I felt the shield of emotional armor come over me. By the time I hung up the phone after receiving the bad news, it was fully engaged, the familiar oppressive feeling I’ve known since early childhood. I couldn’t stop it even though I was every bit aware and wanted to.
You see, it all started when I made an offer on a cute apartment condo. After a short negotiation, the sellers verbally accepted my bid. We got a call from their realtor. I thought it was a done deal. But before they could sign the papers, a better, more attractive offer came their way and they took it. I guess, in their minds, they didn’t owe me a thing; even though they’d given their word.
Of course, I was disappointed.
For two days, I allowed myself to dream of this new home I’d be living in. I shared the “good” news with family and close friends. Having an accepted offer made leaving my current home far easier…finally. For the first time in a long while, I felt excited about the future.
When this house of cards came crashing down, I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of betrayal, anger, and sadness all exploding together in my mind.
My practiced response to this kind of disappointment helped me keep my voice steady and calm as I expressed my understanding of the situation…how things went down.
“That’s how it is,” I said. “There’s nothing we can do…”
Then I sat in silence as my sister drove us home from our visit with our father where I had just announced the deal was off (after having spoken excitedly about my “new” home only a half-hour before). They assured me something better would come along, that it probably was for the best and I’d be glad later that it didn’t work out.
Amidst the backdrop of these expected phrases, some old familiar words played out…
“Be a big girl now…”
In most cases, people don’t want us to explode into feeling. They say these things to help us maintain control over our emotions…partially because they think it will help us and also because they don’t know what to do, how to make things better.
And so we suck it up and act strong. Not for ourselves, but for the comfort of others, we hold it in. But what are we really doing when we “act” strong?
Stuffing our feelings, pretending it doesn’t hurt when it really does only adds to the toxic self-denial that keeps us from accepting ourselves fully and being authentic and real with others. I understand this very well because every time my emotions are about to get “out-of-control,” I feel myself trying to block them.
As a child, I was always told to keep my feelings in check. And now, it seems that how people perceive me depends on my ability to hold it in…especially among my family where we have an unspoken code. We all learned the same thing. We all expect the same from each other. And so there in the midst of the people I “should” be able to trust with my feelings, I sit in silence, being the “big girl.”
I can tell you, I don’t like this girl. She’s kind of a hard-nosed bitch if you ask me. When she’s at her worst, she expects others to live up to her same standards. Her self-control trumps being honest, authentic, vulnerable. She doesn’t tolerate softness or weakness. She doesn’t value compassion.
And she’s not me.
She is a prototype of self-control and artificial response. Created for survival, she is limited, responding only toward self-preservation and pain avoidance. She is afraid.
And so at home, in the privacy of our co-shared space, I try to explain that her time has come, that I don’t want or need her protection anymore. It’s time for me to practice being brave and showing up completely, even if that makes people uncomfortable. I’ll never learn to really feel alive if she keeps trying to help.
She doesn’t believe me, but we’re working it out.
If you can, try to see past the “big girl” to the real human being. Encourage her to talk about her feelings, to tell you what’s really in her heart. And then just listen.
~Tracy, a girl on her own