My mom was married to a meanie for four years of my childhood. He was her second husband–a quick rebound after she and my dad divorced. He was a narcissistic a-hole who was verbally, and physically, abusive.
Thankfully my mom and older step-brother shielded me from the grunt of his rage, he did take some out on me: I wasn’t allowed to cry.
Anytime I cried around him, he put me down or yelled at me. I learned early on that if I needed to shed a tear or two, I had to do it alone and then quickly hide in the bathroom and apply my mom’s concealer all over my red splotchy–lest he would find out and scream at me.
It wasn’t until my adult years (thank you therapy!) that I realized I had a difficult time crying around any and all humans (but mostly men) for fear of their shaming and scorn.
Moving on to a totally, but related topic (stay with me folks!): My mom suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. And when her mood was down, it would remain there for weeks or months. I subconsciously learned from this behavior, even as someone who does not suffer from bipolar or depression, that if something was bothering me, I had to wallow it in for a while. I felt that I wasn’t allowed to shift quickly to optimism or joy. I felt that I wasn’t allowed to be happy for a while–days or weeks later.
Growing up, we learn how to deal with emotions and feelings differently, based on what we are taught and the behavior we learn to emulate. And spoiler alert: A lot of us are not taught how to manage emotions in healthy ways.
For years, I either felt like I had to not show emotion (“Stop crying Natalie!”) or wallow in it for an unhealthy amount of time. But these are totally false viewpoints that I’ve been trying to amend my whole adult life.
It’s Okay to Not Feel Happy All the Time (aka We Need to Embrace the Full Emotional Spectrum)
In Untamed (a very empowering book I think everyone should read and one which I love so much I may dedicate a future blog post to it), Glennon Doyle discusses how she used drugs and alcohol to numb her pain and anxiety. While getting sober she learned a valuable lesson: Some days you just aren’t going to feel happy, and that is okay. Happiness shouldn’t be the goal. Living should be.
We place so much emphasis and value on “happiness”, but this deters us from allowing ourselves to feel the full spectrum of other emotions.
We are humans, right (I hope, anyway)? So we need to let ourselves feel everything.
If you grew up with an influential figure in your life that taught you to suppress emotions, I highly recommend the book Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them. It provides education and training on how to give yourself permission to experience all the emotions, in a healthy, constructive way.
What I loved most about the read was how unapologetic it was. So often, society tells us how to feel based on our gender. But this book tosses those ideas away and embraces the idea of practicing self-wallowing while you are alone. For instance, if you need to ride the self-pity train for a minute, heck yes! Let yourself! Who cares? You’re by yourself and no one is around to judge you, but yourself.
I think it’s time for us to let go of our own self-judgment and feel what we need for a minute.
The 20 Minute Rule (For Lifting Yourself Back up After Said Wallowing)
This was taught to me by my old therapist. After years of watching my depressed mom white-knuckle it through life, I thought that if something made me sad/angry/upset/excited/anxious I had to fully feel it. For a while. Like days. Or weeks.
My therapist taught me that that doesn’t have to be the case.
Yes, mourn things! Yes, be upset! Allow yourself to feel! Cry, scream, do what you need to do for 20 minutes. Then, after the time is up, let that sh** go. Move on. Train your mind to think of other things to make yourself happier or more stable.
Yes, it takes training and practice (and some emotions and situations are easier to “move on” from than others), but overall, this exercise has brought some much-needed balance back into my emotional life. Five star review. Highly recommend.
So what about you? Do you have an unhealthy relationship with some emotions based on how you were raised?