Often children of overbearing, controlling or critical parents learn to hide their true feelings and intentions. They put on an obedient mask, keep secrets and tell lies. They hide their real feelings as a survival technique to avoid being bullied, rejected, or verbally and physically abused. This defense mechanism serves a child to survive a difficult environment.
When children must focus on putting on an obedient mask to hide their vulnerabilities and anger toward their parents, they often lose touch with their own feelings and needs. Moreover, feelings represent a real threat to the child because if they are exposed they may trigger a dangerous reaction from the parent. The child subconsciously thinks something as follows:
“If I show my anger, fear, disgust, sadness, or need for love, affection, or acceptance, my parent will reject me or yell at me. So those feelings are bad. I must repress them.”
Hence, such feelings go underground and become tainted with excessive anxiety. An ongoing sense of anxiety grows within them as they grow into adulthood, particularly when it comes to close relationships.
Later, as an adult, it is difficult to talk about feelings, let alone understand the nuances of them because they are stigmatized with extreme anxiety. Hiding feelings has become a habit ingrained in the neural pathways of the brain. Repressing feelings has become second nature. Lying to avoid revealing any “dangerous” feelings has become second nature as well. Such deception is rarely intentional and not meant to hurt others.
These defense mechanisms developed as a child no longer serve an adult well. In fact hiding feelings and lying will destroy most relationships.
Time to change
Now is the time to start paying attention to your feelings and desires and expressing them when appropriate. As your ability to understand your own feelings improves and becomes more nuanced, you will gain the following benefits:
• You will take responsibility for your feelings and needs, rather than blaming others and making them responsible for your fulfillment,
• You will feel greater peace because you will lose excessive anxiety,
• You will become more self-aware and less confused,
• You will become more empowered,
• You will become more empathetic of others,
• You will communicate better with others and enjoy better relationships.
When you learn to identify your feelings and vulnerabilities and understand them, you’ll be able to express them appropriately in an empowered way. Confrontations, which are based on miscommunication and blame, will be mitigated. As you become more conscious of your feelings and the meaning they convey, the anxiety you experience around them will gradually disappear and you will learn to accept yourself.
You have demonstrated that you are not a “coward” by putting this question out there. The first step to dealing with your “dishonesty” is to acknowledge it and to understand why that worked for you a child. The next step is to avoid reacting as usual with hiding or lying. Instead clarify or write down the ambivalent feelings and desires you have and then try to express them if appropriate.
You might get the book or CDs “Nonviolent Communication” by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. In them you will find effective ways of expressing your feelings and needs, as well as lists of numerous distinct feelings and needs, which will help you develop self-awareness and an appreciation of other people’s feelings.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen