Big Girls Don’t Cry — Emotional Inhibition

 Another day, another, something.
Emotional Inhibition probably sounds like a contradiction in Borderline Personality Disorder. Often we can be explosive and the very embodiment of emotionality. For me this is of course true, however, it’s not constant. My Therapist has often said that that extreme end of the emotional spectrum is not  how most Borderlines walk through their day to day lives. For me I mire myself in a Detached Protector space. I was raised to keep my emotions inside. It’s not until I’ve kept them in for so long that I can no longer contain the emotional pressure that I flip my lid. At some point I went from emotionally inhibited as a child, to explosive and uncontrollable as an adolescent, to gaining a sense of self-awareness and back to my emotionally inhibited norm.
Emotional Inhibition
Typical Presentation of the Schema
These patients present as emotionally constricted and are excessively inhibited about discussing and expressing their emotions. They are effectively flat rather than emotional and expressive, and self-controlled rather than spontaneous. They usually hold back expressions of warmth and caring, and often attempt to restrain their aggressive urges. Many patients with this schema value self-control above intimacy in human interactions and fear that, if they let go of their emotions at all, they might completely lose control. Ultimately, they fear being overcome with shame or bringing about some other grave consequence, such as punishment or abandonment. Often, the over control is extended to significant others in the persons environment (the person tries to prevent significant others from expressing both positive and negative emotions), especially when these emotions are intense.
It’s not that I value intimacy less than self-control, but intimacy is a vulnerable place. Being in control presents a more impenetrable emotional defense. Unsurprisingly I have a tendency to be all emotional or all logical. All one, none of the other.
People inhibit emotions that it would be healthier to express. These are the natural emotions of the Spontaneous Child mode. All children have to learn to rein in their emotions and impulses in order to respect the rights of other people. However, patients with this schema have gone too far. They have inhibited and overcontrolled their Spontaneous Child so much that they have forgotten how to be natural and to play. The most common areas in which people are overcontrolled include inhibition o anger, inhibition of positive feelings such as joy, love, affection, and sexual excitement; excessive adherence to routines or rituals; difficulty expressing vulnerability or communicating fully about one’s feelings; and excessive emphasis on rationality while disregarding emotional needs.
::sigh:: Let’s see… Being spontaneous actually makes me anxious. Doing things at the last minute means I haven’t had time to prepare myself for it. I’ve taught myself to fight my way through this to an extent at least. Therapist asked me once to recall an experience when I felt joyful. I told her I wasn’t sure what joy was. Joy and love I believe I am almost incapable of feeling from another person. Joy is not hypomanic euphoria as far as I know. And I don’t think my obsessive love is the kind of love they mean. I absolutely don’t believe other people can associate these things with me.  I refuse to be vulnerable. Ironically on this blog it seems easy for me to lay out all of my emotional vulnerabilities to a bunch of complete strangers. In real life, this is something I absolutely cannot show. “Excessive emphasis on rationality while disregarding emotional needs,” I constantly undermine mine, and often other peoples, emotional needs. This is a big flaw of mine. I know it’s a learned trait as well. I was told so often to not express emotions, to suck it up, to toughen up, that something inside me feels like everyone should be able to do this.
People with the Emotional Inhibitions schema frequently meet the diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.  In addition to being emotionally constricted, they tend to be overly devoted to decorum at the expense of intimacy and play, and are rigid and inflexible rather than spontaneous. People who have both the Emotional Inhibitions and Unrelenting Standards schemas are especially likely to meet diagnostic criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, because the two schemas together include almost all the criteria.
I definitely have my OCD tendencies. It was much, much worse when I was in middle school and high school. To this day I still have a few things that I have not been able to rid myself of. I can not be late, I must be on time. I have to eat with certain kinds of silver ware on certain kinds of flat ware (in my own home … restaurants and other people’s houses are different b/c I don’t have established patterns there), I eat certain food a specific way, there are probably more that I’m missing. If I didn’t follow my rituals or patterns – full on PANIC ATTACK. The world may as well be ending my anxiety was so I high I couldn’t breathe or stop the tears from falling. Which made it worse because my meticulously applied make up was now no longer precision drawn. Frustration.  I think this may have more to do with a need for structure and control than as part of emotional inhibition though. That’s just my guess.
The most common origin for the Emotional Inhibition schema is being shamed by parents and other authority figures when, as children,  patients spontaneously displayed emotion. This is often a cultural schema, in the sense that certain cultures place a high value on self-control. The schema often runs in families. The underlying belief is that it is “bad” to show feelings, to talk about them or act on them impulsively, whereas it is “good” to keep feelings inside. People with this schema usually appear to be self-controlled, joyless, and grim. In addition, as a result of a reservoir of unexpressed anger, they are frequently hostile or resentful.
Well, yeah. My dad loved me, he still does, I know he does, but he was the product of an unmedicated bipolar mother and a violently alcoholic father with a military upbringing. Growing up my dad was always very loving, I remember a lot of hugs, and the pictures of me sleeping on his chest, but anytime my emotions got the better of me or I had a tantrum or frustration, it was always: STOP! Even when my grandmother died when I was 7 years old I couldn’t allow myself to cry in front of anyone. I was 7 years old. Crying, sadness, fear, all feel shameful to me.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that this kind of emotional inhibition would lend itself to my hostility and resentfulness.
People with the Emotional Inhibition schema often become romantically involved with partners who are emotional and impulsive. We believe this is because there is a healthy part of them that wants in some way to let the Spontaneous Child inside of them emerge. When inhibited people marry emotional people, the couple sometimes becomes increasingly polarized over time. Unfortunately, sometimes the partners begin to dislike each other for the very qualities that first attracted them: The emotional partner scorns the reserve of the inhibited one, and the inhibited partner disdains the intensity of the emotional one.
Unsurprising to me, this is what drew me to Evil-Ex. Growing up believing that it was not acceptable to express my emotions, being different was frowned upon (though I actively rebelled against this – I still felt the social and personal pressure that people did not approve of my life style), acting out in a crowd was not ok, and having just received my graduate degree from a highly structured engineering program, I was emotionally repressed beyond measure.  … Evil-Ex was the embodiment of emotional enablers. When we were together we were flashy and creative. He was loud and the center of the party. He used to tell me my cool head was the perfect balance for his hot heart. In the end though we both highly resented each other. He had no concept of consequences or conscience. I was afraid to lose myself to passion, even though I wanted to. In a way I’m still looking for this. I look for people that can draw me out. That are more emotional, more social, than I am.
Goals of Treatment
The basic goal of treatment is to help people become more emotionally expressive and spontaneous. Treatment helps people learn how to appropriately discuss and express many of the emotions they are suppressing. People learn to show anger in appropriate ways, engage in more activities for fun, express affection, and talk about their feelings. They learn to value emotions as much as rationality, and to stop controlling the people around them, humiliating others for expressing normal emotions, and feeling shame about their own emotions. Instead, they allow themselves and others to be more emotionally expressive.
Part of my problem is that it’s not that I just have a problem expressing my emotions. I have a hard time determining what I’m feeling at all. When I’m stressed out I tend to detach from my emotional state. It’s impossible to express how you’re feeling when you aren’t able to determine what it is you’re feeling in the first place.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
Behavioral strategies are directed at helping people discuss and express both positive and negative emotions with significant others, and engage in more activates for fun.
Experiential work can enable people to access their emotions. By considering a situation from youth or childhood you can look at how a parent or caregiver suppressed emotional needs. As an adult it is possible to confront the parent and encourage the inner child to express their real feelings such as anger and love.  This can also be done with current and future situations.
Cognitive strategies help the person accept the advantages of being more emotional, and thereby make the decision to fight the schema. The process of fighting the schema is about seeking a balance on a spectrum of emotionality rather than as all-or-nothing. The goal is not for people to flip to the other extreme and become impulsively emotional; rather, the goal is for people to reach a middle ground.
I already do this. I flip from all one to all the other with no middle ground. I’m all logic, or all passion. At work I know my demeanor is pretty inflexible. I joke around but my humor is pretty dry. If I’m at work, hanging out with a group of people, it’s nearly impossible to ruffle me emotionally. If you put on music and I lose myself in the rhythm to dance, or if I’m having sex, there’s no left brain, I’m all emotion and heat.
Cognitive strategies can also help people evaluate the consequences of expressing their emotions. People with this schema are afraid that, if they express their emotions, something bad will happen. Often, what they fear is that they will be humiliated or made to feel ashamed. It is absolutely possible the see that it is possible to use good judgment about expressing emotions, so that this is not likely to happen, and allows them to feel more comfortable and willing to experiment.
This is definitely my problem. Especially when it comes to showing any kind of fear or sadness. I cannot, CANNOT, show vulnerability. When my co-worker told us he was leaving another male colleague said to me, “You and me can sit down and have a good cry together when he finally leaves.”
I responded with, “Please, I don’t cry.”
“Never?”
“No, never.”  I joke about having my tear ducts removed. I laugh and say things like, please, I’m practically a robot, tears would rust my system.
I do not come across as soft. I am strong and independent and a little insensitive. This is an image I cultivate especially for work. I’m afraid if I show “girly” emotions I will be judged as weak and my credibility will be destroyed and I won’t be taken seriously. Or someone will see this display of weakness which will allow them to believe they can try to take advantage of me. Or it will highlight the fact that “I’m not one of the guys”, different, an outsider. I hate it when the guys at work make a point of mentioning I’m a girl. It compounds the fact that I am out of place. Showing these softer emotions will drive the rift further.
There are a wealth of potential behavioral role plays and homework assignments. People can practice discussing their feelings with other people, appropriately expressing both positive and negative feelings, playing and being spontaneous, and doing activities designed for fun. Working with the partner can be useful. It can help to encourage both the person and the partner to express feelings in constructive ways.  Sometimes it also helps for the person to design tests of their negative predictions, writing down what they predict will happen if they express their emotions, and comparing it to what actually happens. In this way they can see that their fears will not become real.
Special Problems With This Schema
When people have been emotionally inhibited for virtually their entire lives, it is hard for them to begin acting differently. Expressing emotions feels so foreign to people with this schema – it is so contrary to what feels like their true nature – that they experience great difficulty doing it.
I’m not completely emotionally inhibited, especially if my anger gets the best of me, but I know I have a problem expressing emotions in a healthy manner. Even a pleasant emotion like when people do nice things for me, things I should be happy about I don’t feel happy. I appreciate what people do but I don’t attach an emotion to it. However I know that people expect to see an emotional response so I often affect what I think they need to see. I have this weird juxtaposition of knowing what I should feel, not actually feeling, but believing I should display it. It makes working in my head a little confusing sometimes.  
I’ve been working on this though. I think my actions tend to mismatch my words. I talk a tough game. When I’m one on one with a significant other though, I snuggle in close. It’s like I have a face I show the outside world, and one that only the people very closest to me can see.