Updated: May 14
I am safe. I am safe. I am safe.
I found myself sitting on my couch….in the middle of the night….with tears streaming down my face, saying these words over and over. Feeling them. Letting them roll through me. Letting them settle into my bones, into my soul. That energy returns, even as I write this, almost overwhelmingly.
But it doesn’t overwhelm me. And that’s the whole point, actually. I am safe to feel my emotions. I am safe to feel my really big emotions. They will not engulf or smother or take over me. They are a wave to ride and they are okay to feel. This is new, really. I’ve spent a lifetime pushing my emotions down. Being told I was “too sensitive” is really just the tip of the iceberg. I was afraid to express them, fearful of being “too much." I was fearful that if I stated how I really felt, I wouldn’t be loveable. I was fearful of the responses elicited from abusive partners when I expressed frustration, anger, fear, or even sadness. I learned that my role was to listen to every emotion possible and to respond only with calm, even when their anger was full of hateful words. While this is a response I haven't practiced in a while, those habits have continued to affect my life. Learning how to feel my own emotions again, to learn how to express them, to learn how to decipher what I am feeling and why I am feeling it is a journey I've been on for several years now.
My most recent step with this is in reading “Warrior Goddess Training,” by Heatherash Amara. Every word has been powerful to me, but holding myself on my couch crying in the dark was a bit unexpected. In lesson one, Amara discusses the gifts we learn from breakups. It’s not even the focus of the lesson, but it touched my soul as she shared her own traumatic breakup. She shared how she asked herself, “what do you miss about him?” This sent me down the rabbit hole of my own latest breakup…the one that was incredibly sad and unexpected and that I’d like to think I’m getting over, but really am just learning how to move through. I thought about a thousand things that I miss about him and the time we spent together. I thought about how it felt to be truly seen, valued, and cherished for every bit of who I am. I thought about how it felt to feel seen, valued, and cherished just as much in the breakup as much as I did in the relationship. That was a gift I’ve never felt before. But why did that matter so much to me?
Because I was safe. I was safe to feel. I was safe to share. I was safe to be sad….so incredibly sad. I was safe to be angry. I was safe to be shocked. I was safe to be happy. I was safe to be silly. I was safe to be adventurous. I was safe to be sexy. I was safe to express fear. I was safe to simply be. I was safe to be all of the things that make me, me. I was safe to explore new ways of being and try those on without ridicule. I was safe to talk about my dreams and my writings and my fears and my sadnesses and my joys and my struggles. I was safe to talk about things I was learning and safe to bounce opposing ideas to figure out how I really felt instead of being pigeon-holed into my first thought or a “should.” I was safe to receive love and support in return of all of my expressions of self or emotions instead of ridicule or dismissal. I was safe to share myself, my heart, my soul.
I am safe. I am safe. I am safe.
Again...why did this matter? Why was it such a big deal to me?
I don’t remember what it was I read last week, but it talked about how people who feel deeply learn early on that it is not safe to do so. As a child, our feelings are minimized and dismissed. We’re told to “stop crying,” “let it go,” “there’s nothing to be scared of,” “why can’t you be more like….?” “just calm down,” “why are you making such a big deal of this?” “don’t think like that!” and so many more minimizing statements. We learn that it isn’t okay to express our feelings instead of learning how to express our feelings in healthy ways. We learn that we have to perform a certain way in order to avoid repercussions or even to receive affection or love.
This creates a vicious cycle….we push our feelings and opinions and thoughts down; we learn to hide them. We learn that it isn’t okay to show up fully as ourself and so we create a mask that we hide behind….and this leads to meltdowns and eruptions when things happen that simply push us beyond the edge of what we can handle. These eruptions validate that we are too much, too emotional, too demonstrative. As we get older, we realize erupting at someone isn’t actually okay and we internalize shame about this, especially through the incorrect validation that we are problematic, that we really are making a bigger deal out of things than they are, that we are the drama queens we’ve been told we are. We wonder why everyone else seems to just “get it'' while we feel like we’re drowning in our own thoughts. We feel out of control and double down on our masking efforts so that we never have to be overwhelmed by those big emotions again, so that we never lash out again. Which, of course, doesn’t actually work. But we sure try--we distract ourselves through becoming overly busy in all of the to-dos of life so we don’t have to focus on what we feel, or we cope through addictive behaviors. Or we become codependent--so focused on everyone else’s needs that we have no time to think about how we feel. We hide behind a smile and practice gratitude and work on our positive mindset and secretly and shamefully wonder why it just isn’t helping.
So what’s the solution? Learning about emotional regulation is a great start. But I would argue that learning about boundaries as an essential form of self-care is transformational. And for me, this started with acknowledging what was actually real in my life. I had pushed things down and ignored what was real for so long that it was shocking to finally see it. I’m lucky that I got to see it in stages, as I’m honestly not sure I could have faced all the layers and facets at the same time.
What do boundaries have to do with that? Aren’t boundaries for how you respond to others?
They absolutely are….but they are also for how we respond to ourselves. By ignoring our basic needs of being seen, heard, and validated, we learned to invalidate our own self. We ignore what our bodies are trying desperately to tell us and they shut down...they make us sick, they break, they raise the red flags and say “something is wrong!!” Our doctors label it stress and we go about our business or pop a pill or try and eat better and exercise a little more often or think happy thoughts or practice looking for the good. And we get more frustrated when nothing changes or things get worse. Boundaries with ourselves are the things we do to see, hear, and validate the cravings of our soul. They are how we learn to trust ourselves and how we practice showing up for ourselves and bringing our own unique magic into the world.
Taking a look at what is real in our own life and making evaluations for what needs to change is key to doing this. Choosing happiness is about choosing the steps that lead to true joy, not about deciding to simply think a happy thought. A prime example of this is abuse--choosing to be happy that your partner is a good provider does not negate the fact that they are beating you or verbally abusing you or emotionally manipulating you. Choosing to be happy means making a plan to be free. This may mean the very smallest of baby steps and starting with self-care that validates--to yourself--that you matter. It means accepting that there might be sacrifices in oyur finances or your living situation if you choose to leave.
I am here to tell you that living in a smaller place did not kill me. But living with my abusive partner absolutely was.
Choosing to be happy means accepting that there might be things you need to do differently for your health. It may mean learning new habits, new coping techniques, or choosing to spend your time differently. Choosing to be happy may mean facing your trauma and finding a counselor to help you do so. Choosing to be happy may mean learning all kinds of new ways of facing life, making decisions, and choosing yourself; possibly finding a great coach who can support you as you make these forward facing choices for yourself. Choosing to be happy is about seeing what is real and choosing what to do in order to create a life you love. It is so much more than simply choosing to pretend the ugly things you don’t want to face aren’t there and, instead, learn how to face them with love.
Choosing to be happy means practicing self-care in your daily routines. It means practicing boundaries around what you do with your time and your voice. It means learning to listen to your own inner wisdom and following the divine wild that exists in your soul under the layers of shoulds or things that were never yours to carry. It is taking the baby steps forward that don't feel like they are adding up but absolutely are.
It is choosing to tell your inner child that they are safe with you and providing yourself with that safety by interrupting your self-talk that is invalidating or mean. It is choosing to listen, to hear, and to honor what our souls are telling us. To honor what we have been through. To show up for our own selves. To feel our emotions and hear what they are telling us.
I didn't need this man to tell me I was safe with him....I was safe with him because I'd created the ability to be safe with myself. I just didn't know it in my bones yet. I'd created safety within myself so that I could choose who to open up with and who not to. I could choose where to be vulnerable. I created a space where I was free to show up fully as myself and be loved for who I am. It meant I created a space with boundaries to keep for myself when things bothered me...to use my voice to express those...to discern what to believe, what to do. It meant I was safe to choose what is right for me and to walk away from things or people who aren't...or to create different boundaries for people in my life. And it meant I'd created a space where I was safe to be okay in my sadness when he chose a different path. It meant I'd created a space where I can thrive in spite of any outside influences or events. Choosing to be happy meant choosing to create a life where I am safe. Safe to give myself the space to be, to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved exactly as I am.