Talking

I’ve been doing a lot of talking recently, mainly at my counselling sessions. What have I learnt?

Philip Larkin was (almost) right… A lot of the conversation has been about my parents (plus their siblings/family and my grandparents). In particular what their behaviours and interactions were when I was growing up and therefore what role modelling I have been subjected to. The layers of generations and layers of psychological fucktitude that I have inherited.

I have found it particularly enlightening, because I was rather under the impression that I had rather an uneventful, benign childhood – I wasn’t abused or deprived. Yes, there were certain members of the family that were difficult from time to time, but I never felt directly unwanted or unwelcome. And yet…

It seems that there are a lot of subtle things happening all around in the interplay of family members that one doesn’t really understand as a child but some of these seem to get taken on board and shape attitudes and behaviours in unexpected ways. So, for example, my mother could be slightly uncomfortably clingy and overly affectionate when I was a teenager – which I found embarrassing and awkward and therefore pushed back. If I thought about it at all I had just thought it might be her not wanting to accept eldest child growing up growing away and reacting to that. However, I can now see another possible reason for her clinginess was perhaps something lacking in her relationship with my father, which was being subverted. My father being, like me, not particularly emotionally literate or aware his actions were distancing, leaving my mother rather looking for affection elsewhere. So I had not only the poor role model of my dad’s distancing emotional behaviour, but also developed a resistance to being emotionally pushed.

There are two main things that I’m working on at the moment in relation to all this. Firstly, is that I don’t give myself space to think about these things. At work I’m busy on work stuff, at home I distract myself with web and TV, and on my commutes I like listening to podcasts. So, one thing we’re trying chez nous at the moment is an evening per week free of TV and internet. It’s only been a couple of weeks, so far – so possibly too early to assess any beneficial effect.

Secondly, the realisation that I’ve never really had to work hard at things or been forced to practise stuff. Nobody made me do my musical instrument practising as a child, I found exams at 16 a bit of a breeze (to get relatively good grades), A-levels similarly not difficult study-wise. University was a huge step up and I struggled a bit there, but manage to scrape through without too much effort.

I’ve been relatively fortunate career-wise with a few lucky breaks and only one sticky patch without work (which May would attest left me rather bereft). I’ve also usually been able to do the things I enjoy at work and not so much of the things I didn’t like/have an aptitude for (again there was a time when I really hated my boss/job for a while and again May will tell you how I was completely incapable of dealing with it – however, luckily again, I was able to find a sidestep out of it so I didn’t have to really ever deal with it properly). Likewise my family and relations didn’t seem to put much effort in to practising anything really. So, when May says to me ‘yes, emotions are difficult – you need to practise expressing/acknowledging/dealing with them’ I have no frame of reference as to what that means or what to do.

This of course spills over uncomfortably into working at relationships and of course working at trying to have a child… it hasn’t been easy and I’ve certainly not been prepared for the hard work and persistence, which has, of course, upset May on occasions when I’ve been lagging.

I realise that it’s only ‘half the battle’ to identify some causes – finding how and fixing is not going to be any easier, especially if I have to work at it…

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10 responses to “Talking

  • a

    I can sympathize with you on many things, H. I wish you much luck in your practice.

  • Emily Erin

    I agree, emotions are hard and a pain in the to express to boot. Good luck in figuring out what things are bothering you and figuring out how to express it. I applaud your efforts– my spouse is less brave in this area than you, H. I think that most of us would likely benefit from a good hard look at where we’re coming from and what that means for our relationships.

  • Mina

    Hear, hear!
    I hope that your journey to expressing emotions is easier than you dread. Not distracting oneself with devices when at home will surely help. That I have discovered myself (major duh moment, I know).
    Best of luck. And thank you for the new word ‘fucktitude’ that has now entered my world. :-)

  • Korechronicles

    Figuring out the complexities of human emotion is a lifelong endeavour methinks. You seem to be going in the right direction. I like the technology free evening. I’m doing the same on Friday nights. When I get home from work the mobile phone goes off and I try to go without any technological distractions for 24 hours. I’ve got an awful lot of stuff I’d been procrastinating about ticked off my To Do list. And a lot of them are fun things not just dreary house stuff. Good luck to you both.

  • Valery Valentina

    It sounds so very familiar!
    goody two shoes here too. I’ve done my share of talking with my ‘BambiEyes’. Still not very fond of emotions (especially not the ones that make me unhappy) but I know now ehm, well, that the bad passes. That I don’t actually drown in them, that crying gives relief, that sharing helps.
    Most difficult I have found to accept that two partners going through the same crises may have a different emotional reaction at a different time. That that only means you are different people, not that you don’t love each other. Oh, and we can’t read each others mind.

    Good luck, keep going, small steps

  • L.

    H, you sound to me like a very smart and intellectual guy. I’m sort of in the same arena, live very much through my brain, and while I’m glad mine works well, it seems to actively resist letting emotions through. I’m typically kind of melancholy and dysthymic and until not that long ago my approach had always been to try to think my way out of it all. Or to actively distract myself (that whole always doing something/reading/listening/absorbing information technique). Sometimes one begins to feel like the brain runs the show and the emotions and body get somewhat shoved to the side.

    Then I took a course where I read what’s turned out to be a life-changing thought (here: http://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Way-through-Depression-Unhappiness/dp/1593851286/): namely, you cannot reason or think yourself out of negative emotions, and it’s in fact emotionally harmful to do so (because you end up ruminating over all that negativity). And I was also introduced to a broader but also life-changing idea, which is that the very practice of avoiding emotions, including or especially negative emotions, is equally harmful. This is not just some guy’s opinion, it’s proved! by science! But I’ve also found it true in my personal experience as well.

    I’m not very good about practicing mindfulness like I should, but even my awareness of the approach and technique has really turned my life around toward a perspective of mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude (for the good stuff), working with the bad stuff, and trying to be present in the moment. I’m a lot happier since I’ve incorporated all these things into my life.

    In your case practicing some mindfulness techniques would perhaps allow you to just begin experiencing more emotions in a somewhat neutral and safe way, and simultaneously to see what happens if you don’t let your intellectual brain (very talkative, if it’s anything like mine) run the show. It’s a bit similar to your internet/TV free evenings–intentionally removing the noise and seeing what comes through. Though somewhat derived from Buddhism, mindfulness is a theology-free approach.

    In addition to the above book, you can see a similar approach (somewhat more cognitive-behavioral) here: http://jayuhdinger.com/blog/success-does-not-equal-happiness/

    Anyway. i think this might be helpful for you, so just putting it out there. Good luck. It’s very hard work wrangling with all this, and I think the thing that makes this hardest for you and May is that you are right in the thick of some serious situational stressors. Any person would find this a challenging time, and so it’s much harder to break out of old patterns and mindsets when you’re just kind of struggling to stay afloat. On the other hand, I suppose these difficulties provide a lot of motivation to develop new tools to handle it all.

    WIshing you both all the best, as always.

  • Dr Spouse

    Thanks for this. Good to hear from you too. I am another one who found university a bit of a shock after school – though I did manage to change to a different degree course when I realised it was partly a poor fit.

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