At some point in my life, I got the message that if everything in my life didn’t look perfect for the outside world, people would perceive me as unworthy, as less than them. So I stuffed down my imperfections like the donuts I wasn’t “supposed” to be eating. I refused to accept the parts of myself and my life that didn’t fit into my perfectly painted picture of how I was supposed to be. I ignored everything that would be perceived as negative to other people. Sadness? Doesn’t happen to me. Anger? Beneath me. Heartbroken? No clue what that feels like. I went to great lengths to lie to myself and everyone around me, just to protect myself from the truth.
As a therapist, I now see that a lot of our problems come about when we avoid natural human emotions like the plague. But distancing and denying a natural part of life only strengthens its furry. Like most of my clients, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. What if instead of avoiding my suffering, I decided to let it in? What if instead of running away from my flaws, I accepted them with compassion? What if instead of always escaping the truth, I faced it head on and learned to better deal with it? These are intense questions. Like most things in life, all of this is easier said than done. No one wants to live in pain, no one wants to face their demons with compassion, no one wants to unearth their fears and anxiety. When it comes to these emotions, vulnerability is more intense than standing naked in front of everyone you know.
However, the truth is that living your life to prove something, to prove your worth, to prove your value, to play it “safe” and avoid suffering, doesn’t allow you to live in the most authentic way possible. It doesn’t allow you to connect with others in deeper ways or give you the confidence to know that even though life can be a crap storm at times, it’s okay, because you’ve got this. You don’t have to have it together 100% of the time to be a well-functioning and healthy person. You can fall apart and know how to get everything back together again.
You see, no one really bought the story that I was fine after my beloved aunt died and left two kids behind. No one bought that I was okay after my dog of 14 years passed away. No one bought that I wasn’t angry at my ex for cheating. No one bought that I was totally cool with being in labor for hours. Some things are objectively bad. And it’s okay to have emotions about them. There’s power in crying, in pain, and even in anger. Emotions are honest. They are raw material letting you know what’s up. If you deny them because you want to appear as though you have it together all the time, they will find a way to show themselves. I think as a culture and within each individual family, we will all do ourselves a great service if we let our children cry when they fall, allow our loved ones to be in pain after a breakup, and let in the intensity of grief. Maybe once we do that, we will understand that emotions won’t kill us; they will only bring us closer to ourselves.
I no longer try to project perfection out into the world. I also don’t shy away from others’ pain like I once did. I honor life’s annoyances, drama, and pain through compassion, not through denial. The more I accept that my life isn’t perfect, the more I can be accepting of others and what they’re going through. The more I can be present and accountable. So, if you received the message as a child that you always have to have on a brave face, to stay “strong”, to never air out your dirty laundry . . . I say it’s time to evaluate those ideas. Ask yourself, how are they serving you? You become a prisoner to what you fear and avoid. And if you don’t know the real you, other people won’t get to know the real you either.
These days, I would say that my life is a good life; but it’s not perfect. And that’s okay, because I believe that a happy and good life doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect. I thrive to be the best person I can be, but I have flaws—one of which is fighting against having flaws. Luckily, I now see that life’s hiccups and annoyances are opportunities for growth, not chances to prove to everyone how okay I am. So, the next time you try to deny yourself sadness or find yourself striving for perfection without knowing why, take a minute to reflect. Take a breath and ask yourself: “What am I trying to prove?”
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