Breaking Out of Emotional Prison

For nine years I  wasted precious energy being angry at and resenting someone WHO IS NOT EVEN ALIVE! Ridiculous, right? It’s not like I could tell him how I felt anymore. It’s not like it would do any good to be mad, but still. There I was.

Since being in emotional prison makes embracing gratitude virtually impossible, I decided to try and break out.

Photo courtesy Catholic Lane

An article on forgiveness and gratitude in Counseling Today created the “Aha!” moment I needed to escape from  my cell. Here’s the paragraph that made the difference:

“By practicing forgiveness, Grieco says, people are better able to accept and love life as it is and accept others as they are. “It’s a life skill and a health habit that I think everyone needs because we will regularly be disappointed by people and circumstances,” she says. Learning to forgive means developing resilience instead of adopting a conditional approach to life in which we can only
be happy if certain things happen, Grieco says.”

I always felt like my father was disappointed and uninterested in me so I spent years trying to please him and hold his attention, including getting the degree he favored and pursuing the hard-driving career he advocated. When I realized that I was miserable and that I still didn’t have his interest or approval anyway, I decided to marry, start a family and stay home to raise my children. His interest in me plummeted. Our phone conversations became weekly business transactions: How are the kids? How are you? Any news? Ok, talk to you next week.

I remember on one visit home, my husband and I were out to dinner with my dad, another couple and their son, a newly minted MBA. I watched as my dad quizzed this guy on his job, his tactics, his clients, his boss, the marketing strategy of his firm, etc. My  dad was riveted. He made eye contact. He listened. He asked follow-up questions. I held back tears. His authentic interest was what I craved most from my dad, and here he was, giving it to someone else that we barely knew, right in front of me. Because he felt like I had nothing interesting to say. Or so I thought at the time.

Sadly, I realized too late that maybe my perception of his disappointment and disinterest was actually my own feelings of insecurity and disappointment in myself. Maybe he was doing the best he could and he wasn’t sure how to connect with me if we weren’t talking about the hard business topics he felt most comfortable with. After all, my mom was the emotional bridge in our family and since she had died ten years before, my dad and I had lost our connection, as rickety as it had been in the first place. Perhaps if I had articulated my feelings before he died, he might have said, “That’s what you think? Of course that’s not how I feel. I love you and am so proud of you and I’m sorry I didn’t communicate that to you.”

I like to think that’s what he would have said. But I never spoke up. Then I wasted nine years being angry and resentful.

I can see now that the consequences of being an emotional inmate were evident in the arm’s length way I approached most relationships. In trying to avoid feeling hurt, rejection, disapproval, embarrassment, shame and conflict, how many potential friendships had I missed out on? How many people had I made feel like I wasn’t interested in them? How many risks didn’t I take because I heard his voice (or mine) saying I wasn’t good enough?

I didn’t want to be that kind of person anymore. I wanted to be someone who was able to approach life and people with love and gratitude. Someone who could feel confident enough to take a risk, even if it meant that I might fail. Someone who made decisions based on what I wanted rather than what I thought someone wanted for me.

That’s why I needed to forgive my father and myself, once and for all.

And I’m grateful that I did.

Are you in emotional prison? Maybe it’s time you break out by forgiving those who sentenced you, even if one of those people is yourself.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking Out of Emotional Prison

  1. I love the movie The Shawshank Redemption, which shows how a person who has spent most of his life in prison is no longer able to survive on the outside. I think this is also true of those of us who have spent many years in “emotional prison.” It is the only life we know, and it is our comfort zone. I doubt the reasonableness of expecting us to break out of that pattern and successfully megotiate “the outside world.”

    Like

  2. Pingback: Why You Should Get Rid of Grudges | The Gratitudenist

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