This one I found incredibly hard to write about because it covers feelings and emotions, which I find incredibly difficult to talk about even on the best of days. I’ve written and rewritten the entire post about half a dozen times. I do hope the end result isn’t nearly as messy as my thoughts on the subject.
This is not a symptom I myself am fully aware of. I can’t tell how much or how little emotion I actually express unless others comment on it, which few actually do. And even then, they might comment on it in a sort of roundabout way, like someone might say I look more relaxed/happy after we’ve known each other for a while. I never actually realized I could be considered emotionally inexpressive until my doctor made note of it at the time of my diagnosis.
I don’t know how long I’ve had this particular symptom. For all I know, it’s something I’ve always had. Maybe it can even explain a lot of why I have such a hard time in social situations. It could be the reason I’ve sometimes felt as if there’s a glass wall between me and everyone else. It makes sense. People tend to avoid someone who’s aloof, who doesn’t mirror their own emotions. Someone who does not display weakness becomes unrelatable and unapproachable.
I can think of three main reasons why I might not express myself openly:
- I don’t actually know how I feel.
- I fear the consequences of my own feelings.
- I simply take a long time to warm up to new people.
First reason is difficult to deal with. I have to take the time to process physical and emotional cues to pinpoint my feelings. Sometimes, they can be very indistinct or difficult to identify.
Let’s take fear as an example. I tend to avoid social situations, but I hesitate to say that I’m afraid of social situations or have social anxiety. The behavior is the same: Avoidance. But I don’t easily recognize the telltale signs of fear: accelerated heart-rate, sweating, the feeling of unease, the worrying about what other people think of me, difficulty breathing. Some of these things do register on some level, the heart-rate and difficulty breathing in particular. But they don’t necessarily become conscious. I might realize I’m suddenly taking long, slow breaths to compensate before I register the actual signs of fear. The worry about what other people might think of me becomes internalized so I worry about what I think of me instead and I’m convinced I don’t actually care what others think of me, even though maybe I actually do on some level. Or maybe I don’t actually care what others think of me?
The emotions themselves become lost in coping mechanisms and strategies until I can’t fully tell what’s what or where the cause to my reactions lie. Maybe it’s a result of suppressing my feelings for too long? Or maybe I’m just not very sensitive to my own feelings for some reason? Maybe the connection between my brain and face muscles is just naturally weak? Maybe I just overthink everything and make it more complex than it really is?
As a result I sometimes find myself in truly upsetting situations without having the first clue why it is I find it so upsetting. It often takes me a while of careful introspection and ruminating over the whole situation before it finally dawns on me. Maybe someone said something I didn’t like and upset me, but I’m loathe to make mention of it before I know exactly what it was that upset me. Otherwise, what’s really the point? You can’t ask someone to apologize over or not repeat something you don’t even know what is. There’s very little as upsetting as being upset over nothing or not knowing what it is you’re so upset over.
On top of that, it becomes especially difficult if someone comments how I seem to feel one thing when in fact I feel something else entirely. Maybe someone would make a comment that I look more relaxed and comfortable, when in fact I’m bored out of my mind and about ready to run off screaming. It annoys me and I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to tell people not to voice their impression of me, quite the opposite. But what do I do when that impression is wrong? Do I correct them and say: “No, sorry this isn’t my happy and comfortable face, it’s my dying of boredom face”? Wouldn’t that make the whole thing more awkward? What if they’re right and I’m the one interpreting my own feelings wrong?
The second reason is maybe kind of complicated. In my experience, expressing negative feelings tend to produce negative outcomes. I express anger, the response is often offended and defensive, I express sadness, the response is sadness. I don’t want to make others sad! Or hurt or offended. Especially not those I care about. So, I prefer not to express those feelings. That way, I’m the only one suffering. In the short term anyways.
Because the truth is, hiding feelings doesn’t make them go away. Eventually, they’ll boil over. I know this. It’s just that it’s easier to cover them up, to wait until I’m beyond caring. The short term relief means more in the now, the long term consequences is a problem for another day.
In much the same way, I’m very conscious of not “showing weakness”, especially when I’m not quite sure about the company I’m in. I’ll avoid complaining and automatically bury any embarrassment. Embarrassment especially is something I’ve become very good at avoiding. If I don’t acknowledge it, it’s almost as if it isn’t there at all. If anything bothers me, I’m not likely to point it out. I go to great lengths to avoid crying in front of others as much as possible. However, when I’m with friends and family, I love complaining about every little, silly thing. I’m far more talkative as well. Almost as if to compensate, letting out a little of the steam I’ve been bottling up. But only with those few I know very well and very, very rarely anything serious.
It’s not hard to imagine that this kind of thing would affect my relationships a great deal. I have easy, comfortable relationships with all of my immediate family and my closest friends. But the minute they start digging into the serious things, the relationship crumbles and I can’t get away fast enough. But family and friends are supposed to be the ones that can handle the serious stuff. Those who’ll stick around for the bad as well as the good.
But then, there’s very little as painful as the realization that you can’t actually trust someone you thought you could rely on, that you’re supposed to be able to rely on.
I’m lucky in that my family and friends are all loving and supportive. I know I can rely on them. But there’s always that little doubt. Because we’re all only human. We have faults and I’d rather live in faith than truly test it and risk rejection. I’m afraid that if I told someone that I truly needed them and they couldn’t be there, I’d break. It’s easier to tell myself that I don’t need to say it, that of course they’ll be there if I need them, but I don’t need them that much right now.
Lastly, it’s very likely that this symptom has not only affected my existing relationships, but the forming of new relationships (or lack thereof). I warm up extremely slowly to new people. If I don’t know them, I don’t know if they’re worth spending time with, but I can only know them by spending time with them. And if I lack emotional expression, it’s likely it would put a great many people off. After all, why would you spend time with someone if you can’t even tell if they’re the least bit happy to spend time with you?
Mulling over this symptom and the possible problems and after talking to a social worker about how she connects with the people she works with, some interesting questions came to mind: Why do we find some people more genuine, approachable and relateable? Not because they’re perfect. We tend to resent people who seem to do so much better than us, seemingly without effort, do we not? However, when we see someone with flaws, someone who has to work hard for every, little victory, we can sympathize. They become more human to us. They become like us.
Everyone struggles with something and the struggle is something we can usually bond over. Things like embarrassment, frustration, fear, sadness, feeling inadequate. Most, if not all of us have been there one way or another. It invokes sympathy. I think we like being able to sympathize with those we’re with. But we tend to hate being sympathized, it quickly becomes pitied and patronized. I certainly do.
But then, by refusing to show weakness, by pretending nothing at all bothers me, I may inadvertently tell people, that I’m superior to them, that I wouldn’t be able to understand their flaws, that we have nothing to talk about or bond over. Essentially that I surely wouldn’t give them poor, faulty mortals the time of the day.
I’m often described as very intelligent and seem very mature and competent, but in truth I often feel so very far from all those things that the compliments sometimes end up seeming like outright lies to me. Me, intelligent? Hurr-durr, thanks I guess? I can’t seem to work out even the simplest of problems though. Competent? Yet routinely defeated by a pile of dishes. Mature? LOL.
I like being praised and admired, even if I can’t quite believe the admired traits truly are ones I possess. It’s certainly better than pity or resentment. I want those around me to see the good, not the bad. So I tend to cover up the bad. Perhaps with time and practice, I’ll be able to open up more and then I’ll learn that I truly don’t have to be lonely.