Growing up, I had a best friend who was almost always late for anything we did together.
Coming from a home environment that was quite orderly and punctual, I found her tardiness frustrating. However, I never told her because I didn’t know how to express how I felt: resentful and disrespected. I would smile and pretend it didn’t matter, because I was scared of what might happen if I said anything. Better for me to feel uncomfortable inside than to bring that discomfort out into the open. Eventually it wore away at our friendship, but even that seemed more acceptable than showing my real feelings.
We are often taught from a young age that our experiences of resentment, sadness, anger, fear, jealousy, and hurt are too much to safely feel or express.
We may be encouraged by well-meaning parents, other adults, and older children to suppress these emotions and to not talk about how we really feel. This is how they were brought up, and so they innocently pass this problematic conditioning on to us. “Don’t cry; be brave,” we were told. “Go out and play and you’ll forget about it. You shouldn’t be angry about that; good girls and boys don’t get jealous.”
When we notice that these emotions can make others uncomfortable, we start to feel uncomfortable—even ashamed of—feeling them. This shame becomes a weight that starts to feel so familiar, we don’t even realize we are hauling it around. Instead of acknowledging our feelings, we begin to cut ourselves off from this part of our inner world, preferring to seek out ways to only feel and express our more positive emotions.
However, in doing this, we are really cutting ourselves off from the full spectrum of our humanness. This limits our ability to completely open to our present experience and keeps us always on the move, trying to escape the emotional content of this moment and reach a better one that we can somehow hold onto (which we never can). We are never able to completely rest and be at peace.
We need a way to safely access these thoughts and feelings so we can be present with them, understand their source, and let them go.
I have found through working with clients and through exploring my own dark side that, even though it may seem counterintuitive at first, expressing these thoughts and feelings in a safe and non-judgmental context is one way to free us from them and finally stop running.
One way I do this is to write. When I put my deepest and often unacknowledged beliefs on paper, I allow the unconscious to have a temper tantrum of sorts, one that may have been suppressed for quite some time. As this tantrum happens, I hold the space for these beliefs without really believing them or taking them personally. They are simply stuff unconsciously picked up on the path of life. When they are seen as not personal, there is no longer any need to project their content outward onto others or even into my own body where, unacknowledged, they have been known to create resentment, fear, anxiety, depression, victimhood, a general sense of unease, or even physical issues.
During recent writing sessions, I have gotten more tangibly in touch with some specific belief patterns around control and resentment, beliefs that I have connected to stomach and gallbladder concerns that have become exacerbated in the past few months.
This recognition is partly due to becoming much more aware of the voice of my mother playing out in my thoughts—a voice that, until now, I had been only partly conscious of. Her voice has been telling me how I need to be respected, and how, when certain people don’t act in certain ways, it means I am not receiving this respect.
Not being fully aware of the source of this belief, I have long projected (untrue) beliefs about the motivations of others onto them, like my childhood friend or, more often these days, my husband. For example, for years I have found myself getting frustrated with him for staying on business calls when I have lunch ready on the table. Now that I have identified the source, I find myself just relaxing and eating my lunch, knowing that he will join me as soon as he is able and that he is not being late out of disrespect. If anything, he is working hard so I can work part-time and be able to cook a healthy lunch for both of us.
In general, I now find myself allowing him more and more freedom to just be himself and do his own thing without expectations of what he owes me. This feels much lighter, freer, and more relaxed in my body. It’s easier on him, too, and creates more harmony in our marriage. I wonder how things could have gone differently with my childhood friend if I had been more aware at that time that this resentment wasn’t really “mine,” just something I had taken on that told me how I should feel.
I also now have more understanding of and compassion for my mother, knowing that she holds this belief because of her own life experiences and the ideas that she unconsciously picked up along the way. None of it is personal.
As for the writing itself, I never share the specific details. It could appear too hurtful in the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand the impersonal nature of what has been expressed. What is important is that I have acknowledged it for myself, that I have embraced what I was trying to push away in the name of being peaceful and loving.
I have found that I cannot truly be at peace and loving if I do not own my dark side and have not explored its shadowy corners, because it is not easy to navigate peacefully through my outer world if I cannot navigate peacefully through my inner one.
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May