Walking on eggshells

I left group this week feeling really angry. I struggle to get a word in edgeways. This is partly because of people interrupting and talking over each other, but it’s also my own issue; I find I need a few seconds of silence before I can speak. I imagine this hesitancy is another one of those gifts from my less than idyllic childhood.

My father’s unpredictable temper probably taught me to walk on eggshells. At times I’d do just the opposite, deliberately pushing him into losing his temper just so it would be over and I wouldn’t have to deal with it hanging over my head, the not knowing what would happen next. There were few ways I could take control over the situation, and escalating it to get it over with was the way I chose.

I’ve been told for years by my family, as a child but also since then, that the conflict in the family was my fault because of this survival strategy. That guilt and the belief that I caused all these problems is a part of my core, and something I am struggling now to put into perspective. My therapist has challenged me on this, but it is an idea of myself that snaps back into place at any opportunity. There are moments when I glimpse alternative points of view. I suppose I just have to build on those.

In my individual session this week I talked with my therapist about my frustrations in trying to get myself heard in the group, and we touched on how I’ve been doing (badly) in the aftermath of talking to her about something I’ve never told anyone before. I’m not quite ready to go into that here.

I also had phonecalls with the crisis line and my social worker this week due to my self injury, which was escalating rapidly beyond my control. I didn’t find the crisis line helpful but the talk with my social worker has helped me feel that there are things I can do in terms of harm minimisation. This means I feel less out of control, though things are tough emotionally right now. I feel a sinking dread and an irritability I can’t shake. It is painful to be around others.

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MBT Group Week 20

Lots to think about after today’s group. Why am I cutting myself again? Who am I angry with?

I’m angry with myself because I still blame myself for not having the relationship with my family that I want to have. I feel like I should have reached out to them, been honest with them about my life but actually (as the group pointed out) I was protecting myself. Why would I be honest with people who have always rejected me and told me I am bad?

I’m angry with my parents for that. The anger is only sometimes there in glimpses. I am starting to get in touch with my anger which is probably a good thing but it also scares me. I want to get in touch with the true cause of my anger, so I can be less reactionary in my relationships now.

What is the next step in my relationship with my family? Frankly I’m sick of pretending everything is okay and going along with their idea of what our family is like. I’m sick of hiding myself and presenting them with a sanitised version of my life to protect them(?), to try to keep their approval.

I don’t know how much longer I will be able to maintain the facade with them and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I am scared of them rejecting me but I have already survived that in a way. It is what I fear so much but in many ways it is something that has already happened. I fear that they won’t validate my feelings or experience but that is already the case.

I suppose I am suggesting I make myself vulnerable to that rejection all over again, by showing them my honest self, by telling them what it was like for me growing up. My fellow group members think I ought to distance myself from my family, at least for a while. That scares me more than the thought of being honest with them. Why? Because it would break the pattern of them rejecting me and I would be accused of rejecting them instead? Because I still cling to the idea that I will tell them the truth and they will fall to their knees and say sorry and that they love me – that’s not going to happen.

I don’t know where to go from here. I am feeling angry, upset and exhausted. I’m ill again because I’m run down. I am still reeling from being in hospital.

I just want someone that I can call and talk to about this stuff, but I’m too nervous to use home treatment team or samaritans or whatever.

I just want someone to give me a cuddle and tell me that I’m brave to carry on when things are so hard. I want someone to tell me that I am doing really well. Most of all, I want to be able to believe them when they say these things.

Coping with Anger

Today I got angry with my boyfriend. This is an almost daily occurrence because anger seems to be my go-to emotion when I’m feeling other emotions that I can’t handle, including anxiety, low mood, fear, self doubt, guilt… In this situation, my boyfriend was trying to help me with something I was worrying about. I couldn’t get my helmet to fit me correctly and he was trying to help me adjust it. He’s not very good at verbal communication, and far from being patient and recognising that it’s something he struggles with, I got frustrated and yelled at him. Obviously this isn’t a good experience for him, but this is a recovery blog so I’m going to focus on the implications for me. If I can focus on doing better, that will make his life easier too.

In this situation, I have been left feeling guilty and afraid that he will end up leaving me because of my behaviour. If I could recognise anxiety when it appears, and accept what help he is offering (or turn it down politely), I could have avoided lashing out verbally, hurting his feelings and leaving me with more difficult emotions to cope with.

So what can I do with the emotions I am left with? I accept that I feel guilty for now, but when my boyfriend gets home later I can apologise and try to put it behind us. I feel afraid he will leave me because of my behaviour. I can’t control whether he leaves me or not, but I can remind myself that he loves me very much, he has been very patient with me in the past, and I can renew my commitment to try to cope with my emotions better. It won’t happen overnight. I have a long journey ahead of me, but I have made a lot of progress to get to this point. I’m not on the first step by any means.

How can I cope better with anger in the future?

  • Firstly, my feelings are my feelings. Anger is not necessarily a ‘wrong’ emotion, and there are definitely times when it is an appropriate response. I will try not to beat myself up for my anger afterwards. It achieves nothing.
  • I can try to recognise and deal differently with other feelings (like I listed above) before they get out of hand and become more likely to get distorted into anger.
  • Identify triggers for anger, e.g. hunger, tiredness, someone being an ass about politics near me. I often get angry when I am hungry and need to eat something. I’m getting better at recognising this and eating something/holding my anger in check because I know it stems from hunger and not the situation I’m in. I’m also getting much better at picking my battles when it comes to my politics. That’s a story for another day.
  • I’d like to learn more techniques for dealing better with my anger when I’m already angry. It’s not realistic to avoid anger completely (and it probably wouldn’t be good for me to try) so I’d like to be able to cope with it better when it happens. I’ve heard people suggest things like counting to ten, or taking a deep breath. I’ve rarely managed to implement these.

Sometimes I worry that I enjoy my anger, only hating it when I am done yelling and I want it to go away and it won’t. One of my resolutions for this year was to be more compassionate to the people I love. I think keeping the other person’s humanity at the front of my mind in a confrontation would help to keep my anger from getting out of control. I’m not physically violent, I yell and throw tissue boxes on the floor or whatever, but obviously words can be very hurtful and a raised voice or an item thrown onto the floor can be intimidating and upsetting. I think being compassionate to others can help us learn how to be compassionate to ourselves (including our younger selves). The exhaustion and the self hatred I feel after angry episodes is not good for my mental health or my relationships with others. This is something I will continue working on to further my recovery.