I read a timely article this week from tinybuddha.com called “Why I’ve Stopped Hiding My Struggles.” The author, Will Aylward, explains that society has taught us that showing signs of weakness is a bad thing – it means we’ve failed – so we learn to hide our struggles as we age. But in the end he goes on to explain that taking the mask off and being vulnerable with our own struggles can lead us to getting the help we need, and even encouraging others to share their stories in order to receive the support and love they deserve.
I guess you could say this blog is about taking off my mask.
Growing up in my family, we did not talk about our struggles. We put on a happy face and swept our emotions under the rug. I even have a name for it – “The Lyman Sweep”. I was raised to believe that any emotion other than happy was unacceptable because no one wanted to be around an angry, sad or frustrated kid. Temper tantrums, especially in public, were taboo and when they happened in the privacy of my own home, I was sent to my room to “sort myself out” until I could “come out when I was over it.”
My parents did the absolute best they could. As kids, they weren’t allowed to show their emotions either, so this is what they also instilled in me. I was the most polite kid because of this, and all the adults in my life simply reaffirmed that you don’t show your struggles because they always told me I was such a great kid.
So what did I do when I didn’t feel happy? I stuffed it down … and in turn developed an internal voice I call my “Judge”.
According to the Internal Family System (IFS) Therapy Model developed by psychologist Richard Schwartz, problematic emotions and desires really come from parts of us, sometimes called “subpersonalities”. They are like little people inside of us that are created to protect us from feeling pain. For example, let’s say Johnny brings home a test with a B+ grade. He’s excited that he’s done so well and shows his dad, who in turn says, “why didn’t you get an A?” Johnny senses his father’s disappointment and feels like a failure. A little “part” of Johnny’s psyche is created in that moment to never disappoint his father again. This “perfectionist” personality will push Johnny in all aspects of his life so he never has to feel the pain of failure again. Basically, these parts are created to protect us from feeling the pain from our childhood.
My “Judge” was developed to keep me from feeling any emotion other than happy. In order to get my parent’s approval, I needed to keep all the other emotions at bay. So when those negative feelings came up, I would hear my judge say, “Stop it. I’m stupid to think that way. I will not be loved if I show that emotion.” Harsh, but effective.
Even though I have spent many years working on separating my “Judge” from my witness – my true-self or the one that hears the Judge’s voice – I still find it hard to show emotions other than happiness. As the Judge tries to keep me in check and not show emotions, I end up putting on a happy face in public while suffering in private. My service in life is to help others and that’s hard to do when you have a hard time helping yourself. It’s like the shoemaker whose kids have no shoes. It’s easy to give advice, but hard to take it yourself.
I was reminded of this when a belief I have about my future reared its ugly head this week and my Judge jumped right in and started yelling. Instead of just dealing with the sadness of my belief, I was also bombarded with negative statements like “I told you so”, and “you’re so stupid to think otherwise” from my Judge. I was immediately drawn in and went for the emotional ride. Tears, sobbing, yelling out loud – it all happened.
And then I realized these were just thoughts and that I was just thinking again. These thoughts were not me. I was the person hearing the thoughts.
I woke up.
The practice of mindfulness is not keeping your mind quiet and learning how to be Zen at all times. The practice is recognizing when you are caught in a thought and gently, with kindness, drawing your awareness back to the present moment. A little space is created where you can choose your reaction and this in turn creates a little freedom to shift your internal state to a more peaceful and calm place.
There isn’t a day that I don’t struggle with my Judge. She’s with me all the time. But I’m grateful because having her there gives me a lot of opportunities to practice being awake to the hear and now – to the reality of life. Next week I’ll share how I use meditation and mindfulness to have tea with my demons in order to continue on my personal healing journey.
If you struggle silently with your own inner Judge, let’s talk. No one should struggle alone and I would love to support you on your own personal journey. Schedule your free breakthrough call with me by going to thepathtoserenity.com/apply.