Why are we all so reluctant to feel sadness, pain, hurt, grief and turmoil associated with grief in all its forms?
The simple answer is because it hurts.
Why would anyone put their hand in the fire and feel the agony when we think there is a choice?
The thing is, that when it comes to the emotional pain caused by grief and loss, we really don’t have a choice. If we don’t feel the painful feelings, they will continue to be with us for weeks, months or years - perhaps decades as I experienced. At its worst they will make us unhealthy in many areas of our lives and we will not be able to live or function fully and as freely as we could if we felt and processed them in a healthy manner.
Whether it is grief caused the death of a loved one, or a living loss, such as separation, divorce or the loss of a limb, the feelings are natural and normal and are asking for our attention.
Why do we then try to numb, run, escape and distract ourselves
Here, again, I can refer to the simple answer above.
But it is also much more than this.
From my coaching work with children and adults, as well as my 20 years of teaching children, I have come to believe that we are not taught, shown, or given permission to feel and process a variety of painful feelings in a healthy expressive manner when we are young or as adults.
Ever heard any of these:
Why are you crying?
I’ll give you something to cry about!
Or, the polite version, please don’t cry.
These all too commonly used lines are just a few of the ways we emotionally stunt our children and each other regardless of age. Not only are they emotionally abusive, with long term consequences, what the person is really saying to the recipient is:
“Your emotions make me feel uncomfortable and I will shame you for showing or expressing them.”
We now know that typically males and females deal with painful emotions very differently.
Men typically rush to resolve, conclude and move on, while women allow themselves to feel, express and process the pain and grief.
Based on what I’ve seen in my work, with hundreds of children in my teaching career, and dozens of coaching clients, is that males have a huge amount of pressure placed on them to not feel painful emotions, and be a ‘real man’, ‘toughen up’, ‘harden the F up’, ‘get over it’ and ‘let it go’ quickly. It's no surprise that men attempt to do so.
Women too have pressures to not feel painful feelings, but it is more socially acceptable for females to be more outwardly expressive of painful emotions. Men feeling or expressing painful emotions and crying is perceived as weak - or at its most extreme, pathetic - by society but females are not judged in the same manner.
My experience, both personally and professionally, indicates that males are conditioned by society as a whole and almost forbidden from expressing painful feelings. Generally speaking, men don’t feel or process emotional pain, loss and grief well at all.
People, male or female, who experience the above in their formative years, are conditioned and taught to rush to not feel. To be vulnerable and feel is weak, so whatever you do, “DO NOT FEEL!” is the message we grow up with and therefore pass on to the next generation - that is, until we do something dramatically differently.
Suicide statistics show us that 75% of suicides are male and 25% female. This ratio, of three to one, may be representative of the fact that men are not given permission to be vulnerable in the same way women are when processing and expressing painful emotions, grief and loss and in the vulnerable expression if these feelings.
This has led me to develop the phrase ‘vulnerably strong’: the healthy, courageous expression of painful emotions.
This blog is exactly that.
I’d go as far as saying that I think that men are three times worse at processing and expressing painful or uncomfortable feelings and than females.
And here’s the problem: we are all responsible for this.
And collectively we are all responsible for this changing and doing something dramatically different.
We all need to start unlearning the unhealthy suppression and repression of our painful feelings and those of others.
We must give each other space and permission to feel so we can heal and live in a healthier way in relation to our painful feelings.
This will transform how we relate to ourselves and each other and will literally transform the world on a major scale.
Life is hard. Let’s make it easier for each other and ourselves.
As a coach who works with clients who are going through the harder times of life, such as grief associated with death, abuse, addiction, or divorce and separation, it is common for clients to cry in sessions.
Almost every client says sorry repeatedly for expressing these emotions with their healing tears. I always say to them that I wasn’t aware they’d done anything hurtful to me that warranted an apology.
Fewer males than females cry in sessions but they too unnecessarily apologise when they do cry.
When we think back to the shaming thoughtless ‘Don’t cry’ phrases and the variants above, it’s no surprise that apologising for crying is so common.
In October 2019, I returned to New Zealand to say goodbye to my mother who was dying from Motor Neurone Disease. I planned to stay for three weeks but it was clear on the day I arrived, that my 80 year old father was going to need all the help he could get.
I stayed for eight months in total. My beautiful mother died on 17th April 2020 in lockdown in NZ.
It was the most emotionally painful time of my life.
It held both living losses while mum was alive and deteriorating daily, and then the final lengthy huge tsunami of grief arrived when mum actually died.
I’d left London and my partner of 14 years behind.
I had to resign from my job. I left my house, my friends, my garden, my routine and my sense of identity.
Overnight my entire life had changed and I became a full-time carer for my dying mum and my incredibly anxious and vulnerable father.
Fortunately, I am a crier.
I didn’t just cry, I sobbed and wailed.
Emotional pain like this is a very physical experience for me. It would hit me unexpectedly, like a tsunami, and wash me out to sea.
This happened on and off for the entire eight months I was in NZ and then it continued anew when I arrived back to London an entirely changed man who still looked the same in the mirror.
On the second day of being in NZ, I was hit by yet another enormous wave of shocking emotional pain and began sobbing.
My father was holding me saying … Don’t cry. Stop crying. It’s okay.
It really wasn’t okay. It was all too much to take in. This whole thing was far from okay!
Fortunately for me, when my flood gates open, nothing but time will stop my tears.
The following day, I went to see Ralph, who helped me edit my first book Freedom (see my website). He’s an exceptionally supportive, old and elderly friend of mine. He’s a couple of years older than my father - 82 years old. As I walked up the path towards his house, he was standing out on his decking with his arms open wide.
The grief and emotional pain hit again.
As he hugged me, he said two words I’d never heard before.
The contrast between what he and my father said could not have been greater. It was a pivotal moment in what I now say to people who are crying.
I learned many years ago, and have repeatedly since, that when the extreme emotional pain hits, you cannot run from it. You need to dive into the wave and allow it to run its own random time frame and course.
Every wave recedes, and so too do the waves of emotional pain caused by loss and grief.
Allow it to do its thing. Yes it hurts. It is supposed to.
This pain is directly proportional to, and tells us how much we had invested in, whatever it is we have lost or experienced.
We cannot outrun, fight or avoid emotional pain or grief permanently as it is in us. It is calling us to safely hold it. It needs and deserves our compassionate attention, time, and feeling for it to heal.
I say to clients that we must
feel it to heal it.
There really is no other way.
Trust me, I’ve tried every trick in the book and it has always come out pear shaped.
Alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, TV / films, Angry Birds and obsessive cleaning could not remove the wounds and scars caused by my emotional pain, grief and losses.
When we break an arm, we scream in pain, we cry, we ask for help and support, we get it, and we take time and care to allow the space and time for healing to occur. We must get better applying this same process to emotional and psychological pain - this is a dramatically different thought (or is it?) - treat all pain in the same manner - regardless of whether it is emotional, psychological or physical.
Fortunately, we can use our thinking to direct our thinking.
If we do not manage our minds, our minds will manage us - and that is not a good thing. We must be proactive.
It was for this reason and others that I created #positivewithpatrick live on my Instagram Monday to Friday 930am GMT. We need support more than ever to survive and thrive during the major international challenge the COVID-19 pandemic presents us all.
When I separated from my fiancé, the stress and emotional pain it caused would wake me up crying uncontrollably and it triggered such bad anxiety that I dry retched every morning for two months.
What I wasn’t aware of at the time, was that this painful break-up had triggered a past trauma - sexual abuse from when I was 15 years old that I had buried with of lots alcohol, drugs and sex. When I finally accepted this traumatic historic abuse, 23 years later, in my mid thirties, my world came crashing down again as it had when the abuse occurred in my teens.
Fortunately, I’d been sober for 14 years by the time the abuse resurfaced needing and getting my attention.
Thank goodness I had a lot of
support in place.
However, this did not stop me wanting to kill myself or stop the extreme emotional mood swings that lasted for months.
In lots of ways, I’d reverted straight back to being a 15 year old wild with rage that I was desperately trying to not feel and come to terms with the unpalatable historical truth that one in five females and one in six males experience.
I see anger or rage as the surface layer of our emotional world, designed to defend, protect and help us stay alive. Underneath anger is where the major work lies. Sadness, hurt, betrayal, shame, guilt and rejection were all in my mix. I’d buried the abuse to protect myself until it resurfaced when I was ready and able to process it decades later, as is common in abuse victims.
Six years of therapy, a court case, a conviction three years later, and speaking up would eventually also free 12 other victims of this serial pedophile. Doing all this enabled me to process all the dark and heavy weight of that traumatic period. As I type this now, the above are mere details to me and there is no emotional work or processing to be done with any of it.
I said to my therapist at the end of our work together that we did it.
He asked me what I meant.
I replied, we did it: we healed me.
The fear and pain was extreme and I’ve experienced a lot of it many times in my life.
It is all of these very painful emotions that I have felt, processed and come to be at peace with, that has helped me be the man that I am and the excellent coach that I am becoming. I’ve faced and felt all of my fears and feelings and I am truly at peace and comfortable in all of myself so can now bring all of me to all of my clients to help facilitate the same in them.
I have no fear or shame whatsoever and finally all of my extreme ‘life experiences’ serve my higher purpose: helping clients live well fully in and through the harder times of life.
As I look back at my life, it is clear that emotional pain has been my richest and best teacher.
Just don't tell me this while I'm bleeding from my eyes.
Emotional and psychological safety is what we all need in order for us to live well and also to feel in our relationships in order to fully heal.
As a coach, holding the space for others requires everything and, paradoxically, nothing as well.
In order to achieve this, I bring all of myself to our professional relationship and, with clients, together we create 100% safety. Then my work is to keep me out of the client’s way and be fully present to them and their whole self so that they feel fully seen and fully heard.
Coaching, in the transformational way that I work with clients, is a privilege and honour.
If I had not done my deeply personal hard yards and felt my painful emotions from across my life, I doubt that I’d be alive now, or that if I was alive, I wouldn’t be a very healthy individual and certainly not fit to help or coach others.
One of the extraordinary gifts of my personal and professional experiences, is that I can now be present to anyone at all, no matter what they are living, or dying, through and be fully present to and for them because I have already been and continue to be fully present to myself.
Recently, I began a collaboration with Gavin Johnson, two time English Javelin Champion. We are in the middle of writing a Men’s Group Coaching course titled:
Strong Men Cry.
For more information go to my website: https://www.thinkingbeyondnow.co.uk/coaching-for-men
The next time someone else’s, or your grief, loss or painful emotions arrive, know this:
We are more resilient than we will ever need to know.
We are not alone and there is support all around us: use it.
Feel it to heal it.
And most importantly...
Dedicated to all abuse victims who are yet to find their voice.