I am a very emotional person. I am 100% feeler, per my INFJ personality (it’s probably my strongest attribute on the MBTI scale, with my intuition a distant second). I always think with my heart before my brain. I’ve cried at many things- from serious to silly to stupid. (I also cry when I’m angry, which makes taking my anger seriously a bit hard).
I am very sensitive, and my skin is thin, if not translucent; things people say (or how they say them), no matter how harmless they might have been, have a tendency to stick with me for a long time. Or forever.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my emotions.
My whole life, I was told I was too emotional. Too sensitive. Too soft. That I was a big, fat crybaby. I needed to toughen up and not take everything to heart (I still hear that one probably on a weekly basis from my mother). No one was going to take me seriously if I was all emotional about it, I was told.
I grew up in a family that wasn’t touchy-feely or emotional much. Sure, we had our moments like all families do, but I never felt comfortable expressing my emotions– and when I did, I got admonished for it. I could probably count on one hand how many times I’ve seen my grandmother cry. (I remember when my great Aunt Ann died, but can’t remember another time– not even when we lost Papa). Hell, I’ve cried twice just today.
Because of this, I never had much of an outlet to express my emotions as a kid, so I never really felt like I could talk about them. Or even how to talk about them. My family doesn’t understand, so I couldn’t really go to them and just talk about how I was feeling unless I’d like to be ridiculed or lectured at for being too soft or too sensitive. Our chats and discussions were always on the logistics– how’s school, work, the future, politics, etc. Nothing about how we are feeling or what we feel about a certain thing. It was always logical, straightforwardness. No emotional insight. Nothing to nurture my natural sensitivity to a crazy and dark and scary world I was fearful of living in.
Last year after having a tearful conversation with him about stuff going on at home, my dad told my mom over the phone, “you know our daughter has an emotional problem.”
As I got older, I started hiding my sensitivity to emotions and feelings. I put a wall up between me and my emotions, deciding that it was easier than expressing how I really felt.
Eventually, the tears stopped. I just decided that it wasn’t worth it anymore. Sure, I tear up sometimes, and cry at serious things. I cried leaving Cozumel and at graduation– all the big things. But actually letting myself feel sad– sad enough to actually produce tears– it doesn’t happen much anymore. I could talk about hard stuff– things that hurt like hell when they happened– and I didn’t as much as bat an eye. Sometimes I would even try to make myself cry when I felt sad about something, but it never worked. I was desperate to feel something. But I fell out of touch with my emotions because of the years and years I was told I shouldn’t feel them.
When I got to middle and high school, I put a wall up– and let my emotions build up inside until I would explode– whether in anger or sadness. It depended on the day. It was totally unhealthy- but I was afraid if I expressed my emotions as they happened, people would perceive me as weak or inadequate… like I felt as a kid. I stuffed everything inside and shoved my true feelings under the rug.
I hid my true self behind a lot of facades: being a good student and a church kid and a writer, all these other things I did or said to keep myself busy from actually assessing the situations I was in and trying to process how I was feeling about them. I never really let myself feel what I needed to feel about all the things I was going through at this point in my life (which was a lot). Internalizing them was more comfortable than expressing them and getting let down by peoples reactions. It was easier to become numb to my emotions instead of letting myself actually feel them. In hindsight, this was when depression was given a foothold in my life– I stuffed my emotions and hid my feelings to the point that I was numb. I gave up on my emotions entirely– and in turn, I gave up a lot of myself.
I was always led to believe my emotions made me weak. They were a weapon used against me. They were not a positive attribute– they did nothing to help me. They just made me seem too fragile, too weak. And maybe they do. But I don’t think that’s all bad.
In all honesty, feeling my emotions makes me stronger. Because to me, they show that I have felt something. If I feel deeply about something, I must be passionate about it– and it must be worth feeling something over.
As I’ve gotten older, and faith and mental health have come into the equation, I feel like
I am more in-tune with my emotions. I was given the blessing (and sometimes curse) of empathy. I feel for and with people- and now, I’m starting to allow myself to feel my feelings as they are (and not try to hide them or let them build up).
It’s hard tearing that wall down, if I’m being honest. It’s a lot easier to feel nothing. Numbness is a lot simpler of a life to deal with than actually trying to pay attention and understand my feelings.
But it’s a sad way to live, y’all. That’s what I finally figured out: when I was numbing myself, i wasn’t fully living. I couldn’t be fully happy, or angry, or anything… i was just numb. I realized that my emotions are all tethered to one another; I couldn’t just stuff my sadness and tears down without stuffing my other feelings too.
i want to live in a world where i can feel all of those things when I need to.
For counseling last week, I had to watch the movie Inside Out. I was late to the game on this one– I had wanted to see it when it came out but never got around to it. When I watched it for therapy, I was sick and tired (it was late), so I didn’t really grasp it and its meaningfulness at first. I took notes to talk to my counselor about it (it is a great movie) but that was about it.
This past weekend, I was nearly done recuperating from sickness and decided to watch it again. It was even more impactful the 2nd time.
Basically, it showed me that we need all of our emotions– joy, sadness, fear (yes, a little bit of fear is needed), anger, disgust– in order for me to be me, I need to feel them all. Not at the same time for the most part, but they work together to help me understand what’s happening in my life. They work together to help me form and understand my memories. I can look back at college with both joy and sadness, because there were high and low moments, along with feeling nostalgic about that time period. I can think of certain memories and feel angry that they happened while happy that they’re in the past. In order for us to find happiness, we need to know what other feelings feel like.
It also showed me what happens when we try to remove an emotion or one emotion tries to run the show. Joy (played hilariously by Amy Poehler) thinks that Riley (the main character whose brain this movie plays out in) should always be happy– joy should be her primary emotion. And it was! Riley lived a mostly happy, care-free life until a major life change (moving from MN to CA) altered her memories and her emotions. Joy struggled with keeping Riley happy in the midst of all this stuff going on; Riley struggles with trying to figure out how she’s supposed to feel– she’s always been this happy-go-lucky kind of gal, but now suddenly all of her other emotions start to take turns controlling her thoughts and feelings. Joy tries her hardest to push the other feelings out of the way so Riley only feels joy, even if she doesn’t want to.
Joy tries to make Sadness (Phyllis Smith was amazing in this role) disappear in Riley’s life by creating the “circle of sadness”– this small circle that Joy made was the only place Sadness could go and be sad. She couldn’t touch the memories or the control panel without affecting Riley, and Joy wouldn’t let that happen. What Joy did, though, was compartmentalize Sadness– and when she did that, she caused the other emotions to eventually go haywire (along with messing up her core memories and causing Riley’s personality to be altered– Joy kinda messed up everything when she tried to unbalance Riley’s emotions, hint hint). When Riley’s emotions went haywire, she ended up shutting down– her personality shut down (represented by “personality islands” that showed the different facets of Riley’s personality and passions) and she basically went numb.
Yet when Joy let Sadness take the reigns for a bit– when Riley admitted she was sad about the move and overwhelmed about school without her friends– Riley found help in the form of her parents supporting her feelings and bringing her comfort. Then, Sadness was able to quickly return the reigns to Joy so Riley could find ways to be happy in her new situation (like making new friends and joining a hockey league).
When she allowed herself to be sad, Riley was able to feel joy in a deeper way– it was easier for her to feel happy when she’d felt sad for a time. When her feelings were no longer compartmentalized, Riley was able to truly express her feelings and understand them.
Now, I’m not gonna lie: when I watched this movie the first time, I hated Sadness. She kept trying to mess things up! Why can’t she just let Riley’s memories be happy? Why would she constantly have to bring up the sad points of otherwise happy moments?
Why can’t she just be happy? I thought. Why can’t she just let Riley be happy?
Then I realized: I ignored sadness in my own life for so long. I strived for perfection, for everything to be perfect and good when truthfully everything inside of me was falling apart. I wanted everything to be happy and full of joy and perfect– even when it was so not. I identified so much with Joy because I thought if I just pushed Sadness and other feelings aside, I could be just happy and life would end up going perfect. If only, old me. If only.
So Sadness frustrated me because I’d fought against sadness to the point whereI blocked it out entirely– and ended up numb. I don’t want sadness– I don’t want my memories and emotions tinged with tears and frustration. I want things to be perfect and joyful. So I avoided sadness and got upset anytime I got sad, apologizing and trying to validate my sadness, coming up with excuses to discredit my tears.
I compartmentalized my feelings for so long— I still do, honestly. I only let myself feel sad around certain people for certain reasons. I live in constant states of fear and anxiety. I let annoyances bubble up inside of me until I burst angrily.
But sadness is the one I compartmentalized most of all– I had my own circle of sadness in my brain. I built a wall and blocked sad feelings out in the hopes that I could be this cheery, happy girl everyone wanted me to be. I wanted to not cry– to not be so sad and emotional and a sensitive crybaby anymore.
But I learned, just like Joy does in the movie, that I can’t choose to be one emotion forever. Eventually, I’m going to have to feel something else– otherwise I’m going to go numb from feeling altogether.
I got my wish. And it made me numb. Because that wall didn’t just block me from feeling sadness–it hid me from all of my feelings. It forced a veil over my eyes from expressing any emotion. A cast that covered not only my brokenness and wounds, but the good parts too.
As this article puts it:
Here’s some basic feelings math: If you don’t feel happy and you don’t feel sad, you don’t feel very much.
I wasn’t super sad at all about anything, yay! I wasn’t crying about every little thing! Victory!
But I wasn’t super happy, either. I just felt meh. Indifferent. And that, in hindsight, is worse than crying about something, no matter how serious or silly. It may have been silly, or seem silly to someone else, but it felt important– and it made me feel something.
I just want to feel something.
Just like Riley needed Sadness, I need Sadness too.
It’s OK to feel sad sometimes. It’s needed.
It’s OK to feel angry sometimes. It’s also needed.
It’s OK to have fear, or feel gross, or whatever emotions play out in your life.
But what’s not okay is not letting yourself feel anything for the sake of trying not to feel one thing. It doesn’t work. If one emotion goes down, they all do, people.
All emotions are valid. All emotions are needed. And feelings deserve to be felt.
so now I choose to feel them.
Even if it makes me look weak.
or like a baby. I’ll take the title crybaby over unemotional all day, erry day.
Even if it isn’t logical to be upset at whatever it is i’m upset about.
or if I’m letting something or someone get under my skin.
or if it means you see me differently or can’t take me seriously.
Even if I’m labeled sensitive or soft– what’s wrong with being those things? Really though? I haven’t figured it out.
One of the things I’m learning in counseling is that I have to quit relying on others’ expectations and reactions. I need to focus on my expectations (and rather, I need to make my own expectations because mine are other peoples for me, oops). And part of that is letting go of this notion that others expect me to be this strong, happy go lucky girl who isn’t emotional or sensitive.
I am strong. I am emotional and sensitive. They are not exclusive. Now I cry at the serious and the silliness. It’s OK for me to feel something to the point of tears– it means it meant something. I care about what other people are going through and choose to cry with them instead of telling them to stop crying or not to waste tears. Tears are valid and necessary and healthy.
I’m still working on this— it’s still hard for me to feel enough to actually express my feelings. It’s a work in progress, just like me. I’m hoping that by writing it out I’ll actually hold myself to believing these things. Someday I’ll be able to tear that wall down and truly feel and express my emotions again.
Someday soon, I hope. Because I miss that tender place in my heart– that place where I actually felt things hard.
But it begins with baby steps: like when I sat and cried the second time I watched Inside Out. “It’s all beautiful,” indeed it is, Joy.