“I hit you in my sleep.”
“What have I done?” he asks jokingly.
“Nothing, I wanted to hit somebody from my dream but I hit you in reality,” I say, all brimming with guilt.
“Doesn’t matter. Come here.”
One of the most important lessons I’m taking in therapy continually is about accepting my emotions as they are. High or low, strong or weak, nice or… ugly.
Before I began therapy, it seemed kind of natural to dismiss all kinds of emotions that I didn’t experience as “nice”. I just wanted to see myself as a nice person, you know? And nice people don’t hate others or feel angry at them. Nice people, you know – they forgive.
Or whatever it was they taught me in religion classes. Did you have religion classes, too? Doesn’t matter. I’m sure there are plenty of us out there – people who would prefer to be incapable of anger, hate, jealousy, reluctance, or spite. Because then, in the end, we could be sure we are the perfectly acceptable “nice” people we want to be.
I guess we could all blame our pushing the “ugly” emotions away from ourselves on religious teaching, on the expectation that every girl should be a nice little angel, on our failing parents… you name it. But the origins of this habit matter very little once you realize that it is doing you harm.
Suppressing emotions is bad for you, we all know it. You may, for example, end up having terrible dreams where you fight someone who made you angry ten years back, and be hitting your significant other in the present. Or you feel tense all the time for no apparent reason, or your body eventually says “no more of this” and falls ill. But if we all know the consequences of suppressing unwanted emotions, why don’t we stop suppressing them if we know it?
Because it’s not so easy. You probably already know that, too. It’s not easy to admit to emotions that you have been denying for a long time. Because, in a sense, you have been acting rationally – you have been denying them for a reason, and with a purpose.
Why, then? Why do we deny the existence of the “ugly” creatures that inhabit our minds – the snakes, the rats, the lizards? We do that precisely because we think of them as “ugly”. Cumbersome. Undeserving. We don’t like to burden ourselves with the difficulty of facing them and owning them.
And what for do we suppress those lovely – “ugly”, you probably still think – creatures of our minds? Quite simply, we do that to feel better about ourselves. It may also help you to avoid conflict with other people; but above all, it allows you to avoid conflict with yourself: you are now, without any doubt, the “nice” person you wanted to be, so everything must be okay.
It works so well that you may not even notice it that it has become your way of being. You don’t pay attention to feelings of frustration or jealousy when they appear around the corner; you tell your feelings to shut up when you’re angry at someone; you keep all the “ugly” stuff neatly hidden under the carpet. It makes you a super-nice person…
…who sacrificed an important part of themselves to achieve that goal. And if you think about it – was it worth it?
In my case, I think it wasn’t. Sure, this habit of keeping “the ugly” out of sight has been making my life a lot easier by providing me with a sense of security. I always knew what to do when an “ugly” emotion crept out of the dark: shove it back there! But you know what? I like to think of myself as an animal preserve. In that preserve, each animal has its own niche, and each should be fed and taken care of so that the ecosystem is – well, preserved, because that’s what preserves are for.
And each animal, including the “ugly” ones – my hate, my anger, my sadness – should be there, not out. Otherwise, I’d lose something very important. I think I don’t have to explain what it is.
So, what do I do to stop suppressing my emotions? What have I learned in therapy so far? Admittedly, no more than I what I have ranted here about up until now: that the “ugly” emotions that I’m afraid of, and that I would rather keep in a very dark, forgotten place, are just as good as the “nice” ones, and that all emotions need to be experienced.
And what do I do with that knowledge? Well, I just repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it until I’m completely bored with myself talking. In this way, I’m coming to believe in this simple fact of life more and more…
I’m a slow learner, that I must admit. But even if you are a slow learner, there are lessons out there really worth learning no matter how much time it takes – and worth sharing, too. If you want to share what you’ve learned, or any other thoughts, you know where the comments section is.
Have a good day!
Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.