I grew up in a family where I heard a lot of the following:
“Don’t cry, Andria.”
“Don’t be angry.”
“Don’t be sad.”
“Don’t be mad.”
“It’s not worth your tears.”
“Seriously, why are you upset over that?”
I could keep going, but you get the point.
Hearing these statements repeatedly as I grew up taught me to suppress my negative emotions. This translated into my mastering the art of sucking it up and tolerating. I tolerated a lot of things that were uncomfortable because the message I received was I shouldn’t feel negative emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration. I learned to swallow a lot of tears and lumps in my throat as I repeated in my head what I heard as a child: Don’t cry, Andria. I learned to clench my teeth through anger hearing familiar phrases run through my mind: Don’t be mad, Andria. That’s nothing to be upset about.
I was inadvertently taught that feeling negative emotions was not okay. I don’t blame my parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles who said these things to me. They were just sharing what they were taught. Of course, none of us enjoy feeling sad, angry, or any other negative emotion nor do we like to see those we love hurting; therefore, the natural tendency is to say things like, “don’t be sad” or “don’t cry” and try to make them (and ourselves) feel better. However, what I’ve learned is that the only way to truly feel better is to let the emotions flow.
As I’ve written about before (and in depth in my book, Fear to Flow), emotions are energy in motion (e-motion). They need to move. The way they move is by feeling them. Once we feel them and allow them to move through us, they actually pass. It’s not always that simple or quick. Some emotions take longer to move than others. In fact, if you’re like me and were taught to suppress negative emotions, they can linger for years. I wrote a blog post recently about how I dealt with a 30-year old wound that included both sadness and anger. Because I was told repeatedly 30 years prior (at the very vulnerable ages of 12-15) to not be angry and not be sad, all the anger and sadness festered for three decades, until I decided to do something about it. (You can read more about that story here).
Recently my niece was experiencing some 16-year old anger and sadness. I sent her an email titled “FEEL FEEL FEEL” because I wanted her to let those emotions FLOW. Be angry, I told her. Be royally pissed off. Be sad. Be furious. Be belligerent. Feel it all. Because the sooner she feels it, the sooner she moves beyond it. She’s a wise old soul in a young body and had no intention of NOT feeling anything that was arising in her. And sure enough, within a week she seemed to be beyond the worst of her experience.
While working with a client on processing angry feelings and she said, “I don’t want to feel angry.” Who does? The point is she WAS angry. Denying and resisting it doesn’t make it go away. Feeling it makes it go away. So, feel it. It doesn’t mean you have to be nasty and rude to whomever triggered your anger. It means you need to honor what you’re feeling in a way that works for you.
Figure out how to let the emotions move: write a letter to be burned, journal about it, go for a run, have a “fuck you fuck off campaign” (like I did and wrote about here), stay in bed for a day (or 3) and cry your eyes out, bitch and moan about it to a supportive friend who will feel it all with you. Find what works for you and let those emotions move.
Stop sucking it up. Do what my niece did and feel, feel, feel. Your emotions do not need validation or justification. They are valid and justified simply by the fact that you’re experiencing them. So, experience them.
The dialogue that ran through my head for most my life has changed. I now tell myself exactly what I told my niece and the exact opposite of what I was told:
Go ahead and cry for as long as you want.
Of course, you’re upset about that – you’re human.
Feel, feel, feel it all.
And for the love of God, please don’t suck it up.
This post was originally featured on HuffPost on November 7, 2017.