“I truly believe we can destroy ourselves internally before anyone else can get a chance. Then, on the flip side, others can do everything in their power to hurt us, but if our mind doesn’t let them, they cannot break us no matter how far they go.” -EaE
When we talk of balance it includes our ability to self-disclose. Too much suppression is never a good thing, nor is ruminating over something and/ or being aggressive about it. From a clinical and human standpoint, I’ve come to realize how harmful it is to pretend to be ‘okay’ 24/7. It’s an act really, for it is impossible to feel okay 24/7, yet we feel pressured to. I decided, I’m not pretending anymore. It became too much of a burden to bear. Keeping up with an exhausting amount of activities to keep myself afloat, what we have popularly coined as ‘adulting’. Then on top of keeping up with adulting, being expected to do it with a smile on our face 24/7. Then, how dare we complain… it’s just the way it is, don’t whine about it. ‘Other people have it worse, just do what you need to do, keep you head down, and shut up.’ Right? Wrong. It is risky toward our mental health to continue playing this pretend game, and although we do not want to ruminate and carry a victim mentality, we also do not want to fake ‘okay’ for the sake of others all the while suppressing our emotions. On this journey I have decided to create an oath, and I encourage others to join along if they so choose.
The Oath: I’m not pretending anymore
- Own your true emotions, unapologetically
I have found this to be one of the most challenging barriers to break. Since the world often expects a certain affect (mood you portray) on our faces and through our behaviors it could be both alarming and confusing to others when you admit to having a depressing, angry or anxiety provoking day. People that are uncomfortable with these types of emotions being portrayed will often make attempts to sweep said emotions under the rug or pressure us to lie all together in order to ease their discomfort. Although it is expected, especially in a workplace environment, for us to be professional, it is not in any job description to be 24/7 happy for the sake of others. Own the emotion and communicate the emotion. I have had to express displeasure 10 -20 times in a row before I was heard. Unfortunately, this is how long it can take, and in some cases what we learn is who will never be a supportive and empathetic individual, and that is okay too. Emotional expression isn’t always about soliciting empathy. In most cases, it is about communicating our truth, even when it is unpleasant. Every human has a right to communicate their true feelings, regardless of other people’s discomforts.
2- Get rid of those toxic pretend friendships & relationships
As I’ve highlighted in previous blogs, boundaries are essential toward our mental health. Life would be much easier if people were born with automatic boundaries and/ or if people were taught healthy boundaries. However, what we may come across is some individuals that consistently try to push through our boundaries and use/ abuse us for all that we are worth. Pretending to be a friend to someone who is consistently causing you harm, whether it be purposely or unintentionally, is counterproductive and destructive. For those that have savior complexes or the compulsion of ‘fawning’ (read Not your mother Teresa blog for more details), it can be extra hard to ween off this. Sometimes it becomes a codependency; one-person gets to save, the other person gets to be saved, repeatedly. One-person gets to illicit harm, another get’s to be the ‘victim’ and find calculated ways to reaffirm and ‘fix’ the relationship and/ or friendship again. These types of cycles are extremely toxic, unhealthy and not likely to get better over time. The only hope is distance, boundaries, healing, learning, accountability and growth.
3- Consistently reaffirm your wants, needs and expectations
Everyone has had that time(s) in their lives when it feels like they are not being heard or acknowledged. How many times must we repeat ourselves before people will accept that this is who we are, what we need/ want and what we expect? The answer? Most likely for the rest of our lives. In any type of relationship, it can be extra tricky, balancing your needs vs the constant needs of others. However, as we often say, we must put ourselves first. The reality is if I am unhappy, everyone else around me may become unhappy too. An unhappy me will equal an unhappy fiancé, an unhappy child, unhappy friends etc. Be sure to check in with your wants and needs and remember that it is always okay to change your mind too. Be flexible and remember there are a lot less rules to this game called life than we realize. When you find what you want to do, go after what you want to do. If it is not causing chronic harm to others, it shouldn’t be off the table.
4- Do not get pressured into shit that you do not want to do
This is a big one that can often get neglected. How many times have we really paused and asked ourselves: “Am I doing this for me? Or because it’s what’s expected of me?” I think if we are honest with ourselves, we would find that we often do more for others than we do for ourselves… and it’s a damn shame! This is societally pressured and taught, which in turn trickles down into the family household and becomes the norm as well. The pressures and social teachings are deeply intricate and involve our movies, advertisements, social media’s and more. It’s both frustrating and disheartening to see how often myself and/ or my clients and friends have fallen victim to self-hatred, shame, compulsive and desperate behaviors all just to please those around them. These pressures exacerbate depression, anxiety, rage, eating disorders, perfectionism, compulsive buying, compulsive working and enabling others around us so that we may fit this pressure mold that the world wants. Learn to recognize those pressures and avoid doing things you hate, at all costs.
5- Allow your mistakes to promote growth vs shame
The actual benefit of the emotion that we call ‘guilt’ is to allow for us to learn from our mistakes and take corrective action. Unfortunately, sometimes it promotes shame instead. Then the cycle of shame leads to self-destructive patterns, depression, etc. Let’s be real, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone always will make mistakes. If we are human, which I believe everyone who can read this is human, then we know we are not immune to making mistakes. Mistakes should not lead us to a cycle of shame. Rather it should lead us toward a cycle of growth if we are able to get out of denial, acknowledge said mistakes, and move toward progress. However, if we pretend to be perfect, we may do so at the detriment of our growth. Own your mistakes, grow. And fuck anyone that acts like they are above or superior to mistakes and want to shame you for yours. Those people are likely to be the ones I was talking about in Oath # 2.
6- Make subtle changes everyday if you need to
Bettering our mental health is a journey/ marathon, not a sprint/ quick fix. This means making subtle changes, repeatedly, every day. I will be the first to inform anyone that no, mental health does not involve waving a magic wand and making all our issues’ go away. I wish it could work that way, however it doesn’t. A part of not pretending means to recognize what is hurting us, owning it, and making these subtle changes in behavior to work toward a better future. The subtle changes may include consistently eating a little healthier, working out just a little more, having a little more time in solitude, a little more time in sunlight every day, using more sick leave for physical and/ or mental health days, having one less friend because that friend happens to be toxic, reading a little more, journaling, meditating, hiding your phone from yourself so that you may be in the present sometimes etc. The reality is a lot of what is good for us may not feel fun/ exciting in the moment. Then, a lot of what is fun/ exciting in the moment, may not necessarily be good for us overtime. Stop pretending that chronic destructive habits are what’s saving you, when they may be what’s making you feel like crap every day.
7- Do not let anyone talk you out of your self-care time
I saved the best for last because I believe this lesson to be the most empowering of all. As a human being, we are entitled to our self-care time. Unfortunately, many people in our lives may try to sabotage this, however, DO NOT BUDGE! Do not compromise your self-care time. And, if you are a parent… DO NOT sabotage your self-care time! You need it even more. Do not pretend or allow yourself into the role of the energizer bunny that ‘get’s everything done’ and is rewarded with praise for enabling the laziness of those around you, you will pay for it later. Do not pretend that you do not need self-care time, again we are all human. If anyone in your life consistently tries to sabotage you from self-care time, they may belong in the category of people in oath # 2. People will consistently try to pressure you out of doing your self-care activities, do not let them. Stop letting people talk you out of the gym, your time in solitude, your favorite hobby that makes you feel better, that bubble bath you were waiting for all day long. Also, there is nothing wrong with explaining to someone that a certain activity is your self-care activity. Example: “I need to go to the gym for my mental health”. “I need to stick to this food plan because it will reduce symptoms x,y,z,” There is nothing wrong with communicating these things for the sake of self-care and mental health.