I remember seeing my little grandson play with the big kids in the neighborhood. As I watched him take his big wheel over to the other kids asking them if he could play, I felt agony as the kids laughed and cruelly told him that they didn't want to play with him. Jaeden looked shocked and asked why. They just continued laughing as they ignored him. I could've chewed steel as I watched the little guy pedal away trying not to cry. I rushed over to him and asked if he wanted me to play with him but he just kept pedaling away telling me, “No,” he would play by himself for awhile. I saw him from a distance ride around the corner of the building to cry, where he thought no one could see him...
I hated every moment of that helpless experience, but as I reflect upon the memory, what I find most curious was how early Jaeden learned to mask his emotions. He didn't want me to see his pain—me--the best Grandpa in the world, who would do anything for him. Yet he felt too ashamed to be vulnerable with me. Why? I've told him many times it's ok to cry. My wife even has this cute game where she presses his feelings button to get him to share how he really feels. But as he has gotten older his feelings button doesn't seem to work so well. I watch him now at age 5 and wonder where did he learn to hide his feelings, disabling his feelings button?
Like camouflage he is learning to mask his emotions blending into the world of denial where everybody is just fine and dandy. I mean, let's be honest, how many of us are truly comfortable expressing our most vulnerable, volatile feelings? I'm still getting used to opening up to my closest friends so they can console me. It feels awkward to let your guard down and bare the raw emotions of your soul.
I've found that it's different for everyone. Some of us can't express anger but will rage on the inside like a corked volcano scalding the walls of our heart with silent fury. Others struggle with expressing joy and it's like watching them pass a kidney stone to laugh from their belly and smile from their soul. I've also seen others who have dismantled their tear ducts inadvertently drying out their spirit turning their blood into sands of bitterness.
Do you remember the very first moment when you applied make-up over the emotional scars, painting on a plastic smile as we robotically go about our business? We ignore our pain, minimize our sorrow, lie about it to ourselves and others about the depth of damage we have incurred. Many will try to distract themselves from their own brokenness with shiny toys, high calorie foods, high-end drugs, and alcohol topped with sex that can never outlast the shame.
The goals appears to be that if we are busy enough, successful enough, drunk enough, high enough, adored enough, the pain will simply go away. The sad truth is that if the pain isn't expressed outwardly it will turn in on itself to be relived over and over again in the solitary confinement of our broken heart. Anger turned inward can become depression. Fear caged and restrained can become anxiety. Tears and regret denied can evolve into extreme self loathing. These primal emotional energies aren't meant to be locked away in the closet and like radioactive waste they will begin to seep up through the ground.
Often during a session I tell clients that the anger or sadness we feel is our body trying to tell us that there is something wrong. Like the check engine light that reads hot in the car we need to pull over and see what is really going on under the hood. Unfortunately, we can't just logically compartmentalize our feelings into tidy little packages to be opened up when it's convenient. If your brave enough to crack the door and peek behind door #2 you run the risk of being swept away in a riptide of past regrets.
Let's face it, who really wants to feel those overwhelming emotions? The hurt, the confusion, the self loathing, the fragile reality of denial we had hid behind cracks like thin ice from the impact of understanding that nothing is in our control, including our feelings. We cannot continue saying we are fine when in truth we are crying in the corner like a frightened child. I'm not saying we need to sit in a circle singing during a hug fest, I'm still a little too macho for that, but I am saying that we need to recognize and acknowledge our pain. We aren't always ok; everyday isn't rainbows and cotton candy. Some days, some weeks, and even some months really suck, and admitting that is allowing us to be human instead of emotionless automatons.
We will make mistakes, we will fall down, lose our way, experience tremendous pain and regret because everything isn't smooth sailing there will be storms in life and if we camouflage the pain, devastation and debris our lives can never be rebuilt better than before...