by Beth M. Anderson
“I didn’t recognize it until the divorce was nearly final. If someone hits you, you can say that is physical abuse. If some one calls you names, you call that verbal abuse. No one tells you what emotional abuse looks like.”
Coming from a home where my parents were alcoholics, this resonates strongly with me. By the time I sought out therapy I was 31 and my mother had been dead for over 10 years. My father was sober and living with his second wife, theoretically a better man than the one who was sort of there while I was growing up.
My therapist, Heather, and I went through the same dance every week for almost two years.
“How do you feel?” she’d say.
“I think I’m doing okay,” I’d respond.
“How do you FEEL?”
“I think I’m having a pretty decent week!”
“How DO YOU FEEL?” she’d ask again until at some point I’d catch on and start my response with “I feel…”
One day she asked me “Why are you always here? All of my clients skip appointments, or they change them, usually when they get close to some realization but no one, NO ONE but you ever shows up on time, every week, week after week.”
“It’s the only way I’m going to get better, right?”
And it was, for me, and I did get better. Those feelings though, they were the big take-away for me. Getting in touch with how I felt, really felt. Even figuring out what a feeling was took months! See, drunks care little about your feelings, and they are constantly telling you that you are wrong. So you learn to distrust yourself, because when you are a child you look to your parents for guidance. Even when the guidance is bad, that’s still what you learn, so at some point you start doing it to yourself. Telling yourself that it’s wrong to be sad or mad or happy or whatever feeling you are having because the adults in the room are unable to cope with your childishness and big girls don’t cry.
I finally learned and internalized that feelings have no right or wrong, they just are, and I have a right to feel them. It’s what I do after I feel them that matters, and that took another three years of work to feel stable enough to go out on my own into that scary, unpredictable world where what you think is valued and what you feel is dismissed. Almost twenty years later I’m changing my tribe to people who value feelings more than they value what is thought, and the world has shifted once again.