A few years ago, I was talking to a friend about a personal situation when she put her hand on mine and said, “I know that you’re very smart and you think a lot but just accept the mystery of life.” It wasn’t the first time words to that effect were spoken to me, words like “If you keep thinking so much, you’ll get analysis paralysis.” and “Are you still not over that? It was such a long time ago.” Words that made me feel as if my thoughts and feelings weren’t important or I should be spiritually beyond experiencing and expressing them. That it’s somehow not valid or acceptable that I want to inquire and reflect more deeply on my life and difficult feelings.
Have you ever felt shut down when you were trying to share your deeper feelings and thoughts?
I’m not talking about gossiping, dumping or offloading all your angst onto someone or someones repeatedly regardless of if they are also sharing their struggles with you or the nature of your relationship. If you’re doing this without doing any personal reflection or processing, it’s an unhealthy way to get your needs met and unfair to the other person. It’s making the other person responsible for your feelings and temporarily displacing your discomfort at the expense of another. This can feel oppressive to be on the receiving end of and cause harm to another person’s well-being.
Though there may be a genuine need in your life that’s not being met and you deserve to get that need met, it doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to impose on another person. If you don’t have any friends or loved ones that are able or willing to meet that need, there are others that can help, like a therapist, coach, mentor or spiritual guide. It’s acceptable in these types of relationships for you to be doing the bulk of the sharing about yourself and receiving support. This is part of the agreement both parties have entered into freely. There already is an understanding that you’re in this relationship to receive help and support. You can also join self-help communities like twelve-step groups or other support groups where participants share about themselves and process personal life situations.
In a healthy friendship or close relationship, there’s usually a give and take. Each of you takes it in turns to share your thoughts and feelings. If one person is sharing, the other will listen and offer support, care and concern. It’s not just one person sharing all the time. Ideally what is shared is not only heard but validated. This meets our need to be seen and affirmed, to feel that we matter and needs, feelings and vulnerabilities can be shared and contained within a stable and protective relationship.
Over the years I’ve learnt that it’s really the minority who can be present with you when you want to talk about the things that you struggle with. Even therapeutic professionals, mentors and guides aren’t always available in this way. This is true especially when you share about traumatic and abusive life situations. Many people are uncomfortable with any expression of intense feeling and unresolved emotion. They feel the need to make it better for you, often by using logic and reason, telling you you shouldn’t be feeling or thinking this way. Well-meaning folks offer well-worn clichés and spiritual principles that though true in essence and in the right context can be powerful and appropriate, when spoken from a place of discomfort speaks more of their inability to be present with and hold space for the full range of human emotion and difficult life experiences.
It takes time to become aware of our innermost thoughts and feelings and courage to share about them openly. When we share in this way and don’t feel validated or fully met by another person, it can shut us down and lead to feelings of hurt, self-blame and shame. This can discourage any further efforts we might make to get help and meet our relational needs so that we can heal.
The Gift That Heals
In my darkest times, it wasn’t the people who told me things would get better and I shouldn’t be feeling what I’m feeling that made the difference or those that shut down my desire to speak honestly about what I was going through. It was those who tried to understand what I was feeling while staying connected. Loved ones that checked in on me and told me not to forget that they loved me and believed in me. Some of them sang sweet sacred songs and prayed for me while I found the resources to look at the issues that had caused me to stumble.
It’s not easy to share the most vulnerable parts of yourself. There’s also a concerted effort involved in investigating your feelings and tangled thoughts and reflecting on your life experiences so you can make peace with them. It’s a road less travelled for a good reason. It takes a willingness to sit with feelings like uncertainty, confusion or distress, not knowing if they’ll ever resolve. It requires stamina and resilience as you take the steps needed to uncover the layers of your limiting beliefs and face unresolved wounds so you can heal. In the words of clinical psychologist and renowned Buddhist teacher, Tara Brach, “There’s no pathway for healing, there’s no pathway for opening our hearts, there’s no pathway really to freedom, really realizing who we are, without this willingness to look honestly and look deeply.”
If you’re ready to share and express yourself, the greatest gift you can give to yourself is the gift of finding someone who is able to offer you an unconditional supportive presence. Someone who normalises your feelings and doesn’t try to make it better or offer you unsolicited advice and spiritual platitudes. Someone you trust who can honour your feelings, thoughts, needs and hopes and give them the loving space to exist.
And in that space, you might start to notice greater self-awareness and self-acceptance. You might even find more ease and peace, then a familiar comfort, one that brings with it self-compassion then healing and resolution, because you felt seen, safe and held.
Is there someone who validates, affirms and values your feelings and thoughts? What does that feel like?
Have you ever felt shut down, invalidated and like your feelings and thoughts were minimised? What did that feel like?
If you don’t have someone who can be fully present with you, where can you start to look for it?
If you wish, you may like to share your answers in the comments below.