Treading through Emotional Quicksand


It never occurred to me that I was shallow.  I can laugh, talk, emote, care with the best of Ďem, but I didnít realize that I was skating.  Not that laughing, talking, emoting, caring doesnít count.  Of course it does.  But if it becomes automatic, a projection of what I hope I am, want to be, while my insides remain unengaged then itís shallow because the emotions skate the surface while my vulnerable inside tries desperately to protect itself. 

I recently suffered a hurt.  Man, I hate typing that.  Like most people hurt is not an experience I enjoy.  My reaction is to freeze up, deflect and above all, never admit vulnerability.  Iím good at tough, good at walking away.  Definitely, I could win a prize for shrugging my shoulders and putting events in perspective.  But sometimes, I call it ďputting in perspectiveĒ and really itís denial.  Anger also works well.  Itís OK, maybe even admirable, to take responsibility where called for in a situation, but I tend to keep the anger towards the other person because thatís preferable to absorbing a hurt.  Except the hurt is still there, absorbed internally though unacknowledged, so it becomes a denial of emotion.  Like a deep muscle pain Ė no evidence of soreness shows on the outside but it still hurts like crazy when touched or moved.  My emotional habits work well for me when it comes to the everyday hits that life hands out, but when applied to what matters on the inside I become a frozen wasteland with a volcano underneath.  I can pretend that the hurt isnít there, but like a muscle ache, if I turn a certain way the pain leaks out. 

The biggest problem with denial is leakage.  If I walk into the bathroom and the carpet is soaked in one spot, thereís leakage for ya.  I can dry out the carpet but I darn sure better figure out where the water came from.  I have a choice between say... fixing the drippy faucet and assuming Iíve addressed the problem (that would be the big avoid) or figuring out that the toilet has a leak around the base and fixing what is actually broken.  Since a lot more work is involved in repairing the toilet, lots of times I choose fixing the dripping faucet and crossing my fingers.   

Emotions are like water.  They come in all forms and consistencies.  They drip, they puddle, theyíre hard, theyíre velvety smooth, and sometimes they are lighter than air.  When mixed together the sky is the limit as to what they turn into.  The only sure thing about emotions is that theyíre a part of life and denying their existence can be lethal.  At some point the dam will break and they will come pouring forth.  Like a drink of water, like a wave that washes over me, like a dam bursting or like sharp, sleety rain, the feelings leak out.  

We spend our lives learning self control, a highly valued commodity in our society.  After all, those with the most control (or appearance of it) usually win.  Iím not sure what they win or who gives out rewards, but the perception that those who accomplish most are somehow more talented, more self controlled that the rest of us mundane joeís who struggle to wade through the day, handling whatís on our plate.  My problem seems to be an either/or issue.  I can do self controlled, accomplishing astonishing amounts, conquering my list or I can do emotions.  Balancing the two sides well is a mysterious life-puzzle that I yearn to figure out.  If I were Oprah, Iíd hire Dr. Phil to tell me like he sees it and Gary Zukov to explain the deep motivations behind my actions.  But Iím not Oprah.  Iím plain old, ordinary person, Kathy and Iíve received a blow from someone I thought was a friend, someone I thought was emotionally safe for me, and I donít like that it hurts.  I want to be mad.  I want to shrug and walk away from the situation but those darn emotions keep leaking out.  

I watched a movie and it made me cry.  I donít like to cry and I donít do it much though often I wish I could for the release it offers.  I cried because a girl committed suicide in the movie, then I cried because my neighborís son ran away from home and I know theyíre facing rough times ahead, I cried because my husband couldnít bring home fried rice after the football game and darn it, I wanted some!  I cried for all those things and it wasnít until after I was done with my cry that I realized I wasnít crying about any of them.  I was crying because Iíve lost a friendship that I valued.  Dogonnit!  Those emotions leak out at the darndest times!   

It would be convenient if emotions could be taken out of a box and placed neatly in a designated slot but they are way too slippery and complex to obey rules.  Talk about sloppy!  Emotions roll out of a person and over the people around them.  The trick is to let the emotions flow and still show kindness and consideration for others.  Feeling grumpy?  I have a choice between acknowledging my grumpiness and staying out of the way of the irritating person in my vicinity or I can snap and growl which makes me the bad guy and doesnít improve the day of the person Iím venting upon.  Itís a routine on a balance beam which we begin practicing from birth.   

Some people donít bother balancing, accepting little responsibility for their emotions or the damage inflicted by their lack of effort to monitor themselves.  For instance, if a person says, ďIím sorry, butÖĒ  It usually means theyíre going to say something hurtful or outrageous but they donít have the guts to take responsibility for the pain their words might inflict.  ďIím sorry, but if you took better care of your children, they wouldnít be sick all the time.Ē  A person who declares, ďI just call it like I see it,Ē or ďI believe in speaking my mindĒ usually means, ďI plan to let my emotions spill out however I want and I donít care if they hurt anyone around me.Ē   Iíd always pictured myself as a senior citizen able to declare the outrageous with no remorse but the older I become the less that picture appeals to me.  I want to be someone with whom those around me feel safe.  I want to learn to balance the emotions with words and actions.  Feelings should be released and not bottled, but released tempered with kindness and consideration for those around me.  The balance beam routine keeps gaining in difficulty!   

It took a couple weeks of denial and a tear jerker movie before I let myself feel the pain of a lost friendship.  The sore muscle was there the whole time I just didnít touch it.  I realize how shallow Iíve been during my time of denial, skating by on surface emotions, unable to write much because I couldnít allow my mind to wander about freely.  Remember the phrase, ďcruisiní for a bruisinĒ?  Well, I was.  And Iím determined that the next time Iím cruisiní for a bruisiní Iím going to change the rules and say, ďbring it onĒ.  I want to face the emotions, deal with pain, and move past it, because I donít like thinking that Iím shallow.  My husband and children deserve a fully engaged wife and mother no matter how emotionally sloppy.  Bring it on.  Iím going to practice harder on my balance beam routine.  By golly, Iím going to learn to cry more often.  As for the hurt, like a sore muscle it will gradually fade and maybe, hopefully, Iíll learn a lesson or two, take a step closer to wisdom. 

PS:  Note from the editor (Katrina) - I have known Kathy Hardeman for years and of all the adjectives I could use to describe her, "shallow" is definitely not one of them.