As a kid I tried not to show my emotions. I don't know why... maybe it was having two brothers. Actually, yeah. That's exactly what it was. I remember being a little girl watching horror movies with my brothers, and they would make fun of me and call me chicken if I hid my eyes or wanted to go out. So I would sit there and watch it and pretend I wasn't scared. Hence my fear of the dark until I was near 30 years old. And I'm not hyperbolizing. I tried to sleep with my mom until I was about 10. I saw The Ring in NYC when I was 22 and that was it. I could hardly get up to go to the bathroom by myself and I swore off horror movies for about 10 years. I'm good now, for the most part, but I still have to keep away from scary movies and even Steven King stories sometimes. I guess my imagination runs away with me and my inflated belief in possibility (for which I blame the American dream, of course).
Anyway, back to me hiding my emotions. The thing is that I'm very sensitive. I've read that sensitive people are perceiving more information from their surroundings than less sensitive people, and can therefore become overwhelmed. As a sensitive person, I notice a larger share of what is going on around me, especially other people's attitudes and emotions, and I can't handle it all sometimes. People become shaped by the world and respond in adaptive and maladaptive ways. I think I have a lot of both going on. And a habit born of nurture can be adaptive in some cases and maladaptive in others...
Take my mother. No really, take her. Wahaha. Just kidding. Never mind. My mom and I love each other like crazy and thanks to that and our special relationship as mother and daughter, we fight like banshees in the night. Do banshees fight? Let's assume they do. When my mom would fight with me, I would be sensing and experiencing so much emotion and I didn't know how to process it. So I would shut down. I'd pull my little turtle tail into my shell along with everything else, and my mom perceived me as I appeared: Emotionless. She called me the Ice Princess and asked how I could be so cold. Transmarginal-inhibition is the term used for "shut-down" in psychology. I still catch myself doing this, and it's not a healthy way to deal, or to conduct relationships. My mom didn't know, and still doesn't I think, that I am experiencing the opposite of her accusation. I'm not emotionless; I'm so emotion-full that I can no longer function with the coping approaches I currently understand. While writing this post I came across this info about sensitive people; It describes well much of what I experience and it's definitely going on my reading list. The Highly Sensitive Person: Book Review
I remember the specific incident at a dance recital rehearsal when I was about 8 that made me decide to start showing my emotion. I didn't know it at the time, but there at Gibbs High School I observed the effect that showing emotion had on someone else, saw that it created a more desirable atmosphere and relationship for the other person, and decided to try it for myself. In other words, I made a positive adaptive change. For once in my life. Ha!
...My 8th year was big for how my world shaped up. That's the year I got into my pool at home in a black and white striped bathing suit and my mom told me I'd have to work on my tummy. I asked her what she meant. She said something along the lines of if you want to dance you have to be thinner. I went under the water and cried. I've had unrealistic expectations of myself ever since...
But again, back to how I opened up. At that dance recital rehearsal, I gave a present to my dance teacher with my best friend. I think I handed it off stone faced, gave my teacher a hug, and ran off to my mom. I sat in the audience with my mom watching my friend sit with my dance teacher, and they were hugging and smiling and having a real moment together. I loved my dance teacher, but I didn't know how to show it. My mom said look at her. Then she said a lot of nasty things about how I would get more of what I deserved if I acted that way. My mom wanted me to see my friend's behavior and how it built up her relationship with our dance teacher. It was a really nice learning moment for me. Unfortunately, my mom usually taught me through criticism. She didn't mean to. Just as I didn't know how to show my love, my mom only knew how to show me the difference between right and wrong by criticizing the wrong in me, instead of teaching me the right. I saw my friend. I learned.
Also around that time I was learning pull backs. This is a tap step that is hard to learn, but once you have it, you're golden. There's like, a little magic to it, and once it clicks, you've got a really cool tool in your tap-tool box. Well, my friend could pretty much do it, and I couldn't. I was corrected and given heaps of constructive criticism and I would get more and more filled with sadness and embarrassment and anger as the class went by. I would contain my feelings adeptly. No one knew it but I was only showing my shell, and when I got into the car with my mom I would show my true face and wail it all out. Sweaty, in a leotard and tights, with the air as cold and windy as it would blow on my hot, red face. My mom, in her special way, would tell me that I should let that emotion out in the class. She said I would get sympathy, more attention, and more help to learn. This was my opportunity to show my emotion, so I did. And she was right. I stopped trying to be so strong. I allowed my tears to leak like they wanted to when I felt defeated. And the whole atmosphere around me changed.
From the negative perspective you might say that the "squeaky wheel gets the grease." From the positive perspective, which I infinitely prefer, I would say that I was more open and communicative. The people around me saw how I was affected and I gave them the information they needed to help me feel better and to help me learn. To this day, I highly value openness, honesty, and communication.
In life, it seems as though people will beat you up until they see they have gotten to you, and then finally they'll cut you some slack. By being open with my emotions, I save myself a lot of pain; a lot of beatings that I would've gotten if I appeared (pretended) to wield a strength I just don't have.
As for pull backs, that tap step I couldn't do... One evening at my house the dining room table was moved off the tile floor and we were going to have the tile cleaned the next day. I put on my tap shoes and tapped for hours that night. I did pull backs back and forth across the floor over and over and over again. And I got it. I did pullbacks for the first time that night, and I did them at my next tap class. My pullbacks were beautiful. They were more clear than any other student. Then and now, I could do pullbacks straight, sideways, in circles... I was awesome at them.
I guess overcoming obstacles really does teach you important lessons. I remember being an advanced reader in kindergarten. I could always spell. Those were never obstacles. On the other hand, I could never run and I could never do math. To this day, I am good at humanities related subjects and I can't run to save my life and I hate math. I didn't overcome some obstacles. But pull backs... I was 8. I felt defeated. I was trying and I was failing. More than any other skill I can pick out of my life, pull backs taught me that no matter what you do, if you keep practicing, you will eventually get it. Since I can do pull backs... and I shit you not I have been personally complimented by Savion Glover for them... I can do anything within reason. I overcame that obstacle in such a clear way. So many difficult times in life are so convoluted; it takes a long time to figure it out, to look back and see how and why things worked out the way they did. And with many things we never really figure it out. But the pull backs; that I figured out.
Sensitive people tend to have low confidence, and I have often said that I am the most confident insecure person that I have ever met. Tap dancing in particular put me in a hundred different sink-or-swim scenarios that helped my resilience grow. When I got to puberty and lost my first love my strength was tested and my choices to express myself to my friends and through poetry and journaling helped me heal. The single greatest thing to happen to me and help me be strong and resilient after suffering a broken heart was to stay open despite the hurt that can get in with the love. This was a youthful accident probably! But I stayed hopeful and open to other people and allowed love into my life. Had I shut down, I would've missed out on a couple of truly wonderful relationships.
My shut-down response kicks in on occasion. I'm smarter and better equipped to handle setbacks, but I'm still sensitive and I still experience emotion that I don't know how to handle. Life says, "Hey little turtle! Hide your head in that shell or I'm gonna beat you up!" But my intuition says, "Get out there and don't miss out on the world. There are miracles waiting to happen, love waits for you."
I'm a work in progress, as they say, and a read of that book I linked should help me take one more step forward on the path that is laid out for me.