Hey there, Papabear,
First, I'd like to throw some well deserved admiration your way. I think what you've got running here and what you do for so many people is wonderful. It's comforting to know there's a place where furries can ask their questions without being judged. So thank you for all the help you've given people.
Okay now onto the question. I've been with my mate for about 6 months now, and I'm under the impression that our relationship has nowhere to go but up. Not to say that there aren't problems. Every relationship has them, but we're willing to talk through them, and try to avoid sweeping problems under the rug... Unfortunately I have this tendency to bite my tongue whenever I feel there's a problem that I think will escalate poorly. It's not because I don't want to deal with them. Mentally I can handle myself, or at least I think I can. I don't lose myself in streams of madness and make connections that don't make sense.
The problem is the physical aspect. Inside I know I should speak my mind. I've been working on breaking out of this habit with mixed results since before my mate and I even met. But when the time comes my throat clams up really, really tightly. I lose my ability to speak and I shake and start to cry. I know it's not needed, and I don't want to do it, but it always happens. The closer I am to the person emotionally, the stronger it is. So with my mate it's agony.
It's been a problem since I was a wee kitten, and Since I've had so much time to analyze it I'm pretty sure I know where it stemmed from. When my parents divorced I was left the oldest of three siblings, and as such It became my job to fill as kind of a half parent for my brothers. I kinda took on the role of protecting them from certain things. One of these things was the anger issues my father had. Lots of getting yelled at, harshly punished for being a child, and feeling emotionally held hostage. I loved him and bit my tongue and was afraid to make waves lest I be punished again. It has done a deal of damage to my emotional growth. But I have acknowledged that it was wrong for him to treat me that way, It was not my fault, things have gotten better, and my father and I have a healthy relationship now. I don't let him bully me anymore and I can stand up for myself.
So Knowing all this, Why do I still have so much trouble with this physical reaction? I can't be clamming up like this forever. What if it happens in a professional situation or in front of someone where it would be costly to my future. How can I train myself to calmly and collectively speak up when we need to speak seriously?
Hope this wasn't too all over the place. Thanks!
Bloo (age 22)
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Sounds like you’ve come a long way and have done very well. You know what your problem is and even understand its root cause. You’ve also developed excellent relationship skills with both your mate and the cause of your issues: your father. Good for you! Outstanding, really!
What you have left over is a bad habit. When you do something long enough, physically or mentally, it becomes ingrained in you, a part of you. So, this choking back of your ability to speak is really a learned behavior, almost an addiction, and can be treated as such.
One way to break bad behavior is redirection. For example, when someone is a smoker, a large part of their bad habit may be the simple physical motion of having something in their hand and putting it between their lips and taking it out again, etc. That motion can be very comforting. So, for some people, they can break their smoking habit by substituting a lollipop for the cigarette. I have known people for whom this works.
At times, when the behavior is really bad, hypnotists do a redirection, too. I’ve heard of hypnotists treating suicidal people by implanting the thought in their head that whenever they feel like killing themselves they should instead snap their fingers or sing a song. This, though, is really just a patch until the real psychological trauma can be treated.
With you, the psychological aspect has already been addressed. Again, it is merely the behavior that has to be retrained.
You need to redirect the anxious energy you experience when you are engaged in a verbal confrontation. You might try putting a worry stone in your pocket—one of those smooth stones with an indentation that your rub with your thumb when you feel anxious. Squeeze and stress balls work similarly.
The other exercise you can practice is having a dialog with your boyfriend under controlled conditions. That is, the two of you go to a calm, quiet place where there are no loud noises or distractions. Plan this ahead of time and agree on some things you will discuss. They don’t have to be serious issues, but just things that you might have different opinions about. Agree ahead of time that during your conversation no one will be forced to agree with the other person. You are just talking. There is no pressure to come to a conclusion. Agree on one to three topics ahead of time and have your talk at a scheduled time. The purpose of this is to create a situation where you are not faced with a sudden, unexpected confrontation. This will, in turn, prevent what is really a reflexive action in your throat to constrict and be silent. It will also train your mind to understand that there will be no harsh repercussions for expressing a contrary point of view the way you experienced it as a young person with your father. Do these sessions once or twice a week until you feel comfortable with expressing your opinions. Combine them, if necessary, with the worry stone or stress ball.
Be patient. Unlearning a behavior can take weeks, even months or more. As long as you see progress, you’ll eventually unlearn the bad behavior and feel much less stressed out in the future.