When we deny our feelings, we aren’t curing ourselves of them. Discover why and how you can improve this habit we often don’t pay attention to.
Experiencing the full spectrum of emotion – anywhere from good to bad and everywhere in between – is just a natural part of being human. Our emotions are our birthright, even though sometimes those emotions don’t feel good. When we are working on building a good relationship with ourselves as well as others, it is essential that we learn to allow and embrace our feelings, whatever shape and size they come in.
From the time we are children, we are taught that certain emotions can be defined as “good” and others as “bad”. For example, many young boys in this country are told not to cry or show vulnerability when hurt, because it is inappropriate or “un-manly”. On the flip side, young girls are taught not to express anger because it’s “un-ladylike”.
However by denying our feelings, we aren’t actually curing ourselves of them. In fact, over time when our feelings are avoided it actually builds up beneath the surface of being unaffected and adds to a growing charge of these repressed emotions. As time goes on, these feelings become hot button triggers: anger turns into hatred or resentment, eventually exploding into violence towards yourself or others.
For instance, often when people come from an abusive childhood, or have experienced a lot of trauma, they become masters of avoiding their feelings. Avoidance becomes a habit. Usually children in abusive situations simply want to find a way to avoid the emotional pain they are constantly experiencing. So they find a way to “turn off” the pain as a coping mechanism, but as they became an adult that mechanism was still being used to avoid emotion because judging by their past experiences, it was likely to cause them hurt. However by not working through these past traumas and not allowing themselves to feel or trust others, they deprive themselves of happiness, love and fulfillment. Or conversely they enter into relationships and repeat the same abuse they experienced to be the one in control of the abuse and hurt rather than the victim.
A few years ago I helped someone close to me wean himself off of a drug addiction that had spanned almost 30 years of his life. He came from a broken family where his mother abandoned him and his brother as toddlers, his father had been a hopeless and destructive alcoholic and his brother had been addicted to crack and methamphetamine and subsequently died of a drug overdose in his mid-twenties. That is too say, way too young.
Addiction was in his nature and in his nurture, sadly, a virtually inescapable conclusion without a herculean effort at intervention. I first helped him to get himself off of the illegal drugs that were destroying his career and employment prospects, his personal and professional relationships as well as his credibility, in addition to the obvious ones – destroying his life and his health. Then came the prescription drugs and alcohol abuse, which were just as hard for him to kick. Old habits, as they say, die-hard and addiction is a beast with several lives. However, when all was said and done and he was finally clean and sober, we would often talk about how he had been completely and utterly numb for what wound up being decades that added up to the majority of his life. He looked back in horror at all that he’s missed out on or messed up by virtue of his addiction.
I remember in those early days, weeks, months, and years being sober how unbearably sad and depressed he got, for it was the first time he was really feeling and seeing his life. As is often the case with addicts, it isn’t until the party finally comes to an end and all the party friends vanish, that you are left alone to witness and clean up the enormous mess of a “wasted” life. Wasted has a double meaning here, for not only had he been high most of his life, but he had also missed out on feeling and experiencing his life. He was comfortably numb, but numb is not where life happens, vitality is.
This reminds me of a terrific quote by the writer Virginia Woolf that goes;“You cannot find peace by avoiding life”. To really live, to be actively aware and part of your own life, you must feel and process those feelings. The happy, the sad, the beautiful, the lonely –all of it! Often times, especially as we grow up and experience more pain and disappointment, we create devices to avoid feeling – basically- so we don’t have to experience the emotions that can sometimes hurt like hell.
Nobody wants to feel rejection, or heartache, loss, disappointment, betrayal, or just not good enough. But you can’t let something go unless you accept that it exists in the first place. You never change things for the better by fighting the existing reality. If you want to truly make things better you have to create a new model to in order to make the existing one obsolete.
Sometimes when we are in the process of self-development and self-improvement we have this perfectionist image in mind. We put ourselves into the box of needing to learn to “let go”, to “forgive”, to “move forward and not look back”. These are just a few of the messages I readily read about. We want to become this perfect Buddha-esque being but the reality is we cannot become what we want to be – a peaceful, loving, happy, healthy being- without first becoming those experiences. Which means, YES! We cannot go around them, the only way is to make a beeline through the center of our emotions and embrace and experience them.
In order to become the best version of ourselves, one that is truly alive and vital, we must first live in our humanity. Feel your feelings. All of them. Embrace your joys, embrace your disappointments, and embrace your loneliness. For in the end, it is not through avoiding your emotions that you will be free of them, but through true acceptance of them, the working through of them.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?
It took me awhile to become comfortable thinking I was beautiful. Growing up I was a Tom boy. I was one of the guys running around and mixing it up, getting dirty, climbing trees, playing sports. So being a girl and being comfortable with beauty took a while for me. I always thought I was kind of ugly because none of my guy friends wanted to date me, they always liked the “girly girls”. Then I got to college, and that changed.
What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?
I appreciate that even when I am scared of something, I go after it anyway. I have never let fear stop me from doing something I really wanted to do.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?
Being able to share my writing with the public. Writing articles and books that inspire, empower and help people in their life. I still want to write a best selling book. That’s in the works!
We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?
I am naturally a little anxious. I attribute it to going through some health issues in my early 20’s . I had always felt invincible and then all of a sudden, the sense of control went out the window and I was at the mercy of something greater than myself. I cope with it with lots of Bikram yoga, having amazing friends and family.
“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!)
Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?
I love that I say exactly what I think. Sometimes I have no filter and I get a funny look or too. But oh well, if you can’t take me standing in my own power, then move along.