I am an excellent liar. I can freeze my body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions in neutral or gullible obliviousness. People lying to me think I believe them. People listening to me believe what I’m telling them. The usual “clues” do not apply when I decide to start lying. I can project any emotion and feeling on my physical self when I feel nothing, something different, or the opposite emotion internally. But people looking at me believe what they see.
On the other hand, I can’t match genuine feelings with their appropriate physical expressions. My facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice do not betray my real feelings unless I consciously work hard to portray the correct expressions. That leaves many people skeptical of when I reveal truths about my background – I can/have/do talk about trauma with an expression and tone of voice matching someone conversing about the weather.
Moderating the intensity of my tone is also difficult. In spite of acute and sensitive hearing, I have a hard time discerning when my voice rises/lowers and so on. As my emotional state increases, my sensitivity to such changes decreases. And my facial expressions change like a movie on fast forward. People who see me in a state of high anxiety or a panic attack back off fast because I appear crazy in that context.
As a child, I learned how to project whatever feelings/emotions/thoughts would keep me from getting abused. It was survival. It was necessary. It taught me how not to have feelings. Expressing joy got me punished. Expressing anger got me a beating or inappropriate touching as punishment. Expressing fear, sadness, anxiety, or worry got me the silent treatment. Talking out of turn (i.e. telling the truth of what happened or anything different from my parent’s version of the truth) got me accused of lying, exaggerating, causing problems, etc.
So I denied having feelings. I buried them deep and forgot about them. But I had random explosions of tears and rage growing up. There were temper tantrums. There was fighting back. There were instances of “rebellion”. There were times my mind clouded, and I disappeared. When I came back to myself, everyone was mad at me. Hurt feelings, I was accused of being mean and exploding with anger for no reason. And everyone from my parents to my younger brother to my so called friends used this to shame me, manipulate me, take advantage of e, and set me up as a “crazy, unstable, lying” person to the rest of my community.
No one wanted to be friends with a rude, annoying, crazy, raging, unstable, liar who otherwise had no personality.
This was my life for 27 years. I did not have a personality, was not an interesting person, was looked down upon by everyone around me. I did not have feelings except for facsimiles to appease other people. Problems like this made developing friendships difficult. It made getting jobs and keeping jobs hard too. At least in my community or any community where my classmates and family had connections. All of which I was interested in working at the time – healthcare, non-profits, colleges, newspapers, magazines, and other jobs related of my degree.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
Not until I started my first “real” job in an office that valued my skills and opinions did I realize there was something “wrong” with my responses to other people. I had just started therapy with my second counselor and was feeling very stressed out about all of the changes over the past few months: new job, new apartment, new neighbors, new commute, leaving school, new doctors, new therapist.
She helped me for 3 years; we worked on my anorexia, anxiety, low self-esteem, and OCD. When the trauma issues started taking over, I had an emotional breakdown. Crying, nausea, pain, sleeplessness…you name it, I experienced it all in a flood. It was like everything I held in for 27 years came flooding out in 2 days. Only, I didn’t know these were feelings. Or that I was physically reacting to all of these feelings.
She sent me for a crisis evaluation. When we first started, the therapist told me outright that she did not work with trauma. I told her that was okay because the trauma was not the main problem then. My anorexia and anxiety disorders (according to the previous people) were. As soon as she realized the trauma had taken over our sessions, she sent e for additional help and slowly transitioned me to another therapist.
During the transition, I went for my first partial in-patient program. There, I learned about what feelings were, that I had feelings, and that the physical/mental problems I had were because of those feelings. After about 6 weeks there, I was in a much better place with a rudimentary understanding of feelings, aka emotions, and how they made my symptoms worse when allowed to take over and control me.
DBT (Dialiectical Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to recognize, control, and balance my feelings so that I could make choices about how to handle situations instead of just reacting to them. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to follow the trails left behind by my feelings to understand triggers that led to thoughts and behaviors. Grounding taught me how to come back to the present when feelings overwhelmed my senses.
But none of this really taught me how to get my face, voice, and body to align with my actual feelings or thoughts.
Or how to manage the pain that continually discourages me from trying to integrate my mental/emotional self and physical self so that the feelings and expressions/body language match.
As for the lying…the only time I purposely lie is for survival. Any other time, I am scrupulously honest.
Thanks for reading.