Monday, February 14, 2011

Get Real

With the divorce rate so high, we are left to search for explanations and speculate on what could be at the bottom of it.  Who doesn’t know someone who is divorced or going through a divorce?  We attend weddings and wonder and hope about the future of the couple.  “‘Til death do us part…”  Are you sure about that?  We all know how it goes:  the sweet couple is happy and excited and can't get enough of each other (the honeymoon period), then reality sets in.  Every day, huh?  You mean you're still here?  I can only be happy and joyful for so long, you know.  Each member of the couple is at least a little scared to be real.  What if she finds out I’m scared?  What if he sees that I really get upset inside when he pays more attention to the TV than to me?  Would he hate me?  Would she leave me?  I better pretend everything is okay.  I better pretend I am still happy with him.  And so it goes. 
You pretend to be who you think you ought to be to please me, and I'll help you with that by pretending that I'm happy with who you pretend to be.  It sounds exhausting, doesn't it?  It's really not much different than telling a little white lie and then telling more and more to keep up with the first one.  You suddenly find yourself in over your head and as if there is no way out.
What would happen, then, if you actually told the truth?  Would the whole thing fall apart?  How will you know?  The answer is simple.  You will only know if you try.  You already know how the pretending works.  Things will not change much while the pretending is still going on.  You can make minor adjustments that make a situation more tolerable, but until the truth is out in the open to discuss and deal with, the relationship will remain pretty much the same.
Why is it we are taught to pretend?  What's wrong with the truth anyway?  So what if I'm scared?  So I am.  Is there really a problem with that?  Somehow our culture has deemed that the most acceptable emotions are happiness and joy, and that fear, anger and sadness indicate weakness.  It seems that the popular belief is that self-confident, strong people don’t feel “negative” emotions.  Instead, they “toughen up” and smile through it.  They are considered by many to be strong if they are unaffected by petty emotions.
It’s important to differentiate between being strong and being phony.  It takes courage to actually admit that you are no better than anyone else and that, you, too have feelings that can be hurt.  Fear, sadness and anger are all healthy emotions under the appropriate circumstances.  Each of them helps to protect us.  When someone is hurting us, we may be angry.  Good.  We should be.  Then we alter our behavior to stop the hurt.  When we are grieving a loss, we may be sad.  Allowing ourselves to feel the sadness is healthier than potentially lashing out later because we have stuffed the feelings.   It takes strength to look our emotions in the face and handle them in a responsible manner.  It is phony to pretend we don’t have them.
Being aware of our emotions and dealing with them in a responsible way is how we take care of ourselves.  It is liberating to feel able and willing to express whatever true emotions we are actually feeling.  Sometimes taking care of ourselves appears selfish because someone else’s feelings may be hurt by the truth.  It’s important to take others’ feelings into consideration, but truly, we are supposed to take care of ourselves.  It is our job as a human being.  It is being responsible.  No one else can do this for us, for they do not know what we need as we ourselves do.  We know how we feel when someone else does x, y, or z.  We know we feel sad or mad.  If we do not respond to these emotions, they are left unresolved and only add to an exaggerated feeling the next time x, y, or z occurs.  This is unfair to the other person, who is left to guess how we are feeling and why we have overreacted. 
The misconception is that we might hurt someone else’s feelings by having our own, so we pretend we don’t have them and try to move on anyway.  Then comes the part where we get fed up.  However, if the truth is shared, we can attempt to come to a middle ground with each of our truths.  In actuality, both people are able to grow and live fuller lives when faced with the truth. The better we take care of ourselves, the more energy we have available to help take care of others.  If we keep pretending, no one can stop us, even if they try.  We have to be willing to be real.  It is liberating and it turns out we have more energy and love to share with others when we feel better ourselves.

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