Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Simply Sadness

An opportunity is brewing.  I spent the day in my creative zone (decoupage for life, as I like to call it).  Nothing to complain about.  Yet, I feel down.  And, I feel sad for feeling down.

I had to remind myself of chapter 9’s reading in Engel’s Healing Your Emotional Self.  I learned a very simple lesson – feelings are just feelings, and there are only 8 or so basic emotions that humans can feel.  Being a human, this fact comforts me.  All of the countless other emotions?  Well, they are simply a combination of the primary emotions and are termed “social emotions” because they are learned.  Ugh, one more thing of my childhood that I have to un-learn.

So, just what are the primary emotions?  Anger, sorrow, joy, surprise, fear, disgust, guilt/shame, and interest.  The chapter focused on 5 of these:  fear, sorrow, anger, guilt/shame, and joy.  When I first read this, I thought, “What about my feelings of suffering and depression and hopelessness?”  According to Engel, those are words that “describe a more intense state of sadness” (145).  This makes things a whole lot easier.

If you ask me how I am feeling, I would tell you a string of adjectives about my current state.  All of these emotions are very overwhelming.  But really, when you get down to it, I feel sad.  Sad is manageable.  Another point of Engel’s:  Don’t view emotions as negative or positive.  “There are no negative emotions if you view all emotions as signals or messengers telling us that something important is occurring” (147).  This next part is really good.  “What makes an emotion negative is the way we deal with it and the interpretation we give to it” (147). 

I’ve always thought emotions were either good or bad.  A person can be either happy or sad.  If you are sad, you try to make yourself happy as soon as possible.  If you are happy, you try to keep yourself happy for as long as possible.  Today I am sad, and I feel very wrong about it.  Engel poses the question, “Was it acceptable to feel sadness in your home when you were growing up” (146)?  Time to reminisce.

Sadness was acceptable only when I was punished.  Sadness was expected.  This was a time, if I didn’t act sad, I would get into more trouble.  Somehow I was disrespecting my mother by being smug and thinking “this is just a game”.  I wanted to cry and scream and throw my Barbie doll across the room because of what a bitch she was being, but I couldn’t.  If I expressed any sort of discomfort or concern about her words or actions toward me, the war was on.  She would yell and curse and then ignore me for hours, sometimes days.  Enter punished and sad girl.  I remember going to a wedding when I was in around 4th or 5th grade and I balled my eyes out.  I let myself cry and cry and cry even though I was confused as to why I was crying in the first place.  I didn’t even know these people.  I told myself they were happy tears because of the wedding, but looking back, I see that the wedding provided an outlet where I could safely let out my repressed sadness. 

When I wasn’t being punished for the bad child that I was, my mother’s emotions ruled the roost.  I had to pretend to feel things that I didn’t feel.  Excited when she was excited.  Sad when she was sad.  Appalled when she was appalled.  She’d go from shunning me to my room for an entire day to hugging me and wanting to take me to McDonald’s.  I learned the definition of WTF? at a very early age.  McDonald’s it was.  So, I’d have to go from fake sad when I was really feeling shame and anger to being excited and upbeat and loving my cheeseburger that she bought me.  Oh, and happiness was only shown if she was happy.  If she wasn’t happy and I, for whatever strange reason, was, I’d get in trouble for being annoying or not caring about her feelings.  Holy shit, sometimes I wonder how I survived.  I learned to shut off my emotions.  I drifted through the days feeling whatever it was that I needed to feel as to cause the least friction.  That was my survival.

Are you crying yet?  Because I’m about to.  These memories sadden and scare me.  I’ve had many people in my life tell me that my emotions are all over the place and that they have to be careful not to stir up these emotions.  I don’t want to be her.  I don’t want to do to someone else what she did to me.  I don’t want someone else to have to find a way to survive when around me.
So here I am, an adult trying to make sense of my emotions and crack the code as to what it is I’m really feeling.  And now there’s the element of figuring out the messages behind the emotions.  I feel depressed and damaged, like there will never be an end to this confusion and pain.  My post chapter-nine-mind tells me this isn't so.

I am sad, and I’m going to let myself feel sad.  No judgments.  No shame.  I’m going to experience this sadness down to my bones, then listen for the quiet voice inside.

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