“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” -Aldous Huxley
I am not proud of the moments when something snaps in me and I become someone I hardly recognize. Those times when a powerful storm lets loose inside me without warning, and remains stubbornly unpredictable. The triggers are complex; rarely can I trace what causes me to fall apart. Internal conflicts like this often go unnamed and unattended. They are the invisible cracks in our own hearts that control us.
These emotional prisons define our relationships, our intimate lives and our careers — and they are strengthened by our ignorance. Not knowing what we want, how we feel, or where our boundaries lay makes it impossible to align our ideas of life with reality itself. Getting stuck in these deep places within ourselves turns internal conflict into a smoldering ash that can be ignited by seemingly innocent events.
I grew up in high vigilance for the emotional eruptions that characterized not only my parents’ marriage but their parenting style. Learning how to read the signs that would inevitably turn into violent rages or silent treatments that could last for days was the only way to stay safe. Turning this capacity into a constant emotional weathervane as a parenting style for my children had its benefits- they all became highly emotionally intelligent with a willingness and capacity to feel and negotiate through hard places. They each boasted of how they were the ones teaching their friends how to deal… And it also had its downsides- the deepest was the way that I inadvertently tuned out the signals to my own needs and desires. It seems I am genetically predisposed to over giving.
Recent research demonstrates how critical this feminine tendency towards generosity, inclusion and emotional reading is to both men and the culture at large. Yet, left unchecked, this helpful female tendency can seamlessly evolve into an even deeper not knowing, of how to receive or even what you are lacking. This past week, I was blindsided again by a convergence of innocent events that lit the fire of my unattended and unknown needs. It’s ridiculous, even embarrassing, but worth the telling because witnessing the heart cracks that get the best of me is the only way to discern the truth from a narrative that can easily become bigger than life.
I needed to pack for a trip when my son asked me to accompany him on a walk, and my husband was asking me to start dinner and my daughter was dealing with her own packing. Literally out of nowhere, every unknown thought and feeling that I have ever had about making dinner rushed together in a tornado of resentment and fury. Granted, I have probably spent more than my share of hours planning and executing suppers, that were scarfed down too fast or arrived at too late; but the explosion that ensued was shameful, even as it resonated in every fiber of my body as true.
Not knowing what I wanted that evening magnetically attracted a thousand evenings when I wanted to do something else besides prepare a meal. Not knowing how I felt blurred in the connecting and separating that is my new parenting reality, not knowing how to create a boundary for my own needs burst into the last twenty years of putting my needs last. And it all happened in a millisecond. This is the truth of what remains unknown in us – it is a bed of coals that needs almost no spark to light.
I wanted to go for a walk with my son, I wanted to organize myself for my trip, and I wanted to have a meal together. I clearly didn’t want to be the one responsible for it all. After the dust settled, apologies were uttered and heard, and the meal was hardly touched on the table. I got a closer look at the locked box in me that can turn the mundane into an emotional tornado. It takes courage to look at our unfinished business, to feel and express the unresolved conflicts, to draw new lines around the spaces in your own heart.