Wednesday, February 18, 2009

bugs don't have feelings

This morning, I took Charlotte to the library to get her out of the house. I have been feeling a bit guilty in that I don't take Charlotte out very much--we spend most of the time cleaning and organizing and getting ready for the baby. But, today I decided she needed to get out just with me to do something fun.

And she did have fun. So much so that she didn't want to leave when lunchtime came around. She resisted going home, so I had to pick her up, and take her to the car, which of course made her cry. On our way out of the library some random old man who I have never met smilingly told my little girl that if she didn't stop crying, he would have to give her a spanking. I was flabbergasted for so many reasons, not least of which was the complete and total inappropriateness of a stranger threatening my baby girl. I wish I had said something to the man, but I was so stunned and really just wanted to leave the library.

The incident has really got me thinking, however. Why is it that so many people's reaction to displays of emotion is to get really angry or uncomfortable? Why would someone think it appropriate to punish a child for being disappointed? I know the old man at the library is an extreme example of this, but actually the more I think of it, the more examples I come up with situations in which people reacted really negatively to other people's emotions. Here are some examples:

** A friend of mine who I really admire and respect gave me some parenting advice this Fall that made me uncomfortable. When Danny was scared about going to school and crying in the morning, she advised withholding a treat on the days he cried. Why would I punish Danny for being scared of school? And I didn't feel right about rewarding him for not crying, because wouldn't that just be teaching him to swallow his feelings?

** Just last week when I shared with some friends from church that I was pretty scared to go through labor again, most of the women (who had all had babies) totally mocked me and blew off my feelings. One even went so far as to share some birthing horror stories, in case my anxiety level wasn't quite high enough.

** My father, throughout my entire life almost always reacts in anger to people's unhappy emotions, especially if he somehow had any part in the person's emotions. His favorite saying to us growing up was "Bugs don't have feelings." Granted, I now seriously suspect him of having Asperger's or some other high functioning form of autism, (plus he is an alcoholic) but still it made growing up quite difficult to always be mocked for my feelings. I can't tell you how often I was called a crybaby as a kid.

And sadly, these are only a few of the examples I can think of right now, but I don't want to get into the others.

Why is it that some people cannot stand to hear about others' fears, frustrations, hurts without reacting negatively or blowing the person off? I know some people see displays of emotions as a a sign of weakness, but I actually believe the opposite. I think it takes enormous strength and courage to be vulnerable and share one's innermost feelings with another. I also think it is this type of sharing that takes a relationship to another level. My closest friends are those who have shared with me and who have listened as I have shared. On the other hand, I know several people who will never concede that they have difficulties, and it is these people who I just can't get close to. And who I will never share with.

As a mother, and especially as a mother of soon to be two boys, I worry about teaching my kids that their feelings are ok. I want them to know that it is ok to be scared, to worry about things, to have your feelings hurt. These are all normal and it is important for them to be able to talk to someone about them. This society really seems to look down on boys who share their emotions, which scares me because the emotions are there and will come out somehow. And if my dad is any indication, I think many people who try to ignore their feelings will manifest them in anger and possibly try drowning them in alcohol. It has taken me years to understand that the fact that I can cry and share my emotions doesn't make me a weakling.

It makes me think of a song I discovered years ago by Jewel called "I'm Sensitive." I have always liked it, especially the chorus that says, "Please be careful with me. I'm sensitive and I'd like to stay that way."

11 comments:

beckbot said...

Big agreement here on the way American boys are taught to quash their feelings. I've tried to be more aware of that as I interact with my boys, letting them emote, trying to empathize, etc. That said, I chalk the old man's comment up to a generational difference. I mean, if your Dad's take on child raising is that much different from yours, think of the Library Man's perspective. I know my grandparents were definite spankers, my mom a little bit and me not so much. I think you were smart to just walk away. Maybe this is a negative view of humanity, but I always figure that a person who is insensitive enough to pry into my life to begin with will not really hear what I'm saying to them anyway. Thank goodness for blogs--a great way to blow off some steam about ridiculous people.

Denise said...

Great thoughts! I especially liked this paragraph

"Why is it that some people cannot stand to hear about others' fears, frustrations, hurts without reacting negatively or blowing the person off? I know some people see displays of emotions as a a sign of weakness, but I actually believe the opposite. I think it takes enormous strength and courage to be vulnerable and share one's innermost feelings with another. I also think it is this type of sharing that takes a relationship to another level. My closest friends are those who have shared with me and who have listened as I have shared. On the other hand, I know several people who will never concede that they have difficulties, and it is these people who I just can't get close to. And who I will never share with."

I sincerely hope that I wasn't the one to share my horror stories. I think I was scared EVERY time I went into labor...except the first...since every other time I KNEW what was coming wasn't my most pleasant experience...FAR from it.

Also, I have sincerely and completely appreciated being able to share my innermost feelings and thoughts with you KNOWING they were safe there.

I love being your friend!

Quirky Mom said...

You know, I think seeing other people be unhappy is a too-close reminder of what it feels like to be unhappy ourselves, and it's unwelcome. Also, the expressions of unhappiness (like crying) are intrinsically unpleasant to our senses, so we're motivated to fix the thing that caused the unhappiness. Unfortunately, lots of people seem to have the wrong idea about how to fix it.

I really love your perspective here, for example not punishing or rewarding Danny for things related to his emotional expression. He's lucky to have you for his Mom. :)

Amy Jane said...

Patty,

I love this post! Your blog is always so thought-provoking, and I feel so proud to have such a smart, insightful, sensitive friend. I completely agree with everything you said, and I also feel that it's crucial not to punish our boys for being upset or to belittle them for it. And for what it's worth, I'm completely gobsmacked at what that old man said to Charlotte! That's about as inappropriate as it gets.

Love you and miss you...

Amy Jane said...

Patty,

I love this post! Your blog is always so thought-provoking, and I feel so proud to have such a smart, insightful, sensitive friend. I completely agree with everything you said, and I also feel that it's crucial not to punish our boys for being upset or to belittle them for it. And for what it's worth, I'm completely gobsmacked at what that old man said to Charlotte! That's about as inappropriate as it gets.

Love you and miss you...

Elizabeth Channel said...

I will never understand the "birthing horror stories told to the impending birther" situation. My last birth was a lovely, peaceful experience and I adore telling *that* story.

I agree with what you said about boys and emotions. I grew up in a family where, as a girl, you were not allowed to show anger. Consequently, I have grown up with a major anger problem because of all that suppression. I'd rather people get mad and get over it...it is so much healthier than sticking that bad feeling in your little red wagon to drag about your life.

People are bitter. Bitterness makes them react to emotions with anger.

Jackie said...

I agree that there are a lot of people that react poorly to others emotions and maybe a lot comes from their own person anger and as the last person said, bitterness, but I myself feel a little more relieved when I also put plain ignorance into consideration. I myself am probably guilty of not having the appropriate reaction to all situations at all times and I imagine it is the same for most everyone else. It doesn't stop it from being offensive and even though you were shocked and didn't reply, maybe that was the best reaction on your part, just ignore them and don't share their negativism.

Here I am generalizing, old people will say things that may have been acceptable in their younger days but is not so now. I suppose the same can go for different cultures/upbringings/etc. I've had many racial comments made to me and I know it was probably not meant to hurt me and so I try to turn the conversation to a more positive one and that seems to work.

You on the otherhand have always been very aware of others feelings and I am thankful for people like you in the world!

lilmomthatcould.com said...

Oh feel ya!
I was walking down the street with a screaming Nolan and a man told him to "Shut-up." Okay not helping. But I did call him an A-hole and it felt good.
I think sometimes people forget "If you don't have anything nice to say..."

bernthis said...

I just loved this post so much. When I was young, I was hit and all it did was make me cry harder. I'm not sure why some believe that hitting the child will get them to stop crying and behave better.

I wear my heart on my sleeve and many don't and I know that it is hard for them to be around me. I would love for several of my friends to share with me more of what they are going through but they choose not to and it makes me sad as they have been there for me and I would gladly return the favor.

I just love the honesty behind this and I guess this is why I come over here to read. Thanks for being you.

mrsbear said...

As a child I was always very sensitive and therefore dubbed a "crybaby" as a result, I don't share very much by way of emotion, outside my immediate circle. I don't volunteer feelings generally either. I think I worry about my five year old son the most in this respect. He is very much like me, except that he's a boy which carries with it that dreadful stigma of "sucking it up" and not being emotional. I don't want him to feel like less of a boy for having feelings and showing them. I've never told my kids that crying was wrong, I always ask them to think about why they're crying and explain what's upsetting them. Just to get them in the habit of examining their own emotions.

~ April ~ said...

I'm absolutely floored by the man's comment. Wow. Talk about inappropriate on so many levels!

Great post! And so very true.