I feel the need to begin by saying that I love my family of origin and can confidently say that they taught me many valuable things that have contributed to the good parts of my adult life. Having gotten that out of the way, this morning I want to talk a little about dark feelings in my childhood.

In my house of origin, rationality was held in high regard.

Sometimes only rationality was held in high regard. We would talk through problems, so long as that talk didn’t include any negative emotion.

Anger was not encouraged.

Tears were actively discouraged.

Sadness was something to take care of in your own space, by yourself.

While I was in elementary school, my mother completed the bachelor’s degree she had begun before leaving college to be come a mother of 4. When my brother graduated from high school in 1979, my mother graduated from college, with a bachelor’s in social work that came with a whole lot of new information about all of the dark feelings that were confined to the bedrooms of our home.

slide1My mother’s attempts to open the lines of emotional communication began when I was 11, about a year after my parent’s divorce. I had already learned the lessons of my childhood and as a blooming adolescent, had no intention of now digging in to how I felt just to answer someone else’s questions. I had already mastered one of my chief emotional strategies, psychological numbing.

What better time than the teen years to adopt a blasé attitude about everything that happens in your life? What better time to assure those who ask that you are fine, partly because you don’t really want to talk to anyone, and partly because if you say it enough, it just might be true. I’m fine. Everything is fine. I’m just going to do what I need to do and everything will be fine. I will do my homework, I will pursue music and theatre, dance, French, writing, guitar. I will do what needs doing. I will do everything that needs doing because the more doing I can possible do, the less being I have to worry about.

My favorite numbing strategy for many years was busyness. If I was busy, I didn’t have time to notice any pain I might be feeling. If I was busy, I was valuable, I was productive. If I am busy long enough, I will be good, and I won’t be sad or scared or angry anymore.

It took many, many years to learn that busy didn’t make me good. Busy didn’t make me valuable. Busy distracted me from the messages that my heart was trying to send me. Messages like “I need community.” “I need to find courage to be myself.” “I don’t have to do everything for everyone to be okay.” Busy disconnected me from the signals that pointed to the wounds that needed tending, the healing that needed doing, and the directions that would lead me to peace. And busy made me so, so very tired. My mother, with whom I now regularly discuss my feelings, and I reflected one day on how many years I had been claiming tired as my standard state, my way in the world.

slide2Ignoring my feelings, disconnecting, numbing from them kept me from wondering what I could do to combat my own loneliness, how I could develop more confidence and learn to like myself, how I could recognize the many ways in which I am not only good enough, but kind of awesome; disconnecting from anger prevented me from learning to set boundaries so that I neither have to do everything nor resent the poor souls I took all these busy projects on for in the first place. By dulling my pain, I only managed to draw that pain out (and often to share it), to miss crucial information about my own growth, and to cultivate a series of reactions that were ultimately harmful.

If only I had known. If only I had known what I know now, that feelings, even the darkest ones, are endurable. Feelings are guideposts, markers, a vibration in your body that helps you know what is working for you and what needs to be reconsidered. If only I had known that if I sat still and had that dark feeling, really let it grow and blossom, not reacting (and not acting), just feeling it, it would pass through. It would diminish having been given its place, having been heard and having been honored, having delivered its message to the one who can make changes. Now I know.

I invite you to consider how you treat your darkest emotions. Do you hide from them? Do you numb them? Do you listen? Do you allow? What can you learn from them? I had the benefit of learning just how to allow, how to listen from a professional to whom I will be eternally grateful. As karma would have it, I am now the teacher. If you need help learning to listen and allow those dark feelings, call me (240-367-9730).




  1. This is such a thoughtful post. I definitely avoid talking about emotions, even though I know (and write) about how important it is to express yourself. My family has been going through a rough time this year, so I think we can all do better at allowing our emotions instead of hiding them, or avoiding them altogether. I’m sharing this post via Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon. Happy Holidays!

  2. Thank you for posting this. Currently I am challenged with dark emotions and I just don’t know what to do to pass them on out of the front of my mind. My (abusive) mother lives with my family in our home. I’m getting so very tired of “acting opposite” {from DBT training skills). It’s wearing me down.

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