I just got home from a long weekend trip. The trip involved a celebration with a number of family members whom I don’t see often. The celebration was wonderful, the visits with adults and children in the family were lovely, and I got to see a part of the world that I haven’t visited for a long time.
Once home though, I found myself frantically busy: doing laundry, tidying up my things, looking around the house critically and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. I know when I get like that, something is happening that is a lot more than I have a dirty house. In fact, the house wasn’t particularly dirty but I was particularly wired up…I went out to run five kilometers and came home to vacuum and dust and wash countertops. At one point during this compulsive vacuuming, I finally asked myself the relevant question: what is it that I have to clean up? What untidiness am I fending off? What messiness am I afraid of?
I stopped in mid stroke of the vacuum as the answer smacked me in the head. Okay, that didn’t really happen but the metaphor is apt: I felt like I needed to smack my forehead. Of course. I am busying myself so I won’t feel my sadness at leaving my children and grandchild yet again. I am pushing away the very real and painful longing to stay close and connected to these people to whom I am powerfully attached. I am displacing those feelings by being irritated at the dog hair and normal untidiness of a lived-in home.
Yeah, so Freud was right. We DO defend ourselves against our feelings….our sadness, our anger, our longing, our fears. Do you know what you do when you are trying NOT to feel something?