There is a common social misconception that experiencing negative emotions means you are doing, or have done, something wrong. Until we clear this up, I believe we’re all doomed to cover up our authentic feelings with sugar-coated fake emotions, shame, or other unnecessary things… What if we all just agreed that we’re humans and sometimes shit happens? And…What if (I know it’s kind of hippie-ish, but bear with me) it’s OKAY to not always smile and bear it.
The following is a true story.
My childhood was altered one humid day in what I imagine to have been around March of 1992. The powers that be (i.e. the grownups) surely had my best interest at heart, and could only see the bigger picture of turning their kids into perfect Stepford Children who would thrive as perfect Stepford Adults.
On this day, which began like any other, I was unexpectedly called away from my desk in Mrs.Pollardo’s fifth grade class. I was sent outside to speak with Brindy, a perky blonde girl. The most conventionally pretty girl in class, and, as such, the most popular. We had literally never spoken more than a sentence to one another, in spite of spending the entire year in the same room.
Brindy reached her arm out, maternally, and led me toward the play yard. We walked in a slow rectangle, following the shape of the blacktop.
“Sometimes, I feel sad,” Brindy told me, as if it were a big secret. You know, it sort of was, though. I don’t know if we’re socially aware enough, at age 10, to know that all people feel pain sometimes, even those who seem to live the “ideal” life. Frankly, I have a hard time believing most adults are socially aware of that.
At any rate, I nodded at Brindy’s confession, and she continued. “My grandma died a year ago, and I cried for a really long time. For weeks.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to offer my empathy.
She went on: “Sometimes things happen…that are sad.” She gave me a long look as if to judge whether I was receiving any benefit from our talk, and she finally added: “But you have to let go and not cry about everything.”
The purpose of the talk was not lost on me.
I was easily the most sensitive child in class, though, frankly, not remotely as sensitive as I am today, as a woman of 29. But almost two decades ago, yes, I did experience a lot of emotions, and I wasn’t shy about showing them. I wasn’t depressed or moody, but yeah, if someone hit me on the playground, I was inclined to cry. Is that weird? I’d cry at 29 if someone hit me the way I got beat up on at that school.
Anyways, the point was well-taken. I immediately changed my tune. But, in spite of my best efforts, I have constantly been labeled as dramatic and over-emotional. And I’m not a fan of these labels. It’s a peculiar label as I have the tendency to be “fine” all the time and keep things to myself whenever possible. But as I’ve opened up in the last few years, I can’t help but peering over my shoulder for blonde, perfect, Brindy to tell me that the things that have made me experience a lot of emotions recently are past, and it’s time to “STFU.” She hasn’t shown up, but there have been several other Stepfords there to tell me of my fatal errors.
Now, there is a very fine line. Frankly, I have seen people who could use a talk from a perky Stepford. People who always function as a “falling rock” zone—you know that you better watch for falling drama around them. And I’ve learned, from the trenches of one of the first times in my life where I stopped trying to live up to Stepford expectations, that sometimes we need to let the rocks falls around us, and hope that our friends will grab a thick umbrella, and reach out when we need them. Sometimes things suck and it should be okay to acknowledge that and feel however you need to without being labeled as a mess.
When I see falling rocks around my friends, I make it a point to never say, “oh there he goes again. That John and his drama.” Or, “Oh, Stacy, you’re in a bad mood? What ELSE is new? You always seem to be in a bad mood.”
You never really know what someone else is dealing with. So save the private walk/talk around the blacktop, or the adult-world equivalent. Instead, try a heartfelt, “I’m sorry- that must be difficult.” And mean it. ’Cause at the end of the day, even Brindy probably turned out to an awkward teenager, and I bet if we found her today, we’d see that she’s dropped the perfection act.