By Jennifer Young, MS
Director of Survivor Services for The Institute
Valentines Day, Easter, Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas; Your birthday, your anniversary, the birth of a baby, a promotion, a graduation. Feeling sentimental? I bet you are! You might be feeling a bit of tenderness, compassion, joy, sadness or anger. It doesn’t take much. Just the idea of these holidays or events can elicit a wave of emotion.
Sentimentality is a feeling. That’s it. It is you, responding to a memory. Feeling sentimental is not the memory but the feeling that it elicits. That is important to understand. Pathologicals want you to feel. When you feel, they are in control.
Herein lies the risk:He used your sentimentality against you. Think about how many times you were in a disagreement and he brought you roses. In that moment your emotion instantly shifted away from his offense and on to the first time he brought you roses. He might have manipulated your sentimentality when he talked about your children-their birth, their accomplishments, their struggles. In those moments your attention turned away from his betrayal or lack of parenting and towards the idea of “family” and the bond that was crafted. He would send loving cards to you as he’s wooing someone else. He used your sentimentality as a distraction. When you were overwhelmed with the feeling of sentimentality, you certainly struggle with staying angry or confused or disgusted.
Additionally, when the cognitive dissonance of “he’s good/he’s bad” is in full swing, this strategy of sentimentality manipulation is one of the things that pulls you back to his side. It’s the part of the relationship that you buy into with so much intensity. You have 5, 10, even 20 years of memories that he can draw on to pull you back to him. Each one of those memories is a point of manipulation on their own…but then he uses them over and over again to reinforce his mask. And you thought it was just another Christmas!!!
Herein lies the benefit: Let’s face it-it is healthy to feel sentimental. Your sentimentality is a reminder that you can bond, in a healthy, emotional and equally connected way. That’s good news. You also have the ability to rationally reflect on the reality of those dates. If you can step back and be an observer of those days you can see the pathology. Being an observer means that you look past how you felt to see what you saw. When you look back at the facts, the pieces come together. You see the flowers he brought with the shifty smile as if he gotten one over on you. You see the pretty birthday jewelry followed by the night he didn’t come home. You see the holiday dinner that included insults, projection and persecution. By the time the relationship ended, your sentimentality had been drained. He kept you spinning with the emotions of sentimentality so much that now…when it’s over you probably want to run and hide as these dates approach. It’s this disdain and disgust that contributed to you leaving. Again, it’s a good thing-that is the benefit. It was part of your awareness process that leads to a full awaking. As hard as it is to look back at those dates, it is powerful to know that SEEING the pathology is what freed you from it. And as usual, once you saw it you left.
Ultimately, if sentimentality is just a feeling then the dates are just the dates. He doesn’t own them. You do. They are just days in the past, events in time in which you were manipulated into believing the picture he painted. Once you begin to separate out those days from the new dates head, healing can be enhanced. Easter of 2009 will look nothing like Easter 2013. Your birthday in 2002 will look nothing like your birthday in 2013. This year, this date, this event you will be in control. You will be in the place you want to be, with the people you want to be around, accepting and giving gifts of your choosing in a fully present and genuine way. No manipulation, no gaslighting, no devaluing, no cognitive dissonance.
Don’t ever run away from your emotions. They are powerful tools-you need them and must treasure them. They do help us give meaning to every moment, every event, every day. They are a part of a very valuable human experience. Together with rational thoughts, reflection and perspective, emotions can create strength in you like you have never known. This year, be strong. Take on each event with a new sense of vigor and excitement. Take your days back-make new memories-feel new feelings. The further you get from pathology, the more your mind will become filled with the genuine feeling of sentimentality. Each year that passes you can look back at the events of 2013 with tenderness and joy-it was the year you ROCKED IT!