of strong but not deep. As in I have dealt with quite strong emotions my whole life, but they have been exaggerated on a more superficial level. It sounds weird as I am trying to explain it, really…but lets explore further.

I have always had various crutches which I used in order to handle my emotions….Like buying stuff….like dramatic expressions of catastrophe to my friends…..or simply getting drunk. But you know I feel like even as I was expressing my emotions to my friends, I never really expressed the real, deep, underlying emotions…it was always some sort of an upper layer.

I think there are two reasons for that. First, I probably mostly did not even know what I was feeling. It is difficult to communicate if you have no idea what you feel and why and if you have tried to avoid your feelings your whole life. The second reason, I think, is because for a long time I avoided putting myself into situations where I would feel too much. Like I would avoid the real intimate connections because losing them would hurt too much. I subconsciously knew I would not be able to handle the pain. I don’t think I was wrong there.

So I am opening myself up to the dangers of real world and noticing how terrible I am in dealing with my own emotions. Furthermore, noticing it just makes me freak out more as I am now intimately aware of not having full control over my emotions and not being able to deal with them in healthy ways. So yeah the whole emotional self-regulation seems to be a new topic for me and I am guessing that if you have used bad strategies (eating, drinking whatever) your whole life, it really takes time and effort getting it right.

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Coming out of co-dependency

So imagine being thrown into a grownup life when being fifteen or even ten. Essentially this is how I have felt most of my grownup life. Yes, I had my achievements, I occasionally acted as grownup, but I sure as hell never felt like one. And you know, most people don’t talk about it because it is embarrassing. How do you say, you know I am thirty but I keep acting as if I was fifteen? Furthermore, you keep looking at your peers around you and it just confirms what is wrong with you…

I am far from where I should be in my life based on my age. For most of my life I have tried to avoid taking major responsibilities. There is a solid reason for that behaviour. Actually several reasons. One of the main ones is the fact that my mum would always shame me and tell me that I would never manage without her….And guess what if you tell this to a five year old child at the same time threatening to leave her, it actually is true. But weirdly the message sticks with you. You start imagining yourself being helpless and not being able to take care of yourself…Lets face it, this is the subconscious purpose of your mother telling you this…for you to never leave her or for you to obey or else…

So I have spent my whole life not wanting to take care of myself and not feeling like I was able to take care of myself either. Facing the reality of having to do this is tiring, scary and so many other emotions…I never learned proper self-care, proper self-management because most of my life circled around my mum and making her happy. I am prone to getting attached to other people and making my whole life about pleasing them. This habit serves as a good way of taking attention away from myself and having to cope on my own.

So I am finding myself in a situation where I am finally facing the not so pleasing reality where I am responsible for my own life and man does this life not look good at the moment. Sure there would be a way to describe this in a positive way, but I have given up on false pretences and am going through a period where I am facing myself in an honest manner. And the honesty tells me, I have lived my life hoping someone else is going to come and save me and take care of me. Essentially because no one did in my childhood. This is not going to happen nor do I want this at this point. But spending years of your grownup life hoping that and being emotionally conditioned to live this way, let me tell you, you are missing out on some pretty important life lessons.

So this is going to be a slow starting new chapter in my life where I am finally trying to take responsibility myself. It is not going to be pretty until I get a hang of it, but oh well….

Over-estimating the potential interest of opposite sex

I read about an interesting study on men frequently over-estimating the interest of a woman. It turns out that men that had anxious attachment were more often guilty of guessing that the woman was more interested in them than she actually was.

I have been soo often guilty of this. I have even made up relationships solely in my head. I have also convinced myself that the guy I was into was actually not happy with their girlfriend and harbored secret feelings towards me. All it took was really some flirting from guys side. Today I dare to admit this, even though I still feel that it to a degree shows me as desperate or at least as this girl with some fixation on chasing guys who are not really that into her. More importantly however, why do I do that?

I do not have a clear cut answer, so this will be more of a tentative discussion. So I think one of the reasons is me seeking approval. I want to be liked and appreciated. So if someone gives me even a tint of appreciation, I make this important in my head. I start fantasizing. It becomes a challenge to get more of this appreciation.

However, if it was only about appreciation, I would not dismiss guys who show obvious interest in me. But I think it is ultimately about challenge. I need to feel that it is not an easy appreciation. Otherwise, it looses its value. I imagine that guys whose interest is hard won, somehow are more special. If one really needs to work to be liked by them, then this liking is worth more, right? That means that I have more value???

I am sure that half of the time, if I actually did have a possibility to have a relationship with any of these guys, I would bail out. I would realize that I have grossly over-estimated my interest in them, just because I was so unsure about how they felt about me. So I am left to guess that it is all about winning the love of a distant and judgmental caregiver. Trying to gain the attention of someone who never really gives you enough, but might give you some hope at times.

Of course, people that actually really like you, hardly ever behave like that. But see, my caregivers, who stated that they loved me, did. So this is what I from now on equate with love. My mum would probably to a date not want to admit that her love is more of a selfish – what can I get out of you – attitude than any form of unconditional love. SO essentially there was a gap between her words and actions. As she continued to claim that she loved me, I learned to find really small signs meaningful. Meaning for me it is enough if someone flirts with me or says something nice. I mean, this is more than my mum has ever done anyways.

So my guess here is that people who were trained to accept little and who adapted for pleasing their caregivers in order to get even tiniest amount of appreciation, might end up overestimating the interest of the opposite sex. See, they never knew that their parents did not strictly speaking love them and that this is not by all means how most of the population expresses love. So thinking that the guy who sent you a smile and looked at you longer or a guy that added you to facebook must be into you, does not really seem like over interpreting the signs. After all, they were trained to be the detectives in finding the smallest clues in order to prove to themselves that their parents did not lie to them when they told them that they love them.

Whether to cut someone out of your life or just disengage emotionally?

There are people in my life that I have emotionally distanced myself from and then there are people that I have cut out entirely. There are so many questions related to this topic such as: why would you disengage from certain people but keep them in your life or when do I know it is the correct time to cut someone out entirely or do I do the right thing by emotionally disengaging? So I will try to discuss at least some of these questions here.

During the last years I have cut several people out of my life. I am here not talking about some random acquaintances, but really, close people. I have also emotionally disengaged from a number of people. One of the people I have emotionally disengaged from is my mum so I am going to use her example for the first group.

First, why have I emotionally disengaged from her? My mum is unpredictable in a sense that you never know what kind of reaction you will get. One moment she goes out of her way to show you how little you matter to her (not even maliciously, it is subconscious) and the other moment she feels that she should somehow be a good mum and be nice. What happens when you invest emotionally? Well, you get hurt, sooner or later. See, when I invest to someone emotionally, I like to be consistent. I am willing to accept expectations made on me and I expect that I can have certain expectations on them. But what do you do with a person that is completely inconsistent? Well, I have not yet found a way to be close and accept such inconsistency. Hence emotional distancing.

Now, in the second group is my former best friend. Why did I cut her out? She was a good and close friend and a support person. She was reliable and had many good qualities. However, I understood that she was all that as long as the relationship functioned on her terms. She could not accept criticism on her actions and she could not accept my borders. Instead she kept pushing and our friendship ended with a big fight. I felt there was no way of keeping the friendship and keeping myself. Either I kept the friendship and played based on her rules only or I kept myself and my identity. In that situation, I chose myself.

So I guess for me it boils down to – are the actions of the other person harmful for me or are they just acting somewhat aloof and disengaged. If they are aloof and disengaged, but bring significant benefits with themselves, I can maintain the relationship. I only make a pact with myself not to overinvest (this is a struggle on its own). If, I however sense somehow that what the other person does is violating my borders and it cannot be negotiated then cutting them out if the way to go.

On paper it seems simple and logical, however in real life, with emotions everything gets messy and you are probably only able to make certain conclusions about the situation in hindsight.

 

Parents that ignore their kids problems

My whole childhood went by with my mum ignoring my problems or telling me to take care of them and somehow not bother her with those. Perhaps the clearest examples were my illnesses. I had a stomach flu a lot when I was a kid and I do not have a single memory of my mum actually getting up at night and doing anything for me. Mind me, the earliest memories I have are from the age of five. At this age I was already completely independently getting up and sleeping in the bathroom because I did not want to ruin the bed. My mum still talks about the one and the only time when I actually vomited in the bed and how troublesome it was for her. Other times when I actually was shaking and sleeping in the bathroom, well she treats as normality. This is how it should work.

The situation is completely different when she is ill. She once asked me to come to the countryside and take care of her when she was ill in the middle of the night before I was supposed to move to another country the next day. Yes. She was not even supposed to be there sending me away to another country, because she had her vacation.

This habit of hers to show remarkable indifference towards my problems still shows. We do not talk about my problems. The most personal I can get with my mum is talking about my work. Overall we usually talk about her life and her work. Just like we did throughout my childhood.

If my problems became so big that they were impossible to ignore, like me considering suicide because of the bullying and finally confessing to my mum, she sent me away. She sent me to the psychologist (which was quite a good move). Mind me not the paid one, but a school psychologist which was for free. We never ever talked about the issue again. She had successfully delegated the responsibility for my problems to someone else.

I learned that no one cares about your problems. I learned that you should not even bother other people with your issues. Furthermore, I learned to take care of other people’s needs and problems and not even expect any kind of mutuality there. I also did not have any successful skills in resolving my problems, because no grownup ever bothered to give me any advice on solving them. So for most of my life my problem solving skills remained to the level of five year old.

I hate that there is a part of me that still longs and wishes that mum would care. That she would show for once interest in how I have managed with all the issues in my life. But no, she is usually there to take the credit for my achievements but never there through my hardships. I just had to write this post about my current feelings. More analysis will follow.

Struggling with intimacy and mutuality in friendships

I have spent most of my life being afraid of showing people my real feelings and the real me. Well, most of the time I was even not sure myself who this real me was. The truth is that I have always had my depressive episodes. I have done my best to hide those. I have done my best trying to always appear upbeat, not create any waves – in general be low key. My basic fear was that if I set any demands or stress on the people that surround me, they will abandon me.

I spent my mother’s illness receiving very little support from anyone. Some people in my life knew, but most of them just pretended to forget. I did not make any waves about the lacking support, except with my boyfriend at the time who decided to distance himself. All this time I felt secretly abandoned, but I did not make any waves, because I was afraid of loosing the people in my life. It did not occur to me that people who never even ask how my mum is doing during the chemotherapy might not really be my friends…

AT the age of 31, I have to accept that I have no idea how to form close friendships. How do you create friendships where there is mutual support and closeness? I would not know, because I do not think I have ever had such kind of friendship.

When I look at the current relationships in my life, I have to admit that most of them are alive because of my continued effort. No kidding. It is mostly me that seeks contact. It makes me feel devalued and unimportant. It also makes me wonder if there is nothing better out there. But am I really ready and deserving of this something better myself?

Not having close nor trusting relationship with your caregiver really takes a toll on your relationships. Not only romantic relationships. I think there is an abundance of literature focusing solely on romantic relationships, but I am talking friendships. Friendships are often even more challenging than romantic relationships, because there is no warrantee. Romantic relationships become more stable through marriage or moving in together, but friendships…..Will they ever achieve the kind of security and mutuality that I am looking for? Clearly there is a possibility for that, because I see people around me who enjoy these kinds of friendships. It is just that I am finding myself in the situation where I myself do not have this in my life.

Controlling through depriving

For the past weeks I have been working with my trust issues regarding other people. Namely, I had the type of controlling mother that used ‘the take away’ tactic a lot, meaning she just threatened to take away her support, my home whatever that there was to take away when I did not do as she pleased.

I can use a good recent example of this as I am currently visiting. So my mum wanted me to clean the attic which for her is a bit more uncomfortable for various reasons. However she asked me five days before me leaving. Since she still needs to be next to me and supervise, I did my best to find a common time. I then quickly realized that my mum had four days of my staying already reserved and in fact there was only one particular day she could have done the cleaning. When I told her that no can do, I have plans for this day already, she threw a hissy fit and then promised to cancel one trip which we have planned together for the summer.

Each time she does these things I am thinking whether I should stop the contact altogether. I have mixed feelings in relation to that, partially because stopping all contact seems quite extreme and I think I would miss the occasional keeping in touch, on the other hand also because she being in my home country and offering me a place to stay comes in handy. But I understand that she has always been manipulating me with taking away these very benefits like the accommodation, but also her presence and connection. It somehow feels a bit like keeping in touch with her makes me weak and vulnerable and still susceptible to such threats.

It is exactly the same pattern which existed with my ex as well. My ex would give me his support until he thought I had done something that displeased him and then resorted to threats – threats of leaving me, verbal assaults, silent treatment etc. I was constantly being punished for disobeying.

There is a lot to discuss on this matter still and I am in the process of ruminating over the matter.

Unhealthy ways of dealing with negative emotions

As I am brooding over my deal with dating, I am coming to understand that I have adapted completely wrong practices in dealing with negative emotions from my childhood. My practices vary from instant gratification to ignoring, but very little of my energy has been directed to actually dealing with these negative emotions. But lets delve on the topic a bit closer.

My habits are quite likely copied from my mother. My mother has versatile ways of dealing with negative emotions, one worse than another- firstly of course diving into work, but then also food and alcohol. Lets not forget shopping – my mother’s apartment is filled with stuff she will never need. She is also good in taking her emotions out on other people, mostly me. Finally, she is also good in denial, you know if I do not acknowledge these emotions exist, maybe they do not exist at all.

I would continue with my unhealthy habits, but the sad truth is that you can pretty much copy paste the last paragraph. In addition, however, I have also taken the approach of seeking emotional nurturing. It is not necessarily bad thing, I think it might even be one step closer to healthy ways of dealing with my emotions. However, the way I do this, is problematic. Namely, I tend to think that if I just replace old love with some new love interest, I do not have to deal with the sad and painful emotions related to the old one – Quite common, actually, and the prime reason why people hop from one relationship to another.

But…I do not want to do this anymore. As I was going through guys who have sent me messages, I realized that I am too emotionally exhausted to date. In fact, what I am looking for is emotional support and not some new date. It is unfair to expect that a new date is somehow going to resolve my issues from a guy who ghosted me. So, instead I am going to do something which I have not done before. I am going to wait with dating and I am going to take care of my emotions, my pain……MYSELF.

“Fighting for love”

When I was fifteen my father reappeared and wanted to establish some kind of contact with me. Mind me he had earlier occasionally shown up and met with me for one evening and then disappeared again. My very skeptical reading as to why he wanted to connect with me at the age of fifteen would be that, he assumed that most of the work of child-raising would be done by this point and he could reap some rewards of having a child.

However connecting with me did not exactly go as planned. Namely I was distant and mistrustful. I had trouble opening up and talking to him which was obviously not something he expected. In his mind he was hoping for a daughter who would embrace him warmly and give him some of the love he was missing in his life. The idea of having to rebuild the trust at this point was not part of his plan.

So it did not take long for him to disappear again. Even if it seems obvious that it was my fault, subconsciously, I think I have always held myself accountable for his disappearances. I mean how else would I explain that when my ex disappeared, somehow I believed him when he explained to me how I had made him disappear. How relationship with me was so draining that he had no choice but to vanish for months. I looked at other happy couples and felt myself like a total failure, because I somehow made my boyfriend want to run away from me and not even keep in contact with me.

Interestingly enough when my ex reappeared, it was not him who had to work with regaining my trust. No, instead it was me who somehow had to fight for not having him abandon me completely. This sounds perverse as I write this here but I think even today there is a part of me that keeps asking – why don’t they want me? Why does no one want me enough for them to invest and fight for their relationship with me? Why do I have to fight for the right to have them in my life instead?

It is apparently these types of men I keep looking for. The kind of men for whose presence I have to fight for. The kind who disappear and reappear or make me work for their attention and love never giving me enough security about the relationship.

It has taken me for years to understand that on some level I have taken responsibility for my father’s assholish behavior. That on some level I thought his disappearances spoke more about me than about him. I also understand that just because I now understand rationally that these disappearances should not speak of me, emotional understanding might take a while, still.

My dysfunctionality

Today I am feeling dysfunctional. Becoming and being dysfunctional has been my darkest and worst secret over the years. Even the feeling of being unlovable does not compare to that one. I have yet no idea how I got into believing that I was dysfunctional and later also to a degree behaving like I was. Or maybe I do.

I look at my mum and for years I did not like to visit her. The place was a mess. She was a mess. There is more to say here, but I am not really going to. And you know there are things which you can easily overcome, like you learn to wash yourself more often. Or you learn to actually comb your hair. Or you learn to cook. But then there are things which you really cannot overcome.

You work until you are so tired you cannot work anymore. You keep irregular hours. You do not follow your spending. You are a slave to your emotions. You get into relationship with people who challenge your functionality further. You ignore your pain, both emotional and physical. You ignore your needs. Where would you have learned that you have needs to begin with?

And all this talk and thinking about dysfunctionality seems rather fuzzy. I do not yet understand why I feel so dysfunctional. Why this has always been my dark painful and ugly secret which I tried to hide from others. But since these feelings are starting to come up, I assume that I will find out soon enough.