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Freezing your feelings

(32 Posts)
mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 09:28:48

Probably not quite the right place but I just don't know where else to put it.

I have been having counselling and my counsellor has been trying, gently, to get me to express my feelings. He has noted that I never cry or become tearful or upset and we established that this was not because I had an audience - I never do. This is related really to the deaths of both parents when I was very young.

We've established I suppose that I've just numbed a part of myself. I know this prevents me forming relationships - I don't feel things properly any more.

So I know this but how do I change it? I know in counselling I'm supposed to find the answers myself but I just don't know. I wondered if anyone who had been through anything similar could help.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 10-Jan-15 09:35:35

I don't think you have to be demonstrative or overt in order to feel emotions genuinely. I often read threads here where people claim to be sobbing their heart out or going into a rage over something they've read in a newspaper that has no direct impact on them or their lives and quite honestly wonder if they are emotionally unstable. Express yourself your own way rather than worrying that you are not reacting the 'right' way.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 10-Jan-15 09:38:37

Can I ask how long ago did your parents die and how old were you at the time?

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 09:51:36

Cognito thanks for replying smile

I was 14 when I lost my mum, 19 when my dad died. (I am 32 now.)

Then some other stuff happened which wasn't pleasant.

I know what he's getting at - not that he wants me to fall on the floor wailing! - but that I've detached from it. I can remember what happened but I have no connection with what happened - "it happened to someone else" is a feeble explanation but honestly that's how it feels.

I haven't been in a stable relationship, ever, and it's linked. I know I freeze people out - not friends, but potential partners. I'm not making much sense I know - sorry!

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 10-Jan-15 10:05:13

I think detaching is a pretty healthy approach actually, Not suppression or denial ... not pretending it didn't happen.... that wouldn't be good. However, I'm very sure I've read about a strategy for coping with the suppression of trauma which is to retell the story enough times that it becomes 'the story' .... a manageable narrative that can be examined like you say as if it happened to someone else... rather than refuse to revisit it because it means recalling the pain of the trauma. Once someone gets to that point they can understand, learn from and live with their memories.

GoatsDoRoam Sat 10-Jan-15 10:09:27

It sounds like the problem in your current life is that you find yourself unable (or unwilling) to form stable relationships.

What do you think is blocking you?

Perhaps your therapist feels that if you can accept that you were hurt, but you survived, then you will be willing to take emotional risks again in the present. (wild supposition here, of course)

KouignAmann Sat 10-Jan-15 10:11:44

I was like this OP and went to a wonderful BACP counsellor who specialised in Experiential Focussing. I found her by chance when my life was in a total mess. She recognised in my case I had been sent away to boarding school very young and had learned to wall off feelings when life gets difficult. She taught me how to let the feelings come back, then dealt with the agonising fallout that caused.
Five years on I am a happy emotional warm person and I owe her so much.

I tell people it was like I was living life in black and white and she showed me how to see colours.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 10-Jan-15 10:15:26

If you can make friends you are not emotionally frozen btw. Intimate adult partnerships are a tricky thing to manage however. Requires a lot of compromise, trust and ... to a certain extent. ... a willingness to make yourself quite emotionally vulnerable to another person. It's a risky business, it's painful when it goes wrong and I'm surprised more people don't opt out quite honestly. smile

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 10:19:17

Thank you smile

Goats, this is the issue, I just don't know.

Kouign thank you. This is where I am at the moment and I don't know how to let anything back. My counsellor has tried (very gently) to encourage me to write a letter or draw a picture of me as I was then and I don't know, I can't do it.

I can make and keep friends but even then there is a little bit of distance - people have commented I "hold a lot back."

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 10-Jan-15 10:27:52

So you're a private person rather than heart on sleeve.... It used to be a quality people admired. 'Stiff upper lip' etc. Post Diana if we're not all renting our garments over everything midly sad we're regarded with suspicion. smile If you'd like to be less guarded and more open, & if you think it's a problem, then all you realy have to do is share something personal and answer questions honestly. 'How did that make you feel?' as Sky News so often demonstrates, can be a redundant inquiry

KouignAmann Sat 10-Jan-15 10:31:49

The approach I stumbled on was very surreal and when I tried to describe it to friends they thought I was crazy. It involved relaxing in a safe place then being led through an exercise to concentrate on the bodily sensations and describe them then let them alter as they wished.

For example I might have a feeling of a hard blue knobbly lump in my chest that hurt when it bumped my chest wall. But with attention to it it might soften and go pink and move up into my throat and get fluffy edges and make me cry like a baby. There was no attempt to interpret this or comment on it, just to experience it. Apparently this approach works for people who are stuck and using rational thought to block progress.

I know this sounds very woo and trust me I am the most cynical rational scientist ever, but it maybe you need a creative medium to get past your defences. Hence your therapist trying art.

I have always been the friend that people don't hug in a group, just shake my hand or pat me hurriedly, but even that is changing.

I think you are on the right track here, just keep looking around for the right key to unlock things.

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 10:39:12

Cognito - I am not sure that's quite what I'm putting across here. I obviously appreciate your thoughts but I'm not "just" talking about being private or "stiff upper lip" - I am of course smile but I didn't used to be: as a little kid I would wail when I fell in the playground or whatever grin

I do of course admire my tendency to be able to carry on - it's got me this far - but just the same I don't want my life to continue as it has as while I have survived I have largely survived alone.

The reason I think you've misunderstood is this - If you'd like to be less guarded and more open, & if you think it's a problem, then all you really have to do is share something personal and answer questions honestly.

No, no x 1000 - that isn't what I'm getting at at all. I will happily chat away to people as evidenced here and one of my friends and I have a particularly bizarre friendship where we will inform the other of even bowel habits! grin (There is a backstory to this!)

But, I lost my mum at 14 and I didn't cry then and I haven't cried since. Ditto with my dad. A few tears initially as it was sudden but then nothing. No tears over homelessness, the loss of a child (won't go into that) or a thoroughly misspent and chaotic youth.

Since having counselling I have remembered random remarks and comments, meaningless at the time but I remember someone commenting that I dealt with a difficult work situation by "disappearing" - I would go outside and read rather than engage with difficult colleagues at lunch; one friend said "you hold a lot back" when we were tipsy one night; one person commented that I'm a "closed book."

I am NOT saying I'm going to tell my life story to people but I know - I know - what they mean. It's a wall I've built for protection but now it's so built into me I don't know how to tear it down. It's preventing me really letting people in (even properly my lovely counsellor who has got closer than anyone else but it's still not there) and stopping me accessing the one thing I want which is a partner and family of my own.

Please, please, don't shrug it off; it's not talking to people. I can do that. But I can't feel, properly and sometimes I don't even feel properly human.

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 10:40:52

Kougin thank you smile I'm an avid reader and love writing but can't for the life of me write to myself!

I like the colour thought though. I "see" things in colours. It is like a scar that's so much a part of the skin you could never extract it but it's not separate, it's just there.

KouignAmann Sat 10-Jan-15 10:48:34

mytartan I get where you are coming from totally. I can blether on to strangers about things and am told I am a very open person which I am about anything superficial and unthreatening. And in a crisis I am brilliant because I laugh and joke about awful things and keep the team on track.

But what you are asking is hard. You want to fundamentally change the way you interact with people and the way you deal with hard issues. Have you ever looked at Anne Dickson "A woman in your own right" ? It is the classic work on assertiveness and while not obviously relevant I found it hugely useful in giving me strategies. My default response was anger, it sounds like yours is shutting off.

Don't despair. You have identified the problem and that is half the battle!

pdxs Sat 10-Jan-15 10:50:46

Hello Tartan -

I'm writing to you based on experience (differerent start point, but not dissimilar result!) - I think it is very obvious that losing parents at a young age would rock your sense of stability in the world, and that 'numbing off' part of yourself is one way that people both cope with being in a painful situation, and help themselves feel safe ... sounds like this has been what happened to you

If i understand correctly, you would now like to work on this, to be able to form a partnership...

The key will be forming a close and trusted relationship with the counsellor/therapist you are seeing - so you feel safe to open up/let feelings come up that you havent in the past

How long that might take would depend on LOADS of things - your inborn nature, your experiences, what is happening in your life now, how you feel about your counsellor, and how they work

Having a strong 'therapeutic frame' will help you feel safe - so going regularly, at same time, and maybe weekly or more (like 2 x week if you are able)...

I think if you work out the best therapy for you & stick at it you will see the progress you want ... good luck x

KouignAmann Sat 10-Jan-15 10:51:18

Ha - you are already getting there. You are using random similes! grin

inneedofsomeclarity Sat 10-Jan-15 10:56:37

This really resonated with me as it describes how I feel, but until I read your post I genuinely thought I was alone in this. It is nearly impossible to put into words and because of that I have never tried to verbalize it. I have just come out of a 12 year relationship and am fine with that, feel little sorrow over it and when I look back, can't remember what it was like to feel anything for him, although I know I had loved him. Also I can't imagine having a loving relationship with anyone else in the way I see other people who have them. Not got any advice but just wanted to say I understand and to offer support.

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 10:57:19

Many thanks smile I am already going once a week at the same time - can't really afford more than that at present. I have been going for 3 months now.

Kouign - cripes, do I have an emotional twin!? That is JUST what I am like. Calm, efficient and smiley in a crisis. The truth is that it just doesn't effect me like it does other people.

That's interesting about the anger / shutting off. I think one of the other problems is that I have never valued myself much - at all really. That's definitely improved since starting counselling.

KouignAmann Sat 10-Jan-15 11:08:39

Hello inneed and welcome to the sisterhood! I once looked at my 3 DC and said to them "I am quite fond of you all!" which made them laugh. For me that was a major emotion smile

I think people like us are very useful to society. We can deal with blood and guts, being under fire, terror and disaster, because we hold it all together and carry on in a crisis. That is probably very damaging to us but we dont feel it. The emotional ones who cry at facebook pictures would be useless.

However if this is getting in the way of forming close relationships it needs addressing. My DP now is a wonderful person who totally gets me. He will say "I quite like you" which is code for "I utterly adore you and worship the ground you tread on!!"

OP you are not unusual as this thread shows, and it is possible to find a likeminded mate who will understand you, but the most important thing is to accept and like yourself for who you are, scars and all.

IrenetheQuaint Sat 10-Jan-15 11:19:12

I am a bit like this too. Occasionally my emotions break through at inappropriate moments confused

Alongside the counselling, it might be worth you seeking out things in everyday life that soften your edges a bit - whether that is music, dancing, physical experiences like swimming/massage, animals, children etc etc - and observe their effect on you.

Also, as Cogito was saying, do avoid the trap of thinking committed relationship + children = happiness... it's a lot more complicated than that and the people I know who have had most trouble in relationships are those who think life is meaningless without one.

ohthatsokthen Sat 10-Jan-15 11:25:25

Hi Tartan, I know exactly how you feel. What you are describing is a coping mechanism. Because you have lost parents at such a young age, its a way of protecting yourself. I do think unless people have been through some form of trauma it is hard for them to understand. I had a very disfunctional childhood and the only way to get through it was to be strong and not let things hurt me, I don't get emotional or sentimental and never get worked up about things. I too thought I would never have a relationship and then met my DH he "gets" me. He knows I find it very hard to form attachments to people, in fact he is the only person in my life I have ever trusted but even so I would never put myself in a position where I am dependent on him. I find it very easy to walk away from people and situations with no emotion. I am not a cold person but I will not allow myself to be vulnerable or put in a position where I could be hurt (I am just very pragmatic about things) I wouldn't beat yourself up about it, you are who you are and there will be somebody out there who is the right person for you. My post isn't really of any help but just wanted you to know you are not alone in how you feel. Under the circumstances I think you have done bloody well to get to where you are flowers

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 12:05:37

I'm certainly not stating that children and a partner equal happiness, but to remain single and childless for the rest of my life because I feel unlovable, is pretty tragic.

I understand people are being kind when they say there's someone for everyone, but for me perhaps it is different - I'm 32 and haven't ever had a boyfriend. That isn't normal.

fizzfiend Sat 10-Jan-15 12:58:08

I think sometimes control over emotions stops the emotions from becoming too overwhelming. I wish I could control my emotions more sometimes.

This may sound trite and ridiculous, but my first thought was maybe watch a movie alone, a tear-jerker with perhaps some relevance to your situation, and just allow yourself to cry. Wipe away the tears and carry on. It does certainly help to cry sometimes as we release toxins in sad tears that the body needs to release.

SelfLoathing Sat 10-Jan-15 13:11:25

It's the "not forming relationships" part that is the issue here isn't it?

There is nothing wrong with never crying if that works for you. Honestly, I would love to be like that - in a lot of situations it can make you a very powerful person. If I never cried, I definitely wouldn't want to change it for the world.

You may see the crying as the issue - but I honestly don't think it is. I'm sure you can address your fear of relationships (And probably also a rational (given your experiences) fear of being abandoned) in counselling. The crying is a total red herring.

mytartanscarf Sat 10-Jan-15 13:17:20

I didn't mean the crying but the feeling.

This isn't a post saying "oh I can never cry" - it's "i can't feel."

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