“You need to grow a thicker skin!” “Calm down!” “What are you crying about?” “What’s so funny?” “Don’t get hysterical!” “What are you so worried about?” “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” “You think too much!”
I have heard all of these things told to people I know (or to me) recently, especially women. It seems to me that feeling emotions is not the thing to do these days, and I object!
When I became the president of a large organization about 13 years ago, I was immediately told by the outgoing president that I would be inundated with complaints and “suggestions”. I was told to grow a thicker skin if I wanted to survive.
I took that advice under advisement, but in the end rejected it. Did I get a lot of complaints and suggestions? Absolutely! Did I follow every recommendation I got? Of course not! But I listened. I didn’t take them personally (well, a few I did!) but tried to listen and discern if the ideas had any merits, if there were things to consider, improvements to be made.
Thick skin makes us course and unfeeling. Why would I want that?
Which brings me to my point. Why are we so afraid to feel? Why should I hide my emotions? Why does feeling things deeply make me less than or “hysterical”?
As a 12 year old girl, I cried one day in front of my father. I don’t remember why I was crying, I just remember the reaction I got. He looked at me and told me he never wanted to see me cry again! I spent the next 15 years complying. Not until I saw my soon to be husband crying did I realize how honest and wonderful crying actually can be. It was then I decided that having emotions was not only good, it is preferable.
What kind of life would we have if we didn’t laugh freely- about ourselves, with our friends, at the cat? When I meet someone with no sense of humor, I am immediately suspicious.
What kind of dangers would we walk into if we didn’t have any fear? Yes, fear can be a road block in life, but it is also there to stop us from doing dangerous things, to warn us that we are about to get in a bad situation and guide us away from ruin.
People these days seem ready to cry in front of the TV, laugh at the theatre, and be scared at the movies. In real life, they seem to want to hide or numb their emotions as much as possible as well as chastising others who do show emotions.
I don’t think I come across as super emotional, but I feel that I am. I think maybe since I don’t try to hide it or numb it away, I deal with it and then can move past it. I write about my feelings, I put what I feel into my performances or when I direct, I try to be honest and think through why I feel a certain way.
Sometimes I let my feelings get the better of me, but usually I try to cry if I need to, laugh when I can and get angry when I feel the urge, then move on. Once I had a spirited discussion with someone I work with. They asked if I was angry and I told them I had honestly said what I thought and it was over. We could move on and continue to work together. And we have.
I try to take action when possible. If I am worried, then I write down what I am worried about or what needs doing. I make lists now at night so instead of worrying all night, I make a list, get some sleep and I have a plan of action come daylight. Lots of time things aren’t as worrisome in the light of day, but my list helps me to see what I can fix and what I need to let go of.
I think about what I am afraid of when fear hits. Is it reasonable to be afraid? Should I step back from the cliff I am on or am I being a coward and I need to step out, knowing that there is a bridge one step down if I will just take a chance?
I have learned that taking people’s criticisms to heart is painful for sure, but it can also be a way to learn about ourselves. Do I need to rethink the way I do things? Was I at fault or to blame as much as the person I am so sure I have been wronged by? I am not a perfect person, looking at my faults and trying to get better is called growing. If we are honest, we all have things that we need to work on and sometimes what is so hard to hear about ourselves is exactly what we need to hear.
I had a disagreement with someone several years ago and have not talked to them since. I felt 100% wronged and everyone I told the story to agreed with me. (Of course they only heard my side, but it seemed pretty cut and dry to us all!) I spent the next few months after that disagreement very angry, but also thinking about what I could have done to avoid this fight. I wondered if anything that this person spewed at me was true, if I was indeed as lacking as they drunkenly screamed at me.
I came to the understanding that this person and I should not be friends. I questioned if we had ever really been friends or if I had just been used. In thinking about the argument I saw the red flags that had been waving for years. After all of this time, I can wish them well as long as they stay the hell away from me. I did however, see areas where I need to improve as a person and a friend, so the whole awful experience wasn’t a waste.
Pushing our emotions deep down inside, smothering them with fake happiness and Instagram posts, numbing them with alcohol and drugs, covering them with expensive clothes and jewelry, pretending we don’t have them at all is what we should be afraid of. Being real and emotional is not something we should dread or ridicule.
I love when I can make an audience feel something- anything. I love to hear them laugh, I love to hear the silence as they think, I love to hear the sniffles as they cry. I feel honored when a friend feels comfortable enough to cry in front of me, and when I find someone who understands my doubts and is willing to have a deep discussion about the things in life that are scary or puzzling, I rejoice.
I know that some people have huge emotional swings and mental issues. I know that having no control over your moods is a problem. I’m not talking about that- I am not qualified to. (I am not really qualified for anything, this is just what I think.)
I am talking about the average person who wants to cry when they read a story about a group of kittens thrown in the trash and becomes the hero who saves them. I’m talking about the thoughtful person who worries about our country and decides that they want to run for office. I am talking about the people who ache for the homeless, so volunteer at the Firehouse shleter. I am talking about the person who laughs freely and makes everyone around them smile. I am talking about the people who can hug you so that you know you’ve been hugged. I am talking about the regular people who can be angry about the kids who can’t afford to participate in extra curricular activities and start foundations to help.
We aren’t our best selves if we can’t feel our emotions fully. We aren’t living if we don’t laugh at ourselves and cry for our brothers. We aren’t who God made us to be if we don’t deeply feel injustice, joy, excitement, anger and love all the way down to our toes.
I don’t want a thicker skin, I don’t want to stop crying, I don’t want to calm down or stop thinking or worrying. I want to feel the world I live in, the people I am here with and use those emotions to make better art, do what I can for others and live this one life to the fullest.