Dear Rat Brain,
I’m sorry I never trust you. I’m sorry I put you down all the time and pretend your opinions don’t matter.
You don’t deserve that.
A strange thing happened recently.
Now, before I explain, I’ll mention that I’m extremely prone to completely invalidating my own feelings. Whether that’s from my experiences growing up or the relationships I’ve had or some other factors, I don’t know – but I often struggle to believe anything I feel is actually real. It’s the root of a lot of my mental health issues, and the problems I’ve had with relationships (platonic or otherwise). I’ll discredit my reality in favour of someone else’s. I may even notice my discomfort with a situation, but I’ll suppress it, telling myself that my reaction is disproportionate or unreasonable.
Where I fall down hardest is working out the line between letting things go and following through. The most recent (and most odious, I feel) way I’ve begun to invalidate myself is by saying, ‘If you were better at being mindful/less attached to outcomes/didn’t have so much emotional baggage you wouldn’t HAVE to assert yourself, because you wouldn’t feel pain about what had happened.’
Writing it like that, I see it’s just another way to shame myself for feeling emotions – and yet, I still have difficulties arguing with that part of myself that’s like ‘Well, if you stopped caring about the outcome this wouldn’t matter.’
So basically, me to my Rat Brain: ‘Your opinions don’t matter. You don’t matter, because other people are smarter and more clear headed. They know the truth, not you.’
And my Rat Brain slinks off, hurt and small. Just like me as a kid trying to talk about anything.
To put credit where credit is due, I’m trying my best to assert my feelings these days, even if it feels completely “wrong”. I also attempt to focus on physical sensations too, instead of solely my racing thoughts. It has not been easy or fun, but it’s necessary in the end.
Anyway, that led to a recent incident where I felt majorly invalidated by someone I know. I’m like a newborn foal with assertiveness: my attempts to express my feelings were clumsy and reeked of insecurity. At one point I minimised the situation, as a tried and tested people pleasing tactic.
This backfired; they agreed with the minimisation! And somehow, I was actually surprised and taken aback, even though I’d laid the trap myself.
It bugged me for hours. First because of their invalidation, but even worse, because of my own. I did not have my back, one bit. As such the upset from this lasted well beyond the initial incident; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually, I let myself sit with the feeling and did not push it away. This time, I could feel the taut line of tension across my shoulders, the heavy weight on my chest and my throat constricting as I let all the guilt and worry and heartbreak wash over me.
Not fun. Necessary.
Now, here’s the strange – or rather, unusual for me – thing. For some reason I started talking to myself inside my head. As you can tell from this blog I’m a fan of doing so, and often write letters to myself, but I don’t often think things to myself. But I could “hear” these thoughts loud and clear. I guess it was Rat Brain, finally talking back.
What’s the story I’m telling myself? What’s the narrative I’m spinning that’s making this hurt, hours later?
Well, I thought. I’m worried being invalidated like this means they think I’m stupid and they don’t actually care about me. Maybe they’re not as good a friend as I thought and this is a red flag. Or maybe I’m actually being crazy or overreacting. Maybe I don’t deserve to have people care about me, if I can’t behave like a normal human being.
I think normally I’d have told myself off for catastrophizing… Or maybe packed the whole thing in and gone to YouTube.
This time however, I heard the voice again, a little sad this time:
Wow, that’s a lot. It’s not surprising you feel the way you do with all that pain from the past that’s come up again. Anyone would feel worried or scared with those stories floating around.
And then finally, firmly: But it’s okay. I love you. And, I’m still here while you’re hurting.
I’ve never ever heard that before. Not from others, even my family. Especially not from me. But it’s what I needed to hear at that moment more than anything and I finally gave myself a little bit of validation.
I cried. A lot.
But somehow I feel a tiny bit freer.