Something was eating me up inside and I felt as though I was losing control. No matter how hard I tried to stop my behaviour, I couldn’t… because it was masking my pain. Anything that masks the pain is good, right? No. Emotional responses are messages that something isn’t right.
I kept repeating the same patterns and lived a poor quality of existence. There was no off switch. Why couldn’t I change the behaviour? Why couldn’t I communicate what I was going through to the people who meant the most to me? If the mask and cape were a superhero its name would be ‘pride’.
There are two parts to the dictionary definition of ‘pride’ that mean something to my story:
- A feeling of deep satisfaction and pleasure derived from one’s own achievements
- Consciousness of one’s own dignity
Achievement Isn’t Everything
Achievement was vital to my survival. I didn’t think I could survive without achieving something great. I had been born into this story that unless you do great you can’t be great, and if you can’t be great, there’s no true meaning for your life.
If I wasn’t great, then who was I? For all of my adult years, as far back as late teens, this painful experience tugged at my very identity and existence.
When Having it All Isn’t Enough
Once I had it all. I built an empire. Houses, car, career, skills and abilities that many didn’t – and a great job. Until I didn’t. Eventually, layers upon layers of material possessions were extinguished from my life. I felt raw, sad and lost.
I was grieving. What do you do when you are grieving? Well, you can bury your head in the sand and pretend the loss didn’t happen – or you can accept the situation and tell yourself that no matter how painful it is right now, you’re going to get through.
Hiding From Pain
There was no hiding. So I went about eating a lot more than before the possessions were taken away… as well as drinking every couple of nights, blaming different family members and generally behaving incongruently to my values.
I lost the ability to talk to people. The more it hurt, the more I hid. The more I hid, the more I masked the pain. This is easy to do when you’re sitting in solitude with no one to answer to. I was a long way from opening up to myself.
This superhero wasn’t ready for the questions. She wasn’t a willing participant.
Choice of Change
We have two choices. We can either try and change our behaviour by finding strategies, tips and techniques, or we can participate. I mean really participate. For me, it seemed important to ask myself, “which questions are you ready for?”
Drowning in a sea of pain, complaining and wishing things were different – none of that was working. So I had to shift the conversation and ditch the old story to create a new reality. Because from where I was sitting, the conversation had to allow the space for me to open up. I had to test my perceptions and attitudes, and I had to challenge the core self-assessments I was living in about myself. And then decide if I was going to accept these judgments I was holding onto.
Traveling Back in Time
How I viewed myself as a person was learned through a lifetime of experiences. I had to allow myself to revisit some of those experiences, not to dwell in them, but to support myself to begin to develop the resourcefulness to begin to move on from them. This wasn’t comfortable, but I knew it would be much more comfortable in the long run than living in pain for the remainder of my being.
It felt like I was shedding my skin, peeling back a layer at a time. The truth was: that’s exactly what I was doing. I had to explore what was happening just before eating, drinking and resenting.
There is a microsecond just before we take action on any behaviour and this is where our self-awareness lies
The point where we make a decision – and there is a point – is where we can catch ourselves in the moment. Self-awareness is right there at that very point. At this point we can do two things:
- Learn from it
- Stop the behaviour
Neither are as simple as they sound, but both are possible ways we can begin to be open up a new self-awareness and shock ourselves into reality.
Exploring Emotional Responsibility
We are never separate from our emotions. We live in them and through the day and night. In every difficult situation, in every moment of pain, we’re always experiencing at least one emotion. We’ve learned to experience emotions as though they are separate from us. That’s not true – they are very much a part of our existence. They live throughout our body, therefore they are experienced in, on and through our bodies.
Let me take you back to pride. When we experience a sense of pride we’re making an assessment that we’ve done something that has brought about satisfaction. Perhaps there is merit in our actions. But pride, as a feeling, is felt throughout our body. Our words and thoughts are not separate from our felt experiences.
So pride, as an emotion, carries with it certain muscle tension, bodily sensations and adrenalin as well as certain postural configurations (we show pride in how we sit, stand and move). This is how we experience emotions.
Usually, if we experience an emotion such as pride, we want to stick with the experience because it feels good. We want to hold onto it as long as we possibly can.
But what if it wasn’t pride? What if our emotional experience was more like sadness or anxiety? We are conditioned as a society to:
- Think about such emotions as negative
- Push them aside or replace them with emotions that make us feel better
Emotional responsibility means giving ourselves permission to experience and to feel. It’s a far cry from what we’re used to .. but it’s so worth the pain we have to go through to peel back the layers of pain and experience life in its full kaleidoscope of colours
I’m leaving you with two questions to explore, so you can begin to take emotional responsibility and set yourself free …
What emotions do you allow yourself to experience?
What emotions have you learned are not acceptable to experience?