Therapy Thursday

I am so tired. That’s my main thought. Also sad. But tired predominates. It’s grown chilly and windy here, leaves starting to fall. I zip up my jacket all the way, pull down my hood and cower in.

I’ve still been going to therapy, one night a week, when it’s already dark. By that time, I am worn out. I’ve been coping all day, and I can’t just stop coping because suddenly it’s therapy time. It’s really difficult to unzip emotions when I’ve been holding them in for the work week.

Last session seemed like more of a lecture from Ron than me exploring my feelings. I guess sometimes it’s good to hear what he thinks about my situation. Just I don’t end up exploring my own feelings for that session.

Last time, the theme was my family. I’d explained how tired I was on the weekends, and sad, and mostly couldn’t function. He said holding in your feelings will make you tired. And that I need connection, but am surrounded by people who have profound difficulty connecting. Like my family. My mother, who is mostly silent, or if she talks, keeps things to the most superficial topics. My father, who will talk, but only about what he wants to talk about. Then I have some friends who tend not to be the warm and fuzzy type.

So what do you mean by connecting then?

Ron says connecting is when someone is able to listen, not just in order to jump in with their own stuff, but really listen and care, and respond to what we are saying.

Yeah, I don’t have a lot of people like that in my life. Well, none. Though I do have conversations with my ex where he does listen, and care. Just…..well, he doesn’t have huge tolerance for talking about difficulties – like many men, he feels his role is then to suggest solutions. But at least we have conversations where we are responding to each other.

Then Ron says some things about how emotions are meant to be social – they’re a signal for others about us or the environment. But in my family, emotions are not attended to, so they go underground. I guess the idea is for me to find people to connect better with. But of course, I don’t do that. I sit at home because I’m too exhausted to go out.

I’d say my relationship with my co-worker is somewhat connected. I try to respond to him, and sometimes, he responds to me in a caring way also. For instance, I said I wasn’t sure if I wanted to accept the contract extension, and he seemed worried that I wouldn’t, because then I’d have no income. Worried for me. Which I appreciated.

So maybe staying home and being sad isn’t what’s called for – should I be out and about while I’m sad? That’s not attractive to people. I guess if you have family, you can be sad and they can support you, hopefully, but if you’re by yourself, as I am, that isn’t an option.

The other point Ron had was I could demand more from my family. Say I am not in agreement. I don’t know how I’d do this though. They do everything by omission – they don’t inquire, if I say I’m having difficulties – they don’t want to know. If I insist on talking about a problem, they will likely listen politely, then change the subject. It’s just an absence. How do you fight an absence? It’s shadow boxing.

I tell Ron I don’t see them much anyway. He replies that I do see them, however. And I could stand up for myself. I just don’t see what that would look like.

A general theme of the therapy has been that I’m withholding my responses to people and situations, making me tired. So for instance, I’m not telling the boss how I feel. Well – you can’t. If you want to stay employed.

I did tell my co-worker on Friday I would have quit the job if he hadn’t been there. Which is the truth. Our chats provide a cushioning of all the stress. If I have a strange interaction with the boss, I can run it by him for his opinion, and it helps. Plus he tells me bits of his life, and I tell him bits of mine.

I leave therapy feeling a little dissociated, cut off from feelings. It’s not an unusual state. It’s good to get Ron’s views, because often, the session is chaotic with parts and big emotions. I think the main way therapy helps me though is when I can tell bits of my story that were hidden, and he accepts it. Which didn’t happen this time.

How do I know if his theories are what will help? I can’t tell if they’re true about me. I’ve known since my teen years that my family is not nurturing. Though now I can see more the specifics of what that means.

  1. Ashana M said:

    I guess you can’t know until you try things. I think the connection is important for you because, underneath a lot of this stuff, you really like people and like being around people, and when it isn’t too scary, you feel energized afterward. It doesn’t seem to need to be deep connections, but any connection–like the one with your coworker. I think it is more important to you than it is to me: you are naturally more social than I am perhaps, it’s just that you have all this anxiety about it to deal with.

    I can tell you my experience with emotions and fatigue: trying to manage strong emotions in any way is tiring. I was tired when I denied them and I am tired when I let myself feel them. Either way, they are utterly exhausting. Feeling them, I at least have the impression I am getting somewhere, so then I am more hopeful and that makes it easier. Keeping them in was also depressing. There seemed to be no end and no cure to the fatigue when I kept them in. That was worse. But I did learn to live in a way that conserved energy, and I think that helped me later. When I am really overwhelmed, I know automatically what I can cut out of my schedule. I don’t feel guilty about it or “failed” like I’m suddenly an inadequate female. It used to be a huge internal crisis to stop keeping the house very clean or not cook all the time or to order my groceries in. Now, I can be pragmatic about it, because I worked through the feelings of inadequacy mostly having to do with my gender role.

    These days, I do what you do. I go to work, and i am social there. Then I come home and collapse and don’t talk to anyone. But I do connect in another way to the people I can be more “real” with, because I write in my blog, I check in with my blog friends and some of the friends far away that I communicate with online. But I need to manage my feelings mostly. I can’t also manage social relationships. It’s too much. When I am really overwhelmed, I do even less of that. I come home at lunch or in the day, so that I can collapse. This seems to help.

    Being around people too much makes doesn’t give me time to process my own experiences. Being in parts makes understanding ones own experiences inefficient and it takes a long time. It’s hard to be “in the moment” with other people and respond appropriately when the internal communication is blocked and slow. It takes longer just to know my own opinion, because the feelings and thoughts have to find their way around walls inside me. Before you can share your experience with other people, you have to have some idea of what it is. Emotions are meant to be social–I really think Ron is right about that. But they are also signals to ourselves, and I think we have to understand the signal to ourselves as much as we need to allow it to communicate to others.

    So I guess it comes down to balance, but it’s so hard to find the balance when what you need is more of everything. I do know you can’t force yourself to trust people you don’t trust. You just end up with more fear to have to manage.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ashana. We do have a similar issue with fatigue. I was especially struck by your thought that I’m actually fairly social – I’ve thought of myself as an introvert for a long time, who doesn’t make friends easily. But it’s true – I do get quite a lot from being around other people, if I like them. Today though was a counterpoint – we had a team lunch, informal, and I felt so depressed, I could barely talk. I felt I was dragging the whole group down, and was so angry with myself for not being at least a bit outgoing. I just couldn’t do it. Take care.

  2. Cat said:

    Ummm…Ellen… this might be the first time when I don’t see eye to eye with the delightful Ron! I’m not too sure what he means about emotions are meant to be social and about them being a signal to others about us. Emotions may well play a part in our social interaction, but I think they are largely private. I tend to believe that people – including me –carefully chose the signals we give out and very often they will be the opposite of the true emotional state. I mean, no one in their right mind would want to share in that entanglement! Perhaps this comes from a man who has a totally messed up concept of “connection”, but I’m not yet at the point when my emotions are balanced enough to want to start sharing them. Maybe I’m getting the wrong end of the stick here

    Yes, I agree you probably do need to stand up for yourself more and put yourself forward. However, that’s easier said than done when you’re shattered after work. If you weren’t doing so much internal work (and holding in) maybe you would have more energy to go exploring. I think this will happen in its own time and that might not be until you finish your therapy.

    As for what I think he’s suggesting about family nurturing. Am I right thinking he’s advocating that you speak to your parents and/or expect more nurturing? I’m not sure about you, but it sounds similar to my parents, and expecting something more on the emotional front might just end in disappointment.

    • Ellen said:

      Interesting how you see emotions Cat. I don’t have great control, so I feel often I’m broadcasting distress, which puts others off. I don’t think emotions are solely social, but it’s an interesting thought. When we were young children, we did urgently communicate our emotions to our parents… would have been unthinkable, before a certain age, to hold them in. So I can see the origins of this theory.

      I hope you’re right that I will get more energy! As to my family – no, Ron is not really saying I should try and change my family. They’re not about to change, same as yours, unfortunately. But then, it’s unclear what he’s saying. Maybe more that if I do see them, I should try and express what I need to, regardless of their reactions? Or quit seeing them altogether, if we can’t have any kind of connection at all?

      Thanks for the comment. Take care.

  3. This summer, I finally accepted my parents inability to nurture me. No amount of standing up for myself will change them. I just get frustrated and feel more hurt. I stopped interacting as much as possible with my family of origin. Hugs. I so get the feeling of tired from holding in emotions. take care.

    • Ellen said:

      I am sorry your family is like mine in that respect. I don’t interact much with mine either. It’s kind of lonely. Thanks Ruth. Hugs to you.

  4. Gel said:

    I appreciate so much what the other commenters have written….all of it helps me and I can relate to what they said.

    I also can relate to what you wrote Ellen.
    It could be that tiredness is a sign that you are holding emotions in. But that doesn’t mean you should let all emotions fly out spontaneously in every situation. To me emotions are information about deeper ‘needs’ and values. Being aware of emotions and bringing to awareness what they reveal about my needs is helpful in making decisions choices and actions about how I relate with others. (my difficulty is that it takes me time to process this and in most social situations that processing is not possible).

    I still wonder about if it would be helpful for you to do some structured skill building with Non-violent Communication and or something like Re-evaluation Co-counseling. Those are models I am familiar with but I’m sure there are others. The point is that maybe finding a process that is in between just being by yourself at home alone, and doing one on one therapy…..and going out into the world in social situations like dances and at work where you are just trying to cope with the standard social expectations….something in between where you get to practice in a safe setting. Just a thought.

    I like Ron’s description of connecting. I think his explanation of what emotions are for is only partially true. They have more purpose than just being signals to other people.

    About what Ron said about you could stand up for yourself with your family and you could demand more from them….well you COULD do that, but is that the best place for you to seek connection, nurturance and to practice standing up for yourself? I wouldn’t want to put a lot of my energy into that. I’d want to find a different group or social setting to seek those things.

    Wishing you the best.

    • Ellen said:

      Maybe some time I’ll look into courses like that. Right now, I’m just too tired. I think too Ron’s explanation is only partial. I’m sure that’s not his whole idea. It was more that when I withhold all of my responses, such as anger with the boss, that is fatiguing. That is not to say I should go into work and give the boss a piece of my mind! What I do with the anger is a different story, but recognizing it is important.

      Ron didn’t really suggest I could change my family. He doesn’t think that. I’m not sure what he is suggesting exactly – some form of authenticity I guess. Yes, it would be much more likely to be a good interaction with different people. Just, as I am seeing my family – I haven’t cut them off – what is a response to them that preserves my self respect.

      Thanks Gel.

      • Gel said:

        I wasn’t saying that I thought Ron wanted you to try to change your family. And of course, I can’t really know what Ron was suggesting….and I know you haven’t cut off from your family. I totally relate to your last thought: “what is a response to them that preserves my self respect. ” That is something I face with some members of my family too. I haven’t cut them off but I seek a way of relating to them that doesn’t continue the hurting in me….like being retraumatized. To me it has come down to learning a new kind of boundary or how to be “detached” and have some distance while at the same time still being present with them. It’s not easy.

  5. Jay said:

    It is not easy having a family where the unspoken rule is for members to put up facades. That void you speak of can be gutwrenchingly lonely. I so related to the silence… Of what is left unsaid, or should I say unfelt! It makes sense that you haven’t been given enough experiences of expressing a variety of emotions in a safe context as part of your development. I think your gut will be able to tell you whether your family is worth investing in or whether to find new people to use your growing skills on (I see a slow but steady growth that is taking place on your blog!). Good luck x

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