What would make your emotions ‘valid’?
Do you believe that
- It’s ok to cry at a funeral but not during a family reunion?
- It’s ok to be openly angry when someone steals your wallet but not at your boss making a sexist joke?
- It’s appropriate to jump in joy for someone else’s success but not your own?
Or, in other words, do you believe that your emotions need to be ‘justified’ or ‘appropriate’ to be ‘valid’?
I don’t know about you, but I used to blame myself for many emotions that I experienced. I was often confused about how I felt in certain situations and wondered what would be the ‘acceptable’ way to feel?
Before I ‘allowed’ myself to express emotion, I would look for external guidance. My checklist looked a little bit like this:
- Typical behaviour’ scenarios’ in our society — Have I ever seen anyone get angry in this situation?
- The need to ‘protect’ other people’s feelings — Is my anger going to make anyone uncomfortable?
- My public image — Was I going to be judged by others for being such a drama queen?
I was selective about the emotions which I gave myself permission to experience and express. I used to dismiss my feelings and experiences for the sake of fitting in and being perceived as ‘normal’. The last thing I wanted was to be seen as overly dramatic or as a troublemaker. Yes, I wanted to be the ‘cool girl’.
I have unwittingly silenced a part of myself, the one who knew what was important to me. As a result, it was difficult for me to make decisions and, even worse, to recognize what I wanted.
Some of my coaching clients say they have no idea what their issue is or what makes them feel unhappy. They struggle even to permit themselves to be fed up with their situation — after all, they ‘have it all’ — and therefore are not allowed to feel anxious, disappointed, angry or unhappy.
But who decides which feelings are appropriate and in which situation?
And, most importantly, are our feelings something we CAN decide to have or not?
As what used to happen to me, by numbing our ‘unacceptable’ emotions, we are numbing ALL our feelings. As a result, we get disconnected from an essential source of information about what is vital for us as human individuals. We forget how it used to feel to be passionate about something or to stand up for ourselves. We forget who we are. To cover that up, we mimic the behaviour and preferences of the people around us — but these people might be in a similar position to us, pretending to be happy and carefree.
Once I recognized that I have been presenting only the ‘acceptable’ version of myself, I started to make my first steps towards noticing ALL of my feelings. And I began to get very clear about all the essential things in my life I used to ignore; the manipulative relationships, my restlessness and dissatisfaction in my job, the soul-crushing boredom at some social events.
And finally, I slowly collected the courage to start claiming my own space. I realized that I’m the only one with the power to transform my own life and to make myself happy. I stopped being worried about the “missed opportunities” when I could have changed something and instead cared about the opportunities that are out there if I have the courage to take the leap.
I stopped worrying about how others perceive my feelings and personal preferences. My happiness was a high a price to pay for maintaining my “public image” — that no one cared about all that much.
The biggest change? I started to feel much better in my own skin. I feel safer because I have my own back at all times. And people began to tell me that I come across as much more genuine — which makes sense because I’ve always used to be a terrible actor. And, finally, I started to take conscious steps towards creating a life that is suitable for me and not just for my parents or for my image on social media.
I’m a real, complex person, and so are you. Don’t simplify yourself just to make it easier for yourself and others to “read” you. You will not always know what the “right” thing to do is — it’s very freeing to realize that no one really does. And if we stop pretending, maybe we will invite in more creativity, aliveness and forgiveness into our lives.
You are not an Instagram picture, avatar or a dating profile. Can you allow yourself to exist in all your complexity? Can you listen to what your real emotions are trying to communicate to you?
My longing for you is to get the courage you need to bring this complexity into the real world and make yourself 3D. Take the opportunity to invent yourself and make it count.
It will be scary and also fun — no one has ever been YOU before.