To do it or not
Wearing your heart on your sleeve
Its your heart, your call.
Wearing your heart on your sleeve refers to someone who openly expresses their emotions. I’ve heard it used in both derogatory and laudatory contexts, which is not surprising given how loaded the expression of emotion is for many of us. I find that many of us would like to freely express ourselves and we have learned to avoid it. Sometimes its because our emotions haven’t been respected, with people using our feelings to manipulate and hurt us, taking advantage of what becomes perceived as a vulnerability. Other times we feel judged for our emotions, “that’s silly, its just an animal. . .” or “aren’t you over that yet”.
Or we are taught that it is wrong, weak, unprofessional, fill in the blank, to express emotions. “Big boys/girls don’t cry” and all that. So we learn to muffle our emotions, our expressions. If we are lucky, we remain aware of what we feel, even as we may limit our expression. Other times, things get so shut down, that we are unaware, and then look outside of ourselves for what we “should” be feeling, what is an acceptable way to be reacting. I find this particularly dangerous because when this occurs, there is a loss of awareness or trust in ones self and sense of what is okay and what is not, leaving one ripe for manipulation.
The costs of unexpressed/unacknowledged emotions are high. Suppressed anger, hurt, fear and resentment often come out sideways, expressed as an outburst of rage, generally targeted at something or someone a long ways from the original source. Scapegoating is easy under these circumstances, as is “kicking the dog”, where one is unable to express anger to who they are actually mad at, say the boss, and then comes home from work and kicks the dog (or spouse, or child, etc, etc). Not healthy. There are many that say that anger is a “secondary” emotion, developing in response to something else, such as fear, hurt or sadness. For men in particular, anger is acceptable, while the other emotions are not, which explains a number of strange behaviors, like yelling at someone who is hurt because the yeller is frightened.
Other times, when the heart is walled off, often for protection from what is too unbearable to feel, or in the case of circumstances where there is not opportunity or support for feeling, what results is emotional shut down, numbness and depression. In avoiding the hard/painful stuff, one is also shut off from the good stuff. There’s lots of this going around these days.
What to do? Learn to listen to yourself, your heart, your emotions. Respect whatever is there, as there is not a right or wrong feeling to have. Learn that you can feel whatever you feel, even as you also learn that it isn’t necessary to act on everything your feel. Tell yourself the truth about what is going on and what you are feeling. Sometimes something is not okay even as you wish it was.
Know that what is in your sleeves (your arms) are in line with your heart. How you use your arms, reaching out or pulling back may well reflect the state of your heart and emotions. Consider if you are doing things the way you want to be doing them. There is no “right way” to be in the world. Sometimes we do want/need to openly express and feel our feelings, and at other times and under different circumstances, being closed and carefully guarding our hearts is a very healthy choice. To me, it is important that we be aware of what we are doing and why. Along with that, giving ourselves permission to reassess and change our decision is also important.
In one of my professional training programs, I was introduced to the concept of “bracketing”. There are times when something that I have an emotional response to will happen, and because of the nature of my work (physician, therapist), going into my emotions in that moment is not appropriate, I have work to do, such as caring for this person in a serious circumstance. This is also true for many first and emergency responders. In those circumstances, I notice and (bracket) my emotional responses. Then, when the crisis has passed, or I am off duty, I can deal with my bracketed feelings.
While its very important to be able to bracket one’s feelings at times, it is equally important to go back and attend to those bracketed emotions as well. This has been recognized at long last by the military and first responder communities, and the beginnings of support for dealing with these responses are occurring, such as providing critical incident debriefing and support for those with PTSD. There is still considerable stigma attached to these issues, as long held traditions and habits of not dealing with emotions are changing slowly.
Courage comes from the latin word for heart. It is indeed courageous to attend to deal with what is in one’s heart. I believe that each effort in this direction, however small it may seem, makes a difference in the world. Every little bit helps each of us and our world to heal. Perhaps you don’t want to wear your heart on your sleeve all the time, but know that you can listen to your heart and live more from your heart. It will make a difference.