“Why do you let them upset you in that way? You can’t change them; you can only change how you respond.”
Livid, I clicked “reply” to answer the person, then sat back to see if I could articulate what made me angry about those words. Unable to put it into words, I instead asked the person to drop it. It was the third similar response in a back and forth conversation with one person. I had vented in an online forum about a situation I had recently encountered.
As I thought on matters, I figured out what bugged me about her advice. She basically encouraged me to stop feeling a certain way when someone was rude to me or someone I love. I should push my feelings to the side and learn to live with it. My feelings didn’t matter because the situation wasn’t going to change. I needed to change my reaction to the contempt I faced.
I’ve seen and heard it before. Well-meaning people who are trying to help, but ultimately piss me off. Yes, I can’t change the other person or the situation. And, yes, only I can change my response to a person or a situation. But, don’t ever tell me how to feel about a problem I’m facing. Just don’t.
Since I was a child, I’ve had others tell me how I should feel. As a sensitive little girl, I cried easily. If someone said something mean to me, I didn’t fight back. I cried. If someone said anything critical, no matter how slight, I cried. A careless joke directed at me might result in more tears. Constantly, I was told, “You are too sensitive. Stop taking everything so seriously.” So, I tried hard not to cry anymore. Not to let people see that they had hurt me. I held back my feelings to fit in and protect myself from the judgement of others.
By the time I was a teenager, the pressure to fit in mounted. I desperately wanted to be liked. In high school, I admitted to others when I got angry, sad, or frustrated, but soon learned that I was seen as a “burden” to friends because I felt so much. So, instead of expressing myself as I had, I stopped. I would plaster a smile on my face to make others happy. In high school, I learned that to make others happy, to get along with others, and to avoid conflict, I needed to be someone I wasn’t.
It worked so I kept it up. I kept masking my feelings from others. I got so good at it that I hid my own feelings from myself, until one day, I lost all control and my life collapsed around me. On that day, I tried to kill myself. Luckily, I lived. But I wasn’t sure how to feel other than numb.
My suicide attempt was a complete shock to all who knew me. They knew a young woman who had a smile plastered on her face. They knew a person who didn’t complain, get angry, or cry. Not really. They thought they knew a woman who was happy. Maybe a bit frustrated with a few things in her life, but happy. They were wrong. I hadn’t been happy in years, but even I didn’t know that. I had grown so capable of masking my feelings that I lived a numb existence.
Soon after my suicide attempt, I started therapy. One of the first things my therapist and I worked on was helping me learn how to identify my emotions. It wasn’t easy at first, but over time, I found them again. More importantly, I stopped hiding them from anyone. For my own mental health, I made the very conscious decision to be true to myself, to be honest with others in word and emotion. I never wanted to fall into that trap again where I hid everything I felt, even from myself.
Now, that isn’t to say that there aren’t occasions where I keep my mouth shut even though someone has royally pissed me off. Unfortunately, there are situations when you can’t go off on that person who treated you like crap, no matter how badly you want to tell them off. In those times, I find a place where I can vent out all that anger, frustration, and even sadness. I need to get that emotion out.
Sometimes I turn to my husband as my sounding board, other times, a good friend. And, sometimes, I vent to online friends just to let it all out. That’s when I will hear those words again. “Why do you let them upset you in that way? You can’t change them; you can only change how you respond.”
To that person (and all others who have said the same thing), I want you to know why I get upset. It’s because I’m human. When someone treats you like shit, it hurts and sometimes pisses you off. And, guess what, it’s okay to hurt and be upset. I own my emotions now. I let the hurt and anger wash over me by expressing how I feel. I need to do that for the sake of my sanity. I refuse to ever live falsely again. And, you know what else, I changed how I respond. Instead of lashing out at the person (which would have done nothing to help the situation), I went to others to let those feelings out in a healthy way.
We all need to express ourselves and our emotions. It’s not healthy to hide them. There may be a moment when you have to bite your tongue or hold back tears, but that’s okay provided you find a time and place to get them out. But, please, please never hold back. Don’t listen to those who say you should feel a certain way. You need to be true to you. If you aren’t, then who are you?
It took me years to find my way again, but I am who I am. I don’t ever plan to hide from myself again.