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Hooked on Not Feeling

My new therapist said something last week that has been stuck in my craw for the last seven days… and you know how I feel about keeping a tidy craw. I talked with her about how I often feel numb instead of feeling emotions. I numb my anger. I numb my sadness. I numb my happiness. I get accused of being poker-faced. I’m considered cool under pressure, but “dead inside” in those moments that should be joyous. Numb is my status quo. In response to this, my therapist said that I lacked the “emotional infrastructure” to feel my feelings and so I numb them.

First off, slow clap for the term “emotional infrastructure”.

Secondly, as disturbing as that initially seemed, it rang true. Last week, I was angry, anxious, fearful and embarrassed. My response? I froze. For long periods of time last week, I froze. Unfortunately, I didn’t freeze during designated freezing time. I froze when I was supposed to being other stuff. The fall out has not been good. It can be fixed, but I’m stuck here feeling like a little afraid of my emotions turning on me and rendering me into a slobbering mass.

If you do actually see me out in public slobbering, a courtesy napkin would be awesome.

I am forced to deal with the fact that I am a highly emotional person. I am also forced to deal with the fact that I might be emotionally incompetent. Or that my emotions are a foreign language to me. It makes me question everything. Am I happy? Am I happy enough? Is happy even the goal?

Numbness feels safe. Well, it used to.  It used to be that feeling numb was a good way of avoiding the highs and lows that the “emotional” people I once mocked were so prone. I wouldn’t get caught up in fits of anger. Or embarrassing shows of exuberance. Or uncontrollable sobbing. Nope. Instead, I would laugh. People, generally speaking, like laughter. So, I became the guy who laughed no matter what his emotions said he should actually be doing. Only now, I don’t laugh as much. Now, I get bouts of paralysis and the label of being unapproachable or at the very least unreadable. No, numbness is no longer safe. It is a survival mechanism that has outlived its usefulness. At one point, it helped me to fly under the radar. It helped me to blend in. Now, it’s become a bit of a conspicuous maladaptation.

One of the things I love (and miss) so much about my kids is the genuineness of their emotions. When they’re happy, they laugh. When they’re angry, they scream and cry. At some point, society will try to break them of that. I may even try to help society out. I feel like I can learn a lot from them right now. They live in the present in a beautiful way. Their memories are short. They forgive and move on quickly. They’re not angry about things that happened months ago.

I fear that one day I’ll get in deeply in touch with my feelings and bust out sobbing. Or rage out and destroy windows. Maybe I’ll laugh hysterically like a lunatic. I equate emotions with “instability”. I hope that I can get to the place where I can see emotions and their proper expression as the epitome of stability. Right now, I’m content to be numb. It’s what I know, and even though it is clearly no longer serving me, it is where I imagine myself to be safe. I desperately want it to be okay to feel. I want to feel safe with who I am…

About derricklweston

Father of two. I co-host God Complex Radio, a show highlighting progressive voices in the faith community. (godcomplexradio.com) I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. I like lots of stuff. Sometimes I write about that stuff.


One thought on “Hooked on Not Feeling

  1. Courageous post. As my therapist has often told me, awareness of one’s issues is huge. It means you’re making the turn and working toward being healthy. Much better than being in denial. Your post also reminded me of Pink Floyd: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pinkfloyd/comfortablynumb.html

    Posted by prespreacher | March 23, 2015, 11:49 pm

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