In this lifetime, I haven’t been very good at emotions.
Not feeling them, not identifying them, and definitely not sharing them. Much of my personal work has focused on this area and that last one about sharing my emotions is a huge stretch for me. It’s just so freaking hard to make myself vulnerable. But I’m trying.
When you’re afraid of strong emotions, you come up with all kinds of ways to avoid them. Not just your own emotions either. You also have tactics for steering away from other people’s feelings if for some reason you weren’t able to avoid them in the first place.
As I force myself to share how I feel so I can have intimate connections with the people in my life, I’ve learned some things. One is that I’ve been a bad friend. Like being handed a mirror, I recognize myself in some of the responses I get that don’t feel good. I’m also learning how lonely it feels when the other person doesn’t connect with you during your moment of vulnerability.
Here are some of the maneuvers I would use (and let’s be honest, still do sometimes).
Reassurance. Hoping it will help you feel good instantly, I launch into a pep talk about how great you are or how you handled it fine or how you can do this(!).
Solution. I start throwing out pieces of advice about what you should do so we can focus on a plan that will make you feel better instead of how you feel right now.
Reframe. I tell you how if we just look at the situation a little differently, then you don’t even have to feel the unpleasant emotions at all.
Share. I find some similar situation in my own data bank of personal stories and tell you all the details so we can just stay on the surface and avoid the emotions underneath our experiences.
I think I’m helping. I think I’m connecting. But I’m not. I know that now. As I force myself to be vulnerable and share when I’m in pain, I have felt how those responses make me feel like my emotions are wrong and I shouldn’t be feeling the way I do.
I get why I do it. I’m trying to move us both away from painful emotions and into “safer” territory. I feel so uncomfortable that I assume the other person is too, and don’t we all just want to get the heck out of there?!
Those maneuvers don’t just invalidate the other person’s emotions though. They also don’t acknowledge that this is the other person’s experience and they are the ones to decide what we should do. Moving us out of that vulnerable place isn’t my job when the other person is in pain.
Being on the other side of it now, I realize that I usually just want the other person to listen. I’m scared enough to share. The last thing I want is for the other person to be scared, too. I want them to hold some space for me and not fill it up. I want them to see me without grabbing my hand and trying to haul us both out. These are the things that make me feel connected and loved. That’s the friend I wish I’d been and want to be now.