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  • Writer's pictureClarissa Tapia

Time to Grow Up

For the longest, there was something going on with me that nobody really brought to my attention. I think it was something that maybe I recognized but chose to ignore because I'd gotten away with it for so long - I mean why change now. That was my mentality up until about two years ago, when someone whom I care about a lot tells me something along the lines of: This has to stop, or the effects it's having on our relationship will be irreparable. I remember sitting in my car with alligator tears streaming down my face. I can't remember if I was hyperventilating, but I honestly wouldn't doubt it, I can be dramatic that way. What do you do when someone calls you out on something? Especially something about your character? For me, it's usually an immediate turn into "I'm not enough. This person is not happy with me. I have to fix it. How do I fix it?" Well, let me tell you, there is no easy fix for anything. Not if you want to actually make things better in the future. A band-aid here and some aloe vera there will only get you so far. So after this conversation, I had a choice to make, either slap on another band-aid and hope that this time it sticks longer than the last time, or actually address head on what was going on. So I turned to therapy.

Yup, I went to therapy, and actually still am. Guess what areas I needed help with? Anger Management and Perfectionism. Want to know what else I was told I needed help with - Anxiety. Looking back on that first meeting with my therapist, I can honestly tell you that I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time, heart pounding, palms sweaty, trying my best to seem as normal as possible - but she saw right through me. She asked hard questions, real questions and wouldn't take a shrug as an answer. I ended up in tears before we hit the half way mark, that's how much tension I was holding on to. It was like floodgates had opened and there was no closing them. I gushed words as if my life depended on it. I left her office that day shaking. Picturing it now, all of that built up tension and anxiety was caused by my desire to avoid hurting. I just kept all these bad feelings inside in an effort not to feel pain, but any little thing could set me off. I am currently reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown and she identifies various ways in which we off-load pain in an effort not to feel emotion. When she described "Chandeliering," my stomach was in knots, it spoke to me in ways that only someone who off-loads this way can understand. I had to force myself to read through the passage because all I felt was shame and guilt for having this kind of behavior. Brown defines Chandeliering as: "Packing the hurt so far down that it can't possibly resurface, yet all of a sudden, a seemingly innocuous comment sends us into a rage or sparks a crying fit... We maintain our prized stoicism in front of the people we want to impress or influence, but the second we're around people over whom we have emotional, financial, or physical power, we explode." For the people who are on the receiving end of someone who chandeliers, Brown writes: "Living, growing up, working, or worshipping on eggshells creates huge cracks in our sense of safety, and self-worth. Over time, it can be experienced as trauma." Ouch. Had I stuck another band-aid to in an attempt to fix this behavior, instead of seeking professional help, I wouldn't be a happy person. I would be someone with a lot of pain and resentment. Someone I wouldn't want to be friends with. I am proud of myself for taking a step toward growing up emotionally, because at the end of the day that's what it is. Finding the courage to face your emotions instead of off-loading them is grown up behavior.

Chandeliering is just one of the ways we off-load pain. Here are in brief, the other four ways Brown says we avoid our emotions as described in Rising Strong. If you are curious about off-loading pain behaviors, I absolutely recommend reading Rising Strong for Brown's full explanation.

Bouncing Hurt: The ego has a shame based fear of being ordinary (which is how Brown defines Narcissism). The ego says "feelings are for losers and weaklings." Brows describes her ego as her inner hustler who employs ruffians like anger, blame, and avoidance as bouncers to avoid truth and vulnerability. The ego likes blaming, finding fault, making excuses, inflicting payback, and lashing out - ultimately all forms of self-protection. The ego is also a fan of avoidance. We adopt a pose of indifference or we deflect with humor on cynicism. Often, the first hustle is putting down and shaming others for their lack of "emotional control." Like all hustlers, the ego is a slick, conniving and dangerous liar.

Numbing Hurt: We can take the edge off emotional pain with a whole bunch of stuff, including alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, care taking, gambling, affairs, religion, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change and the Internet. There's also staying busy: living so hard and fast that the truths of our live can't catch up with us. However, when we numb the dark, we also numb the light. When "taking the edge off" with a couple of glasses of red wine becomes routine, our experiences of joy and love and trust will become duller too. If we numb compulsively and chronically - it's an addiction.

Stockpiling Hurt: Stockpiling starts like chandeliering, with us firmly packing down the pain, but here, we just continue to amass hurt until the wisest parts of us, our bodies, decide that enough is enough. The body's message is always clear: Shut down the stockpiling or I'll shut you down. The body wins every time. Depression and anxiety are two of the body's first reactions to stockpiles of hurt.

Hurt and the fear of high centering: Picture your car driving over a median and getting stuck. Your car is straddling the median, the undercarriage of the car scraping loudly from impact. You can't move forward and you can't back up. That's high centering. One reason we deny our feelings is our fear of high centering emotionally. If I recognize my hurt or fear or anger, I'll get stuck. Once I engage even a little, I won't be able to move backward and pretend that it doesn't matter, but moving forward might open a floodgate of emotion that I can't control. I'll be stuck. Helpless. Denying emotion is not avoiding the high curbs, it's never taking your car out of the garage. It's safe in there, but you'll never go anywhere.

If you're like me, you probably identify with one of these off-loading pain behaviors and are wondering, what can be done? In brief, you have to integrate your story of pain and struggle into your life. Avoiding pain or pretending not be hurt means you are choosing to imprison yourself with this dark emotion. I don't know about you, but to recognize that a lot of our current difficult situations are caused entirely by our own avoidance of pain was an eye opener for me. Being able to take a step back and look at the pain I was holding on to in the eye has given me peace because I can identify what got me there, I can recognize the signs when I'm about to hit a chandeliering moment so that I can take a step back, breathe, assess, and get curious about why this emotion was triggered before I off load on someone I care about. I still struggle with chandeliering, and I'm sure it will be life-long journey for me, but I couldn't be happier for what I've started. I truly believe that once you start something that is meant for you, the universe conspires to help you. And that's where I am at today. :)

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