“To be free is to know who we are, with all that is beautiful, all the brokenness in us; it is to love our own values, to embrace them, and to develop them; it is to be anchored in a vision and a truth but also to be open to others and, so, to change.”
I got this quote off an Instagram post by my sister Ann this week, and it speaks volumes to me. Part of coming to know who we are is to understand the very uniqueness of our own make-up, and this includes our emotional world.
I have always felt that I was too emotional as a man, that I always feel way too much. To the extent that I have subconsciously detached myself from my true emotions over the years, making my inner child and the real me strangers, even to myself. This detachment resulted in a false self, as I became lesser of who I was, not knowing my real identity and what I truly wanted, and it was reinforced whenever I had to deal with emotions which I felt were negative and that gave me discomfort.
Instead of processing and facing them, I would distract or occupy myself by keeping busy with different people and activities whenever they got too intense. What I did not realise was that this unhealthy coping mechanism I had ultimately hindered my ability to build deep, authentic, and meaningful relationships that are based on honesty, open communication, and trust.
Our emotions are a blessing
It was only on my recent trip to Seven Fountains in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a silent retreat that I found out that my ability to feel emotions more intensely than most people is not a curse, but a blessing from God. It makes me, me. And I should never try to change that.
As part of my journey the last two years, I went through an inner-child retreat at the Lifespring Spirituality Centre in Singapore, in which I underwent the healing of several childhood memories. And it was from the healing of one such memory that I found the reason for my detachment towards feelings.
On a car ride home when I was four, while trying to express care and love towards my parents in the midst of an intense fight they had, I suffered collateral damage and was shouted at for “being womanly”because I cried, and I was told to “stop crying”and to “man up” because I am a male and should behave more as a lion would than a pussycat.
I shrunk into my shell and was left alone to deal with the hurt. I can’t say for sure if that scar was a defining moment, as it was only one of many memories that needed healing, but I do know that it contributed to my confusion in dealing with my emotions over the years.
I subsequently developed an avoidant attachment style in relationships which made me emotionally unavailable at a subconscious level, and quickly detaching and moving on from people, because I never ever truly felt safe with anyone, or believed that they would truly love me for who I am. This prevented me from allowing myself to be vulnerable and authentic, and resulted in me not allowing anyone into my real inner world, even those I loved.
Our emotions are neutral
The truth about our emotions is that they are neutral. There are no positive emotions, just as there are no negative emotions.
And yes, we are allowed to feel what we feel because that is exactly how God created us to be. We are emotional beings, with a need to have our feelings acknowledged and cared for. They should not be cut off, numbed, or suppressed as they are a very real part of us that make up who we are.
We need to welcome the wealth of emotions we have, to make them feel safe enough and ask questions to them so as to allow us to know the deepest part of ourselves better.
One of the wisest counsellors and spiritual directors I ever had once asked me midway through a session when he saw me tearing, “What would these tears say to you if they could speak?”The manner in which he prompted a response took me by surprise. I mean, who knew we could speak to our emotions as if they were a separate person?
What I have come to learn though, is that we generally drive our emotions to our head and choose to rationalise and make sense of them when we are not comfortable with certain feelings. And we often judge ourselves for feeling a certain way, thinking that it’s wrong for us to feel it, or that we shouldn’t experience a particular emotion that is too overwhelming for us to handle.
But just as there is a time to be rational, there is also a time to feel. There is a season for analysis, and a season for judgement. When scientists are in the lab doing experiments their role is simply to observe and not to perform analysis. Analysis needs to be done at a later stage after the experiment has been completed, otherwise they will end up trying to control the outcome of the experiment. The same principle applies for us in life.
All our feelings need an outlet to be expressed and cared for, to sit down with us and tell us what they need to say about themselves. Only then can the voice of our inner child, which is so often neglected, be truly heard. It is always more important to be authentic with ourselves, than it is to appear to be strong and look perfect in front of others.
For “freedom lies in discovering that the truth is not a set of fixed certitudes but a mystery we enter into, one step at a time. It is a process of going deeper and deeper into an unfathomable reality.”
Our emotions, just like life, are a mystery waiting to be discovered. And beauty lies in its gradual discovery.