Swallowing it, pushing it down, pretending it’s all okay—we all do it, and we need to stop.
We tell ourselves we’re just being nice or it’s not important, so we let it go.
But really, this pain is filed away somewhere on the inside, shoved into a box with all the other things that hurt but that we pretended didn’t.
Millions of Band-Aids on millions of cuts, some big ones and many small ones cover our emotional wounds. How many times did you swallow down what you wanted to say, afraid of rocking the boat or not being liked?
I cannot count the number of times I swallowed what I wanted to say, a brief flash of hurt before shoving it into a box and pretending it didn’t bother me. Or, forgiving the offending party easily, knowing they didn’t mean it, or justifying why I deserved it, and even allowing myself to believe it.
I think about all the times I let myself be a second choice, a dumping ground, to be used, abused, and taken advantage of. A pretty bandage could mean it was fine. I’m fine. It’s fine. I would repeat that over and over again until I believed it.
But there are only so many cuts we can get before we are sliced too deeply, before the pain engulfs us. There are only so many times we can swallow our truth until it all comes out and comes back up. And it rarely surfaces as hurt; instead, it turns toxic, malignant, showing up as frustration, anger, and animosity.
Our feelings are supposed to be felt, but we live in a world where we are conditioned to be a certain way by our families, society, schools, communities, and peers. It’s easier to feel anger than it is to feel hurt. Hurt makes us feel weak, vulnerable, and scared. These are emotions we are taught to fear.
My father once told me not to show a boy in the 5th grade that he was hurting my feelings. He was snapping my bra strap and making fun of my breasts—the first girl to get them in our class. Instead of him being taught not to terrorize girls, I was taught not to show my emotions.
This wasn’t the first time. I was reminded that “big girls don’t cry,” and, as I got older, that I was told I was being “hysterical” or “out of control.” We are conditioned to feel a certain way, to shove our emotions down, to not show weakness or vulnerability. We aren’t taken seriously when we allow ourselves to show emotion.
Boys are taught to man up and girls are taught to stuff it down: don’t let it bother you, he/she didn’t mean that, they are just angry. We have the enabled, and the enablers.
My mother taught me to let things go and even, “Why did you expect anything different? You know what so-and-so is like.” While she was correct in her assessment of the person, she taught me not to bother standing up for myself. Instead of teaching me to not engage and to remove myself from situations with people that were toxic, I was taught to enable them, to let it go, let them have their way because it was pointless to go up against certain people.
Both my parents only meant well. As an adult who has learned the power of emotions and how to harness them, I can understand they were teaching me how they learned, how to not get hurt and be upset by things that are often out of our control.
But the lessons taught me to shut down and accept others’ poor behavior, to trade my voice for security, to fit in, and to expect to be treated poorly. This cycle would continue well into adulthood, and still rears its ugly head from time to time when I find myself going along with some situation, not rocking the boat, trading my voice for acceptance and approval.
We do that. We trade ourselves, parts of ourselves, our voice, our respect, our wants, needs, and desires, even our dreams for acceptance, because we’ve been taught fitting in and being accepted is far more important than standing alone.
We are taught to change who we are to fit in. Women are taught to be demure and pleasing to catch, and keep, the man. The men are taught to be strong and never show emotion. Life conditions us to be who we are—unless we do something to undo that conditioning.
It was a jaw-dropping revelation to realize that I became whatever people wanted me to be. And that realization changed the trajectory of my life as I began to find my own footing, to ask better questions, to change my perceptions, to step back without just blindly following and doing what made others happy. What did I like? What did I believe in? What did I really want to say? Why am I scared to speak up?
Stepping outside of the situation is key to finding our truth and ourselves. It’s not easy to see how we’ve been conditioned, how we’re going along with other people’s trips, how we silence ourselves and trade parts of ourselves for comfort and fitting in. We fear we might be wrong or think it’s somehow our fault—believing the negative stories we tell ourselves.
It must be me is the most famous line in my head. I love to find ways to blame myself, to keep myself small, to not step out or rock the boat, to keep the peace, to keep everyone else happy…but, as a trade for…what?
Different people, different trades. There isn’t always one answer, but they are rooted in the same conditioning. We learn to give up who we are in exchange for something else. We stuff down our truth and swallow what we want to say. We play small, we give up, we quit, and we dull ourselves to fit in and be accepted and taken care of and loved.
But none of those are true love or acceptance if we have to trade who we are, if we can’t speak our truth because doing so will leave us abandoned or punished.
When we hide, silence our voice, and let others dictate our behavior, the situation turns toxic and comes out in unhealthy ways.
Allow yourself to feel your way through. Feelings are supposed to be felt. They pass once expressed and experienced. Let yourself be you. Let yourself ask the tough questions, have the difficult conversations, and refuse to compromise who you are. Stop trading your truth for temporary approval.
Take a deep breath and find the courage to rip the Band-Aids off, to let the wounds bleed, to feel and heal, to speak your truth, tell your story, and stand up for yourself. While it won’t be easy to overcome your conditioning, your freedom is truly on the other side of it.
Author: Tonya Whittle
Image: Lucas Pimenta/Unsplash
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron