I have a mug at work that says ”Good Vibes Only” which I love because, let’s face it – who doesn’t want to be around good vibes? However, the more I got into mental health recovery and mental fortitude, the more I realized that all feelings – good and bad – need to be felt and expressed. I’ve also started reading (aka, listening to) a new book, “You are a Goddess” by Sophie Bashford and she touched on this.
It takes an incredible amount of energy to hold back your emotions and, specifically, your tears. In her book she references a study of explosive tears collected containing stress hormones. Not expressing your emotions creates stress on your body and that stress creates a toxic environment. How much anxiety and depression could be alleviated by expressing your emotions?
I’ve experienced first hand how bad this can be. When I was going through the declining health and eventual death of my father, I felt the need to be the strong, stoic one in the family – to be there for my mom so she could grieve. I was there for all of it. I took her to and from the hospital before his death and the various appointments after. I only expressed myself a handful of times since then; when I finally said goodbye to him maybe 2 hours before he passed, when he finally passed away, when I collected my sister in law from work so she could be with us, and the one year anniversary of his death when I was deployed overseas. Yes, I cried more than that, but they were always stiffled as much as possible. And how did I manage that? It usually involved alcohol. Unfortunately, about 3 months after his death, I got triggered and I started getting upset at a family event. I ran off to get some privacy and collect myself, and when I rejoined the party, I started drinking. I would always drink at these annual parties but it was usually drinking to relax and have fun. That day, I was drinking to forget the pain and I drank too much – pretty much to the point of passing out. Unfortunately, in that heavily drunken state, someone who had been working that night at the event, decided to come into the bedroom where I was trying to sleep it off, and I was sexually assaulted. If I had allowed myself to express my pain and sadness, I don’t believe I would have gotten into that state. Previous to that, any time I felt the tears wanting to come out, I would suppress them with alcohol.
Just over 16 months ago, I gave up alcohol (though had a couple ounces of champagne at the Cirque du Soleil performance in the summer but am not including that) and that forced me to deal with all that pain and sadness without any crutch or way to suppress it. It’s sucked. A lot. But I’m definitely better for it! All that stuck energy can flow and I feel more centered and balanced.
Think of suppressing your emotions like a fault line in the earth’s crust; your body needing to express its emotions fighting against the ego’s desire to suppress the emotions. They’re head-to head, pushing at each other, fighting to keep things centered and whole. Eventually something is going to slip and something has to give – and it won’t be small. There is going to be an explosive expression of emotions and I guarantee it’s not going to be good. It will create aftershocks from that explosion – because when you’re angry, things are often said or done that one might regret afterwards.
I even experienced this the other day – I was having a bad day and I was missing my husband a LOT. He’d only been gone a week, but it’s felt like an eternity. I didn’t want him to know how sad I was because I didn’t want him worrying about me but focusing on what he needs to do – and if he was having a shitty day, I wanted him to come to me to be the strong wife supporting and uplifting him. That particular day we spoke he had also had a really shitty day – it was the first since he arrived that he didn’t want to be there. Though I didn’t speak much, letting him do the talking, by the end of the conversation, I was in tears and after we hung up, I had a good cry. I did feel better after that cry and I know now that weekends are going to be the hardest – especially that particular weekend. Did not sleep well at all (I’m blaming the full moon!) and the weather had turned so I had a migraine one day and because of freezing rain, I was housebound the other. When you’re used to having that company every weekend, not having it royally sucked! Hopefully once February hits, though, I’ll be able to see him on weekends!
Quite often we think of repressed emotions like sadness – especially men who are told “real men don’t cry”, and “don’t be such a cry baby” when they’re children. Just as women grow up with the unrealistic Barbie image, men grow up with this hyper-masculine mentality of repressing their emotions. Masculine qualities are highly prized – strong, confident, stoic, aggressive/assertive – and anything else is a sign of weakness.
Have you ever tried repressing anger? It is HARD! I remember once when I was maybe 14 years old, I was at a friends house and her and her little sister were just going at it verbally. Though I can’t remember what was being said, I remember being furious. I was so mad, I had to stand behind a leather chair – to keep something between us – I was literally vibrating with anger and I had broken a couple nails as I was gripping the chair so tight. Thankfully I’ve only had that one time of insane rage but it’s a good example of how hard it is to control your anger.
However, what is perhaps more dangerous is suppressing your anger when it comes to your spouse. My husband and I have been married for 24 years in April. It has NOT been easy and we almost didn’t make it a couple times and every single time we have gone through a hard spell, it is typically around one single thing: lack of communication. Now, yes, that encompasses a wide area, but ultimately it was communication.
Let me put it this way; if your partner does something to piss you off or upset you, how do you feel? And if you don’t tell them how you feel, how does that escalate those original feelings? Chances are if your original feeling was meerly anger or being upset, not expressing yourself will probably have you feeling resentment, frustration, dejected, inadequate, regretful, jealous, bitter, withdrawn to name a few. The worst thing to do is to remain silent because those initial emotions will compound and it’ll get blown way out of proportion. Now, it’s not a bad idea to step back and take a few deep breaths before engaging in conversation, but saying something like “You know, when you said/did (that thing), it really hurt/upset me” will help open the lines of communication. Your partner may not realized that their actions/words caused you to be upset or angry. Now, if they disregard this, aren’t open to a conversation, or constantly do or say things to upset or anger you, then for your own mental health, maybe you need to step away from that relationship. This should apply to everyone you have a relationship with – including family and friends. If they genuinely want to change and work on it, fine – but how long do you have to wait? How much do you have to endure before they realize they can’t treat you like they are.
If their actions and words are eroding your mental well being, it’s mental abuse and you deserve better.
Part of the problem has been society’s view of expressing yourself. Living where we do, we’re blessed with a freedom of speech, but when someone says or does something hurtful, we clam up and don’t express ourselves. It would be interesting to know how many people go on stress leave from work due to being unable to speak up at work when someone is being verbally abusive towards them.
There was one office I was posted to that was a nightmare situation. I directly worked with civilians and one of them I could not handle. She was the most condescending person I have ever met and she made my life a living hell. I worked in that office for 6 ½ months before I went to Kuwait. During that time, I was often in tears by the time I got home in the evening. She made me feel stupid and useless and eventually I decided I would rather do the job incorrect than ask her for help – though, amazingly enough, I never made any errors – that I was aware of! The problem was, she was friends with everyone in the office and I didn’t feel like I could safely complain to anyone about her. After I got to Kuwait, I had only been there for a few days, I realized that I would rather be there in Kuwait – the dirty, ugly, unbelieveably hot country with poisonous snakes and scorpions where we had to check our shoes ever day, and don’t even get me going about camel spiders! – I would rather be there, away from friends and family, than be in the office working with that woman. That’s how bad it was. Thankfully, while I was over there, I got posted to a new unit – so when I got back, I had my 3 admin days – 2 with my old unit and one with my new unit – and after my post deployment leave, I started at my new unit. Those 2 half days at that old unit were torturous. I hated it – the tension was palatable. My situation, mood, stress, depression, and anxiety dramatically changed for the better at my new unit.
Everyone deserves respect, empathy, and compassion. People shouldn’t be afraid to speak up when they feel “wronged”.
When we heal ourselves, we heal others. When we heal ourselves, we heal the world.