Yesterday I read a blog post written by a mother who insisted she was a failure as a parent because her kids were “crybabies”. She was too soft on them, she lamented, and now they were weak. While there are so many lessons to be learned from her heart-breaking confession, one really stood out to me, and so I have chosen to write about it today. It is about her perception of her children being soft and that their crying is a sign of weakness, which is bad in a world where people need to be strong in order to succeed.
I used to make the mistake of thinking I had to be “strong”. In my mind, that meant not feeling negative emotions, never mind letting them get in my way. I had to be in control, positive, and somehow immune to the situations that make us human. After all, there are people who depend on me, both at home and at work. Everyone knows that the worst thing a woman can do for her career is be seen crying in the office. I imagined myself to be a stone statue hard and strong, holding steadfast against the elements.
The problem is that statues become weathered over time, worn down by the wind and rain, until one day they crack and eventually they break.
I only have myself as a reference, but I think that I feel things deeply, possibly more deeply than others. The smallest act of kindness can fill my heart with such joy it feels like it could explode, likewise the smallest problem can overwhelm me with sorrow. After years of feeling like these emotions made me weak, and that I had to avoid them at all costs I too was starting to crack. I was constantly at war with myself to be the person I thought I should be instead of simply being the person I am.
As part of my Project Me, I have been working hard to improve my life, making me a better wife, mother and worker. During this process I had the realization that while there was nothing wrong with my aspiration to be strong, it was my definition of strong that was flawed.
Being a strong person doesn’t mean that you never feel pain, it means that you do feel it, you understand it, and you come to accept it.
I realized that in fact it was not my emotions that were making me weak and bringing me down. It was my resistance to feeling those emotions. Trying so hard to fight any feelings that I deemed unacceptable or inappropriate and only welcoming those that were positive. You see, we live in a world of contrasts. Without sorrow there can be no joy. Without hate there can be no love. Emotions are truly the product of our own brains (scientifically they are created by series of chemical reactions and interactions between neurons and synapses, but I am no scientist). So why then, would I think that it is bad to feel emotions I am creating? in evolutionary terms, if humans were not capable of handling negative emotions our brains would not produce them.
And so I realized that if I really wanted to be strong I had to accept my emotions and learn to deal with them, rather than trying to avoid them. To do this, I have developed a thought exercise that has proven to be helpful. As I mentioned in my article on How To Create Space In Your Life, when the brain is under stress the part of our brain that conceptualizes time and space goes off-line. In other words, our brain increases the urgency of the problem by making us feel like the crisis will never end.
I imagine standing in a pool of water. My emotions become the waves. When I am walking down the hall and I see that someone has block the fire exit yet again I can feel the anger rising in my chest. When everyone gets invited to an important meeting but me, I feel the disappointment lodging in my throat. These triggers send me to my pool. I imagine my emotions as huge tidal waves coming at me. But I do not crouch down or shield myself. I smile and raise my hands into the air as I feel the cold rush of water wash over me. It hits me, sometimes so hard it hurts, but then, just as quickly as it came, the wave has gone, returned to the pool, and while I am now soaking wet, I am still me, alive and well, standing in my pool of water. I like this picture because not only are my emotions truly like waves, but there is a symbolism to it as well. The waves wash me clean and I am reborn fresh and alive.
I understand that allowing myself to feel my emotions drains them of their power. I let them wash over me, knowing that they are only temporary. I let the anger pass through and I realize it was probably an accident and move the garbage bin from the fire exit. I feel the sadness and disappointment and then I remember that I have an important project to work on that I wouldn’t be able to if I were at the meeting.
And so, to the mother who felt that her children were crybabies I ask, could it be that they are actually stronger than you are because they have the courage to face their negative feelings even when they the waves of emotion are so strong they leave them physically wet with tears? What you deem as insignificant in your life, may be of huge importance in theirs and worthy of such a reaction.
I would like to end this post with a reminder, that while the good news is that negative emotions are fleeting, the bad news is so are the positive ones. So remember to be mindful and take joy in all aspects of your life. Savour all of your happy moments filled with joy for as quickly as they appear, they disappear.
- Let Your Children Be Your Teachers
- I Am Making A Pledge To Hug My Children
- How Do You Stop Chasing The Dragon?