If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “Lenora, you’re SO emotional,” I’d be a rich woman today. Were you subjected to this denigration too? Does it ring any bells? If Grandsire Triples are going off in your bell tower, my sympathies. Let’s explore this phenomenon together, shall we?
First, the hard truth. At times all humans are overly emotional. We are human and therefore at times we are indeed too emotional. What can I say? Sh*t happens.
But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about situations where we felt valid emotions, strong emotions, appropriate emotions. Situations where other people impatiently shamed us not only for feeling these emotions but also angrily shamed us for daring to express them. The legacy and ramifications of this shame is with us still today.
I remember back to a particular scenario. Oh, I must have been about twelve. As usual, Dad and Mom were seated at the kitchen table discussing “she.” Not “Lenora.” Just “she.” They always used “she” to discuss me in the third person. I sat at the end of the table, miserably poking down a tuna sandwich, watching mute and powerless as my fate was impersonally discussed and decided without reference to normalcy nor my emotions.
The topic on that particular afternoon was how to preserve my modesty against the dreaded “riding up” nightgowns are apt to do at night. Of course, sleeping with my bedroom door closed was never considered as a valid option. Privacy was anathema to my parents, so I slept for thirty-one years with my bedroom door open.
Apparently, my father often looked in to check on me at night and had seen a bit too much. I believe he came in to cover me up, but my memory on that detail is hazy. They finally decided that their uber-feminine daughter would wear men’s boxers at night. The perfect solution!
I was horrified! My fury at this blow to my femininity knew no bounds. I tried to express my anger, but was immediately banished to my bedroom. Seated at my desk, I scrawled my rage on page after page of notebook paper. To her credit, Mother read the furious letter. The memory grows blurry, but I was probably shamed for my “not nice” emotions. And, of course, they made no difference anyways. For the next few years, I would don the hated male underwear every night.
The theme of being “too emotional” is woven into the fabric of my life. And I believed it! God help me, I never questioned the source of this criticism usually originating from Dad.
Yet, even in my brainwashed state, an element of doubt crossed my mind. The sulfurous smell of hypocrisy.
I didn’t come home from work each night gibbering with rage. But he did.
I didn’t rage daily over my co-workers’ incompetence for half an hour. But he did.
I didn’t grab neighborhood children by the hair and scream at them. But he did.
I didn’t spend hours studying radar speed guns to “beat the rap” of a simple speeding ticket. But he did.
I didn’t pummel the air with my fists in rage at an uncontrollable cough. But he did.
I didn’t pass out on the floor from raging while coughing. But he did.
I didn’t kick out a door and throw furniture. But he did.
I wasn’t perpetually depressed. But he was.
And he called me emotional!?! Talk about the pot calling the kettle.
But I digress…frequently.
Now I see that my emotions were simply inconvenient for him, but not invalid. His inhumane treatment of me naturally stimulated normal human emotions. My emotions were, in the words of Mr. Darcy, “natural and just.” But he wasn’t having any of it. He demanded total control, but resented paying the emotional piper.
He demanded I wear men’s underwear, but not be appalled and angry.
He isolated me from my peers at age sixteen and continuing for eighteen months, but I was a bad girl for being upset.
He threw my homeschool papers across the room, raging at me until I broke down in sobs, then forgave me the next morning by quoting, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
He drove me to OCD by the constant rages and criticisms, then tried every method to shame me into giving up my one-and-only coping mechanism.
He forced me to dump Glen, my only enjoyable date (age 27), then demanded I immediately and happily pick up the ol’ fiddle and join him in a jolly good jam session.
He forbade moving yet, and impatiently labeled me as having “B.O. of the Personality” for being unhappy living at home, suggesting I devote more attention to decorating my childhood bedroom as a “play house” coping mechanism.
He made romantic relationships impossible, and impatiently suggested I needed to prove my seriousness about finding a spouse to God by “getting my heart right with God” and perfecting my homemaking skills.
He raised me to be a spineless, boundaryless, servant-hearted wimp, then blamed me for being “so emotional” when my coworkers walked all over me.
I could go on and on, but you catch my drift.
Of course, at some point, a logical person in this illogical situation concludes that emotions are dangerous. Emotions are the problem. Becoming catatonic suddenly looks pretty darn good. No longer will the sneer of “You’re so emotional” sully your life. You won’t be ordered to “Wipe that look off your face.”
To be catatonic is to be safe.
I must have been brilliant at it. On more than one occasion, Mother gushed, “You give up everything so easily.” Friends, field trips, parties, age appropriate milestones, dates, sexy clothes, relationships, travel…normalcy. They forbade it and I showed no emotion.
You only whimper the first few thousand times, then you learn to keep the peace. Self-expression doesn’t get you anywhere but hurt.
Unfortunately, the legacy of catatonia is numbness. Well, you can still feel anger and pain, but you can’t cry. Not for yourself. Nor from your own pain. After all, the pain is invalid. And to mourn invalid pain, is to have a pity party. And they aren’t allowed either, are they? Certainly not!
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But banish emotion at your own risk. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. When you banish pain, you also lose the ability to deeply feel joy, happiness and love. And forget about being in-tune with your intuition and gut instinct. Ain’t happenin’.
Life becomes a well-rehearsed charade. We may smile and laugh, go through the motions of running the emotional gamut, but are we really feeling it as deeply as a “normal” person? I think not.
Just another facet of the rotten legacy of being raised by narcissists.