Why are we so afraid to feel?
Denial keeps us unbothered. Denial keeps us advancing. Denial keeps us healing from those hurtful situations.
Denial keeps us so bothered that it comes out in a number of ways. Denial keeps us connected to situations and people for the sake of “saving face”. Denial convinces us that we’re defending ourselves when really we’re keeping ourselves open to that which we wish to fend off the most.
I get it – for many of these cases, our pride is on the line. If we show too much, we’ll look weak. If we feel too much, we’ll be branded as emotional, sensitive, or crazy. If we care too much, we lose. But WHAT do we actually lose?
There is so much on the line when we choose to deny how we feel – when we deny that we’re hurting, when we deny that something is tearing us apart. I have noticed in those around me and even in myself, there is always this desire to toughen up and deny emotions when something has happened. The first person to show emotion or to show that he/she cares, loses. But what is a “loss” compared to a lack of peace?
Denial has been defined as a form of repression, where stressful thoughts are banned from memory (Changing Minds, n.d.). For so long, I thought that the best way to handle hurtful situations was to pretend that they did not happen or to pretend that I did not care. I thought I could positively think my way past many things, leaning on the old adage (Scripture) of “as a man thinks, so is he.” This worked for a little while; I flipped my hair and thought myself away from the tears every day and back from the ledge. But what happens when the very thing I deny presents itself again in a different form? What do I do with it?
I get why we shy back from dealing with things; it hurts like hell. One of my biggest fears is rejection so I tend to gravitate towards things that make me feel wanted/needed. But this has also opened me up to keeping myself available to people, even after they have hurt me. My pride says that I cannot let go because I cannot let them see how this affects me, how it tears me to pieces, how it keeps me up at night. My pride says that I can continue to engage in situations with my emotional self detached, all the while knowing that each interaction delivers another blow. My pride says I can afford to pretend, that how I look is more important than how I really am. My pride denies me my freedom.
A couple of weeks ago, I admitted that a situation was still hurting me. Pretending had gotten me nowhere, except deeper in the feelings I tried to deny. It took me two years to get to the point of admittance – two years. Once I admitted to myself where I really was, I had to take a good look at things to determine why it was more comfortable for me to stay somewhere emotionally and pretend rather than to leave that place and be free. The root of it was this – I was scared at what life without this situation would truly mean. I was too scared to give healing a chance, too scared of losing something and not being able to get a better version of it in the future, too scared of what I perceived the possible rejection would mean.
So it took a couple of stern self-talks but I slowly began making decisions that actually put me in a better position, not just made me look better. I was tired of playing “name and claim it” with my emotional and mental health. The build up was about two months long – two months of discussing with a very trusted one or two friends, two months of being reminded of the benefits of actually being better versus pretending to be better, two months of reminding myself that I deserve better. I literally had to work through it and I did – hands shaking, eyes teary, fear brimming.
So now what?
It’s a process. It takes a certain amount of humility to hurt and it takes a certain level of tenacity to heal, to choose what’s best at each turn. The next opportunity to deny where I truly am may not be as big as this situation, sometimes it’s as small as acknowledging something that someone’s joke offended you or that you are not OK with doing someone else’s job for the umpteenth time. Whatever the reason you feel you have to deny, you have more reasons to choose to acknowledge where you are AND work for better. By doing this, you are actively protecting two of the greatest assets you have – your heart and your mind. And you need no permission to do that.