The problem with growing up in a culture where feelings are rarely ever recognized and expressed is that a child can grow up and see themselves as a mind walking around in a body. Expressions are pacified through “intellectualizing”: getting out of the feelings and into the head. Many adults who model this type of treatment towards feelings learn techniques (like I did) of denying their own emotions from surfacing their external in fear of receiving judgement from the people around them or in fear that they might crumble if they choose to expose who they are and how they feel.
I attended a school for a long period of my life where bullies and bullying is not recognized by the teachers and the institution itself. So when problems and conflict between students arise, even the smartest teacher in the school didn’t know how to address the situation where a young student can gain social and emotional learning. It’s tough being a small kid and be bullied by boys and girls alike. When I’d speak to my teachers about it, they’d tell me to be a good Catholic and practice forgiveness. In other words, stuff it down, apologize to the other child even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and pretend like it never happened. I guess it’s better than telling a child to get lost. It was a cycle of experiencing my ego and confidence getting crushed by others for twelve years of attending the same school from kinder till senior high school. I didn’t say anything at home because I saw how my parents were already having a hard time with my elder sister (she was in high school then and I was in grade school). I was scared that I’d get in trouble for saying something and both mom and dad will give me a silent treatment. I was scared to be ignored and that I would feel worse than I already do. I learned to mask myself well both at home and school. I’d just tell my parents about the good things (academic stuff) and leave out all the rest.
By the time I’m in high school, I was a bonafide rebel. I’d skip school whenever I can and when that became obvious to my parents, I got into a lot of trouble. My parents thought there’s something wrong with me. Of course they did. They’d have a one way communication (talking-back-is-disrespectful) “blow out” sessions with me. For what it’s worth, I liked the ‘attention’ they were giving me but at the same time it makes me want to isolate myself even more and go far far away. I still didn’t have the nerve to tell them what’s going on with me. In my head, it would be like betraying myself and my hard work of masking. I was scared to lose the toughness that I needed to survive that God awful school environment.
In 2002, I graduated from high school and moved on to college. It’s such a relief to be in an environment where you are either admired or not seen. I had my first long term relationship (lasted for 5 years) with a guy whom I loved from my head. Everybody I knew were dating, so should I, I thought. Not recognizing and honoring my feelings back then has taught me a great deal of control: control on myself and control on the other person. I mastered stewing my feelings until it builds up and eventually boils over to a point of explosion. It felt good to explode and release the tension but at the same time, I felt the guilt that came along with it. That relationship did not last long because we weren’t real with each other.
I hated myself for being so horrible with myself and not really knowing how to create the change that I wanted to create in my life.
When I moved to the US and started working, I met a lot of cool people. I began to feel appreciated and valued. Thank you. You know who you are. One of the most remarkable events that happened to me during that phase of my life was when I recognized my own feelings of love, grief, and jealousy through the relationship that I have with one of my best friends (who is now my husband).
It’s pretty awesome being married to a man who has the same initiative as I do of working together to keep the practice of conscious partnering alive in the relationship. I can be angry without feeling judged. I can express my anger without exploding. I can say I love you from my heart and not be ashamed about it–or think of it as weakness. I can be happy and not associate it with shame. I can say ‘no’ without feeling guilty that I did not satisfy the need of the other person. I’m learning to let go of whatever control I think I have over something or someone. My relationship with my family has gotten so much better and secured.
Over the weekend, I attended a heart-opening ceremony where I saw my guide for the first time in 6 months. I wouldn’t lie, I get nervous every time I see him, thinking to myself, ‘oh boy, what is he going to see in me and reveal this time?’ He’s always spot on and doesn’t miss a thing. He saw how I disappear inside of myself and lose my expression when I interact with someone (in the most unobvious way to me). I am not aware that I do it. With his help I was able to dive in and navigate past the surface of my own darkness and sadness. I was able to get to a place of recognition and face the emotion that was laying underneath the surface of sadness, which was none other than emptiness. I got clarity. Why I fear emptiness is what I am exploring for the next months by practicing awareness of my own disappearances inside–it always starts with recognizing your own patterns and catching yourself in the act. I have to remind myself to handle it carefully and with respect because I know that I can be harsh with myself sometimes.
If you are like me who wants to break the habit of intellectualizing your emotions, see if you can find a person whom you trust and feel safe with (he or she can be a family member, a friend, or your partner) whom you can practice talking to about the things that bother you and notice the emotions that comes a long with it. Most of the time, the reason why we feel that we can’t express ourselves is that we don’t feel safe to express. Instead of ignoring the feelings, stay with it, recognize it. Stuffing seems like an easier route than facing who we are but it doesn’t do us any good, it can be damaging both physically and psychologically (ex. I know people who look 10 years older than their real age caused by stuffing so much of who they really are and how they really feel–it’s hard to pretend and mask the real self all the time). It can be destructive. Felt feelings bring emotional energy. How can we use this energy in a constructive way? We can use it to improve our relationships with the people outside ourselves, our friends for example. It is only when we are being ourselves, expressing, that we can truly deepen our relationship with another human being.