For most of my life I've been a bit of a cold self-interest-maximizing unfeeling robot. Lately I am feeling things and it's amazing. But it's hard to manage this and make sense of it. Has anyone been there?
posted by anybodys to Human Relations (7 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Male, late twenties. I was bullied and was very very shy and socially awkward as a kid and teen and I think the coping strategy I developed was basically to not express any emotions or personality -- safer if you go unnoticed. Gradually started opening up in my early twenties, started dating, having real friendships, following impulses rather than suppressing them, and have had things go really well, to the point where people tell me I'm not shy at all anymore.
So far this is fine and maybe not that abnormal. But in my long-term relationships, of which there have been a few at this point, there has been a persistent issue, and I finally recognize the pattern which is originating within me (not the partners). Namely, my emotions don't feel real to other people. When I say I love someone, they're not sure if they should believe me. I often miss important cues and cries for support, and sometimes behave selfishly as if the other person isn't there. For a long time I wondered if I just didn't love the people I was with. But now I'm with someone I do love, unquestionably, and still this problem persists. And more importantly, we've noticed it.
I've made a lot of progress in recent years to the point where I sometimes feel expressive, vibrant, full of life, emotionally present, and just generally "there". I feel very comfortable in this state and I feel like this is the true me which has been locked in a cage for most of my life, and I feel I have a full emotional range, which is something really new for me. My emotions feel very real in this state and seem to carry weight, because they just pour out of me. However, at other times, maybe when I get kind of nervous or unsure of myself, I start monitoring my own behavior to make sure I don't do something wrong, and eventually I'm thinking about every action and every word before I say it, and my senses are turned inward, and all the emotion flutters out of me and what's left is something cold. Robotic. The man who wasn't there. Not an unpleasant person, because I've learned to be kind and generous, but strangely absent, like a cardboard cutout of me. (According to my girlfriend). And non-expressive, because I suppress the impulses that come to me instead of acting on them. It feels like I'm somehow 'frozen'. Recently, while we were talking about this I felt a kind of mild rush come over me and then I sat up and realized I had been absent and was now present. And all of a sudden there was colour and shape to my voice, and expression behind my words, and I felt strongly connected to my girlfriend, able to feel and respond to her emotions. So for the first time I'm aware that there is a difference between being asleep and awake. And she notices the difference as well, immediately -- it's not just in my head. Going back over the relationship we can identify days when I was present, in which we had a great time together, and days when I was absent, in which there was a strange awkwardness or tension in the air.
I plan to start seeing a therapist soon, but I'm curious if anyone has been through this and can help me deal with it. In particular I find myself being 'frozen' a lot lately (possibly due to external stress) and when I'm in this state my relationship suffers severely, for good reason -- I often behave selfishly, because I just don't seem to notice emotional cues that I should, and I come off as cold and distant instead of warm the way a partner should. I want to spend more of my life 'awake' or 'present'. I find if I sometimes monitor my emotional state and kind of concentrate I can determine whether I am 'there' or not and sometimes snap out of the 'asleep' state. But I'm kind of grappling with the unknown here. Has anyone else been through this kind of feeling? Can you offer suggestions for how to cope, and how to spend more time 'awake'?