"Come on, you should have know. The intellectual/rational/logical reality is....."
"Look at the facts...."
"It's all going to be fine..."
I've heard these kinds of statements a lot this week. Some stated as an offer of solace, some in blatant condescension, some in smug sarcasm.
And mostly expressed in this voiceless, "consequence-free" space called the Internet. Mostly, in response to others' expression of their fear, sadness, anger, confusion... or a cocktail of it all, fermented and bubbling in ever-changing dynamics subject to the barometric pressure.
People want to help.
Behind them is an intention to dispel sadness. Fear. Anger. All emotions that are seen as unpleasant - and when we see them in others, the bring up a range of responses within:
I should do something
This makes me uncomfortable
Anger is bad
Sadness needs to be fixed
And so on.
The 6 year old telling her 3 year old sister don't cry... She believes she is helping, with her whole, tiny heart.
But here's the problem.
Let's say I write something about feeling shocked. I write about how it feels in my heart, how I am struggling to find the words.
A friend writes, You should've known -- how could you be shocked?!
In the subtext, the footnotes, in the unconscious ripples from what that friend wrote, reads a line:
You shouldn't be feeling this way.
It's not a consciously stated sentiment, but it is there. I feel my heart recoil, told that what I'm feeling is invalid because I should've known. I'm 'smarter than that'. I just wasn't paying attention,and my intellect could have prevented this most unpleasant emotion.
And the gut response is to shut down.
Recoil, and stop expressing my feelings in all of their complexity. At least on a public level.
White, privileged men are shamed too -- perhaps even more so.
Because "you'll be just fine," they are told. They aren't the most obvious targets of racism, or sexism, or xenophobia. They are the privileged ones. They will likely benefit, on some level.
So they aren't offered the space to experience a full range of emotion around the unfolding events in the world. And they are the targets of subconscious, subtle shaming, too.
This politically rife time in our existence isn't the only instance of emotional shaming we've seen. It runs deep -- that 6 year old girl being one example.
Emotions are uncomfortable. We want to fix others' sadness. We want to tell them why they shouldn't be angry. Because doesn't that make it better?
I tried telling the Shamers to stop shaming. Let's just say nobody responds well to being told they're subconsciously acting out our culture's deep issues around emotional expression.
Let's shift the conversation.
- Consciously and intentionally offer space. What do we typically want in the moment of emotional cacophony? An ear. Someone to listen, without trying to fix. Someone to say, "I hear you." We can offer that.
- If you witness emotional shaming? Step in with emotional support. See step one. Rather than try to educate the shamer (ahem, tried that) focus on the person seeking space to express. Lead by example, if you will, and create a buffer of openness between that person and the shamer. Crowd them out with love.
- If you are being shamed, there are two things you can do. One: sometimes, we don't have the option to remove ourselves from the situation. If it is a family member, a partner, a good friend -- ask for what you need. Phrases like, "I appreciate your thoughts/support, but right now I just need for you to listen while I share how I'm feeling." If it is someone who is not close to you, and you are feeling shamed: it's ok to just remove yourself from the situation if it feels toxic. Step away from the Facebook post. Close Twitter. Excuse yourself from the conversation and focus your energy elsewhere. You don't need to try to be valiant for the sake of 'educating' this person.
This is only the beginning of a very nuanced conversation.
Emotional shaming isn't new. And on the whole, it isn't conscious. But it is real, and felt, and needs to be addressed. As a culture this is a call to honor the feelings of our community.
Emotions are real, and yes -- they are uncomfortable. It brings us pain to witness someone else's deep sadness. It is a mirror to our own inner landscape, and we can choose:
Will I try to "fix" what I see as wrong with the experience of another?
Or...Will I stand in front of that mirror with an open heart?