“Stop your crying or I will give you something to cry about” bellowed from the front seat of our 1978 white Plymouth Fury as I sat sobbing in the back seat. My mother, hot with frustration, shot this favorite one-liner out in hopes I would pull myself together…and sometimes when she said this, I actually did. I’d swallow my stomach and suck back the tears with a pinched face. Not because I gained new awareness from my mom’s statement. Rather, I feared her reaction if I didn’t.
She meant well. This I know to be true.
However the message I tucked away somewhere inside my brain was “upset emotions are bad, really bad”. Stuff them down. Hide them from others. It is wrong, and if you show them, YOU are bad and wrong. This led to heavy doses of shame and self-loathing for me when discontent showed up at my door.
When I became unzipped, it wasn’t simply, “Gee, I don’t like this”. It was a quick slip into a deep groove of something being terribly messed up. “What’s wrong with me?” I’d think to myself. A question I didn’t truly ponder. I had a mental list of perceived shortcomings circling in my mind. Harsh. Then I’d have two things to feel bad about, the original event and my reaction to the original event.
I was stuck in the starting gate. Unable to hear what my emotions were trying to tell me.
When I began to welcome repugnant emotions into my life…first into my living room, and then onto my lap, and eventually into my heart…I could see they had a job to do and I slowly opened to allow these villains a chance to do their handy work.
Eventually I realized the better we get at facing the hard stuff, the easier life becomes.
Consider for a moment, when you were young how did your caregivers or siblings respond to your strongest feelings? Really explore this. What messages did you take away? Are those patterns or beliefs still at play in your life?
We need anger and sadness in our lives. These are our protectors. They help us set limits and allow us to love. Without them around to stand guard, we would hold back our joy. It would simply be too vulnerable to open our wings.
Try to slow down and “listen” to your body the next time a wave of heavy tight emotion shows up. Rather than get caught up in the experience, stop and notice. Let it be okay. You are needing something in that moment. What is it? The hardest part of watching the emotions will most likely be a strong and persistent urge to act. This is a part of the process we are better off keeping in check.
Fully feeling and experiencing emotions doesn’t come naturally. It takes effort. However, the payoffs are like fruit flies in a dirty bar. Want details? The book The Upside of Your Dark side by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener is oozing with examples.
One wave at a time:)