I got really excited the other night while the kids and I played Trivial Pursuit with our Amazon Alexa. I knew the answer to a question about one of the latest space rovers so I exclaimed, “I know that one!” The problem was it was not my turn to answer and my exclamation covered up the correct answer spoken by my son. Alexa got confused and did not give my son credit for his response.
Then, all hell broke loose. You would have thought I stepped on my son’s face or kicked a puppy. All of my kids yelled and told me I have to stop talking. I may have talked out of turn another time too… They brought it up later during the game and at the end of the game as well. The next time we play, I’m sure I’ll be reminded to keep quiet again.
Now this is seemingly a small issue but inside this really bothered me. I apologized and did not mean to ruin my son’s answer. I felt hurt they were so quick to jump on my mistake and enthusiasm.
It’s not you, it’s everyone before you
Since I’ve been doing therapy and a lot of reflection on my childhood, I know most of my big emotional reactions stem from things that happened in the past. My emotional reactions are not only responses to current situations but they are also connected to raw and unresolved feelings from past similar situations.
For example, I feel overwhelmed (more than the average person) and sad when home repairs start to pile up. This reaction has its roots in many years of feeling alone when it came to taking care of everything and everyone in a home. Even when married, I often felt alone, like no one saw me. It wasn’t that I didn’t have help, my ex-husband helped around the house when he was home, but it was that I felt alone and unknown. I felt like all I was was someone to fix things.
So why my hurt over some shushing and condemning during a game with my kids? Many times as a young person and even in adulthood, I’ve found myself in close relationships with people who make fun of me (and others) for being different, excited or making a mistake.
My sister was the first to lay in wait for my error or unbridled enthusiasm. When I showed vulnerability or joy, she was there to point out my weakness or crush my happiness. For instance, if I was singing in our room, she would go out and tell the rest of the family how horrible I sang. After a while, I learned to avoid mistakes by not doing or saying anything around her. I saved my enthusiasm for times with my friends.
This may sound like simple sibling squabbles, but it really affected me. I think again, it made me feel alone. I don’t remember my parents protecting either of us from each other. I admit, I was not a perfect angel. I dug into my sister and her weaknesses too.
My sister and I were competitors more than companions growing up. I don’t wish that setup on anyone. It did not serve either of us. We are more companions and confidantes now and it is way more fortifying.
I beg all current parents to encourage a team atmosphere at home, especially if you have someone with a sensitive nature in your family.
Hiding parts of myself
I have also experienced an adult romantic relationship where being excited or making a mistake were pointed out as things not to do again. And if having those things crushed or pointed out upset me, I wasn’t supposed to show that either. Getting emotional was a no-no.
The effect was that I learned to hide parts of myself. Eventually, I knew that was not a safe and fulfilling relationship. I had other more secure relationships (including one with my sister) to reinforce my decision to leave that one.
Making sense of the past makes the present more tolerable
My boyfriend’s response when I told him about blurting out during Trivial Pursuit, was a light and joking, “When will you learn?” He did not chastise me or make me feel small. He just teased me with a smile and stayed steadfastly in my corner. What a relief.
I am aware I have strong reactions to certain behavior because of past wounds. I was not thrilled that I am still hurt by people shutting down my excitement and condemning my mistakes, but with a better understanding of where the sadness and shame come from and other secure relationships where I feel safe and seen, I was able to get past it more quickly. For those of us who like a little science, my reasoning prefrontal cortex was able to take over my emotional limbic brain and get me back to equanimity.
Oh I love a good psycho-biological connection! See, no fear of showing my geeky enthusiasm with you. 🙂
Striving to break the cycle
When I apologized for blurting out responses during the Trivial Pursuit game, I also told my children excitement and mistakes are OK. We all make mistakes.
Unfortunately, I think part of the reason my son was so upset I ruined his correct answer is that he believes he has to know it all and compete with his siblings.
What past experiences strongly affect you now? Do you feel free to express excitement? Make a mistake?
Would you like to speak to someone who can help you tease out what wounds still affect you? Contact me here. I’d love to help.
For those of you in the Minneapolis area, please save the date: March 10 from 4-6 PM. I’ll be at the local Barnes & Noble for a meet and greet. I’d love to meet you or catch up with you if we’re already old friends. 🙂