Thursday, November 21, 2013

Emotional Unavailability

 Today I had a mini-breakdown. (Again, I know)

   I was hurt and upset that I spend most of my time taking care of the kids, and no matter what I do, I'm the bad guy. Not the TV-esque lovable anti-hero. Nope. The straight up bad guy. The one you hope gets taken down by the cops or the plague or something.
   Now my husband is very much the protagonist. He swoops in, sans cape, to save the day. And I love him for it, but I resent it, too.

   I was upset because the kids talk to him, listen to him, want to be around him. I wondered why they don't want that from me. Then I realised. It's because I don't give them what they need. I'm very good at following a to-do list. "Get the kids dressed, put them on the bus, do laundry, call school for IEP followup, cook dinner, help with homework, make sure everyone does chores and gets showered." I'm a very efficient task manager and manners police.
   But what I'm not good at is emotional connections. I can empathize and psychoanalyze with the best of them, but when it comes to good, old-fashioned sympathy, I have none. When the kids are acting out, or upset, I find myself thinking "Why are they upset about that? When I was a kid..."

   Then I realised, this is one more way I have turned into my mother.
   Sympathy, I think, is a learned trait. When you're small, and you skin your knee, if someone comes up to you, and says "Poor baby, let's get a bandaid." you learn how to do that with others. But if you grew up, as I did, with either nobody around to care, or someone was around that would bring up instances of how their childhood was worse ("My sister's bike got stolen. My dad threw her on the ground and stomped on her until her ribs broke." This was a common story from my childhood. Anytime I cried or got upset, this was what my mother told me. Or another lovely anecdote.), then you learn that your pain isn't painful enough-your feelings aren't valid enough-you're not enough. Ever.
   So while my husband was learning how to soothe and be soothed, I was learning that my experiences were not bad enough to worry or fuss about.

   And this is something that I am doing with my foster kids. I was upset with how they act after visitation. My husband said "This is the worst thing that has ever happened to them."  My reaction? "Really? They get taken from their parents. Their parents never hit them. Their parents never touched them inappropriately. The mom is trying her hardest to get them back. They have a ton of people who care about them. Why the F--- are they upset?"
   After I said that, I stopped. Then burst into tears. Because my sister, in one of our last conversations, told me I was just like our mom: emotionally unavailable. So I let her in. And she died; she left me after I was vulnerable. But she was right.

   How does one learn something they were never taught? I googled "Becoming emotionally available". The first site I looked at had a list. The first thing: love yourself. How the hell am I supposed to love myself? How does that happen? What are the steps?
   It's like I was given a brick, and told "Make a pyramid". Without knowing how to make more bricks, or how to build a structure, or even if the type of brick I was given is the right kind for structure stability. How do I give kids something that they need, if I don't have enough of it to even give to myself?
    I have no idea where to start, what to do, whom to ask, or where to go. But I know I'm drowning.

   Too bad my next shrink appointment isn't for another 2 weeks.


  1. For me, the first step to building a pyramid is to know what the hell one looks like. Taking that analogy, what does being 'emotionally available' look like? Before you can even decide what material you need to build this new part of yourself, you need to find models of it in your life that you can base your designs on. What parts of your husband's interactions do you most want to model? Watch a Hallmark Holiday special and look at the sappy on-screen interactions with seriousness and intention of finding positive actions to emulate. Watch Disney's 'Brave' and see how that relationship grows as they come to connect more. Look at is less as sympathy and more as compassion.

    1. Thanks for the ideas! My Netflix is queued up with sappy movies. :D

  2. OK, so clearly you do need to work with your therapist and resolve some of your own childhood traumas so that you can better help others. I'm not really qualified to help you with that but it does seem like your perspective may be a bit skewed here.
    1. The term "emotionally unavailable" implies one who is indifferent, callous, selfish. That is not you. I think that emotionally overwhelmed is a more accurate description.
    2. You are not your mother. You have recognized both that the kids have a need and that you will need help in order to meet it. You are doing everything you can to get that help (therapy, looking online for suggestions, reaching out here). And you've managed this after only a few weeks. Imagine if your own mother had gotten that far in her first few weeks of motherhood. Your life would have turned out much differently.
    3. You are using your relationships with highly traumatized individuals (Stef and your foster kids) as a yardstick by which to measure your ability to be emotionally available to anyone. The truth is that 99% of people would struggle to meet that much neediness without getting burnt out. A lot of people won't even consider taking on foster kids because it is so emotionally taxing. You are in a situation that the majority of people would find overwhelming.
    4. You gloss over the things that you ARE doing for your foster kids as insignificant when they are anything but. Your husband may be providing the bulk of the emotional support but you are giving them stability, routines, and safety. That is so HUGE and honestly it's something I struggle with. I'm not super-organized or efficient. I'm in awe of women like you who can get things done. I think you need to give yourself more credit. It actually sounds like you and your husband make an excellent team. Your contribution is just as important as his.

    1. I'm bawling as I read this, so thank you. I think you're right on a lot of counts (as usual). I do think overwhelmed is more where I'm at-I guess I just needed it pointed out. You rock.