Sunday, April 3, 2011

Analyzing the Flashback

The Flashback

When I get like this, I need about a week or so to figure out what’s really bothering me. Over the decades, I figured out a process that helps me recognize and pinpoint the exact moment when I got the darkest. The conflict starts inside of me unconsciously and then it manifests itself as an outburst. I feel angry at everything. I finally explode with irrational anger or manic depression. The outburst is way out of proportion for the infraction and I lash out with fury. Then the search is on - why? Why did I react this way? If I can find the trigger, I can get rid of the negativity.

The most shocking thing of all is to find that the thing that knocked the breath out of me today was the exact same thing that knocked it out of me when I was a seven year old. Who knew that at the age of 47, when I feel more in control of my mental and physical capabilities and potential that I can experience in a flash, the wave of intense emotion that I had not felt in years. It was truly unpleasant and sorely unsettling because it came like a lightning bolt. I was expecting enthusiastic approval but instead got transported back in time, to a time similar to this one, seeking approval and getting nothing. NOTHING. How deeply it had affected me then, and how quickly it reached up and grabbed me by the throat now was the biggest surprise.

I remember bringing home four A’s and one B, and mom said, “Why couldn’t you get all A’s?” or when I amazingly was a runner up in our two-class spelling bee. I was extremely shy, constantly bordering on anxiety attacks. To stay in front of the classroom, in the limelight, as all the other “spellers” were eliminated was a real triumph for me. When I came home with the news that I was runner-up and almost won, I heard, “I knew you couldn’t win.”

Later in life, when I asked my father if he was proud of me, he would say, “No, I can’t be proud of anything. It is a character flaw to be proud.” I told him that I really didn’t mean that particular meaning of the word, that he might be able to feel pride that I was his daughter and was a good student. He said again he could not be proud of me because it was a sin.

So when I waited for someone (translation: husband and 17 year old son) to enthusiastically want to read my first printed piece in the local paper, (with picture and by-line, thank you very much) and no one volunteered, I felt an old hurt. I thought, “Oh well, it doesn’t really matter.” They were happy for me and thought it was great, but they would read it later. I shrugged off the hurt. But later became days later and only when I brought the subject up again did they read the piece.

Luckily for me when I told my sisters about it, they couldn’t wait to read it and insisted I show it to them immediately. One sister insisted I fax it to her; the other went to buy the paper and called me back. Ah, thank God for supportive sisters. They exhibited just the right amount of delight, enthusiasm and kudos for my first literary triumph. They extended the joy for me. They were proud of me. It was immediate and oh so satisfying.

But the real support that I needed was the “want” to read my article or more so, the “need” to read my accomplishment by those closest to me. I do it for them all the time. I was always the cheerleader for my husband and son. If it was important to them, it was as important to me. I shrugged my shoulders and let it pass thinking that they were “just” men, as though that was justification. I thought why am I feeling like a seven year old. “Come on. Get it together.”

I kept saying it didn’t matter and convinced myself that my reaction was just a manifestation of a past event and really had nothing to do with the present. But then something else makes you angry about two weeks later, just a little thing among a thousand other little things and I blew up. What’s wrong with you? Why get upset over such a trifle? I didn’t know what was bothering me. But I knew from experience that if I blew up like that it meant something else was gnawing at me and for my own sanity, I now have to figure out.

At this point I become my own analyst. (German accent.) “Why do you think you blew up? Was there anything recently in your life to upset you? Tell me about your childhood. Ah, I see.” Then I realized it was that my husband and son never asked to read my article without my prompting much later. It was not a top priority for them. It didn’t really matter to them. I translated that to mean that I was not a priority to them. I realized further that the reason that it affected me so adversely and intensively was because of a past childhood experience. Not the same experience, but the same feeling on how it felt to be dismissed. I was amazed that this old feeling could reach all the way up through forty years and grab me so intensely.

So you might think you are well over certain old childhood hurts. As an adult, things like this shouldn’t bother you. But there are times and when you least expect it, that past and present will meld and you will be knocked for a loop.