Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Inevitable Welling Up and The Fidget Spinner

I asked FD, one morning, having been chased inside by mosquitoes the night before, "Why is it that mosquitoes come out at night, and they're gone in the morning?"

He thought about it for a minute and said, "You know, they have lives too.

And I didn't see that coming. 

Just wanted to start with a joke, even if it has nothing to do with the rest of this. Some of us are wanna be stand up comics at heart. Except, that would be so vulnerable-making.
Here we go. 

It has probably happened to you, that moment of unparalleled embarrassment and emotional powerlessness. It comes out of nowhere, but definitely, somewhere.

You are speaking with an acquaintance or a coworker, maybe, or especially an old friend. And she asks about a touchy subject, a topic that tends to be upsetting, and this unexpectedly renders you defenseless. You want to cry, escape.

It is a hot button. You're aware that the subject hurt, but until this moment, not entirely how much. It might be an innocent question, maybe about an ailing relative, a parent, child, or spouse. Or maybe it is entirely about you. Your friend didn't know the project failed, or the application, rejected. You had such high hopes, you told everyone. (This time for sure!). But no, not this time, and those tears rush in. You're dying here. It is a Shoot me moment, you tell your therapist later. 

Even if this is a person who would understand, could empathize, the reaction is the same.

Sometimes you know perfectly well you are about to step into a landmine, you're already a little shakey, well before the tears rush in. But when they do, that dialog bubble over your head shouts an expletive. 

This is about feeling vulnerable, caught weak, flawed, pathetic. Being comforted implies we are needy, that we need comforting, and what is comfort, if not love? And what if we aren't lovable, really, what if we aren't worth that. (Many people are raised in just this fashion, sure that showing weakness, being needy, falls on deaf ears, proving the ridiculous false thesis of unworthiness.)

There are reasons a person wouldn't want to be caught being human (highly imperfect). Reasons the tears that rush in feel so bad.

Fear of being judged unfavorably, as a loser of some sort.
Fear of the intimacy of the moment, the exposure. The relationship isn't there, we're not ready to take comfort from this person, and this isn't a choice, there's no control.
Being weak is not what the other person expects, and now we will have to deal with their feelings about what we're feeling. 
We like our distance, integrity, our identity, persona as strong. 
As women, this is the last thing we want a man to see, for men already perceive us as needy.
The role of comforter is a lot easier, many of us are well-practiced at it.
The other's question is invasive, this is a sensitive subject, one we would prefer to open up on our own time, i.e., Yes, she's still on heroin and she lives in her car
Feeling unworthy of connection to others.  
There are more, let me know if you think of them.

Years ago, before I took notes on a laptop, I did process recordings and treatment plans using pen and paper. It was convenient, for me, having a pen in hand, because if someone said something outrageous, and this often happens in couples therapy, I could whip the pen into the air and it would land behind my chair, or occasionally on someone's lap. After this I would smile at their reaction: "Seriously, what was that?!*" We would discuss what was said just prior in a more productive fashion. Eccentric, sure, but sight gags work. 

Alas, this is 2017 and even finding a pen in my office is difficult. There's one somewhere (and this kills a little time, allows room for thought on the patient's end) because pens are sill needed to illustrate family relationships with circles and squares, at times.

The pen, as we've established has multiple functions, and helping us out of vulnerable situations, those moments before the tears, when a well-meaning person has asked us about that job hunt, is one of them. We can't always, as we've also already established, lean in and embrace the pain, cry in front of others. So we need one on hand, when we're in social situations, in our purse of pocket protector.

Then, when triggered, we drop it. We can drop anything, it is true, keys work. Drop it something handy and spend a few seconds retrieving it, collecting yourself. A marble would be perfect for this. Upon retrieval, of course, the object needs to be wiped off, so search the room for Purell and a tissue.

Avoid eye contact at all costs. "Just a second I forgot . . ." Then drop your fidget fidget spinner. I got one for free for buying over $20.00 worth of tee-shirts.
fidget spinner

(They say the fidget spinner is good for ADHD, next on the list of things to discuss). A fidget spinner is not for everyone, may cause nausea or possibly seizures, so think before giving one as a present.)

Other strategies during the vulnerable moment:

tie your shoes fake a sneeze or a coughing jag, thenlook in your purse for a cough drop 
fake taking a call, or having to make a call 
have an answer ready ahead of time, or just

Oh dear, answer. Be honest. Authentic. Be who we are.

You must know that this problem really is about being vulnerable, feeling unworthy of love and belonging, fearing of rejection. And yet, emotional vulnerability, those fears, flaws, weaknesses, our very humanity, is what make us lovable. Nobody loves a robot. 

In therapy we say: Fine, if you must, work on what you see as your faults. But you don't have to be a work in progress all of the time. Being you is unique and interesting and worthy, as is. 

They never believe us. The message is a tough sell. Which is why below you'll find the Brene' Brown, exposing her own vulnerability, empowering us to do the same 

Take 20 minutes and listen, closely. Then listen again, especially to the parts about numbing our vulnerability, how we go about masking who we really are, and how much work that is, trying to be perfect, trying to perfect our children.