Are You Burying Your Feelings Alive?

Many years ago, when my husband and I took our first stab at counseling, I remember the therapist saying, if we don’t express our emotions, they stay buried alive inside us. I imagined the unfelt feelings pounding and poking on my stomach angrily to let them out. Are you are burying your feelings alive?  

My daughter and shouldn’t

My daughter was laid off from her job in late May due to COVI19.   I talked with her a few days ago and she said something like this:  I don’t know why I’m feeling upset and crying a lot. I shouldn’t be feeling this way because I still have 7 more weeks of severance left.  I’m happy when my kids choose to tell me their challenges and I give them my full attention. I hope I got the message across to her that there’s no “should” when it comes to your feelings.  They just are. 

My sister on “just suck it up”

My sister told me a story about a couple whose kids didn’t even know their parents spent time in a concentration. They found out after they died.   My sister said that people go through all kinds of things–even horrors like this couple who survived the concentration camp– and they don’t complain or talk about it. They just “suck it up and move on.”   

My friend on grieving and crying

On grieving and crying

A friend’s father-in-law died recently.  Me and another friend bought her dinner a day later.   My friend was talking about her loss, when all of sudden she got up and turned away – she didn’t want us to see her cry.  

This same friend’s work colleague said that as a marine, her father-in-law probably shared some great stories with his grandkids. My friend told her he was a marine, and marines don’t talk about that stuff – so no stories I would guess. Marines are not allowed to feel? I recently saw a video of a retired military woman.  She was drinking around the clock.  She had experienced physical and sexual abuse throughout her life and career and suffered from PTSD.  Drinking to cover up all those angry, painful feelings buried alive maybe? 

Why do we fight off our emotions?

I ask this question to you and to myself.  Why do you fight off your emotions with such a vengeance – especially if they’re still “buried alive.”  As a writer I strive to experience the world and everything good and bad it has to offer and emotions are part of this grand scheme. It’s what makes us human, so why do some of us push them away? 

I love and miss my mom and a dad dearly, but as they raised us, talking about feelings was not their first priority. Sometimes, if we cried because we were upset, we were told to “stop crying and quit feeling sorry for yourself.”  If dad was mad about something, we had to hold back any kind of feeling except fear, even if we were happy or laughing. I’ll never forget the classic: “wipe that smile off your face.” If my dad got mad at one of the kids, everyone was in trouble (my son tells me that whenever his brother or sister get in trouble, I throw him into the mix when he didn’t do anything.  I’m working on it 🙁).  

My feelings on breast cancer

Picture of me during breast cancer treatment at the lake
Me during chemo

When Kelly Preston died of breast cancer, I froze with fear. I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago (doing great now), and wondered if that would happen to me.  I decided to meditate and sit with the fear.  It helped, but it still lingers a bit.   

For my breast cancer treatment, a new protocol was added this year. In addition to yearly mammograms, I have a yearly Breast MRI. As my appointment date approached, I tried to push those nervous feelings away.  I tried reassuring myself that it was great I have awesome healthcare, and have access to these tests to detect any reoccurrence quickly.  

Interestingly enough, the week before the MRI – I spent two nights sobbing over my cancer journey.  It was something I never got the chance to do. I finished chemo in August 18, 2016.  The staff gave me a signed certificate congratulating me.  My sister-in-law took me to all my treatments and we played cards and cribbage.  She was awesome.  My brother sat in the hospital for nine hours, doing his work during my surgery. I’m glad they were there for support, because I was literally in a daze.  

Trying to heal when I couldn’t

Edvard Munch painting of women with long red hair in despair
Trying to heal when I couldn’t

In July 2017, as I continued to heal and recover, my mom got diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer – 2% recovery rate.  We (the siblings and my dad) dove in and focused on getting her better. Sadly, in April, 2018 she passed away.  My dad was beside himself with grief and was in poor health – congestive heart failure to name one of his many ailments. So, we all dove in to care for him.  He spent six months visiting all his kids. He then went back to his beloved Montana for his last summer and died August 24, 2019. 

My mom and dad lived in Sacramento during the winters for ten years.  Between 2017 and 2018 my mom’s cancer would get better, worse, better, worse.  Surgical procedures, chemo, hospitalizations, and visits to see and try to help them. It was the right thing to do of course, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it took its emotional and physical toll. I was working full-time and spent at least one weeknight and weekends there and that didn’t include trips to the hospital. 

Starting to heal

Me and my daughter at San Francisco Jazz festival one year after I finished chemo.
Me and my daughter at the San Francisco Jazz Festival one year after I finished chemo

 I think that’s why I had those two nights of sobbing—there was just no time before to let those feelings settle in – so there they were—gasping for air—trying to get out.  And I suspect they’ll be more. Maybe the fear of having the MRI turn out badly triggered those bottled up emotions – or maybe they caught me off guard. 

After I finished chemo, I started seeing a phycologist.   Early on in my treatment, as she saw me struggle with expressing emotions, she said she wished she had a key to unlock my feelings – I just kept them pent up inside. 

Getting better through the struggle

I’m getting much better, especially since I’m writing now.  Writing is a form of catharsis for me and each time I write I understand and accept myself more—the good and the bad.   These days, when I start obsessing about all these seemingly long to-do lists, I catch myself and laugh.  I say “yep, that’s what you do. You worry about that.”  I cut myself a break and try not to take everything so seriously. 

It can still be a struggle to stay tuned in though. Yesterday I realized I hadn’t meditated in a while and was in need of some self-reflection.   As I relaxed into the practice, I felt this irritation inside of me that I didn’t even know was there. Taking that space allowed me to acknowledge the irritation.  I didn’t question it – I just noticed it and let it linger.  That’s why I say it can be difficult sometimes to connect with yourself , especially if you don’t take time for introspection. 

What people say can keep us from expressing our feelings

And so many times, when you need someone to really listen to you, they respond with some of these beauties: 

  • Don’t be so emotional. 
  • You shouldn’t feel so bad, look at Joe, he’s got it really bad. 
  • Let me tell you how to fix that. 
  • When that happened to me, this is what I did. 
  • Oh well, you’ll get over it. 
  • Don’t cry, it’s okay. 
  • You can take it – you’re a strong person. 
20 something girl, with hands crossed looking mean
What people say can keep us from expressing our feelings

If you remember from my  blog on listening, those responses are autobiographical, which means the person who’s supposed to be listening to you hijacks the conversation and makes it about them. That’s one reason we don’t express our feelings all the time– any of those responses can make us feel rejected. 

Another reason, explained by Brene Brown, from her book  The Gifts of Imperfection, is the difference between fitting in and belonging: 

Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are: it requires us to be who we are. Brene Brown

How many times have you tried to fit in

Chameleon

How many times have you tried to “fit in” instead of just being yourself?   I’ve done it a million times – especially with my cancer.  After the first few months, I didn’t talk about it much and most people stopped asking.  I dutifully became a chameleon.  About a year ago I went to a cancer wellness workshop and ran into two ladies I’d meet in a cancer workshop at the hospital. It was a ten-week course so I got to them a little bit.  I was so overjoyed to see them!! Here was someone I could be myself with around cancer. I was on cloud nine for days! I couldn’t stop marveling at how happy that made me.  It’s lonely not being able to share deep feelings and concerns like this.  

Have you ever noticed how people quickly hand you a tissue if you start crying?  I heard somewhere that you shouldn’t do that.  You should just let the person cry and experience their pain.  My phycologist has tissue in her office, but she never hands it to me if I cry. 

In summary

I’ve given you some examples of why we fight off our emotions. People don’t listen to us, we’re afraid to rock the boat so we turn into chameleons to fit in, or someone tells us to just “suck it up and move on.”  I’m not an expert by any means, just a witness to my own life and journey on becoming a person who is learning to embrace her emotions, and shed her chameleon skin.  I recommended Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, in last week’s blog and I’ll recommend again this week. It’s beautifully written and speaks right to your heart. There are a million other books – just check out any online bookstore and you can choose something that resonates with you.   

Consider the examples I gave you. Think about times something similar happened to you and how it made you feel. Awareness is the first step. Are you burying your feelings alive?  I think you will get braver as you connect with your emotions.  It’s a confirmation and tribute to who you are: good, bad and everything in between. 

Until next week 🙂

Kathy

Picture of Kathy blog author
Kathy the blogger

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