Tag Archives: emotion

Making space for the feels

For much of my life, I’ve had external pressures making me feel emotionally unacceptable. Along the way I’ve been mocked, shamed, humiliated and punished for expressing my feelings. I’ve loved people dearly only to find them horrified by any expression of my loving them dearly. I’ve been told my expressed emotions are so extreme as to seem fake. Ridiculous, over the top, drama queen, attention seeking… you get the idea.

And so I learned to mute myself. To not say a good 90% of whatever I feel. To understate, make tame and easy and comfortable everything that goes on inside me. I’ve crushed myself to avoid having to deal with others crushing me. I’ve known for a long time that this process, whether it comes from within or without, has a ghastly effect on my mental health. But I’ve also learned how to put a poker face on and hide that as well. It seems fair to assume that the people who habitually dismissed me would also dismiss mental breakdowns as further attention seeking and fuss making.

In recent years I have benefited from safer and more supportive space and it has allowed me to stretch and experiment a little. I find that if I make some space for me in which I can be totally honest about how I feel, that I don’t take damage. Often this means getting some time alone (bathrooms are excellent for this) and holding a few minutes of space where I can feel the unacceptable thing. Anger, frustration, resentment, envy, bitterness – these are often the most trouble to express. However, I can have a fair amount of trouble with joy, pain, sorrow… I’m still not easy about crying over films in company.

If I make some space for me, and properly acknowledge what I’m feeling and treat it with respect, then hiding it feels very different. I am not made smaller. I am not crushing myself.

There are a lot of things I cope with by bullshitting. Physical pain is a constant in my life. Depression and anxiety are often present in my head. I’m often short of energy. I don’t find that dwelling on these helps me, and I prefer, for my own dignity and comfort, to put a good face on it. But this also means that most people are dealing with my fakery, and have no idea what’s really going on. Recently I’ve been experimenting with saying how things are but acting as I normally act. I’m working out who responds well to that information, who shares honestly in return, and who says ‘how are you?’ as a social gesture expecting ‘fine thank you how are you’ as the only possible reply. Because it’s not about genuine care, it’s about presenting socially in the right way.

I also find that where I make space deliberately for other people to be honest with me, and they take me up on that, I feel more confident about expressing myself. It gets easier to do the good stuff, too. To be exuberant, wholehearted, affectionate, to laugh wildly, and all those things, in the company of people who have room for it. Once again I find myself obliged to point out that mental health problems require community solutions. I did not get into that mess alone, I have not got out of it alone.

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The logic of emotion

We tend to think of emotion as inherently irrational, and thinking as holding the scope for logic and reason. However, emotion is basically body chemistry. It is a series of chemical events in response to whatever’s going on and if we knew all the details, we could no doubt express emotion as chemical equations.

Many things impact on our emotions – our blood sugar, circadian rhythms, exposure to sunlight, our physical health, events we experience etc and of course what we think about those experiences. There’s a straightforwardness to this. A person who has gone too long without food, a person who is too cold and wet, will feel lousy.

However, rather than taking our emotions at face value, and dealing with them, we tend to get our minds involved. Often, the impulse is to blame someone else and take out negative feelings on them. The low blood sugar becomes ‘you never listen to me’ or somesuch. Good experiences can leave us with all kinds of crazy stories about worth, meaning, and entitlement.

Unlike our emotions, our minds are capable of incredible, creative irrationality. We can imagine and wonder. We look for explanations, patterns, causes, and we can be persuaded that correlation is causality. We can be persuaded of all kinds of illogical, unreasonable, unsubstantiated things. By way of evidence for this, I offer you social media, fake news, and rather a large percentage of religious activity. We think our minds are rational, but we’re persuaded by emotive fact bending, by blame and shame, hate and anger, the desire to get one back against some imagined infringement. We don’t think logically.

Emotions are like weather systems – not always good, or useful, but a physical reality caused by complex influences. There is a logic to them. We have the means to change our internal weather, and the choice of what meaning to apply to it. If we treat our emotions like weather, we can take them seriously (sun hat or wellies today?) while recognising that none of them are permanent. They are the truth of our body existing in the world, they are not inclined to lie to us, although we can develop weird feedback loops if the mind gets too involved.

Treat the mind as something with the potential for irrationality, and things change. The assumption that an apparent line of logic proves something, becomes a good deal less convincing. The interplay between mind and emotion becomes more visible. If we ignore what our emotions are trying to tell us and let our minds make up explanatory stories, we can end up in all kinds of muddles.

Sometimes, it’s just indigestion. Sometimes it’s just that there hasn’t been enough sun lately.


In search of a lost, manic pixie

There’s a concept in a lot of shamanist traditions, of soul retrieval. The idea that bits of us get lost along the way – often in a context of trauma – and that we need help to bring those parts of soul back. I’m not a shaman. I’ve felt for a long time that I had indeed lost vast swathes of my identity. Go back six years or so and I had no idea who I was, what I felt, or thought, wanted or needed. I’ve spent years rebuilding, and looking for tools for rebuilding.

One of the things I’ve done is to look back at who I was at a time when I felt that I recognised myself, and made sense to myself. I can’t be who I was at any point previously, but it gives me some guidance for working out what I need to explore.

As a teenager, I danced. A Lot. I danced like a wild and demented pixie, with a shameless joy in my body, and the movement of my body that I also felt when swimming, and playing musical instruments, but not in much that involved other people. A lot of the time I felt really awkward in my body. That stayed with me, and the times of feeling good in my body reduced.

I started dancing again this summer. Awkward on my feet at first, not confident of my balance, and trying to work with a sore, stiff body that couldn’t dance like I used to, and needing to totally re-learn how to move. It was not easy re-starting – I felt very exposed and it also meant dealing with all the emotions tangled up in my messy relationship with my own form. My dancing was not what I wanted it to be, and I accepted it, and did what I could.

I’ve put in a lot of time – primarily working on my balance, so that I can be easier on my feet. Working with each part of the body in turn to find out what can move, and how to move. Working out how far I can push in terms of energy use, how not to jar myself, how to work slowly when the music is fast. I re-learned that one of the things dancing does for me is to give me a space to express and process the kind of complex emotions that cannot be dealt with just by thinking about them.

Dancing in spaces with other people, my confidence improved. I started feeling safer, and acceptable. Part of the block to going back to dance had been a sense that my body would not be acceptable to other people – too fat, too awkward, too ugly, too ungainly… I have a lot of body-image issues and tend to project them, imagining everyone else is going to see me as I do, and as a few people in my life have been very explicit about seeing me. But, I can go to a space where people dance and not face shaming, humiliation or anything like that. I’ve found accepting, nurturing space. I’m learning how to feel acceptable.

As a consequence of this, I’ve got easier in my own body, more willing to experiment and push my own boundaries with how I move, and it has done me considerable good.

Then, at the last session, a magic thing happened. I pushed just a little bit harder, and found that in small bursts, I could dance like some sort of demented pixie. It doesn’t matter that I can’t now do that into the wee small hours, it doesn’t matter that I have to do little flurries and take breaks – because for minutes at a time, I can still dance with my manic pixie self, and feel something like what I felt as a much younger human.

I can’t change my history. I am only going to get older and weirder with this cranky body of mine. But I can still dance.


Permission to cry

If there was a time when it felt safe and reasonable to cry when hurt, I do not remember it. The further back I go, the patchier memory becomes, but I’ve no sense of crying ever being ok. I learned early to mute how I was feeling, to hide the tears of pain and frustration at school when I was teased, hit, humiliated. Sometimes I lost it, but I managed more stoicism than not.

Crying has too often just made things worse, and over the years I’ve added new reasons why I am not to do it. I might hurt or embarrass someone else by revealing that I’m in pain. It might feel like emotional blackmail. People might think I was faking it to get attention. Last year I broke down in panic when a group of kids charged at me and I was already in a lot of pain and couldn’t bear to be touched. Their first reaction to my tears was to tell me I was faking it. Better not to be seen than to be put through that, I have felt. Better not to make someone uncomfortable, not to implicitly demand care, attention, or something different by being so inconsiderate as to cry. Other people’s convenience has always seemed more important than whether I am in pain. Add to that the telling off for crying, the accusations of melodrama, and manipulation, and I don’t express if I can help it.

I’ve gone dry eyed through many a funeral. I can spot when the urge to weep is rising and I will lock it down, turning everything on the inside into stone if I can, so that nothing of what I’m feeling gets out. Sometimes the body pain, the fear, and panic attacks, the distress is too much and the tears get out, but the urge to hide it remains, and I’ll be silent, and I will keep my body still so that the motion of sobbing does not give me away. Failing that, I’ll remove myself and hide. If I’ve cried in front of you, then either I really, really trust you, or I was so broken at the time that I failed to maintain control.

It always feels like failure to cry, or to succumb to a panic attack. I feel ashamed of it. It’s a natural bodily reaction to pain and distress, but unless I am entirely alone and it goes unnoticed, I feel ashamed of my own tears.

In the last few days I have come to recognise how dehumanising this is. It’s a denial of my basic animal self, my natural self. To treat my own pain as unacceptable, to not allow myself the freedom of grief when I am hurt, is doing me a lot of harm. I’ve taken the decision to cry when I need to, regardless of the consequences. As a self employed person I have the luxury of not needing a brave face for work. In the short term, to have the space to handle my own distress, (and there’s been a lot to distress me this last month) I will mostly be stepping away from people. I need to feel safe about crying, and I need not to be worrying about how it’s going to impact on other people. That feels very selfish, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m going to see what happens if, for a little while, I let how I feel be more important than anything else for me.

There will be people who find me too difficult, and no doubt there will be people who again call it emotional blackmail and bullying on my part. They are allowed to feel that way. The right answer is for anyone who feels that way about me to spend no time with me. I’ve decided that no matter how much I love someone, if they have no space for me when I am in pain, they have no space for me.

I’m interested to see how the process of allowing my emotions – because I also intend to change how I handle panic and to totally shift my relationship with my own anger – impacts on my depression issues as a whole, and on the issue of body pain. I’ll share the results of the experimentation, because I think there are other people who will find they get similar outcomes, whatever those turn out to be.


Weather, emotion and pathetic fallacies

‘Pathetic Fallacy’ is one of those terms you run into sooner or later if you study literature. Proper definition here http://literarydevices.net/pathetic-fallacy/ but the gist of it is the mapping of human emotions onto non-human things to get the point across. The classic example would be a story with rain at a funeral. The trouble with funerals in stories is that a bit of them has to happen outside, and therefore there has to be weather, and it impacts on the experience. I remember the weather at every funeral I’ve attended, and as they were all in England, grey and damp has been the norm. The one in torrential rain was interesting because the woman we were burying loved the rain. It felt more like a blessing than an expression of grief, as a consequence. I have a lot of problems with how we put weather into stories, so bear with me while I grumble because how we relate weather and emotion is, I think, rather important.

I type this on a cold, wet day in late July. I’m of somewhat depressed mood. I do not mention the weather because it conveniently expresses something about my feelings, but because it’s influencing them. If today was sunny and dry and I could sit out for a few hours reading and watching the birds, I would be happier. Not as a poetic device, but as a direct consequence of being cheered up by sitting in the sun. It’s not a human foible, this. Most mammals are cheery when they can lounge about and be warm, and sad when they are cold and wet.

There’s a big cause and effect issue here, and a lot depends on which you think causes what. Do we only notice the weather when it speaks to us of ourselves? For me, the weather is a big contributor to mood. Too many wet grey days in a row and I’ve no chance. My being depressed can be wholly separate from the weather, but isn’t immune to it – the sun lifts me, no matter what else is going on.

Inevitably there’s an overlap, because most of us aren’t trained in the use of precise meteorological language, and so are unlikely to talk about low fronts, wind speeds, and the number of centimetres of rain falling in a month. If the weather impacts on us, it does so as an immediate experience. I think because it’s emotionally affecting, we are more likely to frame it in emotional language. Thus a fast wind can seem angry, vengeful, violent simply because of what it does (tearing things and throwing them about) and how it affects us. I do not need to be experiencing inner rage or violence to find the wind threatening simply because of what it can do. If it drops a tree on me, I’m in trouble.

Warm, sunny days seem benevolent, and again I don’t think that’s about imposing a human sentiment onto the world. Sun powers the growth of plants and is the driving force of most ecosystems and life on earth. It seems reasonable to experience it as something benevolent. Rain after drought can also seem benevolent – and is equally life restoring, while torrential rain and flooding are literal threats and easily represented by more aggressive language.

I spend a lot of time watching whirlwinds. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I live in a place that gets them regularly. Tiny whirlwinds a foot or two across that play with the leaf litter. I can see a dozen in a week and it not be unusual. They fascinate me, and regardless of my mood, I see them as playful. If I am full of misery and the world seems a cruel and hostile place, the sun is still benevolent, and the whirlwinds are still playful. My sense of their emotional impact has nothing to do with my inner state, which is a big part of why I question the logic of the pathetic fallacy. I think the deliberate use of, and the inferring of the pathetic fallacy can be about a dislocation from lived experiences of weather and a failure to recognise that all fictional characters need to inhabit places with climates in order to be fully functioning people. They are an opportunity to explore the impact of weather on the psyche, but doing so should not automatically cast weather as reflections of an inner life. It can be deliberately used that way, but I don’t like it as either a strategy or an inference.

(This is a slightly unusual blog post in that it is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, that started over an as-yet unpublished novel of mine, in which there is a lot of rain. The relationship between rain and the inner lives of the characters is important to me, but for me this is not about weather as reflection of inner landscape. John, as ever, thank you for the prompts to go further and think more about things.)


Sitting with anger

My normal response to anger is to crush it down, denying the feelings and giving them no space. If it does manifest, depression, or the more immediate tears of frustration are likely. I’ve lived in spaces where everything was dependably my fault, and also learned how to work that out for myself – it saved a lot of time and stress, where expressing anger would lead to a lengthy, miserable browbeating and the same sorry outcome.

Other people work differently with anger. I have been on the receiving end of anger as justification for action. I’ve been shouted at because I had ‘made people angry’ and I’ve been hit in that context, too. I’ve felt physically very threatened by other people’s anger. What happens here is that the feeling of anger is identified as being caused by the other person, which justifies anything you do to them in response. I never want to do that, so what does that leave me in terms of handling rage when it erupts within me?

I’ve been trying a thing. I get myself some space as quickly as I can, while the anger is still boiling and fresh. I sit with it, and I listen to where it’s coming from, and I ask questions. Why, exactly, am I angry? The mostly likely answer is that I feel threatened and vulnerable, my anger an attempt at defence. I may feel ignored, put upon or mildly mistreated. I might be reacting to injustice. It’s entirely possible that someone has pushed an old button for me, and done so in all innocence. Like a small child, I keep asking why. Why does that hurt? Why does that threaten me? Why am I offended?

By this means, if I am trying to defend wounded pride or justify being in the wrong, I eventually face up to this without savaging anyone else, first. If I am dealing with a triggering of history, I spot it, and do not swipe back at someone who, from their perspective, really wasn’t intending any harm. Last but by no means least, if my careful reflection identifies someone who really was taking the piss, I firm up my boundaries and calmly work out exactly how best to deal with it. On the whole this is getting me results I am happy with.

Anger denied and anger not permitted makes a person vulnerable. If you can’t fend off what isn’t welcome, you are settling into a victim role and are easily mistreated. It’s not a way to live. Anger denied has, for me, largely transformed into self hatred, and I’ve carried destructive levels of self-loathing for a long time. Maybe I don’t have to be that person any more. When I let myself get angry for the right reasons, think it through and take non-violent and productive action, I feel better in myself. I feel stronger, safer, more capable. With time I think I could stop carrying this internalised violence towards myself that has come from swallowing other people’s aggression. Worth a shot at any rate.

(Previous ponders of anger are here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/anger-management/ and here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/angry-druid/ )


Being useful

I need to feel useful. I have been told off a number of times for this, because my saying that I need to feel useful can be taken as meaning that I feel everyone should only be valued in terms of their use. That conflation isn’t helpful, nor is it true. “I need to feel useful” is a personal statement. What anyone else needs to feel is their own business, but I think most people prefer to feel valued on some basis or another, and this is mine.

What happens when I’m told I shouldn’t feel this way? Does it magically enable me to develop a sense of self-esteem that has nothing to do with utility and external validation? No, it does not. I’ve tried. I’ve poked this issue repeatedly. Having taken on board that I *should* have a sense of self worth not dependent on utility, I have done all the things in the books that *should* lead to this, and they do not. It’s a bit like being told your body should be able to do the things an appendix does (storing useful bacteria, apparently) when you do not have an appendix.

So, not only do I get to feel useless when there’s a lack of external validation, I get to feel doubly useless for being the kind of person who needed to feel useful in the first place. I don’t find that terribly helpful, and I’m prepared to bet this isn’t just a ‘me’ thing and that others will have comparable experiences.

One of the most basic things that enables self esteem, and lets us feel like proper people, is being entitled to our own emotional responses. Some of us have emotional responses that do not make much sense to other people or are not, apparently, how we are “supposed” to feel. However, the moment you tell me that my feelings are wrong, or invalid, you take something away from me. You are not helping me build towards a better, healthier state of mind (although I bet you think you are). What you’re doing is crushing me further, undermining what sense of self I have, invalidating my responses and making me feel even more of a person-fail then I did at the start. Please stop doing this!

No emotional response is wrong. It may be problematic, it may be based on faulty thinking, it may be counterproductive, but it is still the emotional response that I’ve got right now, and I need to start from where I am. Being told I should not feel a thing in a certain way is destructive. If I am not entitled to feel how I feel, I am not entitled to be a person. It may be inconvenient for you. It may make you feel uncomfortable. You may not like it. This is fine, and you are entitled to all those responses, and to walk away from me if needs be, but you are not entitled to tell me that my emotions are wrong.

Telling someone they are not entitled to feel a certain way does not lead to healing. It does not open them up to better and happier ways of being. It does not cure, or restore or uplift or inspire. It crushes and demoralises and dehumanises and will make them shut up about how they were feeling. If it’s just that you didn’t like what you were hearing and want to make the problem go away, making the afflicted person shut up may strike you as being a win. From the perspective of the other person, it is a lose, and a big one.

I need to feel useful. I am not going to apologise for this anymore. I need to feel useful in order to function as a person. I have very little need for manifest utility in the people around me, but if you are interested in playing a useful role in my life, the best thing, the most generous thing you could do would be to accept me as I am, and help me find the things that let me function, rather than telling me I should not feel like this in the first place.


Emotional Honesty

One of the things that matters to me is space in which I can be present to and authentic around my own emotional responses. Interestingly, I gather I can come across as a bit ‘heart on sleeve’ with this blog. That troubles me slightly, because this is so such a construct. What goes here is not the raw experience of the moment, but something I’ve had time to process, reflect on and squeeze into some kind of shape. My actual emotionality is a lot more immediate, but I’m a big fan of thinking about feeling and seeking to understand the currents of my own emotions.

There are many situations in which emotional honesty may not seem appropriate. Work situations would be an obvious example. Nonetheless, I’ve watched over the last few months how my emotional state impacts on my ability to work well. When I feel happy, am engaged with the work, feel emotionally secure and emotionally rewarded, I get a lot more done and the quality of my output is better. On the other hand, if workspaces are triggery and I feel that people are trying to control me, I can kick off into anxiety and my productivity decreases. I took the choice last week to be honest about this with someone I work with, and I think it’s going to help, but it was nonetheless an unnerving decision to contemplate. At work, we are not supposed to feel.

There are many human interactions that do not prompt strong emotional responses in me at all. I quite enjoy the fleeting contact I get with people who I feel neutral about. It can be easy and pleasant. I know it’s not providing what I most need, but the emotional connections are often difficult, and as risky as they are rewarding.

It is the human contact rooted in things that matter to me that tends to be the most emotionally affecting. I’ve always formed deep bonds with people I share music with. There’s a level of engagement in shared music that can transcend normal interaction and become very much an emotional dialogue. There used to be a few people in my life with whom I had that level of intensity and openness when we were playing together, and I’ve missed it. People with the technical skill and the open heart are not many, but there are some on my radar and I wait to see what happens.

My creative collaborations have always engendered a high degree of exposure of self and soul. Tom was my artist long before he was my lover, and it was the intensity of the shared working that drew us together. Other collaborations have brought deep friendship and potent connections. Where there is flow and trust, where no one needs to be in control and there is respect between participants, creative collaborations are wonderful things.

The trouble is, it doesn’t always go like that, and until you get in and try, it’s not obvious which way things might go. Creative partners can also turn out to be possessive, resentful of other people’s successes, jealous of the skills of their creative significant other. Co-creators can be paranoid, or control freaks, or both. It can turn out that one of them is aiming to ride on the coat tails of the other. That stuff hurts. It makes it harder to trust anyone, and harder to trust your judgement about who might be equal to those deeper, more involved connections.

I started last summer with my soul just beneath the surface of my skin, with my heart open, ready to trust and to try. I did not place that trust very well, and I’ve had to step back. It may well be that the people I should have chosen to work with have suffered as a consequence. I messed up. I put my faith in the wrong people, and it left me needing to retreat and regroup, to lick wounds, consider the bruising and try to work out what I actually want.

I do want those creative connections. I want people in my life I can trust and share with, where there is flow and connection, trust, respect and good things happen. I want those magical moments of finding myself on exactly the same wavelength as the person I’m with, where the ideas are streaming along. My two regular creative partners, Tom and Paul, have simply weathered my falling apart these last few months and supported me. I do not need to be cautious with them, and I will go back to those spaces, open hearted and ready to make stuff. I’ve had time to reflect, and have decided I’ll take the bruises and setbacks rather than protecting myself by not risking it. I’ll try to pick more carefully. What I want are people who see the heart on the sleeve and dare to show me theirs, rather than reaching for something to cut mine with.


The dark side

We were walking, and I mentioned to my companion that he is one of the few people I really trust. He warned me, half-jokingly, that there is a much darker side to his nature, one that isn’t usually visible. I knew this. I asked him if he had considered the possibility that I trust him because I can see that in him.

We all have threads of darkness in our psyches. We all have impulses towards all manner of things that aren’t socially acceptable, aren’t good for us, or safe, tame, or clever. What I’ve found along the way is that a lot of people are totally in denial about this. It’s natural enough to want to present to the world as something made of goodness and loveliness, but the denial of the dark side tends to result in problems. I think much of the hypocrisy we see in both religious and secular hierarchies can be blamed on this refusal to recognise the dark.

When you don’t admit to those troubling impulses, they do not magically go away. What can happen instead, is layers of denial, justification, warping your view of the world to make it possible to keep believing that you are good and right. A person intent on denying the darkness within themselves can be tremendously damaging to encounter.

On the other hand, someone like my aforementioned friend, who knows their darkness, can be a lot safer to be round. They won’t be acting out of repressed impulses. Furthermore, if a person who owns their darkness messes up, it can be talked about, because they aren’t afraid to admit their capacity for that which is a problem. That way lies solutions.

I know my darkness. I’m obsessive. I have a huge capacity for rage and anger, which can manifest in really destructive ways. For the greater part, that tends to be turned against me, because that seems safer and more appropriate than unleashing it on the people who inspire it. I’ve mostly healed from what I did to myself the last time that happened. It is ok so long as I can keep it secret and hidden, but the problem with that method, is that if someone who cares for me sees the very literal damage my rage inflicts, that too is painful for them. There are no easy answers.

I know how to cause pain. I have an absolute knack for working out exactly where a person is vulnerable and where to hit them for maximum effect. I can hold resentment for years. I also have a dark and twisted imagination, allowing me to envisage hideous things. The inside of my head is full of monsters.

All of these things, if buried and left to fester would make me an absolute nightmare of a person. If I tried to pretend I did not do them, I could not guard against them or manage them. In owning them, I am able to work with them. Obsession can be unhealthy, but it also gives me a lot of power to harness for getting things done. The same is true of the rage, which I’m finding political outlets for. The tools that make a torturer can be used other ways, the desire to cut people up might make you into a good surgeon rather than a psychopath. That I can see how to hurt people can be turned around sometimes, allowing me to also see how to help. And that dark imagination, full of fear and horrors, is useful for being an author. I write stories, and nobody in the real world dies.


The irrational ones

Don’t worry about her; she’s irrational. A bit melodramatic. She tends to over-react, bless her, so you’ve got to take everything she says with a pinch of salt. Over blown. Over emotional. Unstable.

Then, when you find her crying, you won’t take her seriously. If she gets angry, you won’t really listen because hey, she’s a bit over the top, no point adding to it. If she says she is hurt, you’ll know it’s because she’s hypersensitive.

It works the other way too: She’s an ice queen. She’s totally unemotional, cold, hard, logical and manipulative. If she cries, its only because she wants something. If she expresses emotion at all, it is just a ploy to make you do what she wants. And so again, you don’t see and you don’t hear, because you’ve already written her off.

‘Her’ in both cases, would have been me, but undoubtedly not just me. These methods for diminishing a person tend to be entirely deliberate. They serve a purpose. By invalidating a person’s emotional responses, you make it easy to treat as irrelevant anything they are unhappy about. If you want to hurt someone, this makes life a lot easier. It is so important not to buy these stories, because any time you do, the odds are very good that you’ve just enabled an abuser to carry on mistreating their victim.

Along the way I’ve met people with hair trigger responses, to tears and temper alike. I’ve met people who are touchy, moody, easily affected, and while I accept that means their responses may be sudden, unexpected and intense, this does not invalidate them. We all feel things differently. There is nothing wrong with turning out to feel more, or less than the next person does. The odds are there will always be more difference than similarity on this one.

Many abusers are able to get away with what they do precisely because they persuade so many other people to buy into their story. The victim, hearing the same thing on every side ‘you’re just over reacting, it’s no big deal’ learns they cannot trust their own judgement. You stop thinking you can tell, you doubt your own decision-making capacity, and maybe start to feel like you are going mad. You lie there, bruised and sobbing, telling yourself to pull yourself together and stop making such a fuss. It wasn’t that big an insult… just a shove, not really a punch…it was just words… maybe they didn’t mean it that way. And all the time, the abuser sharpens their knives and keeps laughing.

Be careful with other people’s stories, especially stories that invalidate someone’s feelings. They are often not quite what they seem to be.