All the Feels – why every emotion matters…

‘This is a thing that is hard to articulate. Some people don’t feel healed by forgiving people who hurt them, because that’s what they kept doing, over and over, and it only led to them getting more hurt. Sometimes you feel healed when you’re finally brave enough to say ‘This person was horrible to me and I did not deserve that treatment and I DON’T have to be ok with it’

‘For people who say I have to forgive everyone ‘for my own sake’, NO. I don’t. I worked hard for this anger. I worked hard to love myself enough to hate them’.

These anonymous quotes were shared in an online group I belong to, for estranged adult children. And they got me thinking, in a positive way.

They got me thinking about how important it is for good mental health to allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions. Because every emotion has a purpose and a role to play.

As a survivor of trauma and family abuse, I’ve had well meaning friends and family tell me that I need to ‘move on’ ‘allow myself to heal’ ‘offload my anger’ ‘forget the past’. Even my psychologist guilt tripped me recently by asking ‘what positive things could you be doing for yourself if you weren’t investing energy in being angry and sad?!’

And I’ve been trying you know, trying to take all this well meaning advice and let the negativity run out of me and embrace the positive, because I have so much to be grateful for.

But then I read these quotes and I saw a comment someone made referencing a Disney film I love, and I realized that how I’m feeling, is ok! That it is ok to feel sad and angry; as long as these aren’t the ONLY things I’m feeling.

For anyone that’s not see the glorious Disney/Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, it’s cleverly set in the mind of a young girl named Riley, where five personified emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—try to lead her through life’s challenges as her family relocate to a new city.

One of the things I love about this film is that Joy try’s to lead and control the other emotions, fixated on maintaining Riley’s happiness. But it’s only through experiencing the full range of emotions, and especially sadness, that Riley is able to admit her concerns to her parents and begin to settle into her new home and school.

Growing up I was fixated with the idea that I was responsible for everyone in my families happiness. I believed I could ‘fix’ my parents and save my brothers. I was all about putting on my brave face and focusing on the positives. I thought everyone had the capacity to feel remorse and offer forgiveness. I thought laughing about the fear and the violence I experienced made it less powerful. I made excuses in my head for my parents behavior. I pitied them and tried to convince myself that they loved me because the alternative was unthinkable.

But of course I was wrong. The hefty responsibility for my family was something I was groomed to feel from a young age. But as I approached high school and puberty, as I observed how other people lived and interacted, I realized my life was NOT ok, it was NOT normal and I was NOT going to put up with it.

So I was an angry teenager. Angry and resentful. Still pitifully immature and naive and in slavish love with my family. But I was also filled with contempt for the physical and emotional abuse that was part of my day to day life.

Fast forward to now, and it’s taken years, many years, to have the courage to embrace my anger and use it seek estrangement from my birth family. In fact it’s taken 45 years, to stop forcing myself to forgive them.

It’s taken 45 years to realize that my mental health would never recover if I kept allowing myself to be manipulated and guilt tripped and forced into taking responsibility for people who don’t love me or my own little family I’ve created. We were just a useful resource to be exploited.

And as I write this down I realize that my sadness is less. My anger is less. I feel calmer. I feel unburdened. I feel a beautiful closeness to my husband and children. I am finding myself again. I’m rebuilding my career.

I still miss them. I still wonder about them. I still look at photos and remember happy memories because there were happy ones too. I wish good things for them.

I still feel betrayed and tricked. Incredulous at the lies. Shocked at the cowardice. Confused that they aren’t capable of remorse or regret. Pride is worth more to them than the apology and acceptance I’ve searched for my whole life.

And this is all ok. There is room in my heart and my head for all these emotions. They all have a part to play in my recovery.

As human beings, we tend to find other people’s negative emotions difficult to deal with. Tears, anger, the deep sadness of depression…they freak people out. Even the people who love us the most can struggle to deal with our darkness.

I’m sure you’ve all said (or been told) at one time or another ‘stop crying’ ‘don’t be angry’. And it’s usually done in a well meaning way isn’t it? But maybe those tears are the key to overcoming grief. Maybe the anger is the trigger for that person to make positive changes in their life.

So when I spoke to my psychologist today and he asked how I’ve been using my positive energy, I told him about the photos I’ve taken, the job interviews I’ve had, the new course I’ve just run. I told him how happy the boys were at Christmas and about the beautiful cards they made for my birthday. I told him how close I feel to my husband because we are such a good team and we laugh a lot more these days.

But I also told him about Riley, about ‘Inside Out’. I told him how Sadness saved the day and how all my emotions have a role to play to ensure I achieve good mental health. And he agreed with me.

So if you haven’t watched the movie, please do. It speaks to all humans and is especially important if you are raising children. Plus its colorful, funny, sad, happy, visually stunning and wonderfully original!

Lizzy Van Tromp

07/01/21

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