“Never apologize for showing feelings. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.” ~Benjamin Disraeli
I’ll never forget my progress report from third grade: “Jennifer shows disappointment when she’s not called on.”
This must have been a bad thing, because my mother sat me down to talk about it. Apparently when I raised my hand and wasn’t called on, I frowned. I was to work on that, to try to stay neutral, to not show I was upset.
I also clearly remember the day my dad came over to my mom’s house to tell me his father, my grandfather, had passed away. I was twelve, and I started crying. My father told me to stop crying, because it was going to make him cry.
Once again, I felt as if I was being scolded for having feelings and showing them.
Years later, when I was very stressed out at a high-pressure job, I was crying in my own private office. The CEO of the tiny company walked by and then came in to talk to me for a few minutes, then left.
The next time I had a performance review, I was told, in not so many words, that crying was not allowed. If I had emotions to express, I should go outside and walk around the building until I felt better.
All of these incidents made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I shouldn’t show my emotions of disappointment or sadness. I shouldn’t allow myself to feel stressed out, especially if it meant shedding tears.
These experiences seemed to be the world showing me that it was my job to stay still and quiet, and that I should smile even when I didn’t want to, and that I should prevent my messy emotions from ever impacting anyone else.
The trouble was, and is, that I have a terrible time hiding my emotions. I’m an emotional person, and if I’m sad or overcome with emotion, I cry. If I’m disappointed, I frown. If I’m happy, I smile or laugh.
Still, I’ve gotten good at trying to moderate my emotions, especially in social or work situations, in order to present myself a certain way. A way that does not allow me to be my true self.
Luckily, though, something happened that made me realize trying to mask my emotions was ultimately taking me out of alignment and out of touch with everything I’m here to learn and experience.
One day, I heard the author and spiritual teacher Martha Beck talking about her “integrity cleanse,” and something clicked in me.
She said that a couple of years ago she started attempting to live in complete integrity—always telling the truth (in a kind way, of course)—and that it has changed her life in profound ways. She said for her, even if the expression on her face doesn’t match up with how she’s feeling in her body, she’s out of integrity.
Boom! That’s exactly what I needed to hear.
I finally realized that showing and expressing my emotions was actually a good thing, probably one of the most important parts of my healing journey and time on this planet.
Instead of walking through this life pretending I’m okay when really I’m heartbroken, or acting like I’m not offended by a racist joke, or smiling when someone says something that makes upset, I need to honor and express my feelings.
I’m going to tell you a secret, though: It’s freaking hard. As much as I say I don’t want to hide my true feelings, in many ways it’s a habit.
Who wants to upset their parent or spouse? Who wants to ruffle feathers at work? Who wants to walk away from a boring conversation and worry about being perceived as rude?
The thing is, any time we’re hiding our emotions or pretending we do or don’t feel something in order to protect ourselves or someone else, we’re lying. We’re lying to ourselves, we’re lying to the other person.
And lying? It’s bad for the body, mind, and spirit. It breaks you down and stresses you out. It causes rifts and gaps in your family and with your friends.
Here are some things you might want to keep in mind if you decide to allow your true feelings to show no matter who you’re with or what the circumstance:
Sometimes you’re going to upset people. The thing is, if you always tell the truth, some people are simply not going to like it.
There are some people in your world who likely want you to stay small, or to stay emotionless. If you are going to start expressing what you feel, know that some people will end up exiting your life.
You’re not going to be immediately good at this right away, and it’s going to take time to feel comfortable expressing yourself in every situation. I am so, so not there yet. I still find myself smiling politely when really I want to run away or answering a question in a way that doesn’t feel true to me.
Yet, in many other ways I’ve created beautiful relationships where I don’t have to say “I’m fine” when they ask me how my day is going. I can tell them the real, scary feelings I’m having.
I believe the best way to approach this is notice and acknowledge to yourself when you’re denying your emotions, even if you’re not ready to say it out loud. At least you’re telling the truth to yourself, and that’s an incredibly important first step.
This is going to be very scary. If you’ve been hiding your real self and real emotions for a long time, or if you hide them from a large number of people, this is probably going to be the most frightening thing you ever do.
Take it slowly. Practice not smiling at that coworker who always insists you smile. Tell him or her “No thanks, not right now.”
Allow yourself to cry in front of a friend, even if you’re normally too embarrassed to do something like that.
Let yourself express anger to someone who says something offensive or dishonors you in some way. You can do it.
If you have kids, start teaching them to express their true emotions as early as possible, as it will make their own emotional lives much easier.
My daughter is three, and though I sometimes catch myself trying to distract her from negative feelings, she responds so beautifully to me sitting down at her eye level and acknowledging her angry or sad feelings.
I believe it’s a gift to allow others to feel what they feel, and that it creates honest, open humans.
Ask for help in being absolutely true to yourself. Ask a friend or your partner to support you in your journey. If it’s in line with your belief system, ask a higher power for help in being open and honest with your feelings.
Set the intention each morning that you wish to honor your own feelings, emotions, and truth, but that you also wish to do so in the kindest, most loving manner possible.
You can do this. You deserve to do this, and the people you interact with deserve to know you in your truest form.
This is not easy, but it does get easier, and I believe it’s the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and each other, even if my third grade teacher would disagree.