Been thinking about the whole avoidant thing, and me always wanting to fix people. As my relief auditor stood crying behind my chair last night, talking about how she had to leave early, I felt the same wave of disgust as I get when I smell a baby with a full diaper, or witness the changing of a full diaper.
Emotional leakage grosses me out.
I know a lot of it is my fucked-up childhood. I was not allowed to cry over tiny things, like being scared by a spider or worm. I was not allowed to cry if I hurt myself, or something accidental happened that caused me to be injured. When I chopped off one of my fingers with the edge of a brick, I didn't cry - until my mother whopped me for cutting my own finger off. I was not allowed to cry when I was getting hit or spanked or slapped or whatever. Whenever I would start to cry, my mother or father would inevitably holler, "What are you crying for? Do you want me to give you something to cry about?!" Uh, no, thanks, you're already hitting me. I also wasn't encouraged to display emotional highs, either. No loud laughing, no loud talking, and definitely no yelling, loud squealing or screaming. I could sit and destroy the coffee table with a lit candle & wax, but Gods forbid I run indoors, or rough-house with the dogs inside. One of the worst beatings I received was for yelling at my mother. She slapped me, and then my dad came home & flayed me with a belt. I always heard about my sisters receiving welting beatings from our mother, but that was the first, and only, time I'd experienced it. Overtly emotional expression was just a no-no. The mere thought of acting up in public was blasphemy - and the one time I did (I don't know what I did, maybe I was reaching for stuff on the shelves, who knows really, other than whatever it was annoyed my mother), I was in the kiddy-seat section of a grocery cart, so I couldn't have been older than 3. My mother intentionally tipped the thing over, with me in it, and let all the cans & bottles fall onto me. So throwing a tantrum in public? Oh hell no.
As a result, I find myself very judgmental (I was going to say 'disciplined', but I don't think the way I feel about other people expressing their feelings is politically correct to put into a positive term) when it comes to appropriate and acceptable emotional reactions. There really are none, at least not in public. PDAs gross me out (public displays of affection, not personal desktop assistants, even though I don't really appreciate Blackberrys & iPads & iPhones & 'droids as much as I'm apparently supposed to - and so many people never wash their hands, so in a way, those PDAs kind of gross me out, too). I don't watch romantic comedies (unless they are fully stocked with zombies) or 'feel-good' movies because I get uncomfortable during them. All that touchy-feely sisterhood crap, female bonding, ugh. I think I probably get more uncomfortable during emotional scenes in chick flicks than I do gross-out scenes in bromances. I mean, at least movies like The Hangover just go for the gross-out, they are not aiming at my PDA sensors.
I tend to take it as a matter of pride and self-discipline that I can control my emotional responses. Not only did my early life train me, but I've worked on it myself, along with the ability to ignore physical distractions. I meditated for long stretches of time just to see if I could sit there and hold my bladder, ignore hunger or thirst, itches, cramps, a buzzing fly or wasp or mosquito (the red ant hill experiment didn't go well), heat, cold, you name it. I took the ascetic path before I took the ecstatic one. It's got to be something severe to elicit a noticeable reaction from me. Anger is the one exception, because it helps me keep people at arm's length. Most of the time, I'm not as angry as I let on, and I have to expend considerable energy to act that angry in the first place. When I fell due to the broken cyst in my leg, I screamed because it startled me. I was more upset at the fact that my leg suddenly and unexpectedly folding under me made me scream than I was at the fact that my leg gave out in the first place. When the dog bit my nipple, I screamed then, too. Only I don't feel as embarrassed about that scream because, fuck, that shit hurt. But I think if I'd been out at the dog park and she'd done that, I probably would have limited it to a hiss of indrawn breath through my teeth, which is what I normally do when I get hurt.
Overt and exaggerated emotional responses bother me. Drama queens bother me. The dog will scratch Rob and he yells 'Ow!' at the top of his lungs. He sees a scorpion & starts hyperventilating. He gets angry or feels threatened and starts inventing torturous ways to kill someone. I've at least got him to stop acting out like that in public, and it took a few years. I let him know that not only is it disturbing to other people, but it embarrasses me and makes me dread going anywhere with him. And it was the one thing that I was not hesitant to voice while I was willing to let so much else go unnoticed or ignored or avoided. When I first met him, oh dear Gods... the scenes he used to make. I don't think my socializing him to the point that he is now was squelching his creativity or emotional needs, either, because you can't just walk around verbally threatening people with chainsaws. Especially now. One or two times is maybe funny, or eccentricity or might have been ominously cool when I was 12... constantly, and at 40, not so much.
All this introspection has led me to know that I am a little too good at controlling my emotions. No one knows when I'm hurt, or upset, or sad or happy or content or bored. I keep everything inside, and I do avoid opening up to other people. It used to be a defense mechanism. I moved around a lot as a kid & teen, rarely spent more than 5 or 6 months in one place. Not only did it hurt me to lose friends, it became harder & harder to make friends in the first place. So much of the time it didn't seem worth the effort, because just when I'd get comfortable around someone, I'd leave again. I justified it by telling myself I was protecting them as much as myself. Eventually though, the more acerbic and caustic I became, the more practiced I became at acting angry or intimidating, the less effort people put into getting to know me. Eventually, that became reinforced into 'no one really cares about me, or my problems, no one wants to hear about my inner life, I'm not interesting, I am beneath notice'. I've started and stopped so many things because I tell myself, 'no one will be interested in this, so why waste time and money on this?'. That's where the alcohol came in handy, because if I was drunk, I was interesting. I was also probably naked, and drunken naked people have loads of entertainment value.
I've been in Vegas for 10 years this stretch, and I don't have any friends, just co-workers and acquaintances. I've been keeping quiet on facebook, and no one has messaged me to find out how I'm doing, or why I quit posting as much. I've tapered off time from the pagan forum, and it's the same there. I'm not hurting about it - I understand the Internet Rules of Engagement, including the Narcissist Clause and Constant Poster/Post Count Amendments. But it does reinforce that whole "I'm not interesting enough to be curious about if I'm not around" thing, which is getting close to "no one would care if I wasn't here at all" territory.
A few of the articles and steps in the depression workbook mentioned that to help get past avoidant behavior was to stop trying to fix everyone and everything. People don't always want advice or troubleshooting, sometimes people just need someone to listen to them and offer understanding or sympathy. I can respect that, because sometimes I don't want friendly advice or troubleshooting either (and it gives me another reason to avoid engaging in conversations, so I'm all for it).
Another bit of advice is to become emotionally invested in other people's emotions, to honestly and deeply care about how other people are feeling. I don't think I have it in me. I'm surrounded by unhappy people, and all they ever talk about is how unhappy they are. It can be from little fixable things, like monitor position or chair height, or unfixable things like relationships and chronic health problems, but it seems like this is all anyone focuses on. I work with a gaggle of older women, and all night I hear the one-up game. Arthritis, rheumatism, Lyme disease, cancer, anxiety, dietary problems, weight problems... every night it's the same heavy rotation. Like a radio station with a DJMixMaster2000 of 'oh, you think you've got it bad'. I'm unhappy, too, but I don't put requests in to play my song continuously (except here, on blog sweet blog). Rob's and my families have taken the 'oh you think you've got it bad' tango to new all-time highs, too. I mean, just once I'd like to hear about someone's financial troubles, or maybe car problems - it would still be complaining, but it'd be a change.
I understand that some people enjoy being the center of attention, but there are so many other ways to get it without having to resort to flapping leaky emotional diapers around. If my bawling co-worker had come to me, earlier in the week, and told me, "hey, I don't think I can handle doing audit by myself yet", I would have been understanding. I would have made arrangements to either come in for a few hours and get her through the flaming hoops or switch days or something. She didn't have to invoke trauma and emergency LOAs.
What I need to do is make a friend or two, in real flesh-and-blood, someone who is not Rob, but someone completely different. My friendship criteria is so high, though. For one, they'd have to put up with Rob, who is poorly socialized and makes everything awkward for everyone. Then there's the dog hair issue. Every surface in my home is covered in dog hair. I'd want a geeky or intellectual friend, someone who is genuinely more interested in the external world than the internal one. I'd like to have someone I could sit around and talk with about emerging technologies, philosophy, quantum physics, green science, street art, the decline of western civilization as a whole. Like the friends I had in high school, when we were all 'gifted and talented' or 'AP', when we all had time to speculate about the future. Someone less focused on using me as a confessional or soft shoulder and more focused on an exchange of ideas, someone who also isn't focused on trying to get me to complain about things. And someone who wouldn't mind being up at 3am. It's hard to find people like that, especially here. Everyone works different shifts and has different days off. I'm skittish about using sites like meetup, because I'm convinced that everyone who is determined, excited and makes a serious effort to meet you IRL from the Internet is a serial killer or a Nigerian bank-scammer. I'm also not real hip to being on the phone or texting. I need face-time, need to sit and watch a bad movie with someone who can help me provide MST3K-like dialogue. I need a partner in crime who will commiserate with me in devious acts of an antiestablishment but highly amusing nature.
Probably not going to find one where I'm going though, which is to bed, and probably back to work tonight.