(Column: Ask the Peer Specialists)
Professional peers talk about sharing emotions
The Ask the Peer Specialist column presents a discussion among professionals who have serious mental illness and work with their peers who are still coming to terms with their situation.
Guest Writers: Dee Jordan, Edith Scheie, Jack Freedman and Mattie King
Paul Chipkin: How do we give, emotionally? How do we withhold? What are the ramifications? I imagine that more psychological damage is done by people in our lives who withhold emotion than those who might be seen as being ‘too generous.’ Parents might be thought of as ‘giving too much’ if they make romantic claims on their child. It can be thought of as ‘emotional incest.’ Even more common is the parent who is ‘shut-off emotionally’ much (or all) of the time---unavailable, perhaps not in touch with their feelings at all. The child of such a person grows deprived, prone to all manner of personality distortion. A similar deprivation runs rampant in this ‘emotionally shut-down world,’ in which so many people even look uninteresting and one-dimensional.
Dee Jordan: As the child, emotionally abandoned by my parents, I can attest that emotional withholding creates lifelong problems. No one likes to be rejected or slighted, but an adult from that kind of home dwells on rejection to the point of psychosis. My sister and I decided to break the generational curse of coldness and showered our children with love, affection, attention, and mainly listening to them. Our three children can go through hardships in life with a good head on their shoulders rather than falling to pieces (like me) when life gets difficult. Emotional generosity, without spoiling, is the key to good parenting and emotional generosity, with spoiling, is the key to a really happy marriage.
Edith Scheie: Like Dee, I had emotionally withholding parents. I don’t blame them – it was the way they were brought up to be and they didn’t know anything different. My father had a difficult early life and my mother was influenced by being away from home at an early age when Hitler invaded Norway and she couldn’t return. She was cut off from her family. I think they saw each other as a saving grace and they were afraid everything would be taken away from them again, so they held on tight. They were afraid to let loose and show their emotions, lest they be hurt and abandoned. That’s the background I come from. Some of my siblings and I have tried to come to grips with that. We’re more open to each other and to the people in our lives. We’re more honest and show our emotions more readily. This isn’t always pleasant! We get angry and we show it. We are hurt and we let people know. We are aware that we have to do this otherwise those feelings stay bottled up and become toxic. This is so difficult to do, and I don’t always do it. I may not be up for the challenge or I may not be aware of the problem. But the key is to keep trying and make an effort to be conscious of being open to other people.
Jack Freedman: As somebody who has been taken advantage of by people, I know that it has been hard for me to trust people. I've had people abandon and stigmatize me during my darkest moments. However, since I've been in recovery, my radar has been finely tuned so that I can filter out the falsehoods of disingenuous people and know instinctively who I can trust with my emotions and who would be toxic to my well-being.
Mattie King: "Give, (emotionally and otherwise) and it shall be given unto you; good measured, pressed down, shaken together, and running over; shall men give unto your bosom. For with the same measure that you use in measuring anything it shall be measured to you again." Luke 6:38. The spiritual law of reaping and sowing operates in emotional giving just as it works in tangible giving. We will reap what we sow. So, let's be generous!
Paul Chipkin: Isn’t it always possible and desirable to share a greater love? Can our hearts bend (be ever more giving) toward those who move us toward a burgeoning spirit? Can we ‘stretch ourselves;’ for the sake of offering more to people, the Creation and the Creator? Can we be ever more generous, because it is more fun than not and because we believe in it?