I was telling a female friend of mine recently about a realisation I'd come to regarding the single biggest mistake of my life. The one that had caused me more pain and grief than anything else.
The biggest mistake I ever made was taking on a false belief. An idea, the consequences of which were enormous. It fundamentally changed how I behaved around other people, leading me to suppress and alter my whole concept of who I was. This one belief and it's consequences led me to end up hating myself and thinking there was something wrong with me.
It's an idea that I took on so early in my childhood that I can't even remember when I decided to believe in it. Although I borrowed this idea from the people closest to me while growing up, it was still my choice to adopt it in my own life; something I now regret.
So what was the faulty idea behind the biggest mistake of my life?
Deciding that for other people to love and accept me, I had to keep my feelings to myself.
No single choice has had a bigger impact on my life than this one. No other flawed belief has limited me as much as this has. It's an evil and insidious idea because in reality, the exact opposite is true.
We give people the opportunity to love us more deeply when we share our feelings with them.
Emotions are what draw people together. They reveal what's going on inside us more deeply, and give other people something deeper to connect to. We live in an society that values analytical intelligence more highly than emotional intelligence, and downplays the importance of feelings to the point where we can become ashamed of the mere fact that we have them.
Deciding that I had to keep my feelings to myself meant bottling up a core part of who I am and learning to suppress my emotions. Habitual suppression leads to repression not just of our feelings, but of our real personality. I became ashamed of the full spectrum of feelings both pleasant and unpleasant: anger, sadness, fear, jealousy, joy, excitement, love, lust, peace, shame; I've been ashamed of them all. Whenever I felt one of these emotions, I would either push it down or laugh it off. Either way, it was a defence mechanism to avoid showing how I truly felt to other people.
The big problem with making this choice as a child is that I learned to suppress my natural mechanism for emotional healing. Children are awash with emotion constantly; their moods swing up and down all over the place. They naturally and freely express how they feel in any given moment until some adult, uncomfortable with their own feelings being triggered by the child, teaches them to start suppressing. Adolescence adds sexual feelings and bubbling hormones to the mix, cranking things up even more.
If all goes well, our emotions start to settle down as we mature and the mood swings we experience as adults are dramatically lessened because we've been able to release the emotional energy we felt during childhood and adolescence. But if we take on the idea that we have to keep our feelings suppressed, the opposite happens: we don't mature and either the mood swings continue internally, or we numb out because the accumulated pain becomes overwhelming. Our life then ends up ruled by anxiety and/or depression as adults.
Keeping our feelings to ourselves also leads to shallow relationships. The more I share how I really feel in the moment, and tackle the feelings of shame that still arise from time to time, the more positively I see other people responding to me. Several women recently have spontaneously wrapped their arms around me or told me that they loved me in response to my sharing how I truly felt about one of life's challenges I was facing.
Not everyone likes the new me. A lot of people habitually suppress their feelings and jealousy can arise when we encounter people who are more freely expressed than us. Sharing how we feel means being vulnerable to feelings of rejection that can raise our anxiety, especially around people who aren't comfortable with our feelings because they're so uncomfortable with their own. Rather than suppress myself, I aim to avoid other emotionally shut-down people now so there's less chance of rejection or criticism when I express how I'm truly feeling.
If you want better relationships and greater confidence, undoing this mistake by learning how to share your emotions constructively is key. To learn how to do this, see Section 2: Mastering Your Emotions in Confident Man.