By Tina Schermer Sellers, PhD
I grew up in a household where both my parents did anger in big and expressive ways. As luck would have it, I was an introverted, happy-go-lucky, but sensitive kid. This combo meant I learned very quickly to watch and read the emotional climate of my parents – and if the boilers were high, stay out of the way. Unfortunately this also meant I learned it was often unsafe or inconvenient for me to have feelings, or at least to express them. I could not be sure there would be someone to listen or understand. If one of my parents was caught in their whirlwind, my emotion would be dismissed or I would be needed to calm the storm.
Since I was often frightened by the strength of their anger, either at me or each other, I also decided I had better not do anger, for fear my anger might hurt, as theirs did. This led to years and years of stuffing my feelings and focusing almost entirely on the emotional climate of others. This deficit in knowing my own feelings, how to manage and express them, and much about what drew me to others, shaped my choices in partners, friends, even my career. My twenties and thirties were spent in therapy and grad-school unpacking these influences and reclaiming the wisdom of my feelings and the ‘me’ inside them.