Like many survivors of child abuse, I have some screwy emotional responses to situations and people. And like many women, I was socialized to be particularly careful of and wary of the emotions of men. I live with two males – my fiancee and my son – and my rational mind does not believe either one would hurt me. Yet when they express strong emotions, even in healthy ways, I get instantly tense. My heart starts pounding, my arms start tingling, and my flight impulse kicks in.
It’s hard for me to permit the men in my life a full range of healthy emotional expression. I recognize this is something flawed in my response, not in their emotions or expressions of them. The irritation and anger need not be directed at me for me to fear them. Anger at a video game or a customer service rep on the phone makes me just as tense and nervous.
It’s very difficult for me to hear someone voice a complaint and not try to instantly address it and fix it (so they can stop complaining and making me so scared.) All too often, I am focused on finding a way to silence their emotions, rather than listening to them, acknowledging them, and then giving the men in my life the space to self-soothe and fix their own problems.
I don’t want to teach my son it’s a woman’s job to manage his emotions; I want him to learn the skills to be able to provide that for himself. And I want to give my son and my fiancee both all the opportunities they need to express their feelings, including their negative feelings, without having to make their pain about me. It’s a process. Any tips and advice for getting myself over this social-emotional learning hump would be greatly appreciated.