Last week I did post a picture of myself laughing on Instagram. There aren't many pictures likes these captured on camera. There is different reasons for it, often in the last years, it just felt wrong. For quite some time I had the feeling I was not allowed to also have good days even though I was struggling mentally. Sounds crazy, but that's how it was. Now there are moments it feels like I have to laugh away the still existing pain, even after all this time, because I have to "function" again. I already had my fair share of "not functioning". I have, from time to time, started to put on a mask again . But it is not just me and it is not just about being mentally sick or healthy. It is about hiding feelings and ones mental state, about honesty, openness and relationships.
But why is it so hard to show how we really feel and to open up to someone? Of course, I can't speak for everyone here. Some will think, that's nonsense, you can do what ever the f... you want, it's your free decision (maybe not in the work place but at least in your private life).
But for me, it just did not feel like a free choice. Rather, a pressure to chose one of it and hide the other one. There was black or white, sick or healthy, happy or sad. A try to categorize and rationalize non categorizable topics. Even though I advocate for openness I can not always live up to it. And maybe some of you will resonate exactly with this. In one way or another, we all create an image of ourselves on the outside that we find most appropriate in certain situations or that we think others would accept and we want to live up to it, what ever it costs.
Our society still, for most part, demands us to function, to show no weakness and to mask the real us at all costs. To be human is not an acceptable option. Showing emotions is seen as a weakness. Before we strip down our mask we rather withdraw and hide in solitude.
What happens along the way is, we run the risk to lose the connection to us, to our close one and to pay the very high price of severe mental illnesses. My therapist once said something that will stick with me forever "If you never show your real self to anyone who will ever be close to you."
But what prevents us from showing our real self to others?
The answer is very simple yet complicated. It is, like many things, based on fears and self worth issues. Fears of being vulnerable, of getting hurt, of being treated differently, of not being liked, of being rejected and of not being enough. I have asked myself more than once the question: "How can someone ever like me if I don´t even like myself?", so I rather hide.
But as often in cases of fear or dealing with ones inner critic these are not exactly real or the truth. More likely they are constructs in our head, a protective mechanism to avoid possible pain and conflict at all costs. And they are mostly based on past experiences.
Growing up, many of us received the message that our opinions and feelings do not matter. We are forced to hide what´s considered "good" or "bad" feelings or being completely ignored. By doing that we come to the conclusion, who we are and what we feel is wrong or not likable. We adapt to whatever is acceptable to our parents or relationship counterpart. We get the wrong impression hat emotions are controllable or manageable. Until they aren't, if we just ignore them long enough. Then they begin to make themselves heard, either through physical discomfort or psychologically with such force that they actually flow out of us uncontrollably in form of anger, pronounced depression or similar suffering. Then, and only then, is it is acceptable to suffer, to show and to talk about emotions.
It was not uncommon during my recovery and my own opening up about my mental health struggles that people who mostly seemed "fine" on the outside started crumbling and opened up that they are struggling too. When I started to show my vulnerable side the other person would lose their fears too. These relationships started to change tremendously and lead eventually to real intimacy.
So imagine what would happen if everyone would create a safe space for emotions with no judgement involved by opening up. How much would change for the good.
What kind of life would it be without letting anyone ever have a part in who we really are. What kind of relationships do we then have with others and especially with ourselves. Ultimately, all of this only leads to never fully experiencing real intimacy we are all so badly longing for. What we're forgetting is that our blunt, real self is perhaps even more lovable for our close ones than any mask we've ever chosen for ourselves. Do not take this away from you our close ones. It´s worth suffering for real intimacy.