I was in the bedroom, sobbing into a pillow to muffle the sounds.
I told myself over and over again, “Be brave. Come on! You gotta be brave.”
But I didn’t feel brave. I felt terrified. My relationship was falling apart, and I didn’t know what to do.
Years later, I looked back on that moment and understood its significance. Had I listened to that small, scared voice inside, I might not have continued with an increasingly toxic relationship.
But instead of listening to my gut, which giving me unmistakable danger signals, I listened to my head, which told me not to be so stupid.
Where did I get this idea that I had to be brave?
Why were those the words I used to reassure myself when I was terrified and alone?
If you’ve ever been in a situation like that, where your life was falling apart around you and you had no idea what to do, you may have spoken similar words to yourself.
Buck up. Don’t be such a wuss. You can do this. Hang in there. It’ll get better.
Your intention was to reassure yourself, but the effect was to drive your feelings of fear underground. You weren’t making yourself feel better; you were shaming yourself for having those frightened feelings.
Feelings are our teachers, not a sign of weakness. Hiding them doesn’t make you stronger; it makes you more brittle.
Maybe you, like me, grew up in a family environment where being tough was considered a virtue. Especially if you were a sensitive kid, you were shamed for having intense feelings. You were made to believe that adults kept their emotions under control. It was improper to act wildly happy or unbearably sad.
All you knew was that it was important to be brave. Bravery meant not crying over a bonked knee or a cruel word. Bravery meant shoving those feelings of discomfort away and making yourself do something even if everything inside you was screaming, “No!!!”
That belief set you up for a life in which you ignored your intuition. You did things you didn’t want to do. You told yourself that everyone does stuff they don’t want to do. When something inside you balked, you felt ashamed. Those feelings of resistance were proof that you weren’t yet the adult you were supposed to be.
And if someone told you that it was okay to feel scared, it was okay to break down, it was okay to sob without hiding the tears, you stepped far away from them. Absolutely not. It’s not okay to feel that way. Because if you let yourself feel your feelings, who knows what might happen? You might not be able to get to work in the morning. You might let everyone down. You might ruin your life.
And so you soldiered on. You bucked up. You were brave.
But here’s the question I wished I’d have asked myself: “What if things don’t get better?”
What if you’re brave and soldier on … and nothing changes? Can you keep going on like this forever? What toll is that going to take on you?
When soldiers on the front line of war told themselves to be brave, they marched straight ahead into the jaws of death. They pushed down their legitimate fear, fear warned them of their doom. We can admire that. We can honor their sacrifice. But we can’t bring those lives back.
When you feel terrified that your relationship is falling apart, what do you think would happen if you told that little voice inside, “I’m here to listen“? What if you asked it, “What are you afraid of?” What if you looked for someone you could talk to about those feelings instead of feeling ashamed of them?
If you need someone to talk to, I urge you to reach out to a counselor or therapist, someone who’s trained in offering support in crisis situations.