I was co-facilitating a group a few years ago when a woman came in who was stuck in a job that she hated and wanted desperately to leave. Within several minutes I knew that she was fighting an unconscious trauma from her past.
But I could also tell that she was not ready to go there.
Over the course of several weeks I watched other members of the group all attempt to coach her out of her fear so that she could transition into the life she really wanted. As people spoke, she nodded her head, said she understood, went back and forth, gained hope, lost it, and then fell back into offering excuses for why she couldn’t quit.
From the outside, it didn’t make sense. People were exasperated. Eyes rolled. Some participants, I could tell, just thought she was plain stupid. But I knew this wasn’t true and that something much deeper was at play. From the very beginning I could see that this transition point in her life was triggering a significant trauma from her past that was creating a powerful, undeniable emotional signal within her that screamed: “Stay put, and suffer in silence! Because if you don’t, the consequences will be worse!”
Because if we cry, we’re weak. And if we’re weak, then we’re likely to die. And if we’re likely to die then no one will ever want to be associated with us because even being in proximity to us will threaten their survival too.
And so if we cry we will be ostracized, isolated, and left for dead.
And so we don’t cry.
Instead we repress, we anesthetize, we push down the emotions like an ostrich with its head in the sand hoping that because we ignore the pain and grief and sadness within us it will never have any effect over us. Like an oncoming train we magically assume that ignoring it will prevent it from ever hurting us.
Do not be fooled. Your unprocessed emotions do not disappear when you ignore them. On the contrary they will continue to act out in spite of you in an on-going attempt to heal the part of you that has been wounded. Ignore your emotions and you will only have two options. Either to continue repressing them in increasingly damaging ways with alcohol, drugs, food, work, sex, or any other emotionally distracting activity, or to simply allow them to be triggered like a volcano erupting over and over again when you least expect it. Either way make no mistake, your emotions are stronger than you. While they can be occasionally stifled, they can never be silenced.