When I was younger, I had pretty severe anger problems. I would yell at people during school, get in fights, and in general be utterly incapable of controlling my emotions. I was a wreck, with constant ups and downs, unable to find any stability or normalcy. I had basically no friends, and in retrospect I can totally understand that.
At the time I was obsessed with these fantasy books about a girl training to be a warrior. One of the passages in the book was about learning to control her emotions. “I am a rock. I am stone. I am the unbroken surface of a lake. All that ripples, I absorb.” Being twelve, I thought this was really intense. I knew something had to change, so I became a rock.
Becoming a rock served me well in high school. I learned to control my emotions, stop getting angry, stop being upset. In order to prevent violent bursts, I just didn’t let myself feel any extremes. I was permanently neutral.
My friends would at times call me a robot, laid back, cold. I took pleasure out of this—to me it was proof that I had succeeded.
In time it became less a technique for managing anger, and more a deep-rooted facet of my personality. I became proud of it. I still frown on people who show great displays of emotion in public, be it anger or sadness. Even people who are exceptionally happy make me cringe.
Keep it in. Why are you showing that?
When I allow myself to express those great bursts of emotion, I usually come to regret it. In my four years at college, I have had one meltdown and lost my temper twice. My roommates were present for the meltdown, and only one friend saw the full force of my anger. I know it changed her perception of me. I hope she understands now why I can appear so emotionless at times.
I consider those lapses in control the dark spots on my college career.
There are bad sides to this though. I have a difficult time expressing affection and sentimentality. Few people understand the small ways in which I show how I care. I don’t hug or say I love you often. I don’t cling to my friends. My main confidant is myself. Sometimes people will break through—my boyfriend and dog are notable exceptions, occasionally family. But I keep to myself. The more people I allow in, the less control I have.
But this lack of emotion that I call strength takes upkeep. I need to constantly allow myself to channel my stress, or else it will all explode out at once in one terrible, humiliating mess. I used to de-stress with guitar or piano, sometimes writing. But since I’ve been in college I’ve realized that I don’t necessarily have the time for these activities. So now I de-stress by turning off my mind and turning on my hands.
It’s incredibly therapeutic for me to be productive. If I’m not, I get anxious and everything builds up. But it’s difficult to relax while working, so I often chose a mindless activity like television or something, but I will organize my day while I do it. Or make a quilt. Or create graphics for my website, or do the layout for the newest issue of the newspaper I’m an editor of.
This helps me unwind, to keep myself in check. It keeps things from spiraling and piling up around me. It keeps me from losing control. It helps me manage incredibly stressful environments calmly and rationally. And I’m a control freak, so I like it.
As a woman, giving the appearance of emotionlessness can get you a lot of flak. You’re supposed to be warm and inviting and nurturing, and instead you get called cold, frigid, a workaholic, stubborn. You often get called a bitch.
But I’m not a bitch. And I want you to understand that.
I do care about you. I do feel emotions. When you say hurtful things, they don’t roll off of me. Because I seem strong does not mean I cannot be hurt.
I’m not suppressing my emotions, I’m just keeping them to myself. I’m a private person, these are private feelings. It’s true that I sometimes lose out on the adventures and emotional depth of my uninhibited friends. But thus far this has served me well. I don’t feel like I’m missing much.
My lack of outward emotion is a defense mechanism, one that I take great comfort in. I grew up in a world that was constantly outside of my control, and I allowed my emotions to mirror that. I was an emotional roller coaster. I couldn’t depend on myself. But now I can. And I’m proud of that.