My dad told me often that he loved me and I never doubted it, but it was hard for me to feel. Jeanne Segal writes in her book, Feeling Loved, “No matter how hard we try to make those we love feel loved, if we don’t feel emotionally connected to ourselves, we won’t be able to emotionally connect with them.” I think my father had trouble connecting with himself and others at the emotional level. It wasn’t his fault. He was doing the best he could.
Dad had suffered a lot of trauma over the course of his life. His father abandoned the family when he was young. He was shipped off to military school in his early teens. And at the age of 21 he joined the Marines and fought in some of the worst conflicts in the South Pacific. In training for my second career as a psychotherapist, I came to an aha moment of realizing that my dad suffered with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Emotionally, psychologically, and relationally our whole family suffered with him. This suffering was compounded when at the age of 53 he had a massive heart attack which was followed by forced retirement, debilitating angina, chronic health problems, and the constant fear of death.
He never talked about the trauma he suffered. Therapy wasn’t even a consideration back then. He kept these weighty psychological wounds to himself and carried them in his heart, mind and body. Resisting the affect of troubling emotions was a daily battle. The problem is, inner connectedness is not a pick and choose kind of thing. Disallowing the “bad” emotions diminishes our connection with the good ones and the result is that we become less than whole.
As a child, I adopted my dad’s core strategy of avoiding unpleasant emotions like anger, sadness, hurt, and fear. I concluded that nothing good comes from such feelings. Affectively, I disconnected from these aspects of myself and as a result, I became less than who I really was. The journey toward wholeness inevitably involves the acceptance of parts of self that have been denied and disowned.
I was in my 50’s before I understood that emotions are not good or bad. It’s what you do with them that may have good or bad consequences. Unacknowledged emotions are usually the ones that cause havoc. When something is stirring with us emotionally, it has an impact on all the other parts of who we are: the physical, the mental, the relational, even the spiritual, and visa versa. Accepting and being attentive to my painful and even scary emotions has been the road to being more integrated… more whole. I say “more” whole because it’s a never-ending process and an every-moment adventure in becoming one’s true self.
For now, this blog is dedicated to exploring this subject. I hope you will join me in the journey.