Emotions, Family, Fears, Friends, My story, Relationships, Therapy

Mask Homework – Part 2

This is a continuation of the therapy assignment I started here.

So part 2 is to talk about why I put the feelings where I did and my overall thoughts on the exercise.

Feelings that I show to the world:

  • Determined
  • Satisfied
  • Interested
  • Puzzled
  • Apologetic
  • Optimistic
  • Concentrating
  • Thoughtful
  • Happy
  • Curious

I noticed that almost all of the feelings I put on this side of the mask can be lumped into the general category of “positive feelings”. These feelings go along with how I want other people to view me. I don’t want people to think I’m a victim. I don’t want them to think I’m weak or helpless. I want them to see me as strong and confident, even when I don’t feel that way inside.

Emotions like curious and interested are part of traits that I greatly admire in other people. I had teachers who encouraged me to ask tons of questions. Many of my science teachers had those traits and were quite influential in my life. Even though I teach English for a living, I consider myself more of a math/science person. I’m always reading about the latest findings in biology or cosmology. And I’m always trying to ask questions about what I read and then see if I can find answers to those questions.

I really do have a hard time showing other people when I’m sad or upset. I put on a happy face because I’m afraid to show those feelings. I’m afraid that people won’t like me if I’m sad. And I’m afraid of being punished for showing any sort of negative emotion.

I’ve shown these feelings to the world for so long now, I sometimes wonder if people who know me (but don’t know about my past) would be surprised to see me not happy and confident.

Feelings that I keep hidden inside:

  • Anxious
  • Frightened
  • Cautious
  • Lonely
  • Frustrated
  • Hurt
  • Exhausted
  • Surly
  • Sad
  • Guilty
  • Withdrawn
  • Suspicious
  • Miserable
  • Exasperated
  • Undecided
  • Regretful

What I notice most about this list is that in contrast to the outward facing feelings, these are mostly “negative” feelings. Maybe negative isn’t the right word. Feelings that don’t feel good might be a better description.

Growing up, I was punished for showing sadness or anger or frustration. I learned very early in my life how to hide those feelings. I still do for fear of being punished. Somehow, rationally, I know that none of my friends would yell or hit me if I showed them how I felt inside. But the rational knowledge doesn’t always mitigate those engrained patterns. And I tend to fall back into the mindset that something bad will happen if I cry or get angry.

So many of these feelings go back to childhood. I didn’t have many friends growing up. In fact, I still don’t. I often feel all alone. I feel like nobody in the world would care if I dropped off the face of the earth. Of course, that’s not true (I think). But it’s the way I feel inside.

I frequently blame myself for the bad things that happened to me. I feel so guilty for not telling anyone or not fighting back. I feel guilty for lying when a school guidance counselor asked if everything was all right at home.

I think the one feeling on this list that bothers me the most is suspicious. I go through periods when I feel like the entire world is out to get me. I know it isn’t. So again, it’s one of those cases where my feelings and my knowledge are out of sync.

Thoughts on the exercise:

The one thing I notice about the world side of the mask as compared to the inner side of the mask is that the placement of the feelings is very orderly. On the world side, the feelings are arranged neatly around the edge of the mask. In contrast, the ones on the other mask are very jumbled up. This mirrors quite well the way I present myself versus the way I really feel. I look put together on the outside but I feel completely jumbled up on the inside.

I have to admit it was an interesting exercise in general. It forced me to sit down and really think about what I was feeling. It forced me to think about the face I present to the world versus what I really feel inside. I always knew that I was a different person on the outside than I am on the inside. I just never sat down and saw how different. I never saw how much I try to look socially acceptable on the outside when I feel like absolute crap on the inside.

I have a couple online friends that I’m working on showing those inside feelings. Nothing bad has ever happened. But the fear is still there. If one of them asks “Are you on?”, I’m more likely to say yes than admit how anxious/scared/sad/upset I am. But in real life, I answer “I’m fine.” almost 100% of the time.

Child Abuse, Emotions, PTSD

Getting clean

Austin has written a recent entry on not feeling clean after taking a shower.

This is something I struggle with constantly. I can rub and scrub all I want. I can use that horrible lava soap. I can have the water blistering hot. But I just don’t feel clean. I can see there is no dirt on my body. But I don’t feel clean.

I know the purpose of taking a shower. To get the physical dirt off the physical body. But no amount of rubbing scrubbing is going to get the dirt out of my mind. I know the only way to do that is by doing what I’m doing right now. The writing. Seeing my therapist. Doing my homework.

I’m finding with my shower therapy that the feelings of being dirty after finishing a shower are lessening. It’s getting easier to be in the shower. The panic doesn’t hit within seconds, but rather minutes. A few times, I’ve managed to take an entire shower (all 5 minutes worth of it) without the panic hitting at all. To me, that is a huge step forward. I’m also staying in the shower a bit longer. So a bit more progress.

But those feelings of being dirty… they just don’t go away. The feelings are worse after a shower and when I wake up. They diminish during the day. But they always seem to be there at a low level.

I can intellectualize the feeling dirty thing all I want. I understand why it came to be. But somehow that doesn’t help when I stand in the shower scrubbing until I’m raw.

Art Work, Emotions, Therapy

Mask Homework – Part 1

My therapist gave me an assignment on Wednesday. It’s looking at the differences in the emotions I display to the world versus the emotions I keep inside. As it’s a tiny bit easier to show my emotions online, I decided to focus on what I do in real life. What I mean is I’m more likely to say what I’m really feeling writing here in this blog or in an IM chat with a friend than I would talking face to face with friends in real life.

The assignment is to take a mask and on the outside of it list the emotions you show to the world. On the inside of it list, list the emotions that you keep inside. The second part (for a entry later this weekend) is to explain why you put the emotions on the mask you did. So if you put happy on the outside and sad on the inside, why do you do that?

So, I found a very simple line drawing of a face through Google and pasted two copies of it into Paint (I ran out of patience trying to do this in The GIMP). I added text headers. I also erased the eyes, mouth and nose on the inside mask. I then took my feeling faces image and cut and pasted the relevant ones onto the correct mask. And as I was procrastinating on the second part (a little too much to deal with) I colored it.

It was an interesting exercise to do. I’ll write more about that in part 2.

For anyone who wants to do this exercise, the masks can be found here, and the feeling faces can be found here. You’ll need to reduce the faces down to about 70% of original. And the eyes on the outward mask are blue. I forgot I had saved it after coloring them in.

Anxiety, Emotions, Positive things, Therapy

What I like about me

Time for more homework from my therapist… After discussion on a variety of topics, she has given me more homework.

She asked me to try to write things I like about myself. My own self worth is pretty low right now. I blame myself for the things that happened with my family and with James. It was pointed out to me that I’m harder on myself than anyone else will probably ever be. But that’s for a future entry I guess.

So what do I like about me? Blargh. Not much really. It’s so easy to write what I hate about myself. But that wasn’t my assignment. Although it would be an interesting one to do and then to try and write the reasons why those things are not accurate. But I guess that’s an entry for another day as well.

Hmmm… so it seems like I’m doing everything I can not to write this entry, including cleaning my room.

It’s extremely uncomfortable to even entertain the question. I’m so used to focusing on the parts of myself that I don’t like. I’m so used to putting myself down. I’m so used to discounting anything good I’ve done.

For fun, I’m timing how long it takes me to come up with this list. My start time is 10:37 PM.

So here’s my attempt at listing the things I like about myself.

  • I’m curious about how things work.
  • I’m always trying to learn something new.
  • I ask a lot of questions.
  • I’m persistent.
  • I always try to be nice to people, animals, plants and inanimate objects.
  • I try to help out when I can.
  • I’m creative.

It’s now 2:10 AM and I can’t come up with anything else. I haven’t been sitting here for 4 hours beating my head over this. But I have been thinking about it.

As I said when I started, it’s really hard for me to think about this question. My feelings are all jumbled up. Even using my feeling faces, it’s really hard to pick out what I’m feeling. But I think a big part of it is anxious. I know our accomplishments were minimized and our short-comings emphasized while growing up. So there’s that little nagging voice in the back of my head that tells me these things are no big deal. They’re ordinary. And they’re nothing to be proud of.

Anxiety, Dreams, Emotions, Therapy


I’m trying the dream therapy again. I’ve been having a recurrent dream the last two weeks or so. It’s a dream that I had many years ago and is making a reappearance.

As I think back to what was going on in my life back then, it’s actually similar on some levels. I was doing heavy duty therapy. I was in the process of writing my masters thesis. I was debating whether to apply to a different graduate program. There were just a lot of things up in the air.

Right now I’m working really hard on the memories and the impact they have on my life. I’m working on expressing emotions. I signed my contract for the school in Korea, but my visa is still up in the air.

In this dream, I was in my bed in the house in MH. There was a man standing outside of my window (which is interesting in itself as my room was on the second floor) calling my name. Each time I looked out the window to see who it was, I was greeted by a wall of water crashing down over me despite the window being closed and locked. As the water came in the window was shattered. When I tried to get out of the way of the water and flying glass, an intake pipe right under the window sucked me in. When I looked at the pipe, it looked like an average sized pipe. Definitely not one a child would fit into. But when I was in the pipe, there was room to move, but not much. I felt like I was drowning. I fought my way out of there, back into my room. I got back into my bed. Then I heard the voice calling me again. So I tried to look out the window (amazingly intact again) and the whole thing would start all over again.

So even though I have a pretty good idea of what the dream symbolizes, I looked up some key words in an online dream dictionary.

  • Water: To see water in your dream, symbolizes your unconscious and your emotional state of mind. Water is the living essence of the psyche and the flow of life energy. It is also symbolic of spirituality, knowledge, healing and refreshment. To dream that water is boiling, suggests that you are expressing some emotional turmoil. It also may mean that feelings from your unconscious are surfacing and ready to be acknowledged. To dream that water is rising up in your house, signifies your struggles and overwhelming emotions.
  • Voices: To hear voices in your dream, signifies a message from the unconscious or spiritual realm.
  • Drowning: To dream that you are drowning, signifies that you are overwhelmed by emotions or repressed issues that is coming back to haunt you. You may be proceeding too quickly in trying to discover your unconscious thoughts and therefore must proceed more cautiously and slowly. If you drown to death, then is refers to an emotional rebirth. If your survive the drowning, then a waking relationship or situation will ultimately survive the turmoil.
  • Window: To dream that you are looking out the window, signifies your outlook on life, your consciousness, point of view, awareness, and intuition. You may be reflecting on a decision and seeking guidance.To see shut windows in your dream, signifies desertion and abandonment. To see shattered and broken windows, denotes misery and disloyalty.
  • Bed: To see your bed in your dream, represents you intimate self and discovery of your sexuality. If you are sleeping in your own bed, then it denotes security and restoration of your mind.
  • Bedroom: To dream that you are in the bedroom, signifies aspects of your self that you keep private. It is also indicative of your sexual nature.

Nothing in here is a big surprise. In the dream, I feel frightened, anxious, shocked and exhausted (used the feeling faces to come up with those).

I never see the face of the man in my dreams. But my gut instinct is that it is my father. I can hear the voice, and although it doesn’t sound exactly like him, it’s a decent guess. The other thing of note is that things move either very fast or very slow in the dream. The water seems to crash over me at hyper speed. But my fighting my way out of the pipe is very slow.

Child Abuse, Emotions, Fears, My story

Shades of my past

As I put in my sidebar, I moderate all comments. It’s my personal preference to do so. Chalk it up to me being a control freak. I want to know what other people are saying before I release the comments to the world. And I’ve caught a few comments where people left an email address or phone number.

The other day I received a comment on my entry about cleaning my room. The entirety of the comment was one word.


When I read it, the first thing I thought of was my mother saying “Are you finished yet?” when I cried. That one word snapped me back to a time when I was 6 years old. When I had been beaten with a belt for not finishing my dinner. When I had cried out in pain. When I was screamed at for a normal human reaction.

I read that comment and I sat in front of the computer just sobbing. I sat there feeling a sense of terror. I sat there waiting for my mother to walk through the door and start screaming at me. I sat there with all of the emotions I’ve been holding back just flowing out of me. And nothing bad happened. I ended up with red, swollen eyes and a runny nose. But the earth didn’t open up and swallow me alive. And I survived.

So as much as the comment hurt me, it ended up being the trigger that released so much that was pent up inside of me. And as much as I know that’s a good thing, it still hurts like hell. I’d rather not sit there crying like that. But I know it’s a necessary part of this journey.

The other thing that it brought to the forefront of my mind is just how much my past has colored my perceptions of the things that happen in the present. I know we use past experiences to interpret the present. That’s only human. We need a framework to help us understand the world. But I seem to see the negative in everything. In fact, I was hurt by something that wasn’t even intended to be posted on my blog.

How do I know? After I calmed myself down, I did the rational thing and asked the person what the comment meant via email. Turns out it was meant to be posted somewhere else. It was never meant to go to my blog. It was never meant to hurt me. It was an accident on that person’s part.

I jumped to a conclusion based on one word. A word that triggered a memory. A word that, in of itself, is harmless. And this whole thing has helped me understand myself much better.

So as strange as it sounds, thank you to this person for making that mistake and helping me face something and realize something that needed to be seen and understood.

Anxiety, Child Abuse, Emotions, Fears, Therapy

Letting it out

One of the hardest things for me to do is cry. It scares me. I feel like something horrible will happen if I do cry. I feel like it’s losing control and if I let myself do it, I’ll never regain control. As much as I know those thoughts are irrational, it’s still the way I feel.

When I saw my therapist on Tuesday and we talked about “The Drive”. I was so close to tears. In trying to stay in control, I was digging my nails into my arm to the point of peeling off skin. I wasn’t really aware that I was doing it. My therapist saw this and gave me a stuffed fish to squeeze. It wasn’t so much doing something with my hands as it was using the pain to keep my emotions in check. I could focus on the physical pain rather than focusing on the emotional pain. I left there completely drained and exhausted from keeping all of those emotions from bubbling to the surface.

I saw my therapist again yesterday and we talked quite a bit about crying. I know in my head that nothing bad will happen in there here and now if I cry. But it feels like the universe will collapse if I do. Nothing about this is rational. But what I learned growing up is still very powerful. The hope I hang onto is that behaviors are learned and thus can be unlearned.

We also talked about safe places where I can cry. Her office is one of them. Unfortunately, my time with her is quite limited now. For some reason, my car feels somewhat safe. I’ve tried hiding in my closet. Sometimes it feels safe and other times it doesn’t.

Yesterday my therapist and I also talked about “Cleaning up”. I didn’t go into a lot of detail because I spent a long time sobbing. I was trying very hard to let my guard down and let the tears come. When I wasn’t sobbing, I was silent. It was extremely frustrating for me because I’m normally a fairly verbal person. I don’t have huge amounts of problems coming up with something to say. But I just didn’t have the words to explain what I was seeing and experiencing and feeling. It took me forever to formulate simple sentences. There were times when I had something to say and I couldn’t get the words past my throat. A large portion of the time, I was screaming “WHY!!!” in my head. I’m not sure what the “why” was referring to. It was just there. And even though it was in my head, it was hard to get that one word out of my mouth.

I left there completely exhausted. Letting some of it out was as hard as holding it all in. Nothing bad happened. The sun didn’t explode. The world didn’t stop turning. The galaxy didn’t fall apart. But it was still frightening.

I sit here now writing this and holding Tedders. I’m trying to get myself ready to go to bed. I can still feel the anxiety in my body. I’ve gone through the progressive relaxation tape three times, but as soon as it ends I tense up again. I want to sleep, but I’m afraid to close my eyes. Writing this has helped, but I’m still scared.

Child Abuse, Emotions, Family, My story, Therapy

Cleaning up

When I was growing up, I had to keep my room very clean. I was punished if there was junk, clothes or toys on the floor. I guess I let my room get too messy one weekend. S had come over to play and we really made a mess.

My mother got so angry. I don’t understand why. We were kids, maybe seven at the oldest, and we were just trying to have a good time. I didn’t clean my room fast enough to please her. I was hit with a leather belt for every toy that was on my floor. It hurt. My legs and back and arms. Over and over again.

Then I was sent to my room to “think about what I had done”. In addition, I was grounded for a week. No television and no books, except for my school work.

It was bad enough as it was, but my father had to enter the picture. He came into my room and told me that he could get my mother to lift the grounding. I didn’t understand how he could do that. She was always so strict about the punishments she handed out. He sat down on the bed and patted it. All of a sudden, I knew what he wanted me to do. I did it. What else was I going to do? I just laid there. I closed my eyes and tried not to think about what was going on. When he was finished, he helped me pick up my room. True to his word, my sentence was reduced. I could have books, but still no television. That didn’t bother me, I didn’t watch much TV anyway.



How do I feel? I don’t know. I found this picture that lists emotions and gives line drawings to represent them. I’ve been looking at the drawings trying to match them up with how I might feel if I was feeling anything right now.

I came up with… Frightened. Guilty. Sad. Withdrawn. Lonely.

I’m sitting here writing and I can feel the sting of the leather. I can hear it snap. I can see the fury in her eyes.

But I don’t really feel the emotions. I don’t feel anything in this moment. It’s like I’m separate from everything. It’s like I’m an objective observer.

It’s my goal to talk about this with my therapist later today. When I speak the words, that dissociation tends to break down. So right now, it’s just getting it outside of my head so maybe I can sleep.

Child Abuse, Emotions, Family, My story

The Drive

Shortly after we moved to MH (when I was 4) I fell over my own feet and crashed into a table. In doing this, one of my mother’s favorite china figurines fell onto the floor and broke in a million pieces.

She was extremely angry. She made me take off my pants and underpants and lay across the kitchen table. She took the wooden paddle (the kind teachers used to have) which was so prominently displayed next to the stove and hit me over and over again.

I tried not to cry. But after 10 or 15 swats, I broke down. I can still feel the burning after the wood hit my bare skin.

My tears only fueled her anger. She pulled me off the table and made me redress myself. She took me by the arm and drug me down the steps to the car. She pushed me into the back seat and slammed the car door shut. Then she started to drive.

I was still crying (but trying not to) and asked where she was taking me. She told me that she wished I had never been born and was taking me to an orphanage.

I don’t remember how far she drove before she turned around and took me home. When we got back she put me in my room and told me not to come out until she said it was okay.

At some point I had to go to the bathroom. She heard my door open and screamed at me to get back in my room. I had to go so bad, I ended up wetting the bed.

I don’t know how long I lay on those cold, wet sheets. I remember trying to not cry. I remember wishing she had taken me to that orphanage.

I sit here and I try to identify what I’m feeling. I remember the physical sensations more than the emotions. I don’t seem to be able to come up with the right names. So I’m looking at a feelings list right now. If I had to pick some of them that seem to fit, I’d pick guilty, frightened, embarrassed and sad.

I want to cut. I won’t. I made that promise to myself a long time ago. But when the memories hit, it’s what I think about. I hate myself. I can’t explain why, but I do.

Child Abuse, Family, My story, Positive things, Therapy

Challenging the words that hurt

In this post, I talked about the memories of things my parents said to me while I was growing up. Marcy suggested talking back to the voices of my parents. Here is a start. Some of my responses are pretty dumb. For some of them, it was hard to be rational, as opposed to sarcastic. But I tried my best. I wasn’t able to come up with responses to some of the statements. I’ll keep working on those.


  • I wish you were never born! (It was your choice to have a child. I’m here. And I can’t be taken back.)
  • I’ll give you something to cry about! (Crying is a normal human reaction to be hurt, physically or emotionally. It’s okay to cry.)
  • You’ll never amount to anything! (I’ve done good and interesting things with my life.)
  • How can you be so stupid? (I may do stupid things, but that doesn’t mean I’m a stupid person.)
  • You’re such a brat! (Every kid has his/her bad days, just like you do.)
  • Why can’t you be more like (insert name here)? (I’m not him/her. I’m my own person with my own unique characteristics.)
  • I hate you! (That’s your choice. But it doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person.)
  • What the hell is your problem? (I was having a bad day. We’re all entitled to one every once in a while.)
  • You should have known better! (How could I have known better? I was still trying to learn how life works.)
  • You’re throwing your life away! (That’s your opinion. Not going to medical school wasn’t the end of the world.)
  • What don’t you just behave? (I was trying my best. Everyone gets tired or frustrated and acts out.)
  • You drive me to drink! (Your alcohol consumption is your choice.)
  • Why do you have to spoil everything? (I don’t spoil everything. That’s an absolute statement. And those sorts of statements are rarely true.)
  • You’re so damn lazy! (I work very hard.)
  • You make me sick! (Your feelings are your responsibility.)
  • Don’t you talk to me like that! (You are reading more into my words than is really there.)
  • This hurts me more than it hurts you! (Your feelings are your responsibility.)
  • I should trade you in on a new model! (It was your choice to have a child. I was the one that was born. Nobody gets to pick and choose the child they conceive.)
  • You are such a slob! (Sometimes, I’m messy. But most people are as well.)
  • Do you know what happens to little girls who lie? (Little girls who lie can get in trouble. But that doesn’t justify physical violence.)
  • “Mental Giant”! (I’m not be the smartest person in the world, but I’m not the dumbest either.)
  • For a kid who’s supposed to be so smart, you’re pretty damn dumb! (Everyone does dumb things at times. But that doesn’t make me a dumb person.)
  • Who do you think you are? (I don’t know. It’s a question I’ve been trying to answer for years.)