You must let the pain visit.—Ijeoma Umebinyuo
If you ask the adults I was raised around about a core, “admirable” characteristic about me as a child, they would most likely remark on how I was a child who never cried. I remember that aspect of my younger self quite well. It’s not that I never cried. Truth is, I was a kid with really big feelings. However, I did not like the apparent discomfort brought upon my caregivers when I expressed my not so pleasant emotions. Over time, I thus learned how to keep my tears to myself.
We come from homes where the more we cried the harder we got beaten up. “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to really cry about” are admonitions we are familiar with. It is in such encounters where we were taught that tears and any other uncomfortable emotion should never be displayed, even when circumstances justified their display.
Because we come from homes that never held space for uncomfortable emotions to be vocalized, we too feel like our pain is a discomforting thing.
We come from homes where we barely saw our parents cry even in the face of dire hardship. Or if we did, they would excuse and downplay the teary sparkles in their eyes. Our parents practically modelled for us to never vocalise our pain. It is from our parents that we were shown how to gather ourselves as quickly as we can and portray our strength to the world. Apparently, nobody should ever see you “weak” and vulnerable. So, we too grew up to be adults who feel so much and yet, have mastered the art of denying our pain. We have become master artists of portraying smiles to the world that don’t reflect the real state of our spirits.
Because we come from homes that never held space for uncomfortable emotions to be vocalized, we too feel like our pain is a discomforting thing. So, we isolate ourselves when we are going through the most because “I don’t want to be a burden”. We were taught in many different ways that nobody but ourselves should carry the discomfort of our hard and big feelings.
And I recently watched myself falling into my abyss of the prodigious and hard feelings. Deleting my social apps. Sending texts to my best friends not to worry about my isolation. Because just like Katlego the kid, nobody should ever see me cry or fall apart. Nobody ought to be inconvenienced, right?
We are worthy of emotional support. We are worthy of processing and working through what we are feeling at our own pace without being guilted for not getting over things as quickly as one “ought” to.
I am honestly currently still learning what letting myself be fully seen and fully embraced with both my light and darkness means in my relationships. I am still learning what it looks like to let the people around me share in my hard feelings and support me through it. I am still figuring out how to unlearn the internalized shame of feeling heavy and hard emotions. (Bewildering how we feel ashamed about something that is an inseparable and ubiquitous part of the human experience—the experience of feeling pain)
But the truth I’ve come to know that I want us to remember as so-called “big-feelers”?
We are not burdensome for not always feeling okay or put together. We are not an inconvenience to our loved ones for needing support and wanting them to sit with us when we are feeling overwhelmed by our own lives. We are worthy of emotional support. We are worthy of processing and working through what we are feeling at our own pace without being guilted for not getting over things as quickly as one “ought” to. Our emotional and mental comfort will always be of greater priority over other people’s apparent discomfort. And above all, people’s inability to safely hold space for us to express our feelings does not mean our feelings are wrong. It simply means they do not have the emotional maturity and capacity to make room for feelings that make them uncomfortable.
And maybe unlearning the shame of being an adult with big feelings is to acknowledge that as I write this, I am not feeling okay. I have not been feeling okay for a while now. And perhaps in holding this space for myself, I can also become a friend, lover, sister and daughter who is able to safely hold space for others to openly speak about their pain, too. I want to be someone who makes this world a safe place for everyone to openly feel their feels.
P.S. Your feelings will always be valid. May you have the courage to own them, always.
All my love,