I have grown up not trusting my emotions. Because they seem to have a mind of their own. They can even betray you. They can cause deep pain and suffering. They must be managed. At times, kept at bay. Sometimes just plain ignored. Because they have this tendency to not behave properly. They speak up at all the wrong times and say all the wrong things. The stronger the emotion, the greater the risk. The more you care, the more you can be hurt.
I learned this at a young age. I’ve always had pretty strong emotional responses, but there was this one time…one time where my response was so strong it was humiliating, and my shame so severe, that I ended up changing my whole strategy from then on out.
I was in fifth grade and my flag football team for PE was playing in the semi-finals. There weren’t enough teachers to ref every game, so we were left to sort it out ourselves. And then the other team started to cheat. Every ruling went their way. Every protest we made was ignored. Over and over. In was enraging. I could feel the frustration and anger boiling inside of my ten-year-old body, ready to explode.
When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I walked off the field to find my teacher. By the time I found him, I was fuming to the point where I could hardly speak. I was flooded. And as I tried to describe what had happened and to make my protest, the emotion took over. My emotions grabbed the wheel and started to drive. And instead of strongly pleading my case, I started to sob. I was humiliated.
I can still picture it so clearly. I was falling apart in front of my teacher and a bunch of other students, and I felt such shame. At 10, I was sure that I was way too old to be crying over a stupid football game. The pain of the embarrassment completely overshadowed the frustration and anger of the cheating and bullying. I remember thinking, “I will never let this happen again.”
And from then on, I just made myself care less. When that strong desire for something would rise in me, I would talk myself down. When I would compete, I would remain within that comfortable range where my limits weren’t tested, where my heart wouldn’t be exposed, and where I wouldn’t suffer the pain of defeat.
I still catch myself managing my emotions in this way, attempting to detach in order to protect my heart. It happens when I try something new. When I apply for something that really excites me. When I share something deeply personal. When I give it my whole heart.
And yet still, something in me cannot help but try as hard as I can; to swing for the fence. Because, I don’t want to live my life pacifying my inner longing by detaching from hope. I know I am capable of more. I long for the courage to risk it all, to even fall apart. To allow my emotion to be fully seen, even when it feels too strong or disproportionate. To go for it with passion, even if I might fail.
Because a safe and comfortable life is boring. It is anesthetized. To safely avoid the lows, we must also avoid the highs. We flat line.
So recently I’ve been changing my strategy. I’ve been trying to put it out there more. And it feels risky and vulnerable. It takes more courage. But it also yields an unlooked-for outcome. Growth. And the satisfaction that comes from trying as hard as you can brings a unique level of contentment. It isn’t sentimental comfortability, it is satisfying exhaustion. It comes from living fully from the heart.
So I’m doing some reparenting of that 10 year old out there on the field. I want to tell that kid it’s okay to feel all of it. And that those guys really did suck for what they did. And not to be ashamed of all that passion. To redirect it towards living fully and abundantly and giving it everything you’ve got. And sometimes it’ll go your way, and it will be sweet. And sometimes it won’t. And when it doesn’t, don’t hide it or brush it off. Feel it all. And use it to get back in the game.