Start with stuckness
I grew up in a family that was emotionally constipated. The only permissible emotion was anger usually accompanied by yelling, shouting and SCREAMING.
Though I may have been kissed when I was a baby, it’s a time I never remembered. So – so what? Like mostly all mothers of that time they were constantly yelling.
Our mother was constantly criticizing my sister’s and mine every move, phrase, appearance and yelling when we didn’t fit her ideas of perfection, I guess. Our father was a picture of vitriolic rage of a beet exploding in a pressure cooker with an implicit threat of violence always there ready to strike. He’d exercise his rageful right arm and fist by shouting at those damn Democrats on the tv news.
He told me once: “I made a promise never to hit my kids, like my father did.” Well he broke that promise with me a few times. But did that phrase mean that he would never hit us or he wouldn’t do it exactly like his father hit him? Like so many things that never got answered.
The “highs” of emotion are temporary
My mother seemed to be sad and anxious about 70 percent of the time and mad the rest of the time. One time she burst into my room when I was 13 or 14 in her dramatic and explosive way. I was relatively happy and ensconced in building my plastic clipper ship model and I just burst into tears for no apparent reason.
“You’re such a cry-baby,” she told me. “Be a man.”
It took me many years to realize that I had been feeling her emotions and then acting them out.
Stoic Death Dealing in a fortress of, well… walls
In our family crying wasn’t tolerated. My cousin’s young daughter or five or six died and I shed some tears when I found out. My mother, father and sister looked at me and regarded me strangely.
In February 1973 a phone call came in and my father somberly announced that his sister, my Aunt Rosie had died. Nobody talked about it being good Catholics and all but she had died due to complications from suicide. I went into my bedroom and cried for 45 minutes. My parents didn’t cry. Nobody at the funeral cried either. It was all that stiff-upper-lip-New England, Connecticut Yankee kind of thing.
Full expression of grief is not permitted in some cultures. Much of the grief is rationalized, fragmented and suppressed, repressed and denied. Loss, grief and sadness goes “underground” and often becomes righteous anger as a defense against the “weaker” vulnerable feelings.
vitriolic rage of a beet exploding in a pressure cooker
In general, we as humans have a problem with loss of any kind. We hate being deprived of anything even if its detrimental to our health. When I stopped smoking cigarettes over 35 years ago I replaced it with breathing cleaner air.
When a person dies or spirit leaves their corporeal body we experience a loss that overwhelms the senses and is heartbreaking. Nothing is quite as impactful as the death of a loved one. Even if we experience them in the realms beyond the loss of the body it is often only briefly. Our attachment to the sensory world shapes our identity and its loss is a stunning and overwhelming event that can produce a variety of results.
Depending on how we were raised, how we express our grief, and the layers of grief that may be caught in our musculature, skeletal or organs for many years may be expressed in somatic pain. If raised in an emotionally constipated family like me, where the predominant emotions expressed were fear/anger based then we may be ensconced in an atmosphere of grief without realizing it. This could be characterized as a personality stance where security is sought by idealizations of the past projected on a present or future. This is a set-up bound to trigger feelings of loss and addictions to power-powerlessness dynamics that repeat in a variety of addictive cycles.
Living in the past where the rent is cheaper
Living in an environment where generations of fear producing anger suppresses the so-called “weaker” or vulnerable emotions produces cycles of denial, suppression and repression. This, in-turn, produces greater and more elaborate cycles of frustration within generational family systems keeping the expression of grief at “acceptable” levels and thus preventing its release in the moment.
Through many years studying and treating many people with mental / emotional health (illness) issues I realized that I was the stronger person in my family because of my willingness to display my vulnerability emotionally. I lived through it felt wounded and recovered from it. I learned that I was the “scapegoat” or “identified patient”. My mother, father and sister placed / projected their unexpressed feelings onto me. I acted it out for them and they blamed and shamed me for having done so.
Often wounded people unable or unwilling to express grief and sadness are seeking feelings of constant love either in a relationship, through an addiction and/or excessive physical activity. They may go from relationship to relationship, maybe marathon runners or be addicted to a substance or activity to feel full or feel at peace or feel happy to the exclusion of feeling empty, unloved, anxious, depressed etc.
Living in peace with a mess of emotions
Finding the equanimity of a neutral place inside, observing fleeting joys, happiness, sadness, grief and loss seems to make life, loss and grief bearable and allows for a kind of magic to emerge. From a tolerance of emptiness, stress, anxiety, loss and grief comes a tolerance to these feelings – that they are only temporary. The “highs” of emotion are temporary as well. From that in-between place where the compassionate neutral observer dwells comes a love that has no object and a realization / embodiment that the pursuit of happiness is an illusion. As I work to shed that illusion inner happiness is mine albeit temporary in a world of ego.
Here are a few mistakes where we betray ourselves:
– Trading in the idea that more money will make us feel safe (greed is good)
Using money to express love – that’s what my father did. I think many people are stuck in the “more money will make me feel good, safe – happy, satisfied etc.” The trouble with that is the “more” part is never ending. Addiction to money, when enough money is achieved then money is also power – do as I say not as I do and so on.
One day I decided that I had enough to live on and I allowed my feelings to change.
– Living in the past
This is especially true past the age of 50. Longing for the good old days. The use of memory to paint a better picture of the past rather than the full picture. Basing present decisions on premises that held together in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
One of the best techniques I learned along the way is the Socratic Method or asking questions and receiving answers. This method allows us to be connected to others in a forum of community to assist in solving problems – community problems when more than 2 people are involved in the method.
– Looking to a thing to make us happy
In short consumerism, we have been trained out of citizenship into buying stuff. (and throwing that stuff away into a dump that has become the nightmare of a world that will kill us aka the Climate Crisis.)
The real stuff is the love that binds us all together and tolerating the differences when love falters. I’ve been thinking about how to move my life into a greater sustainable place.
What does it mean to live sustainably?
And finally, at least for now
My father died on my birthday in 2006. He visited me three times around the time of his death and once about 6 months after his death. Since then he has been around a few times. I have a better relationship with him now than when he was in a body. I am able to celebrate my birthday without the sadness interfering with my happiness and joy.