Emotional Work

Day 396 and Drowning

I’m a big fan of the show Bojack Horseman. It’s got all the emotional depth of Ted Lasso but with all the trauma of remembering your never felt loved by your father. Yeah it’s not really a comedy.

For whatever reason it’s a show I typically watch after therapy. I’ll watch an episode or two when integrating all the feelings from paying attention to my inner child for an hour and a half. I know it’s kind of a weird choice but it’s a really straight shot of feelings.

When the star goes on an epic bender, his ex-girlfriend recounts a story about being a life guard.

The first rule of being a lifeguard is knowing when you cannot save someone. Some people they will splash and thrash. And try to take you down with them.”

I’ve got someone in my life that is drowning. I know it. I knew it before they did. My instincts were like the lifeguard trainee. I wanted to help. But they are splashing and thrashing and all that would happen if I tried to help is that I will drown along with them. I know this to be true. But I am so willing to be cruel to myself and ignore it. I’d let myself drown. And what good would that do anyone?


Day 130 and Smiling When Sad

If you asked me my dominant emotion when I was younger I probably should have said anger. I was a fired up young woman. But as the years have gone by and the social benefits of seeming happy have piled up I’m finding it easier to spend more energy on smiling. This isn’t the same thing as being happy.

We like when people are friendly (even if we actually prefer they be kind) and I seem to have bought into it as a moral virtue over the years. I thought it was a gender thing but now I’m much more convinced it’s part of a family trauma cycle set in motion by my father who is exceptionally good at being liked. Cue Bojack Horseman joke.

You inherit your parents’ trauma but will ever fully understand it. Haha the cop is a cat.

Naturally I rebelled against perception of happiness and likability thing with a lot of anger as teenager. Cue lots of screaming stuff like “why do you care more if other people like you more than family” and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I repeat to my therapist now as an adult.

And because intergenerational trauma and family systems work actually isn’t bullshit I’m starting to realize I stopped being angry and started smiling at some point not because I’m happy but because it’s a learned behavior from my childhood. And the smiling is papering over a lot.

What used to be passion, intensity and anger is fermenting into sadness over the years. Not because I’m actually sad inherently but because it makes me sad to lie about how I feel all the time. But I’m not entirely comfortable expressing any emotion. So now I smile when I’m sad. I’ve absolutely smiled when crying from sadness and grief.

Thankfully I hasn’t yet started laughing and smiling when I’m angry, but I fear if I don’t resolve this pattern and move on it might not be far off. I’ve still got significant work to actually feel my emotions in any given moment. Anger feels like it’s too reactive. Sadness like it’s a sublimation of something else. And if I actually am happy then I need to feel that. But I can’t force it with a smile.