As children, many are raised to be nice and keep a smile on their face. We’re not taught to express true feelings. In fact, they are often forbidden. But each time feelings are suppressed along the way; a new layer of struggle and disempowerment is added.
Claiming hurt feelings from the past is a necessary step towards living an empowered and embodied life. Understanding of emotional health is increasing, yes. But there are significant unaddressed limitations. Getting stuck in blame is a well-known pitfall. Avoiding blame is just as bad.
I won’t earn popularity points for saying this, but being nice and compliant does not build lasting intimacy. Moving into feeling blame and expressing it can liberate your power and life force. Being overly understanding, accepting and compliant is its own sickness. Living over the top of uncomfortable feelings and avoiding blame is a trap. It’s a sure-fire recipe for staying stuck in disempowered circumstances. This particularly shows up in relationships.
Working with men and women, I see many trapped in the nice façade with blame internalised. There is the husband who stays with his wife; even though she diminishes him with nasty words and silences She insinuates he is not enough for her. Her judgements and insults become part of his inner wiring.
There is the child who is constantly put down and invalidated by her father. She grows up feeling something is wrong with her. She has learned to expect condescension and blame. She chooses two kinds of men. One is those who are replicas of her father. The other is men who are extremely soft and passive. She does this to avoid the pattern. Either way she is living from the expectations learned as a child.
In both examples, inner torment increases. These individuals believe they caused the bad behaviour. The cycle is amplified and perpetuated. Examples of their self-talk might include, “She just had a rough day at work” or “I did the wrong thing.” Repetitive actions of invalidation and nastiness are representative of those stuck in externalising blame. Those on the receiving end live with increasing internalised blame.
The big problem here is that the hurt remains unacknowledged. What is worse, many people spend years, even lifetimes, overriding their emotional pain. They live with emotional abuse. They make excuses for the other person. “Ouch, stop!” would be a healthy response, but staunch and stoic becomes the default pattern.
You might be recognising yourself here or somebody you know. You’re probably asking, but how do we break the cycle?
As a facilitator of emotional processes for over 11 years, I see many who have experienced ongoing emotional abuse and chronic denial. There are two necessary and uncomfortable steps to breaking the cycle.
Firstly, feel all of the feelings. Allow space to cry, scream, to rage and burn with the unexpressed words from the inside out. The words must come out; otherwise the layers of resentment become toxic. People with suppressed emotions are only half living and often experience chronic illness. It’s essential to be supported by an experienced therapist or facilitator, when going through these cathartic processes.
I acknowledge blame is not very politically correct. However, reapportioning blame is the second step. It’s critical to learn to say, “No, I feel hurt and that is not okay”. To acknowledge that there was wrongdoing on the part of the other is part of the healing.
To re-establish safety and appropriate boundaries in the world, people need to be able to acknowledge acts that were unjust, harsh and cruel. This includes saying someone’s behaviours were wrong. A warning, this is not to be attempted over a meal at home with the person in question. In fact, the process can occur without the perpetrator even knowing. Unraveling and re-apportioning blame needs professional support.
Facilitating retreats and guiding emotional processes is a core part of the work I offer. Many of my clients are on transformational journeys to heal these perpetual cycles. Men and women participate in these retreats to make peace with past relationships. They want to open their hearts, increase sexual energy and enhance their wellbeing and vitality.
On the recent men’s retreat I facilitated, I felt how much more alive the men were after revisiting childhood experiences of their mother. Coming in touch with the child inside and the ways in which he felt abandoned, neglected, abused or manipulated is often painful. He resists feeling it at all costs.
No man wants to blame his mother for his perceived shortcomings. But he must attribute blame to fully claim himself. Those who have the courage to feel it all, to express the child’s cries that were silenced, discover so much more vitality, freedom and energy on the other side.
People are often afraid to go back into the childhood pain in case they get lost. They are scared they won’t find their way out of the hurt or the blame. When a man has the space held for him, he can reconnect with the past and express the pain. Allowing the fears, anger and frustrations of the child inside creates a personal freedom he’s never felt before.
Being witnessed in the expression of this pain creates a greater inner bandwidth. The man feels more of his daily feelings, is more in touch with who he is, and has more energy and zest for life. This is where inner peace arises and a new quality of love.
In dealing with childhood trauma, it’s essential to feel into the past. To feel the small child inside who never said, “It hurts when you are not there for me Mum” or “Dad why do you hit me?”
When these things are not spoken in the moment, they fester inside. The festering creates layers of resentment, denial of feeling leading to disassociation from self. Disassociation is a life lived behind masks, pretending that feelings do not exist.
In a world where people are silently struggling with emotional pain every day, let’s start a new precedence. A world where there is space for hurts and feelings to be acknowledged.
A culture of emotional permissiveness might look like this: I feel your hurt, I see your pain, and I make space for you to express your feelings.