Expressing Yourself Is Painful — But You Need To Do It
What I learned from having the hardest conversations of my life.
Without a doubt, the most emotional part of my life is when I first learned to stop internalizing everything.
In the military, as you can imagine, you don’t talk about your feelings, or even think about why you feel a certain way.
There is simply no room for discussing feelings. If you’re sad, angry, depressed, lonely, anxious, etc., it doesn’t matter. You hold it all in and push forward. You do what you need to do to get the job done. We saw it almost as a sign of weakness if you expressed any sort of anxieties, negative feelings, or discomfort.
Because of this, I’ve maintained the habit of keeping everything inside, hidden away, attempting to deal with everything on my own. The depression, stress, and anxiety of everyday life in the service slowly took a toll on my mental health, and even without my knowing of it. I thought this was all just part of being an adult.
This carried on until recently, when I began dating my partner. In the brief time we’ve been together, she and I have gone through some of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had, mostly due to me internalizing the things that are coming up for me that reveal themselves in unintentional ways. The most serious example of this is when I said "I love you" for the first time, out of jealousy rather than out of love. Thoughts came up, and I did my best to hide them and avoid those difficult conversations that I didn’t know I needed to have.
However, in time, it became obvious that something was up, after I left the thoughts to fester and slowly consume me, affecting every day of our relationship. When I talked about what was on my mind, everything that had been internalized came out at once in one long, emotional conversation.
As I’ve learned to stop holding in all of my emotions, I’ve begun to overcome some lifelong childhood/adulthood traumas that have affected me for years: my lack of connection with my family, feeling unworthy of love, my struggles with introversion and low self-esteem, sexual trauma.
I’ve cried more in the first six months of our relationship than I have in my entire life. It’s like all these tears have been accumulating over the years, becoming heavier and heavier, until they’re finally released.
It feels incredible to have a safe space to talk about such deep and sensitive topics. A place to express myself in a way that I have never felt comfortable enough to do before.
I’ve learned so much about myself in my short time with her. Parts of me I didn’t even know about. Struggles I didn’t even know I was going through.
The military didn’t leave room for thought, self reflection, or talking about your feelings. But being able to create space for these things changed my life.
Internalizing your thoughts and feelings, attempting to deal with them on your own, in time, will take its toll. Frankly, these things aren’t meant to be taken on alone.
You can try to hide your real feelings behind a curtain and forget about them, but they don’t go away. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t apply here.
They fester and grow stronger. They will show themselves, and even before they do, they continue to affect every aspect of your thinking.
This has happened in my own life very recently. Ever since the unemployed have begun receiving significant sums of money from the government, I've found this intense resentment growing inside me, alongside a general lack of motivation, sadness, and frustration, as my partner, who I don’t live with just yet, kept me updated about the daily life of lounging about, with the freedom, time, and financial security to do everything or nothing. Not only her, but several of my roommates as well.
My frustration continued to grow, and I thought constantly about the situation and the unfairness of it all — both at work and at home.
I initially didn’t bring it up, and I did my best to simply get over it and hide it; I told myself how blessed I am in my current situation, with still enough money to pay the bills, and shamed myself for being upset. I tried to cover it all up with this, as the researcher/storyteller Brené Brown calls it, “comparative suffering,” as well as feelings of positivity.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
The negativity became all-consuming. After a lengthy phone call with my partner, where she told me about another one of her slow and lazy days and the joy of it, the resentment hit its peak.
The next day, I explained to her exactly how I was feeling.
I ripped open the metaphorical curtains and exposed the frustration and anger hiding behind them. I let everything out, not only discussing the current situation, but also my own family issues that have been coming up for me. She allowed me to vent, without judgement, and understood where I was coming from.
I immediately felt the resentment and other negative feelings wither away; my frustration subsided, and I felt an immense sense of relief.
Coming from a family that has taught me to avoid conflict at all costs, how it is better to suffer internally than cause any potential inconvenience or discomfort for someone else, it is tough to bring up any kind of issues and talk things through. But the incredible feeling of almost weightlessness after spilling your thoughts and feelings out into the world more than compensates for the feeling of anxiety that precedes those hard conversations.
I now realize that, in the face of everything I’ve been taught to believe throughout my adult life, feeling down and expressing your emotions isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, I’ve come to believe it is a sign of weakness to internalize them; the courageous are the ones able to openly express vulnerability and touch on sensitive subjects.
So, talk about things, and know that it may very well lead to the toughest conversations you will ever have. I’ve explored parts of my past with my partner that have never come up in conversation before, and have brought me to tears. And it is an incredible feeling.
Let it all out.