Reserved

Something I’ve been starting to explore these past couple of days is my personality trait of being reserved. The recognition that I’m very reserved is not new to me. However, this past weekend it came up in both a psychotherapy session and also in a coaching conversation. What’s new for me right now is looking at how and why being reserved may be a defensive strategy that I’ve adopted.

I don’t have a clear idea or even hypothesis of the source this personality trait yet. Reflecting on it though, I can see a lot of things that may be related. Just now, I’m realizing I used to be very emotional as a kid. When I was angry, I would say or do things that would get me into trouble with adults. I used to cry a lot as a kid too, but other kids used to make fun of me a lot because of that so I can see why I would want to hide that. I can also remember times (both old and more recently, actually) when I was feeling happy, childish, or playful, but then feeling disapproval from other people.

So it seems that perhaps I do have a lot of reasons to not express my emotions. I’m curious then if my difficulty in being aware of my emotions in any moment is a result of my pattern of not expressing my emotions. What I mean is that if my default response to an emotional reaction is to ignore it, maybe my difficulty in recognizing my emotions is just that pattern playing out really fast for me still.

And now a bunch of random but related thoughts on this topic (I’ve been writing this in the car as Alex and I are driving out to the interior for the week).

I have a bad habit of picking my nails and the skin around my nails. I’m curious whether this is some type of emotional discharge when I’m suppressing emotions somewhere else. Similar to how I’ve used other people’s behaviour to tip me off to my emotions in the past, I wonder if I can use this bad habit as a reminder to check in to what I may be feeling but not acknowledging in the moment.

Another thought I have about this is related to a belief I’ve adopted in the past decade or so. I believe people are responsible for their emotions (to be clear, this is distinct from believing people are in control of their emotions, which I do not believe to be true). Perhaps as a byproduct of this belief, I usually focus on my choices and behaviour when I experience an emotional reaction to something. I’m curious if by repeatedly doing this, or maybe simply by constantly ignoring them, I’ve somehow convinced myself that my emotions aren’t important. That being the case, I think I have some work to do to un-conflate those ideas. Hopefully I can come to believe that I am responsible for my emotions while still seeing them as having value.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about how to move forward with regards to breaking this pattern for myself. I’m currently imagining this to be a three stage process of sorts. First, I will internally acknowledge when I am experiencing an emotion. Second, I will verbally share my emotional experience with others. Third, I will express my emotions through bodily expressions. It won’t be an easy journey, but at least I have some direction for now.

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