How your Unconscious seeps in unnoticed...
Updated: May 28, 2020
Last week I felt very strange - extremely irritable, anxious, and disconnected from my surroundings. I was going through life as if underwater; not feeling like I can move quickly, hear clearly, see clearly, or respond quickly. I felt overwhelmed.
Nothing was ‘wrong’. Life was actually going really well. Business hasn’t stopped after New Year Holidays (always a worry when you run a private practice - that people ‘disappear’ after time away); the kids are happy and healthy; home life is great; my husband’s business is about to get a revamp… yet I felt disconnected and frustrated by existence. I just wanted to escape and be left alone; to crawl into my shell.
So what’s going on?
I started to feel like this on Monday. I took the week off clients to spend time with J1.0 before he starts Kindergarten. I wanted to make it a special transition and build a sense of excitement around this period for him. We had fun - it was tiring, but it wasn’t a ‘bad’ week, yet I still felt quite irritated and challenged. I blamed the kids, for waking up early and for being noisy and for wanting so much of me; I blamed my husband, for asking me for things and wanting to discuss serious matters when I didn’t have enough space; I blamed myself, for being ‘defective’ ‘depressed’ and ‘incapable’ of simply enjoying life.
On Thursday I found myself having a ‘conversation’ with my mother in my head while making lunch. What the…? I’m in the middle of cooking and I’m mentally discussing how I felt as a child, comparing it to what I’m doing with J1.0 this week.
HELLO UNCONSCIOUS, you’ve finally broken through.
Now, I want to just deviate for a moment and say that I’m writing this blog as a personal reflection, to act as a method of organising my thoughts and (potentially) helping others understand how our unconscious can direct our behaviour and emotions, even when ‘nothing has happened’ (I.e. when we aren’t aware of what is triggering us). It’s easier to use myself as an example because I’m bound by confidentiality with clients’ experiences. There is no judgement intended on anyone’s choices, and if you feel that there has been any, please get in touch and speak to me about it!
Back to my unconscious…
I was mentally discussing how my mother didn’t bother doing what I’ve done for J1.0 - she didn’t take time off before we went to Kindy, she didn’t re-jig her work schedule to drop us off and/or pick us up from school, she didn’t take time away from what she *needed* (read: wanted) to do. We were never a priority; we were a burden. This permeated every day of life - every choice - so most of my recollections are ‘small’ things and ‘little’ events. I was really scared to write this because I’m aware that this could sound like I’m a spoilt brat who is whingeing about not having everything.
This questioning of whether my concerns are ‘important’ or ‘warranted’ or whether I’m being ‘dramatic’ or ‘overindulgent’ or ‘spoilt’ is part of the legacy left by my mothering. I don’t feel like I’m ‘allowed’ to feel like this because (1) on the scale of global suffering, it could’ve been much worse, and (2) I’ve been taught that others’ emotions and experiences are more important than my own. I survived, I grew up, I have achieved a lot, therefore I *should* stop being dramatic.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to make our kids our ONLY priority, or our first priority ALL THE TIME; but I am saying that we need to consider how many occasions we choose them, and why we are choosing what we choose.
Being conscious of our choices means we are consciously creating the lives and relationships we want, not just repeating inter-generational relational traumas.
The tendency for my mother to choose herself is pervasive. Not only that, she leaves us behind. We are not an integrated part of her life; we are an additive that she *had* to do (because her mother told her to have children). The memory that came up strongly for me in this reflection was returning from a 3-week trip to Argentina (where I flew alone at 12 years old to visit my best friend) to find my dad waiting for me at the airport.
Where was my mum? At the gym.
Something that she can (and did) do every day. Something that has no real impact if it’s missed once. I know that because my other profession is fitness instructing.
She hadn’t seen her child in 3 weeks. Her child was 12, flying to a different country on her own for the first time, navigating airports alone in a Spanish-speaking country. But instead of coming to meet her off the plane, she felt the gym was a higher priority.
What’s disturbing about this memory for me is that I didn’t think anything was wrong at the time. It was normal. It was funny. As a mother, I cannot believe that I actually thought this behaviour was ok. Every time my son comes home from his dads house (usually 1-2 nights away) I make sure I don’t have anything planned and I’m home to meet him. In fact, this whole week I’ve been there to pick him up from school every day because I want to see him and talk about what he’s doing (and because I am lucky enough to have a schedule that allows this).
To really hammer home how my unconscious feels about my mother, I’ll tell you a story about when I saw her playing with a 3 year old child. I thought to myself: “wow, it’s weird she plays so well with kids when she’s never had any”
… “When she’s never had any”…
Her own child thought she’d never had children.
That disturbed me. At the time though, I thought it was funny. Are you seeing a theme?
I won’t go on with examples - I can sense myself wanting to justify my feelings to you (a leftover effect; my unconscious wants you to agree with my point of view, to validate me). Instead, I’ll tell you how I perceive myself as a result, which probably won’t be a surprise…
I’m not enough
I don’t matter
I’m not important
So, taking time off with my son before he starts school is me prioritising him (choosing him). My unconscious is aware of the gap between what I experienced and what I am now doing. My unconscious is now panicking because the ‘inner child’/‘elephant’/id is screaming in my head because my unmet needs are becoming apparent to my consciousness.
“Sophie, you’re not important. You don’t matter. You’re not worthy. You’re not enough to warrant attention or concern”
This is the thought process that has been going through my head this week, simmering just under the surface. I didn’t hear it until Thursday because my consciousness kept coming up with ‘rational’ reasons why I felt crap… I had my period, the kids woke me up early, I didn’t wind down properly before bed so I didn’t sleep well… because there are always ‘rational’ reasons to explain it away. Except, when my period finished, and I got my sleep in order, I didn’t feel better - that’s when my unconscious broke through and I started talking to my mother in my head.
The result was feeling distant from my husband - “he thinks you’re awful, he doesn’t really love you, he’s just stuck with you now” - feeling frustrated at my kids - “I’m not a patient enough mother, I’m causing problems for my kids, I’m not regulating myself well enough” - feeling overwhelmed and anxious - “nobody cares about my needs, I can’t handle life, there’s no way out of this cycle”.
It was amazing how much calmer I felt when I noticed this dialogue. Then I started to reflect on it, pull it apart, and write about it. The result is that I can see the link between my upbringing, my current feelings, and my behaviour. I now have a choice:
(1) Do I continue to repeat this pattern of anxiety, withdrawal, low gratitude, and quick temper toward my kids?
(2) Do I talk to my husband about these links, ask him for a hug, and consciously sit close on the couch tonight? Do I apologise to my kids and consciously listen to them when they’re trying to get my attention (instead of labelling it ‘annoying’)? Do I consciously reflect on who I am and whether my unworthiness is THE truth, or whether it’s a potential truth?
The choice is not to switch my emotions into different ones.
The choice is to be courageous and engage, curiously, with my reactions and my world.
The choice is to examine perspectives.
The choice is to get the conscious Rider to communicate with the unconscious Elephant.
(Sorry about the length of this one - Thankyou for reading if you made it this far!)