As part of my ongoing public service announcement to the spiritual community, I just want to give yet another reminder that it is okay for you to talk about your negative feelings.
I just came across an article on Time.com (blessedly there is no paywall) showcasing a series of studies demonstrating that suppressing or repressing our negative emotions and not talking to others about the experiences of our past, causes us to develop autoimmune disease, chronic illnesses, chronic pain, and ultimately premature death. The article focuses on women in particular since women experience more pressure from society to be silenced, but we’re really talking about a truth that applies to anyone.
It is true that spiritually enlightened people don’t suffer from a lot of negative emotions, but that is because they took the time to sit with those emotions and process them. They talked about the things they experienced in their past with supportive people, and that support helped them to make peace with those feelings. I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: No one else decides when it’s time to “let it go”. “Letting go” is something that happens naturally after you’ve healed.
When something happens as a result of healing, sometimes people might think that’s what caused the healing. For example, if you’ve healed something, you’ll rarely mention. Other things that happen after healing, but not before: Contentment, forgiveness, a sense of gratitude for the lessons of that experience, acceptance of what happened, insights of what may have been going through the perpetrator’s mind at the time, etc. These things don’t cause healing in and of themselves, but they might occur later as a side-effect of healing.
Let’s talk about what does cause healing: getting in touch with your anger and other negative feelings. Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean chewing someone out, slamming doors, punching a hole in a wall, or otherwise acting like an A-hole. Getting in touch with your anger means sitting with yourself and hearing the messages that that anger is trying to communicate with you. When we go through trauma, there’s a tendency to blame the self, and anger is an emotion that is attempting to move you away from that. When we don’t get fully in touch with our anger, it has a tendency to get placed on “safe people”. These are people who will for the most part just stand there and take it. So it could be our spouse, it could be anonymous strangers on the internet, or it could be random people like the barista girl at Starbucks.
Getting in touch with your anger is crucial because you want to express it where it belongs and not have innocent people pay the price instead. This may mean writing an imaginary letter to your abuser, reimagining scenarios where you were able to appropriately stand up for yourself in a healthy way, etc. Otherwise if you try to stuff it down and convince yourself it doesn’t exist, it turns into “anger in”, which causes the myriad of health issues discussed in the Time article.
The other half of the healing equation is to tell your story. I had a tendency to minimize what had happened to me and this kept me stuck in an unhealed state for many years. The way I found out I had PTSD was after I went to a see a sleep specialist who explained to me that the reason why I was sometimes waking up with temporary amnesia and having night terrors, etc, was not because I had a sleep disorder but because I had PTSD. This was when I realized the toll of hiding my past like it was some kind of shameful secret. I was especially hiding it from myself. It was only after truly owning it and being willing to talk about it, that I was able to make peace with it and stop having the sleep issues and other symptoms.
There’s a lot of people out there who will say that if you’re talking about your past, feeling anger about it, etc then you have a “victim mindset” and don’t really want to get better. These days I’m not feeling a need to talk about my past victimizing experiences, but it is only because I allowed myself to go through that process and to fully feel those feelings. I believe that this is also true of anyone who has been able to reach genuine forgiveness. I was only able to do it once I took it off the table completely and allowed myself to get in touch with the feelings that said “What happened was unforgiveable.” I sat with those feelings and validated and accepted the wounded part of myself that they were originating from. Once that part of me felt fully satisfied that it had been heard, those feeling naturally fizzled away.
We fall into a trap when we blame our reactions to the mistreatment rather than the mistreatment itself. Honestly, that summarizes my experience of PTSD pretty well. I was constantly searching for whatever subtle thing I must have done in order to deserve the abuse, and because I could never find it that meant I was doomed to experience it again in the future and I had to be constantly on guard for that possibility. Hearing things like “you need to learn to forgive” just reinforced my belief that I was the real problem. I had to move away from messages like that in order to heal.
Originally I started this blog and my YouTube channel as a way to find my voice. I’ve since continued to do it in order to show people that it’s okay for them to have a voice too and to try to dispel the myth that if you’re not suffering in silence then you’re not a spiritual person.