The Write Way to Change Your Brain, I explained how relationships with parents can affect the way we relate to the world at large. I see the truth of this in my own life. I grew up in a family that lacked language for describing any but the most basic emotions, and we didn’t talk much about even those. It’s not that I didn’t feel things — I just didn’t have words to describe, analyze, and discuss those feelings.
It’s hard to fully experience that which you can’t name, and it’s hard to be supportive of that which you aren’t apprised of. Both my parents grew up in similar circumstances. No wonder they were unable to teach me about feelings or be supportive in areas of relationships and emotions.
Writing stories and journaling has been a huge help in becoming aware of the various facets of this situation and how it developed. Some of the stories, such as the one below (written in 1998) are short, but powerful documentation:
The Beanie I Didn’t Get
“Sharon, come here a minute.” Mommy is calling me to try on the overalls she’s making me out of Aunt Carol’s old jumper. She needs me to try them on all the time, and I'm busy playing.
“What do you want now?” I ask, mimicking the impatient tone of voice I heard Aunt Carol use when Grandmother called her to do something.
“Okay — if you don’t want to try things on, I don’t need to waste my time making them!” Mommy slams her scissors onto the sewing machine and folds up the beanie she was making to match the overalls. “I guess you don’t need this.”
Wow! Mommy is really mad! I don’t think I should have said that, I think, instantly changing my tone of voice.
“I do want to try things on,” I tell her eagerly, hoping to avert her wrath. I really do want that beanie. I never had a beanie before.
“Then don’t talk to me like that!” she says. But it’s too late. She is putting her sewing machine away. I go back to my room and pick up Vickie, clasping her against my chest.
“Vickie, Mommy isn’t going to make my beanie just because I talked like Aunt Carol.” I hold Vickie very tight. Two tears fall on her painted pate as she listens in mute sympathy. I know I won’t ever talk like Aunt Carol again.
We never talked about that beanie again. She never did make it.Somewhere I have stories, maybe written on paper, maybe just in memory, about clinging to Panda because he was the only one who cared, and about “accidentally” dropping a spelling test with an error in the creek on the way home from first grade rather than explaining why I hadn’t done perfectly, and about being told to defend myself against meanies on the way home from school with the completely useless and untrue chant Sticks and stone can break my bones, but names can never hurt me and … the list goes on. I had no names for the hurts, I just felt them.
Over thirty years ago I began to see the underlying dynamics in this process and change my thinking accordingly, but not until I began practicing expressive writing with journal and stories did insights and awareness really begin gushing forth. Among other things, I’ve come to see that some aspects of the self-sufficiency resulting from shyness and caution is a source of strength. No experience is wasted if you know how to ask the right questions on the page and mine its potential. I’m grateful for my journal, stories, and friends who read and understand.
Write now: write about a disappointment you've had and dig deeply to learn its lesson. Practice labeling every feeling you had or even imagine you might have had.