Why do we feel the need to hide our struggles and present ourselves as having our shit together? Why do any of us feel the need to appear more put together than we really are?
We are emotional creatures, and we were born to express emotions freely and openly. But somewhere along the way, many of us learned to repress our emotions in order to fit in, earn love, or to be accepted. We hide our struggles because we learned throughout childhood and adulthood that showing signs of struggle is a bad or uncomfortable thing.
As infants and toddlers, we didn’t hesitate to show signs of struggle. When we were tired, hungry, upset, or blew out our diapers 💩, we cried or threw tantrums to communicate that we needed help. As young children in school, we raised our hands and asked for help from our teachers if we didn’t understand something.
But at some point while growing up, we become conditioned to stop asking for help and we start to hide our struggles. We stop raising our hands in class because we’re told we ask too many questions. We stop asking our parents for help because they told us to figure it out for ourselves. Increased expectations from our family, friends, employers, and even ourselves feels like mounting pressure. We’re so afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing that we paralyze ourselves and do nothing. We fear that negative response of not receiving help when we need it or our feelings being dismissed.
I grew up in a home where the motto was “Children are to be seen, not heard.” There was little emotional expression tolerated, let alone accepted. No one validated or helped me process difficult emotions in a healthy way. Anger was met with anger, fear went unacknowledged, and there was plenty of shame to go around. My parents didn’t model how to deal with difficult emotions, as they seemed to struggle with that themselves. When those emotions surfaced, I felt ashamed of my failure to be a “good girl.” Trying to hide the pain from others and myself, I built walls, put on masks, and soldiered on.
The truth is, we all hide our emotions occasionally. We pretend, avoid, and deny uncomfortable emotions as a defense mechanism. We do this most often with difficult emotions like guilt, shame, fear, or anger. When we experience events that emotionally overwhelm us and we’re unable to process what is happening, we hide them deep inside us where others can’t see them. And we end up hiding them from ourselves too. Yet, they’re still there. These unresolved emotions get trapped in our body where they build and fester. They drain our energy, which leads to burnout, and we become emotionally imbalanced. They undermine our overall wellbeing.
No matter what our struggles are, there are people who can and want to help. When we share our struggles with those around us, we give them permission to voice their struggles too. We may never know just how life changing that permission may be to someone. They may be feeling alone, overwhelmed, or even at the end of their rope, and we can help by giving them an opportunity to receive our understanding and support. The moment we make ourselves vulnerable, we give others permission to do the same.
The bottom line is, we’re human. We’re all imperfect and we all struggle. No one has their shit together all the time. No one has a perfect life and no one feels happy, confident, and positive all the time. Struggling is a normal part of life. We have to feel it to heal it.