For years I shut down my point of view in order to make other people happy. I did this without being told to, it had nothing to do with the other person or people. This is how I had learned to operate and it served me well, until it didn’t. This is how I fit in. I stuffed down my thoughts, opinions and feelings for so long that I didn’t trust myself, it was much safer to defer to someone else. I didn’t take any responsibility for how I felt and in that I didn’t have control over getting through that I felt. I was unconsciously waiting for someone else to make me feel better, relinquishing control.
I was taught at a young age that my feelings didn’t matter and weren’t true. This was because my parents and role models were taught the very same thing. They taught me this life lesson out of love. This is where I learnt that my feelings weren’t valid and I couldn’t trust them. We live what you learn and believe to be true, until we know better. I didn’t trust myself. And you know it seemed to work. But underneath it all I felt so sad, weak and ashamed…so I pretended for over 50 years. I felt like there was something wrong with me.
Its sounds horrible doesn’t it. But I didn’t recognize any of this. When sad feelings or uncomfortable feelings showed up, I would stuff them down and when I couldn’t do that, I would run from them. That could be running to the pantry, quitting a job or ending a friendship. But mostly it was pretending to be “Fine”. As a child had always wanted to be an actress…funny how life is … you might think I was living my dream because I was for the most part acting fine. But no, I was living my nightmare. I was an emotional person who didn’t know how to feel.
I’m not saying I was happy all the time because I wasn’t. I just didn’t know what to do with those feelings. I felt ashamed and very weak if I shared something I was struggling with.
After I became a Christian I felt I could be vulnerable because God loved me just as I was. But when I told my story to someone close to me and they replied they weren't like me, they didn’t have a rock-bottom story. So...that statement validated what I believed to be true, sad feelings aren’t normal. I wasn't normal. I needed to hide that side of me. I remember feeling embarrassed by being vulnerable and talking about the pain I was feeling. Now finding Jesus gave me a beautiful new beginning but I still hadn’t learned to share my pain with Him. (That didn't come until 20 years later) I didn’t want God to judge me. Going to church, I learned to hide even more. Not because of church but because of the shame I associated with any feelings I had that were less than joyful. I didn’t trust myself; I didn’t trust others and I didn’t trust God.
I would go to church with a mask, I wore it to fit in, to be what I thought church needed me to be and I pretended. I never did learn to let church people see the real me. Long story short, loss of trust is a big one for me.
After gaining tools I never knew I needed I now see that I was not living my life honestly. I was living my life to fit what beliefs I had created from the lessons I had learned so early in life. This process of feeling all my feelings is still a habit I have to work on and learn to trust those feelings. I don’t have to live in the feeling, but I do need to feel them, learn from them, honour them and move through them. That goes for all feelings. Suppressing our feelings isn’t fully living. Giving someone else all the responsibility for how we feel isn’t fully living. Feeling and accepting our responsibility for what we feel in this life is living…even if its just a little bit at a time.
I was taught to cope with hard things by stuffing down the feelings. I believed that feelings other than happy, joyful feelings were wrong, messy or unnatural. How can only happy feelings be natural?
It’s not true, all feelings are natural. What is unnatural is how we are taught to deal with anything other than happy or joyful feelings.
If we don’t learn to feel and deal with our not so happy emotions, we create unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid feeling. This can cause poor decision making, health issues, addictions, shame, isolation and a number of other concerning consequences. You are important enough to feel and each loss deserves to be honoured with grief. We can recover from our grief using small action steps to feel and move through our losses. It takes us being open to changing our old patterns of behavior, willingness to learn and courage to be our true selves.
I have heard so many people say to me at the beginning of this program “I don’t even know who I am, I have been pretending so long. I am so tired of pretending to be happy, I just want to be happy.” Then when we have completed our sessions, them saying “I feel free to be me. I feel hopeful.”
This was probably the most beautiful statement one of my clients shared with me at the end our sessions. “I am throwing away my mask. I have swept up the eggshells. I am free to love and smile honestly. I am free to make mistakes without fear.”
Here’s to being uniquely ourselves, because we were not made to be the same. The world needs the you, you were created to be. Its time to get to know the real, not perfect you.