Mirror mirror on the wall tell me what hides behind these faces.
News of suicide, relationships falling apart , murders and deadly diseases come to slap me in the face. One says : “But I have known this person for so long and they seemed fine”. Men and women in passive mode or in fight mode, what is going on? I will tell you, come closer as it is taboo, I will whisper: Mental and nervous break-downs.
We are a species with complex emotions leading to a complex chain of behaviours and relationships. However, we know so little about this complex system and we learn so little about it. It is no surprise but emotions are not generated in the heart, are they? They are produced in the brain. Emotions are a way of thinking and being emotional does not mean that you are not thinking at all.
Before language has developed, when we are still few hours old, we communicate through emotions. We cry and we get excited. It is our first tool of communication with the outside world. Emotions impact our muscle tone, our posture and our movement and thus allow us to communicate a thought and a need to other people.
Few of us had the chance to grow up with adults strongly aware of their emotions who helped us understand it and deal with it. Most of us on the other hand, have lived their early years fighting sadness, fighting tears and holding in anger and grief.
“I fell down” a child says to me. So I ask them back “and did you feel pain? Did you cry?”
And they answer “No! Of course not! I am tough enough”. So I answer back “Oh crying has nothing to do with weakness. Crying is good when you are in pain”.
But this loop was established at the dawn of times. Hiding feelings has been taught to all humans in all societies through history. Boys have been taught to ignore their feelings and to “look tough” to “man up”. Girls have been told that unleashing desires is bad, really bad and that speaking up their mind means they are not “polite enough and they are not being respectful”. Boys and girls grow up and become men and women in relationships and you wonder why men are not in touch with their feelings and why women are too reserved yet strict or boring. Relationships fall apart in couples, in families and in workplaces. Few express themselves and few understand what is really going on inside of them.
Knowing how you feel, and really understanding the reason behind it and how to live with it is a lost skill.
So seek and destroy mode is on.
Seek a feeling and when you find it, avoid it, ignore it, deny it and oppress it. Life is good, don’t “nag and whine”. Then become angry, get frustrated with every single detail and hate people around you. Reject love and attack. Kill.
Instead of being taught how to understand and perceive emotions we have been told to substitute those with socially appropriate feelings, out of fear of rejection. So when you are in love, you deny it out of fear of failure and you try to look indifferent and cool. When you are nervous or scared you deny it as you don’t want to look weak so you say that everything is under control. When you are sad and especially when you are angry you say that you are sick or tired.
If you are with someone you trust, it is OK to tell them that you are not OK. Trust me, no one can guess your deep thoughts and emotions. For some people I know, making them talk about the real issue is a challenge. They would keep denying that they have a problem with something for months and they end up melting down under the heavy weight of unspoken or unresolved conflicts and sometimes they feel so lonely and not supported that they commit risky acts towards themselves or towards others. Sometimes, pain is so silent that the person itself is not even aware of it. It crawls slowly at night, under their sheets and it goes in their guts. They stop sleeping and eating and they start developing physical symptoms like inflammations and auto immune diseases. This is how the nervous system tells you that your brain is not going well and that you have to STOP and start listening to it.
I would suggest you start listening to yourself. Note your mood changes and your physical symptoms and attempt to relate it to events happening in your life. Connect with people you trust and counsel with professionals. Don’t take this lightly as there is no health without mental health.
If you have a child, know that academics are not enough. Emotional intelligence is the key to a balanced mental health and to healthy relationships. Intelligence quotients do not necessarily guarantee a successful life. Emotional intelligence is the missing piece leading your child into a happy adulthood.
The picture added in this article is a text written by a 17 year old patient of mine during one of our therapy sessions. This adolescent was suffering from severe Obsessive compulsive disorder and severe anxiety disorder along with Asperger’s syndrome. It used to take her minutes to talk but her thoughts were so fast and she was achieving academically. I suggested writing to help her express her emotions.