brOKen: Why We Hide How We Really Feel

under_the_surface_by_destinyblue-d5r27x4 (1)This incredible piece of art is titled “brOKen” and it’s by a great artist named DestinyBlue. She says that the inspiration for this piece came from an observation she made while on the London Underground.

She saw a girl who was crying quietly, but had on a shirt with the phrase “YOLO” which stands for “You Only Live Once” and is supposed to be a symbol of taking chances and living life to it’s fullest with no regrets.

How ironic that a sad girl crying would have on this shirt? It made the artist of this picture think about how many slogans and things we wear that don’t really represent how we feel and I thought this would be a great topic for a post.

As a counselor, I am trained to hear what is not being said. Many times people will tell me that they are “fine”, “happy” or “confident” when I can see that they are the total opposites of what they are trying to convince me they are feeling.

We do that, put up the fronts and the masks for several reasons including hiding how we really feel so that others will not know when we are weak or vulnerable. It’s natural, which both protects us emotionally, yet it makes it hard for us to fully engage with and understand other people.

This can be especially frustrating when it’s your child or someone you love and it’s clear to you that they are not “fine” yet when you ask them what’s wrong, they say “nothing”.

What if we did wear shirts that said exactly how we felt at this moment. Would your shirt say “Mad?”, “Depressed?”, “Bipolar”, “Scared”, “Unloved?”. Mine would probably say “Indifferent”.

One of my favorite shirts says “Sick of it All” on the back of it, which is actually the name of a band, but most people don’t know that and I tend to wear that shirt when I actually do feel sick of it all. I’ve even worn it to frustrating meetings as a sign of silent protest.

A lot of times, society frowns upon us really expressing and exhibiting how we feel so we learn to put on these masks and some of our masks are very extravagant. 

We put excessive make-up on to look visually attractive while inside we feel disgusting. We talk loud to draw attention to ourselves because we are afraid of  being ignored. We lift weights and take steroids to appear big and intimidating while inside we are scared and insecure. We drive expensive cars and wear expensive clothes to look important because deep down we feel really insignificant. The list can go on and on.

I went to a therapy seminar last year and the presenter kept talking about an angry, intimidating teenage girl in her class who looked like she wanted to beat up everyone, when really deep down, as she put it, “she’s scared as shit”. Of course she couldn’t walk around with a shirt that read “Scared” or “Nervous” so she hide it under a shirt that said “Tough”, “Confident” and “Aggressive”.

Some of the most physically attractive women I’ve ever met, the ones who put a lot of effort into their appearance, have turned out to be some of the most insecure women I have ever met.

Those who don’t wear their masks well are often labeled bipolar, hysterical, over-reacting, sensitive, weak or even crazy.

It’s unlikely that we would really wear shirts that said “Insecure”, “Miserable”, “Confused”, “Rejected” or “Lifeless”. Instead, we are more likely to wear shirts that say “Great”, “Joyous”, “Loving”, “Inspired”  or “Free” even when we feel the total opposite such as the young girl DestinyBlue saw on the London Underground.

Hiding our feelings is a self-protecting mechanism. We don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable like I stated earlier. We may also think that hiding our true feelings keeps us from actually being those feelings. Even more importantly, we tend to hide our true feelings when they aren’t good feelings in order to avoid offending other people with our problems and potentially looking childish and pathetic because we’ve “lost control” over our emotions.

We also hide our feelings to not appear unstable, abnormal or risk the chance of having our true feelings ignored or discounted which would hurt even more. We tend not to trust that others, even those closest to us, will validate our true feelings and safe guard our vulnerability so we hide them to protect ourselves.

Hiding our feelings in many situations makes sense, and society says it’s stoic, courageous and shows character when you can hide your painful emotions. A large part of it is about appropriateness and vulnerability.

A lot of people I work with in therapy hold onto their painful emotions and yet blame their parents, spouses or friends for not being able to empathize with and support them.

Well how can they if they don’t truly know how you feel and what you are going through? This is probably one of the biggest problems I run into in therapy. People expecting their loved ones to be psychic enough to know that under their shirt that reads “Wonderful” is another shirt that says “Heartbroken”.

You have to be at a certain place mentally and emotionally to feel free enough to let out your hurtful feelings in the presence of others. You have to be able to self-soothe and self-validate your feelings. Realize that other people don’t have to validate them in order for them to be valid.

Letting your feelings out doesn’t make you a victim unless you allow yourself to become a victim. Letting them out can actually be freeing and allow those around you to give you the support you need.             tired_by_onedirectionislife-d5lqo2b

Thanks to Kayla for giving me permission to use this image.

7 thoughts on “brOKen: Why We Hide How We Really Feel

  1. How incisive your post is. It really pinpoints how all people, not just mentally ill, behave regarding emotions. I actually felt like you were talking to me. The problem is, for those of us who hide our emotions as a mechanism of social survival due to abuse or other trauma, to learn how to show them, express them, acknowledge them. To find a safe place, safe way, to do so.

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