“There are things that wait for us, patiently, in the dark corridors of our lives. We think we have moved on, put them out of our mind, left to desiccate and shrivel and blow away; but we are wrong. They have been waiting there in the darkness, working out, practicing their most vicious blows, their sharp hard thoughtless punches into the gut, killing time until we came back that way.”
— Neil Gaiman
This excerpt is from one of Neil Gaiman’s book: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. It made me pause and think when I read it because it’s terrifyingly true. I think he was referring to how repressed feelings manifest themselves. If I were to describe the surfacing of repressed emotions, I’d use the same expressions: “vicious blows, thoughtless punches into the gut”
In my experience, having to deal with the surfacing of a repressed emotion is arguably the most uncomfortable and disconcerting feeling. Emotional intelligence isn’t basic knowledge and lacking the ability to regulate my emotions caused me to live an unfulfilling life for a while. If it felt bad, painful, embarrassing, shameful, or “not right”, I didn’t want anything to do with it. It was placed permanently at the backburner of my mind, and left to gather force that’d result in an unexpected explosion, so to speak. Sometimes, the repressing act was unconscious.
Its effect was insidious and mostly unknown to me; manifesting in the ways I relate to myself and others while slowing wreaking havoc to my relationships. It took a while for me to realize that some of my behaviors came as a result of not being emotionally healthy.
It happened when I’d act in passive-aggressive ways than exercise my God-given right to be assertive and deal with an issue I had with someone in a responsible way. I’d apply the wrong approach to resolving conflicts, causing me to say and/or do things that’d make me strongly wish time machines were a reality.
It happened when I kept trying so hard to stay self-sufficient and mentally strong till a small act of rejection made me want to crawl under a rock and die.
I came to realize that, alas, I was putting up an act, and it was time to re-examine and admit the truth about how I really felt. But how I became oblivious to this fact in the first place eluded me. In retrospect, I was doing a good (but dangerous) job denying how I felt.
When something I did long ago — something I deem embarrassing and shameful — came into my stream of consciousness, I’d lose my ability to function for the next hour. It’d stop me in my track and play havoc to my mood. Then I’d say to myself, “this happened a long time ago, so why do I still feel strongly about it?” What’s worse was the fear that I may never get over it, and that it’d ruin my chance to be happy in life.
Shame, guilt, and fear were the usual culprits. I never knew how to process these emotions; I didn’t even understand them. These guys knew how to bring me to my knees. Other times, it was anger.
I lacked the ability to regulate my emotions. And for some reasons more powerful than my conscious mind could grasp, repressed feelings made themselves know in a ruthless, unforgiving manner.
It was in unlearning the wrong ideas I had on how to deal with emotions and learning new, healthy ways to manage them that I slowly gained a thoughtful perspective on how to be emotionally healthy. If only I knew that uncomfortable emotions weren’t inherently bad things that needed to be avoided at all cost; they were just signals. Anger, for example, showed me that I didn’t like something or that I needed to pay attention to a situation. So, it isn’t bad. How I felt wasn’t bad; it was what I did that mattered, as long as it was healthy and productive. Basically, my emotions informed me of how I was feeling. What I did with the information was what counted.
So when uncomfortable feelings make their appearance, I pay attention to them (if it’s necessary). I listen to what they have to say, determined not to let them fester only to sucker punch me in the future.