I see my therapist every couple weeks whether I want to or think I need to. Interestingly, there is always something to talk about or words of wisdom to be digested. Last week she said something to me that shook me. In all the years that I had been seeing her, I’m not sure if she had said this to me before. And if she had, I didn’t hear it nor absorb it. She said that I am afraid of feeling feelings. Hmm. Really?
Initially that didn’t resonate as truth to me, but then as the days went on and this swirled around in my brain, I came to a realization. Most of my life I avoided and hid from feeling any negative emotions. When I started to feel bad emotions I withdrew into myself, away from the world, to heal and lick my wounds. My behavior was exactly like that of a turtle. I pulled inward and huddled up inside until everything was safe on the outside. Like the turtle I hauled my big clunky armored shell around with me everywhere so when I needed it, I could pull inward and feel safe. This behavior served me for most of my childhood, teens and young adult life. And then something happened. My shell cracked or it became weak or I couldn’t fit in it anymore or something like that and suddenly I found myself vulnerably feeling grief, loss, sadness, unworthiness, self-loathing and despair. Without my defense mechanism I didn’t know how to process these emotions.
I felt shame for feeling them.
I felt weak for feeling them.
I felt fear for feeling them!
Without my defense mechanism, I was too vulnerable, too hurt, too weak and was sure that these wounds were going to be my demise. I prayed for God to take them away because I thought they would certainly kill me! Experiencing these emotions feels like I am being mauled by a grizzly without any weapons or defense. I am panicked and full of anxiety that my actual survival is at stake. I hate every minute of it and see no benefit in the experience…quite the opposite. I want out as soon as possible and I do not want it to happen again! Where is that damned shell???
But here is the reality. The turtle using his shell as a strength is a fallacy. Putting on armor does not make me strong. Quite the opposite. It makes me weak and soft and reliant on protection. My armored shell is my weakness! It is actually my wounds and my scars that are my strength! Especially the scars. The scars are the evidence that I healed and survived a wound. Each one screaming out “Kicked that one’s ass!” Each new wound that scars over makes me stronger and wiser and compassionate and empathetic to the world around me. Those fresh wounds still hurt like hell and will continue to be painful, but I have to realize that these wounds will not destroy me, they are my teachers and the SOURCE of all my strength. That bear is not going to maul me to death and I have to know that in the moment.
This revelation is powerful for me. But the revelation alone doesn’t make me automatically know how to navigate through it. I hate feeling these negative emotions. My first instinct when faced with them will still be to withdraw inside and hide. I can already feel the fear rise up in my throat to just imagine experiencing grief, loss, sorrow, unworthiness. The challenge is that with this awareness can I face these experiences differently? Can I face them eye to eye, bring them in, feel them with all their power, then release and heal? Can I scream in the bear’s face and say “F*** you! I win not you!” ? Can I one day leave that damned shell behind and walk with confidence out into the world without it? We will see.