Four Things I Was Wrong About: Emotions
We get things wrong, we learn and we evolve. Yes, even your therapist, your life coach or your psychologist!
This is a new feature idea I had to lift up some of my old beliefs in an attempt to both show that people change and evolve (and make mistakes!) and also that even mental health professionals get things wrong in their own personal life. I hope you also will get to learn a thing or two as well, especially if you have held the same unhelpful beliefs.
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Crying when my boyfriend left meant I was codependent
Correction: Crying when my boyfriend left was a remnant of my old abandonment wound
I’ve actually felt so much shame around this, I haven’t talked about this before. I believe though that silence breeds shame and that’s why I’m sharing it now. Also because I believe in sharing your scars, not your wounds and I can confirm this has scabbed over and been processed. Roughly 8 months into our relationship, something started happening whenever my boyfriend and I parted ways. I would start to cry, quite heavily. It was usually only when he left me and not when I was leaving his house for example but since we stayed at mine more often, it was quite a regular occurrence. I won’t lie, it really worried me. I wondered whether our attachment was too great, or whether we were codependent and when I told my life coach, she told me to stop judging it and let it exist and this is just what is happening at the moment, and it will change. I didn’t believe her but she was right. About a month ago, he left on a work trip for a week and… not a tear. The truth is it wasn’t codependency. What was happening was my abandonment wound was flaring up. I had a childhood full of abandonment and so when my boyfriend left, even though consciously I knew he was coming back, unconsciously, my body didn’t know. It would take over a year for my body to realise that when he leaves, he always returns but it wasn’t unhealthy. Rather, it was me healing. Being given the permission to cry and be comforted was healing. My body had a chance to relive all the abandonment of the past but rewrite it with a different ending.
Vulnerability is weakness
Correction: Vulnerability requires strength
The English language is stupid. We use the same word to mean being left exposed, in potential harm or danger and being emotionally open enough to be able to connect and be seen. Of course, if a bridge is vulnerable, that is not a good thing but then when a human is vulnerable it’s meant to be good? No wonder I thought it meant weakness! This lesson came when I was training to be a life coach. Whenever we learned how to do an exercise, we got a chance to both be the client and the coach. I can’t remember which exercise it was specifically but I remember it was around identity-level beliefs. We started with a limiting belief like “I am useless” and then we would dig underneath that by asking ‘what does useless mean?’. If you keep going for ages, you will find the core limiting belief and no shockers here, mine was “I am vulnerable”. It makes sense, I was in hospital, most of my childhood where I was very vulnerable and very exposed. The problem is that when you have an overarching belief that begins with ‘I am’, it won’t only be related to hospital-related contexts, it will affect everything from how I relate to people to how I walk through the world. Turns out, the life coach I was with was having such a hard time helping me unlearn it that the trainer had to come over and we ended up having a 20-minute battle about the word ‘vulnerable’. Eventually, she was able to change my mentality and in turn, I truly think that has changed my life. My best work comes from my being vulnerable too. I believe my books only resonate due to my own vulnerability and wow, did my social life change! You can’t have intimacy and connection without vulnerability and I didn’t realise that until I took the risk to be vulnerable.
You need to listen to your feelings
Correction: Listening to your feelings and feeling your feelings are different.
You should always feel your feelings but an important distinction is when you feel them, you do not have to act on them. Your feelings are valid and important, but they shouldn’t dictate your actions. There are many times I don’t ‘feel’ like doing something and if I always listened to my feelings, I’d never have a hard conversation, file my taxes or do half the unpleasant parts of my jobs. Even the things I ended up loving, I didn’t ‘feel’ like doing. I would have said no to doing a TedX talk if I listened to my feelings because my only feeling was absolute terror. I felt those feelings but I didn’t listen to the voice that accompanies those feelings. When you are in the heat of the moment, your feelings can tell your brain all kinds of things but if you are talking to yourself, you aren’t feeling your feelings. Here is the trick, if you are listening to the voice in your head, you are not feeling your feelings. Your feelings exist in your body. So for example, if you are in the middle of an argument where you are hurt, you might be feeling an ache in your stomach that is the hurt being caused. Your brain, however, might say, ‘run away! Storm out! This person is hurting you’. It is the conscious side of you though that needs to be able to understand the nuance that your hurt is perfectly valid and your reaction to that hurt needs to be more evolved than running away from a hard conversation. You make the decision to communicate how you feel and you make time to feel those feelings but they do not decide your actions.
Being angry means you are ungrateful
Correction: You are allowed to be angry. You don’t need to be grateful for trauma.
Women are rarely given their anger, in the same way, that men are rarely given their sadness. As most of you know, I had 15 surgeries before the age of 19 and I was never allowed to be angry. I was told by nurses and doctors repeatedly how lucky I was, that I had the best healthcare in the world and that if they hadn’t messed up a number of times, they might have never found the brain tumour. No one ever said that you are allowed to be pissed off that at 11 years old, instead of playing with your friends in school, you are stuck in a hospital. I still maintain to this day if an adult found out they had a brain tumour and they had missed it in over 100 scans over the course of 11 years, you would be pissed too. But instead, gratitude was emphasised to me, probably because they believed my optimism was crucial to my recovery. Instead, I repressed my anger (and actually all my negative feelings) so much that they exploded a decade later at 21 years old, after another two surgeries and ended up being diagnosed with PTSD. If I had been given permission to have my anger when appropriate, it wouldn’t have come out as a jumbled mess and overwhelmed at trying to feel all my feelings at once. A lot of this is now termed ‘toxic positivity’ and it comes along with the message that trauma makes us stronger and builds resilience but as someone once told me, ‘You didn’t need to be strong. You needed to be safe’ and as a child, I deserved that.
What is something you were wrong about when it comes to emotions? Do you like this series? What should my next topic be? Wrong about dating? Wrong about my twenties?
Let me know in the comments!
Lots of love,