“I’m so sad, mom,” shared my five-year-old son, crying while I held him. “I am sorry you feel that way -- it isn’t easy to feel sad, but it’s okay. Let yourself be sad and do whatever you need to get those feelings out,” I encouraged him. I then continued to quietly hold him, stroke his hair and kiss his head while he cried.
All too often, we are ashamed of our feelings and are afraid to let them out for fear of what others might think. We don’t want to appear “weak” and are encouraged to “suck it up.” Well-meaning people attempt to quickly distract us or change the subject to something happier, before we have fully felt our emotion. Oftentimes we go along with their ploy, (or do it on our own), and bottle things up to either address them later, or attempt to repress them all together.
Perhaps it is for this reason that so many of us as adults don’t know how to cope with our feelings. We lie through forced smiles and turn to dark escapes in private. These are reasons people slip away to drink alone, overeat, or escape in other unhealthy ways that can sometimes lead to addiction. Some of us are so good at hiding all together, that our addictions become closeted. If and when people find out, they are shocked because we always “seemed so happy.”
I too, was once guilty of this practice. If sad, I would smile and hide my pain saying, “I’m fine.” I didn’t want to appear like a cry baby and I didn’t want to worry or upset other people. As odd as it sounds now, I hid my feelings so that I could avoid making someone else feel uncomfortable. What a price to pay.
I once bottled up so many emotions while in a failing relationship, that I ended up hospitalized by an unknown cause. The doctors ran test after test and kept asking me “Could it be stress?” Yes, in the end it turns out that was the sad truth. I swallowed my pain, sadness, fear and heartbreak so deeply that it physically manifested into stomach troubles. Had I known then that it was perfectly acceptable, natural and healthy to be open and honest, I might not have gotten to that painful and costly point.
Now in my 30s, I have gotten to know myself better than I have my entire life. I honor my feelings and am truthful if someone has hurt, angered or otherwise upset me. Even if it is from an external source, be it disappointment or grief, I allow myself to feel. I give myself permission to accept that I can’t and won’t be happy all the time, which is why happiness tastes so sweet.
As a parent, it is paramount that I teach my children this valuable lesson now, to own and acknowledge their emotions. I hope that this will benefit their growth and development, and one day make them better partners, citizens and humans.
I encourage you, to not hide your thoughts and feelings. Don’t be ashamed. They are yours and you have every right to own them, feel them, accept them and move on when you are ready. There is no rush, no time limit and if you need to reach out to someone, by all means, do. Emotions are all part of the experience, and we are all in this together.