On emotional freedom and pain
Once, in kindergarten, I was crying in the morning before school. My Dad, in his haste to stop my crying and get us ready on time, laughed and called me a crybaby. I felt bad for crying, and since then I believed that I had to be strong.
I bottled everything up inside, trying not to feel, and never expressed my emotions, which I perceived as weakness. Even if I was sad, I would just hide in my room, sulk, and tear lightly to myself.
When I was 18, a schoolmate told me I had a fake smile. I didn’t understand what she meant. Coming from a family that only expressed anger and rarely showed soft emotions, I only allowed myself to feel determination and perseverance. I channeled these feelings into doing well in school. And continued to believe that I was happy.
Deep down I carried a lot of pain. The pain of always having to achieve, the pain of never feeling good enough, the pain of loneliness. The driven and hardworking me was just trying to fill my void by blindly chasing achievements and results.
At 25, I could contain the pain no longer. I was suddenly feeling a lot of self-rejection and feeling very lost in life. I felt the heavy burden of trying to please my parents, the fear of how people would judge me if I didn’t perform, and the devastating realisation that despite all my achievements, I wasn’t truly happy.
At first, I was afraid of the black hole inside me. I felt an impenetrable dam stopping me from feeling all the negativity. But I had supportive people around me and they made me feel safe to let everything out. During a transformational course I took, I released years of pent up sadness, anger, pain and rage.
The floodgates to my bottomless well of tears had opened. I could now cry doing pretty much anything. I’d cry while walking around, while sitting on the train, while listening to a piece of music, while doing work. Sometimes I had so many tears I just lay in bed and cried.
My heart was wide open. The wall of bricks had I built around myself had crumbled. In rushed sadness, hurt, pain. I was easily affected by things around me. I felt personally the rejection and judgment of others. I was very sensitive and easily hurt.
But with that openness also came equanimity.
Not a forced happiness in which I put a smile on my face trying to convince myself I was happy, but a calm which arose simply because I had cried the tears I was meant to cry. A stillness that arose simply because the turbulent emotions within me had found their release.
Instead of suppressing my emotions, my energy could now flow towards creative and productive work. Or simply singing, dancing, and laughing.
A college friend told me that she noticed a change in me. In the past, she could sense that I wasn’t really happy, but she didn’t know how to tell me. Now, she said, I was a lot more genuine.
Once I got in touch with my own emotions, I was able to empathise with others and feel compassion for people. I could sense, just by looking at their faces or hearing them speak, if they were sad or angry or hurt or fearful.
Many times, people I coached would be able to get in touch with their emotions too, just because they were in my presence. Even strangers felt comfortable and safe enough to emote within ten minutes of meeting me.
The once-hard me was softening rapidly. The emotions and softness I had tried to hide all my life — that I had once thought was a curse — was a gift. It was my gentle and allowing side that allowed me to connect deeply to people and facilitate them connecting to themselves. I realised it was okay to express this soft side of me.
The soft side of me also helped me in my role as a singing instructor. I could support people in expressing through song whatever they were feeling inside. Some of my students would also cry while they were singing.
I used to think that emotional freedom was about being happy all the time and not feeling anything negative. But true emotional freedom is about being able to accept and feel and express all our emotions — good or bad.
To be able to feel the full spectrum of emotions, not to shy away from the pain, and not push away or reject any emotion that comes up — that is true emotional freedom.
Being able to feel everything, we become vulnerable, beautiful, and soft. We are open to the world and our hearts beat in sync with the world. We are no longer isolated; we are connected. Through understanding deeply our own pain and struggle, we understand deeply the pain and struggle of humanity. In healing ourselves, we learn how to heal the world.
Negative feelings can feel like black holes with no end. We fear our own darkness, so we suppress our feelings and numb ourselves. But it is only through facing the darkness, processing it, and understanding it, that light can enter.
So, when you next feel that tightness in your chest, that heaviness in your soul, that sinking feeling — some kind of scary, unknown feeling lurking below the surface, don’t just push it down. Don’t distract yourself with food, drinks, Netflix, or whatever you use to distract yourself.
That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.
- John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Simply turn your attention within. Let yourself feel whatever emotion is coming up. Go into that darkness you dread. As Joseph Campbell said, the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
You will not die and you will not cease to exist. Instead, you will feel the pain. A pain you thought you could not handle. A pain deeper than any you have felt before. By shining the light of your awareness on your pain, you transform it. You feel it fully. It flows through you. Then it dissipates. Then you are liberated. You are free.
Originally published at https://www.betterself.sg on September 15, 2020.