Your Feelings are Valid

May 5, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has been shaking things up a lot in our world. And yes, I’m one of those who believes that a new (and better) world will eventually rise from the post-coronavirus ashes. Call me a dreamer. Yet, during these weeks of self-isolation, I’ve noticed how a lot of people around me as well as my friends have slowed down, taken a deep breath, and reflected on not just the world around them and what is happening, but also their own life, experiences, and thoughts.

I’ve had many deep and nourishing conversations with a few friends who have opened up to me about their mental health and any struggles they are (or have been) going through. Firstly, I want to say thank you for sharing, and I’m so grateful that they can feel safe in opening up to me and sharing so personal thoughts and experiences with me – I have so much respect for that. I know how hard and scary that can be to say the least.

But that is why I want this blog to be a part of breaking the stigma around mental health, and creating a safe space free from judgement to share what I’ve learned the hard way. Which brings me to pointing out the elephant in the room.

Why is it so difficult to open up and talk about your own struggles?

The Covid-19 pandemic has been shaking things up a lot in our world. And yes, I’m one of those who believes that a new (and better) world will eventually rise from the post-coronavirus ashes. Call me a dreamer. Yet, during these weeks of self-isolation, I’ve noticed how a lot of people around me as well as my friends have slowed down, taken a deep breath, and reflected on not just the world around them and what is happening, but also their own life, experiences, and thoughts.

I’ve had many deep and nourishing conversations with a few friends who have opened up to me about their mental health and any struggles they are (or have been) going through. Firstly, I want to say thank you for sharing, and I’m so grateful that they can feel safe in opening up to me and sharing so personal thoughts and experiences with me – I have so much respect for that. I know how hard and scary that can be to say the least.

But that is why I want this blog to be a part of breaking the stigma around mental health, and creating a safe space free from judgement to share what I’ve learned the hard way. Which brings me to pointing out the elephant in the room.

Why is it so difficult to open up and talk about your own struggles?

There are several reasons for why it is difficult for some more than others to open up and talk about their mental health. Still to this day there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, which can make some feel ashamed or unable to speak up about their personal situation. However, culture and gender may play a role, but also the environment you grow up in can significantly affect how you deal with mental health. For example, how mental health was discussed (or not discussed) in your family, how your parents or caregivers handled emotions (their own and yours), as well as whether you felt safe, seen and heard when you voiced your own feelings will to some extent block or aid you in opening up, seeking help, and healing.

For example, if you grew up in an environment where expressing feelings was quickly brushed away, criticised, denied, or blatantly ignored, it can leave you feeling inferior and meaningless. Opening up to someone who only criticises you for how you feel, will make you think your feelings are invalid, that you are a burden for feeling the way you do, and that essentially you are worthless. In the list below, are some examples of what someone could say, if they are denying your feelings. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • “You are so ungrateful – look around you, look at everything you have”
  • “We have provided you with everything you possibly could want and need – yet you’re still unhappy”
  • “You are never interested in anything – what’s wrong with you”
  • “Life doesn’t have to be so serious”
  • “Just be happy”
  • “You are too sensitive”
  • “It’s just part of life”

From my personal experience, I quickly learned that expressing “negative” feelings (those of sadness, depression, or anxiety) equated to me being ungrateful, a burden, or too sensitive. Naturally, I felt unsafe, or unwelcome, to continue opening up so I began to bottle everything up, because I didn’t know how to deal with it on my own. In my mind, the way I felt was wrong, like I had no right to feel the way I did, because I am aware of the several privileges in my life. However, this thought process only prolonged my healing process, because of the immense guilt and shame I was experiencing. I tried counting my blessings and practicing gratitude to try and make myself think more positively. Though, since then I’ve learned that this is called emotional bypassing, which is essentially kicking sand over your thoughts and feelings, and thus an unproductive habit. Doing so will only delay you from facing and dealing with your thoughts and (emotional) traumas.

If you’re someone who is going through a rough patch, recognising the following have at least helped me along my journey. I hope they may be of some guidance to you, too.

1. Most importantly, let me assure you that your feelings are valid. Acknowledge them, and don’t shove them to the side, because this will only come back to bite you in the butt – take it from someone who has done this time and time again.

2. Mental health doesn’t pick and choose who it will impact based on what privileges you may have or not have in your life. We are all human, and we all have thoughts, feelings and emotions, and when these grow out of control it will impact our mental health as a consequence.

3. The burden of emotional trauma is passed down from generation to the next and will impact each individual differently, which will then be reflected in their behaviour, reactions, and the words they use. As we become self-aware and realise how the people around us may have betrayed or treated us wrong, it’s easy to be angry and point fingers to blame your parents, or whoever, that they are the reason you are the way you are.

Whilst there may be some truth in that, your parents, for example, are only modelling the behaviour they were modelled by your grandparents, who again model what they took to be “appropriate” behaviour by their parents. Try to be understanding towards the idea, that your parents have also gone through their fair share of difficulties and traumas, and they may be carrying a lot of unprocessed emotional baggage.

You can be the one to draw the conclusion to the generational trauma by “waking up” to it. You can make the decision to become self-aware of the issues and traumas that have been unconsciously passed down or which you’ve experienced in your life. Take the reins, and decide who you want to be going forward, how do you want to feel, or what kind of parent you want to be for your children. You have the power to choose and change.

4. Surround yourself with people who make space for you, who really listen to your true feelings and thoughts, and who don’t hesitantly try to move past the subject. For some it can be uncomfortable to hear someone opening up, but that isn’t a reflection on you or whether your feelings are valid or not. Also, consider talking to a professional as they are equipped with a lot of productive ways for dealing with what you are going through. There is no shame in seeking therapy.

5. Practice self-compassion! Let me write it once more so that it sinks in: practice self-compassion. Along my journey, I’ve sometimes felt like I am falling back into the dark hole I sat in for many years. I’ve felt angry at myself purely out of the fear of reverting back to my old ways. It wasn’t until recently, a friend told me to be more compassionate towards myself and recognise the progress I have already made and to not judge and shame myself, if I have a rough day. Your healing journey won’t be a constant line upwards, because you will have ups and downs, where some days you feel horrible. It will be messy, but the important thing is to be kind to yourself and have patience.

I hope I just didn’t word vomit on you. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep my thoughts together, because I get so passionate about this topic. But, if you take anything from this post, let it be that your feelings are valid! Let yourself feel, and we all have a mental health that needs our love, nurture, and craves to be heard. Especially during the times we are living in now. So, reach out to friends, talk, and share what you’re going through. You’d be surprised how many people around you are also struggling silently. Let’s talk and, more importantly, let’s listen!

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