“Feelings or emotions are the universal language and are to be honored. They are the authentic expression of who you are at your deepest place.” ~ Judith Wright
When has caring become obsolete, outdated and wrong?
Why does it so often feel like we are scared to care too much or to be perceived as caring too much as though it were such a bad thing?
Not caring, or at least pretending not to, seems the cool thing to do nowadays. “Not my problem, I don’t care”. “I didn’t care about her anyway! On to the next one!” “Why should I care? He doesn’t!” “I’m good.” We have all said things like that at one point or another, whether we actually believed these words or not. When we do say it knowing full well that the opposite is true, what are we doing (or should I say attempting to do)? Avoiding judgment. Fitting in. Not bothering anyone. Protecting ourselves. Lying. Pick one. Or maybe, all five.
For as long as I can remember I have been a good listener and I have always loved being there for my friend, even for strangers, if they needed a shoulder to cry or just an ear. However, until about ten years ago, I rarely shared what was on my mind, even with my closest friends, even though I have been blessed in that department, because I did not want to bother or burden them with problems I thought I would eventually figure out on my own. I thought that it made me a good friend. Life thought me how wrong I was. I also have to give credit to A., one of my best friends. A guy I love to life (this is not a typo) and who opened my eyes in a big way. The whole time I was robbing my loved ones of the opportunity to do something for me, for a change, and the chance to make our connection even deeper. Being a good friend is not just being there for others when they need you but also allowing them to be there for you when you need them. I operated this way because I had not learned to love myself yet and I did not know how to adequately give love, let alone receive it.
Through the years I had become so good at handling all of my stuff by myself that it was second nature. Changing things was hard but not impossible and illness and invalidity turned out to be one of the best crash courses I could have ever dreamed of. I offered some resistance at first because that is a difficult habit to break, but in time it became easier and easier to tell them how I really felt, to say that I needed help and also to accept that help. The next step of actually asking for help took longer but once I got there, I understood fully how crucial it was and how rewarding it was both for me and for the person who had the opportunity to help.
Growing up, what we see often impacts us as much, if not more, than what we hear. The adults around us teach us by example, both with their words and actions. From the strong black women around me I learned how to weather any storm, how to bounce back from any fall, how to carry myself with dignity at all times, I also learned how to not be in touch with my feelings and how to not talk about them. Many of our moms had to carry their households by themselves and taking care of their emotions was not on their to-do list. They were busy being everything to us and had no time for self-care. By extension, as their children, dealing with our emotions was not on our to-do list either and we did not learn about self-care. This is not an indictment on our mothers, quite the opposite actually, I praise them for equipping us with what we needed to make it in a world where our place would constantly be contested. A world where we had to be able to handle anything that would come our way. I also recognize, however, that parents do the best they can, and only know what they know. Thinking about them, to this day, I often wonder, when the lights were turned off and we were nowhere in sight, how they dealt with these emotions and feelings they could not tell anybody about? Who did they turn to? Did they even turn to anybody?
Pen and paper were my go-to tools, always, but they only allowed me to unload. They did not give me anything back. Staying busy with my studies, basketball, and anything else I could add to my schedule also helped keep unpleasant feelings at bay. Out of mind, out of sight, right? The reality about feelings and emotions is that whether we like it or not, they are there. Numbing them doesn’t make them go away. Ignoring them doesn’t make them disappear. In my case, writing, playing ball, studying, working, filling every waking hour with something became my coping mechanism. These comforting things were imposters masquerading as life-savers. The feelings stayed and found a comfortable home underneath the surface of my seemingly happy being, nurtured by my fears. Being busy all the time allowed me to achieve a lot but it also prevented me from seeing myself spiraling down until I crashed and was finally forced to deal with my truths. All of them.
For many of us, shutting down feelings has become second nature. The internal conversation goes like this: “Oh, here is an emotion I don’t like, let me shut it down quickly and pretend it was never there.” Or, even, “Oh, here is an emotion I really like but if I let it stay and if I enjoy it too much I know it is going to hurt later so let me shut it down right here, right now.” Fear. That what it is about. The fear of looking weak and vulnerable to others and even to ourselves. The fear of losing something that felt good. Fear can rob you of everything if you let it. It is that powerful.
Uncomfortable and painful emotions and feelings are opportunities to learn about ourselves and others. And so, when we suppress them, we cheat ourselves of valuable lessons. Acknowledging that something bothers us, annoys us, brings out anger, frustration out of us, is important in itself because it allows us to validate these emotions and feelings but more importantly it opens the door to understanding and identifying why certain situations and/or certain people trigger certain reactions in us.
Emotions and feelings that are deemed negative, like jealousy and envy for example, often come with shame, which makes them even harder to accept and acknowledge. Let’s say a good friend calls you and is all excited to share all the fantastic things that are happening to him or her. While they are talking you feel a slight pinch in your stomach or chest. You are happy for them but something else is lurking in the shadows and very quickly you start beating yourself up for letting jealous or envious thoughts cross your mind. Those thoughts are here to tell you something about yourself. If they are really strong and overshadowing the joy you feel for your friend or if you don’t feel any joy at all, only jealousy or envy, maybe you are a hater. Figure out why. Nobody is a hater just because. Maybe you have some hidden resentment toward your friend that you might want to address, or maybe you are not really friends. If those feelings are faint and fleeting, maybe they don’t mean much but maybe they are a sign that it’s time to make moves in your own life in order to soon be the one with the fantastic news to share. Don’t let them linger but don’t discount them either. They might teach you something. Scratch that. They will teach you plenty.
Letting go is great but you have to acknowledge something before you can let go of it. That’s a fact. Acknowledging doesn’t mean advertising but simply telling the truth about what is and accepting that it is what it is, to the people with whom we feel safe enough to take that chance, but above all to ourselves.
Don’t let anybody, including that little voice in your head, shame you because you care, because you have feelings. The truth is we all do. Don’t let society or anybody tell you how much or how little you should be affected by something. Feelings and emotions are yours for a reason.
Maybe we will be in a much better place as a society if we cared a little more about ourselves, about one another, if we showed that we cared and stopped shaming others for caring and feeling.
Life is meant to be felt. Many of us are so afraid to get hurt in any way that we forget to live life. I don’t always share everything I feel with my loved ones but I always take the time to acknowledge everything to myself. I am still learning when it comes to showing certain emotions more freely but I feel them fully.
My life is so much better and richer because I care a lot and feel a lot. Good or bad. These emotions have their space to exist. I am not proud of all of them but I accept all of them. Yes, I get hurt sometimes but it doesn’t stop me from loving and appreciating every bit of the journey.