Tears are only allowed on a pillow


On the rare occasion that I am overwhelmed by sadness, or I guess when sadness takes me by surprise, I run towards my bed, hide underneath my blanket and watch whatever movie pops-up on my phone first. Every time. But why?

It seems that I have taught myself a way to calm down, but unfortunately my bed isn’t always near, which means that I have no clue what to do when a tear rolls down my cheek outside the boundaries of my own house. Besides, I am not sure if hiding under bedsheets is the proper way to deal with everything that upsets me, I mean, when I’m in a fight with my boyfriend he has to talk to a pile of colorful sheets, which is far from healthy.

I guess this whole thing started when I was very young. Whenever I was upset, even as a baby, my mother would either put me to bed or send me there. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, comfort me, she never wanted to deal with my tears and instead she let my blanket calm me down.

In my mother’s opinion, I wasn’t allowed to be seen upset. I needed to hide my emotions at all times and when I wasn’t able to do so, I myself needed to be hidden. It’s not more than normal that I have become afraid of showing my feelings since I have always been taught that they are forbidden. It’s also not strange that I keep running to my bed when I feel something, basically I have the same needs as everyone else, when something upsets me I need to feel safe and protected, two very normal needs. The only difference is that my mother failed to teach me how to meet these needs in a healthy way and so I learned that only my own pillow can handle my tears.

It all makes sense till now, I do this because my mother taught me to do so. I don’t know any better, I am not familiar with a different way of dealing with my emotions. But I guess there is one more thing I need to understand, being, what happened to me when I would get upset when my bed wasn’t close by? What happened that made me so afraid to show my emotions to other people?

I notice how it’s hard to remember a time I got upset while I was out with my mother and this tells me that there is pain hidden in those memories, but let’s talk about that some other day. What are the places I used to visit together with my mother? What are the things that used to upset me? Flashes of memories pop up and quickly disappear. I’m trying to grab one of them…

The city centre on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning of spring. The shops are crowded, everyone wants to find new clothes to celebrate the return of the sun. We enter my mother’s favorite store, I got tired and sit down on a bench in the front of the shop, I wait. Within a minute or so, I see my parents walking outside, I quickly get up and follow them, I get lost in between the legs of the many people on the street until I find my mother’s jeans and brown boots, I grab her leg tightly.

This leg wasn’t my mother’s, a strange woman looked down on me, annoyed and surprised, and I felt shame. I’m sorry I said, I started crying, “I think I lost my mother”. The people on the street had formed a big circle around me, I was sitting in the middle trying to hide my tears from all these strangers that had now began to shout for my mother. The man that was with the woman who I had confused for my mother grabbed my hand, asked me what direction I thought my parents went and together we looked for them.

There they were, the three of them, about six shops further. I ran towards my mother, I wanted to jump in her arms, I wanted to feel safe again, I had felt so scared and alone. “Why didn’t you stick with us? We told you to stay close! You know it’s crowded here today!” She keeps me at a distance, she literally pushes me away from her. I fall down, I cry even more. “Get up and cut the crying! We have more shops to visit before your sister gets tired.”

It is clear my need for safety and protection was not met that day, nor any other day I had a similar need. If I would get upset outside the walls of our house, there wasn’t anyone or anything to calm me down, the opposite would happen instead. My feelings of loneliness, neglect and vulnerability would increase until I reached the safety of my own bed. I learned that having emotions outside my bed leads to even more pain, and it didn’t take long for me to adjust to my mother’s idea that tears are only allowed on a pillow, simply because of the way she made me feel when I failed to follow this rule.

It didn’t matter to me that I saw other kids cry, I didn’t start doubting my mother when I saw her comforting my crying sister in the middle of a crowded park. For me, it wasn’t an option and if I didn’t want to feel even more upset than I already did, I just had to adapt.

Safety, protection and support are necessary to create an environment in which you can learn to open up and unfortunately I was raised to believe that people can not provide these conditions. I learned that people are scary and hard because my mother is that way. Even though I discovered over the years that she was far from a good example of what other people are like, there are still moments in which what she taught me takes over from what I know. Showing emotions is one of the main examples of this.

Rationally I do know that there is a very small change my psychologist will make me feel the way my mother did when I burst out in tears. Even the change that a random stranger will respond in the same way my mother does when I cry is extremely small. But the fear of her, the fear of what has become familiar to me, the fear of my mother’s way of dealing with my emotions is just extremely strong.

Thanks mom…

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