“You use your strength to separate yourself from everyone, but it’s thrilling when your defences are down.”
This is a line said by Harry (Jack Nicholson) to Erica (Diane Keaton) in the film “Something’s gotta give.” I am not writing a film review, but I watched it because having never heard of it before it came into my view twice in 12 hours – firstly, it was mentioned at dinner with friends and then the next day I wondered into a charity shop so see if I could find a film to watch and there it was standing out among the DVD’s on display. I felt I was being guided to watch it and so I bought it.
It came under the guise of a romantic comedy, about two people, who in their own way had shut down the idea of the possibility of a deep love and connection, both for different reasons. They were thrown into the path of each other and despite a tricky start they fell quickly and deeply in love. However, fear came up and one of them pulls back. I won’t say too much in case you want to watch it. It is funny and touching and I waited to see what it had to offer me.
On one hand it is obvious, I am terrified of giving myself to love and I struggle to receive love. I am very suspicious of someone saying they love me, because love has meant departure, manipulation, feeling used, disappointment, confusion and pain. In truth none of that IS love. I know this intellectually and I have a small feeling deep down there is something much more special that is truly love, but my emotional wounds, my parent’s/ environment version of love, like many of us, was wrong, is wrong and now I am attempting to understand what love is, but I am scared. Scared by previous experiences and my emotional knowledge of love. Yet to keep saying this is also an excuse and an addiction and re-educating myself about love is within my own power and choice.
Then on the other hand is this issue of strength. When this line was said it struck me – it was me. I use my “strength” to separate myself from everyone. I have noticed that I call my mother the bounce back queen. Despite all her own lack of self love, the damage she has done to herself and to others, how she has treated her body, she still survives, she still keeps going. She has a chronic illness- temporal arthritis which requires horrible medication, including lots of steroids. Because of this her bones are fragile and the smallest fall she breaks a bone. This year she fell and smashed 6 ribs, had a metal plate put in to fix them. She was home within 3 days. Last week, she discovered she had 2 fractures in her neck, that had gone undetected for a week and she still got on a plane to Spain for a week. Many will read this and think, wow she is strong. But is it being strong or is it being self-reliant and avoiding her vulnerability?
Last week at work, someone asked me some questions about myself, which I answered honestly and their comment was, “you are one strong lady.” It was said in a way, that I should be proud of myself, proud of my strength. It has been said to me before a number of times. But right now I don’t want to be strong. What does it really mean? I am addicted to it. I am addicted to “being strong:” to surviving through many things, to getting back up, to pushing on, to keep going. I am addicted it, but I am sick of it because it is as Harry says my strength has become the space I use to stay separate, to avoid relationships, to avoid love, and to avoid feeling. It also involves appalling self care at times because I ignore so much of my pain.
I can feel the damage it is doing to me, emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have pain in some part of my body daily and I don’t take analgesia. I haven’t for long time and I used to consider myself to have a high pain threshold. I do, but this is not a good thing, this is shut down of feelings. And there are many of you out there who do the same thing.
There is no judgement is this because we live in society, that celebrates this kind of strength, this way of coping. I am English and we have had a long tradition of stoicism, that “stiff upper lip” nonsense: “chin up!” In other words, pretend it doesn’t hurt, don’t be emotional, just grin and bear it. The words that aren’t said here are “don’t be emotional because that will trigger all my emotions which will make me and everyone else around me upset and we don’t want to be upset because we don’t want to feel our emotions either. Avoidance, facade and all of us meeting each other’s emotional addictions.
What I feel now, is that this is incredibly sad. It is incredibly sad that we are so locked up, that I am, because when I lock up my negative emotions I also lock up my positive ones. So I can not experience my joy and happiness as I should. It is the way our soul works – suppress one emotion and we suppress another and it builds up to the state of numbness and de-tunement many of us live in.
I am not happy being like this and I am sick of being “strong.” It means I am overly self-reliant and I don’t let others in and I don’t let them help me. Then I feel alone and then I feel upset and angry that no on will care for me: a vicious cycle. Compassionately, I have reasons why I became “strong:” it was a survival technique and in fact I was taught to be this way, to support my mother and to care for my brothers and I certainly wasn’t encouraged, like many, to feel or acknowledge my own needs. I may be “strong” to the world as it currently is, but the truth is I am weak in knowing myself, and allowing myself the real strength and courage to feel all of my emotions.
There is small part of me that wants to be vulnerable and the times I have allowed that have been the most amazing times and I have felt almost beautiful. After the crying, we often feel more peaceful, especially when it is a causal emotion. I long for that peace and yet I must have a greater desire not to feel at the moment, to hold on and if I really want to progress more quickly something’s gotta give.
Being vulnerable is something I don’t emotionally understand properly. I feel inside it is weakness, as many do. Most of freak out when too much emotion hits the room. We can cope with a bit, but if it goes on too long, either with ourselves or others we judge it, we get fidgity, distract ourselves, talk ourselves out of it, eat ourselves out of it, drink ourselves out it; anything to lessen the “drama” of a roomful of emotions.
But emotions are E – motions. They are meant to move in and out, like a river. Often, instead , they sit in us like a rock and despite on some level we feel the weight of stuck emotions we have become experts in pretending they are not there. It is similar to being very overweight, we keep buying bigger clothes, bigger chairs and bed, put elastic in our belts so we don’t have feel too uncomfortable and aware of that extra flesh.
Being vulnerable would be to put on those trousers we can’t fit into, feel how uncomfortable they are now, walk out in them, feel exposed and allow all the feelings of that to come. So for me this acts as a key to accessing my vulnerability – getting out my comfort zone.
In November I did a four day workshop called Solo Autobiographical theatre. I had 4 days of being outside my comfort and it was transforming in the sense that I faced fears, didn’t live in them, felt emotions, felt exposed and at the end felt empowered discovering bits of myself I hadn’t before. So now I am signed up for 2 terms of this and I keep looking for ways to get out of my comfort zone. Actually, I think I will call it my addiction zone, because I would say most, if not all, of my so-called comfort zone is full of emotional and physical addictions. It is pretend safe zone, but truly an avoidance zone and the truth is, the reality is this addiction zone may give me some sense of gratification, but it has not brought me real happiness, love or joy. So, on an experimental basis I would say that experiment has failed and it is time for new experiment. No real love in our life is no real life at all: it is living life in the greyscale, instead of vibrant colour.
I have so much to learn about vulnerability and blocks to work through to allow it more in myself. Then I feel, I will also learn more about being strong in the true sense, strong enough, courageous enough to feel, to feel my emotions, to feel my Self and awaken all my senses, and start waking up to truly living again. It is in there, because God made us that way. She didn’t create robots after all, she created living, breathing, dancing, singing, creating, thinking and most of all, uniquely of all, emotional beings: all that makes us human.
The ability, the desire to feel all of our emotions all of the time is humility. Humility allows vulnerability to be present and allows us to move those negative emotions out of us and let in the new, more joyful ones in. Our current definition of strong for me is rigidity and denial: a painful holding on: the inhale. Vulnerability is softening, allowing, surrender: the doorway to more truth, joy and freedom: the exhale. Sighing…
“You’ve got to learn how to fall, before you can learn how to fly.” (from the film).
@Maxine Bell 2017