Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Need for Emotional Health

Even though my wife may see it differently, I am the dad I am because of the failing of my own dads (step-dad and bio-dad).  I will touch on this from time to time.  What I want to talk about is something that has shaped the way I relate to everyone, especially my kids.    

For lack of a better term, I'll describe the household I grew up in as dramatic.  My mom was dramatic.  My older brother was dramatic.  If my sister was dramatic, I didn't notice because I thought that was normal.  Maybe dramatic is not the right word.  So I will describe the situation and I'll let you tell me how the environment was.  

As the youngest, in a household that was ordered by a literal chain of command, I was careful to try not to make rub anyone the wrong way.  There were individuals in my household who I had to gauge which mood they were in before continuing to enter their proximity or engaging them.  When they were upset, I was just a fly on the wall.  When they were in a good mood, I would hope that it would last so I wouldn't end up subjected to the whims of mood-swings.  I learned to listen to how things were said to read people's moods; word choice, and what became issues and what they let slide.  I watched body language to see how they were feeling; repetitive motions, signs of exhaustion, or frustration. 

As a private in this military family, I HAD TO follow orders of my older siblings.  I could not say no, or I would be subject to Court Marshall; getting beat up or something.  The buck stopped on me.  There was nowhere else for it to go.  I saw how someone else would get yelled at, and it would only be a matter of time (usually minutes) before that anger was thrown at me.  I would most likely get berated for something that had nothing to do with me.  I noticed as consequences did not match the crimes committed.  It felt like I was often put on Death Row for running a red light.

What kind of relationships does this dynamic create?  Unhealthy ones.  In me, I learned to shut out my own family.  The words that they said, no longer had any real meaning anymore.  I was subjected to verbal bashings, but at a young age, what I thought was not letting them bother me was actually internalizing it.  Since I never dealt with what I was told I was (selfish, nothing, lazy, etc...), it creeps up every now and again.  I squashed any reactions I may have had to teasing and prodding when I learned that it was the reaction that was the goal.  In other words, I stopped showing anger, or anything.  Even now I don't like to be angry, because I think it takes me back to being a little kid who has no control over anything. 
In others, they learned to let their emotional whims take them wherever they pleased because they had me to make them feel better.  Whether that was ranting and venting at/on me, forcing me to go joyriding in the family truck, even though I didn't want to, so they wouldn't be in trouble alone, or waking me up in the middle of the night to yell at me to do tasks and chores at 3 in the morning.  I shut down and became a drone, and they were enabled to become narcissistic.  

What has been the lasting effect?  I am diligently guarded, and closed to almost anyone.  In instances that should be very emotional, I am not; I don't know how to be.  Both years in high school when my football team lost in the playoffs, my friends and teammates were brought to tears, especially our senior year.  I was not.  I was detached from the feelings and the emotions of the game.  Nothing at funerals. Nothing at tragedy.  I understand what emotions others are feeling, and what I should feel, but I just don't feel it.  I get wildly uncomfortable when anyone outside of my wife starts getting to close to me.  She has cracked this shell, but I don't know if I can open up to anyone else. 

As a dad, I am conscious to never address my kids in my own frustrations, anger, tantrums, etc... I do my best to act out emotional responses for her to see how her actions have an effect on others, but I don't do anything brashly, or without thinking.  At least, I don't think I do.  But I DO know that I do not yell at either kids in anger.  I have a loud voice when I need it, and I use it as an attention grabber, and not as a punishment.  My only worry is will I be able to teach my kids to be emotionally healthy when I don't think that I am?  

I know I am able to let my kids know what to expect when they see me.  I am never gonna snap at them.  They will hear me yell only to be heard over noise, or the get their attention when safety is a factor.  Consequences have more of a lasting effect when delivered calmly as a natural effect of their actions.  

Sometimes I feel like I want to open up to a couple close friends, I just... can't do it.  


1 comment:

  1. Take care of your emotional health. Eat the right food and always avoid stress. Have some time to relax your mind and body.