We should all feel safe opening up to others, so why is it so hard? Let’s explore the complexity of negative emotions and what can help
“Put on a smile and face the day!”
While there’s certainly something to be said for a positive approach to life, there are days when you simply don’t have a smile. Inside, you’re hurting. Or you’re sick. Or you’re scared.
In today’s society, it doesn’t seem to matter. Everyone is expected to at least pretend to be OK. Sharing any other type of emotion makes others uncomfortable and may lead to cliché responses that feel dismissive.
So, we all wear the mask and soldier on. But does it have to be that way? What if there was another option?
The Source of Negative Emotions
Most people have suffered some kind of trauma or unpleasant experience that left them broken. Oddly, we all feel that we’re alone in these experiences when the truth is trauma is almost universal.
It’s hard to deal with difficult situations, especially if they happened when you were a child. You might not understand what happened to you, or you might not have ever told anyone. In cases like this, you might bury the emotions inside as a way to survive.
Unfortunately, once you get older, those buried experiences resurface.
There’s no class once you become an adult on unpacking childhood hurt. Because we don’t deal with these experiences, they cause negative emotions that strike when we least expect it.
When I was dating my now-husband, I saw a boyfriend and girlfriend get into an argument in a convenience store. I completely lost it, telling my beau I was scared we’d be unhappy together and wondering if our relationship would work.
Where did that come from? It came from my parent’s divorce, and from having an abusive boyfriend in the past. Those traumas, which were unprocessed, came out completely unexpectedly over a very simple trigger.
The Importance of Trust
The only way to process those experiences and traumas is to talk about them, unpack them, and gain a new perspective. That requires having someone you can trust.
Feeling safe to open up doesn’t mean you share your entire life story with the next person you meet. What it does mean is that you have specific people in your life that you can share with and who know how to help you work through your feelings.
When we think about being ‘transparent’ or ‘vulnerable’, it can be terrifying. Sometimes this is because we believe those words mean being open with everyone. Fortunately, that’s not the case! However, it does mean having to face some challenging things and trusting someone to assist you in processing your experiences.
Many times, a therapist is a good choice. They are professionally trained in not only listening without judgment but also in various strategies that can help you cope. Be patient as you look for a therapist — you may visit several before you find one you click with.
If therapy isn’t an option, consider what trustworthy friends you might have. Perhaps a family member is a good option, although that can be tricky if childhood trauma is involved. Make sure you choose someone who is a good listener and make it clear what you want from the conversation. If you wish to be heard, say so — and if you need help finding solutions, ask for it.
Avoid Poor Coping Mechanisms
Repressing your emotions can lead to much more than just ‘wearing a mask’ at work. Unfortunately, it can also lead to self-destructive behavior as you try to medicate or ignore the emotions you can’t deal with.
I’m struck every time I watch Intervention and My 600 Pound Life at how those behaviors are caused by significant unprocessed trauma. We use drugs or abuse alcohol in an attempt to numb the pain.
One of the most common coping mechanisms is ‘eating your feelings’. Instead of talking through a rough day, you might have a glass of wine and power through a bag of white cheddar popcorn. To avoid this type of behavior, confide in someone you can trust and work through what happened to you and commit to a healthier diet and lifestyle.
How to Be a Great Listener
Having people you can trust to open up to is essential, and it’s important to also be that kind of person for others. This doesn’t mean you try to take on their burdens, which is common for a traumatized person to do. It simply means you listen, ask questions, and help them work through their feelings.
Make sure you get clear on what the other person needs.
Sometimes people want problem-solving help, but other times they just want to vent. If you aren’t sure, don’t be cautious about asking.
Listen without judgment and remember that this is their life, not yours. It’s not your job to carry the weight; you’re just available so they can talk. Ultimately, they make their own decisions, and you’re not responsible for them.
If you feel that you can’t be a good resource for someone, that’s fine. Some topics trigger our own trauma. Simply let them know that you’re not in the right space for that right now, and suggest other resources — perhaps a therapist, online counseling, or another friend who can be of more help.
Being Open Matters
Being open about your experiences with trusted friends or therapists is essential. Remember that you’re far from alone — in fact, most people have experienced trauma and deal with negative emotions.
If you try to repress your emotions and experiences, they’ll find their own way out — and it can be very destructive. From general tension, to outbursts to high-risk activities, your trauma will express itself. The key is to find a healthy way to gain a new viewpoint on life.
The good news is that when you process your emotions, things really do get better. You gain a new perspective, feel excited about life again, and who knows — that smile on your face in the morning may just be genuine.
You may also enjoy reading 4 Ways to Turn a Bad Morning into a Fabulous Day by Jacob Dillon