People don’t cry when they lose their hope, they cry when they get it back. – Martha Beck
My friend Lisa’s husband died suddenly. Due to her husband’s passing, Lisa had to sell her house, buy a new one, switch schools for her children, and settle her husband’s estate. Her friends marveled at her ability to remain so highly functional after such a shock.
A few months later, my friend was able to settle into more of a predictable routine. She couldn’t have imagined that her life would have looked like it did just a few months ago and yet she felt good about how she had managed everything. She loved her new house and the children were settling into their new schools. She felt like she was going to survive after all.
Then, a curious thing began to happen. Lisa found herself coming home from work in the evenings, almost unable to contain her grief. She spent many nights crying uncontrollably in her bedroom. She wondered to herself why she was feeling so bad… and why now? She hadn’t felt this bad even immediately after her husband’s death, so the timing of her grief didn’t make sense to her. Now, in addition to feeling really bad, she worried that there was something wrong with her.
There was nothing wrong with Lisa. After her husband’s sudden death, she had gone into survival mode. It was necessary to navigate a major life shift and its many details that needed to be researched and executed in a short period of time. Once Lisa had accomplished carving out a safe place for her and her children to call home, she was able to really experience the vulnerability she felt underneath her armor.
Staying numb, guarded and bracing for impact at all times does not allow us to process our feelings – but it does allow us to survive a crisis. Once a crisis has passed and we feel safe enough and strong enough, our psyche determines it is finally safe for us to break down.
Fortunately, Lisa gave herself the space and the time to accommodate her “breakdown”. Too many of us just keep going, trying to brush off the bad feelings and distract ourselves. Unprocessed feelings, are what turn into depression, anxiety and a myriad of other conditions.
Unexpressed fear turns into anxiety and panic attacks. By contrast, acknowledging our fear and expressing it allows us to find comfort and feel safe.
Unexpressed anger turns into depression and we lose our energy and motivation. Instead, a healthy and constructive expression of anger allows us to get unstuck and we are able to move forward once again.
Being a good friend means that we should reach out to those around us who seem “just fine”. It is a common misconception to look past those who do not appear upset and assume that they are “all right”. However, those who have experienced a crisis need help – whether they seem to be managing just fine or not.
It is also a common misconception that those expressing their bad feelings must be in dire straits. However, it is quite possibly a sign that someone is finally in a safe place emotionally and able to process their experiences. If someone is feelings their feelings and expressing whatever pain they have experienced, that is ultimately a good thing. Those exhibiting a need for help should be attended to – but so should those who exhibit no signs of need.