Friday, May 13, 2011

Little Feelings

I've been doing some thinking lately about the reaction of some (if not most) adults when a child throws a temper tantrum or becomes upset over something.  Some think it's horrible and judge the parents.  Others think it's cute and laugh at the child. They chuckle and then say something like, "Aw.  You hurt her little feelings!"

Little feelings.  LITTLE?

As I remarked on facebook recently, seems to me that feelings are pretty big things no matter how little you are.  (Or big.)  Every strong emotion can be overwhelming especially if you have no previous experience with it.  The first time something happens to a person - whether it's rejection, physical pain, betrayal, frustrated dreams, or whatever, it's a big matter how old you are: six months or six decades - or more. And if an experience is really intense, it can be devastating, even more so if repeated (or worse yet, repeated often).

Think of it this way.  Even ONE horrific experience can cause someone to come home from a war zone forever changed.  Irritable, verbally violent, obsessed, paranoid...the list goes on.  Is it too much of a stretch to accept that a child can be traumatized even in his or her own home, if that home is filled with strife? if every day is like walking into a war zone?  Emotions are emotions.  People are people.  Why wouldn't it be just as (if not more) difficult for a child as for an adult?

The sad part is, those emotions, when stifled, get buried really, really deep.  Then when we are no longer in that stressful situation and we are finally able to "be in control" of our lives, those psychological injuries show themselves in the form of either controlling (control freak) or care-taking (doormat) behaviors, or a combination of both.

There are a lot of unhappy people around; some aren't even aware how unhappy they are.  (I lived in that kind of denial for many years.)

I think these folks would argue that their feelings are not 'little.'  If they allow themselves to feel them at all, that is (perhaps afraid to feel them because they are so big).  Some wake up disappointed that they woke up at all, trapped in a deep depression they can't begin to describe.  Some are obsessed with controlling every last detail of not only their own lives but the lives of those they care about.  All of them wonder why - most of the time - they feel abandoned, unappreciated, fearful, and angry.  That was my life until early 2009.  Thank God that He allowed me to get into therapy!

And when I got right down to it, I discovered that it all boiled down to the suppression of my feelings as a child.  Out of intense fear, I learned to only express what was acceptable - and to live in denial of what my true feelings were.  To hold in disappointment, feelings of betrayal, hatred, sadness, and anger.  Oh yes, and guilt for succumbing once in a while and letting my feelings show.  Then resolving to do better next time. 

But they didn't go away just because I didn't express them. They came out in other ways. I developed survival behaviors during childhood - turning into a chameleon, seeking pity, throwing guilt trips, being a perfectionist - and these continued long after the danger was over. Especially after I had children of my own.  By the end of 2008 I had pushed my husband and children away from me and I felt so very alone, friendless, isolated, misunderstood, unappreciated, angry, you name it.  Dealing with my own childhood feelings was an important part of my recovery: learning that it was okay to express them, then reliving and allowing myself to express the feelings that I couldn't as a child, to face those experiences and come to a place of forgiveness - of others and of myself.  

So when anyone diminishes the impact that their actions have on another human being - no matter how old or young - I tend to be rather skeptical.  

Been there. Done that. Don't want to go back.

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