I heard this for the first time from the lips of a University Professor, back when I was studying for my degree. It may sound like something trivial, even obvious, but to me it seemed like an eye-opening realization, deeply meaningful. I had never heard anyone say it before. On the contrary.
For most of my life I have been taught, both directly and indirectly, to hide my emotions away. I have been told to not overreact when I get angry. Not to take something too seriously when it frustrates me. Not to take it personally if it hurts or upsets me. To move on when struggling to overcome grief. I have even heard the good old “snap out of it” on account of my depression. I have a feeling I am not the only one.
Even in a modern society, where we already talk about mental health openly, there is still so much taboo surrounding emotional expression. Why must we shy away from admitting our own feelings as if they make us weak? Do we still truly believe that men don’t cry and women are hysteric? Have we not evolved past that by now?
You are entitled to your emotions.
My teacher didn’t stop there. She had us thinking about the meaning of this, the power these words carry with them. When you give yourself the right to feel whatever you’re feeling, regardless of the reason for it (or lack thereof), you become more attuned with yourself. You give yourself permission to look inside without fear. Because, no matter what, if you are entitled to your emotions that means there is nothing wrong with you.
You are not weak or a lesser person for having feelings. You are human! A magnificently complicated human. You have a heart and a mind of your own. You are a complex web of thoughts, experiences and, yes, emotions. Allow yourself to feel them, really feel them. Face them. Explore them. Then, and only then, you will be prepared to decide what to do with them.
I could have avoided myself so much pain, if only someone had told me I didn’t have to bury so much deep within myself. When all of my efforts were focused on not allowing people to see how I felt at any given moment, I was actually pushing the world away, sending a message that I didn’t need anyone. I wanted to be strong, to be seen as the person who had it all under control. That’s what I thought I should be. And, in doing so, I ended up feeling even more lonely and misunderstood. I had my buried feelings bubbling underneath the surface throughout the day, only to erupt at night, when no one was watching and I would cry myself to sleep.
Nowadays, I have learned to accept that I am not a happy-go-lucky kind of person. Sometimes I’m sad and worried, often I get frustrated. But instead of hiding away, I now try to communicate my feelings. I have grown to accept that saying “I’m just feeling a little sad today” is not the same as saying “I am a weak person”. It just means maybe I’m a little more vulnerable today, maybe I need to give myself some more care and take the time to deal with whatever issues are making me feel this way. And that’s ok. Tomorrow is another day.
Whatever you’re feeling, you shouldn’t be frightened of it. Your emotions are your own, don’t allow anyone to tell you it’s an overreaction or not appropriate. You are entitled to your emotions.