Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't Cry Out Loud: Living Unhappily Ever After

This past month I had the opportunity to see songstress Melissa Manchester perform at Scullers Jazz Club. Her songs are really powerful and her delivery soul-rendering. One of the songs she is best known for may be described as the American emotional national-anthem, written by Carole Bayer Sager, "Don't cry out loud." From an early age, when our sensitive hearts are hurt, scared or disappointed, the adults around us get uncomfortable, and tell us to stop it, to keep our feelings in check. In essence, we are taught exactly what "baby" in the song is taught: "don't cry out loud...just keep it inside...got to learn how to hide your feelings..." This may "look good" on the outside and allow us to appear to "fly high and proud," but inside, it sets us up for a life of silent suffering, isolation and the epidemic of anxiety and depression that permeates our culture. On the other hand, we are enamored with "positive psychology," to reinforce that everything is better if we only look at the bright side. A wonderfully insightful article in the Wall St Journal, entitled, "How to Live Unhappily Ever After," challenges our obsession with the positive. Writer Augusten Burroughs comments, "'I just want to be happy.' I can't think of another phrase capable of causing more misery and permanent unhappiness. With the possible exception of, 'Honey, I'm in love with your youngest sister.'" While, in theory, being happy is healthy, being able to define happiness and then build your life on a "happiness blueprint," is well and good, this is not always as easy as it sounds. Burroughs notes that while she experiences moments of joy, joy, like most emotions are fleeting. We can "enjoy" a joyful moment, but then things change. And well they should. If you see a flatline on your heart monitor, what does it mean? Feeling any one feeling all the time, even a good one, is a kind of emotional flatlining. Burroughs writes, "In our super positive society, we have an unspoken zero-tolerance policy for negativity. And she aptly comments that "Beneath the catchall umbrella of negativity is basically everything that isn't super positive." Who truly feels "great" all the time? Is it not more important to be AUTHENTIC--and be in touch with how you actually feel than to report a politically correct feeling state? If you feel how you truly feel, Burroughs suggests you have a "baseline." Being able to feel ANY emotion without censorship and judgment can lessen the intensity of what we label as "negative emotions." By feeling what you truly feel, you relax and release whatever emotional energy you are experiencing, rather than tightening up and in doing so, holding on to it. Some things that happen to us in life are truly painful. Losing a loved one hurts. And that kind of loss creates a hole that may NEVER be filled back up. While time may help us integrate a loss, and find a way to go forth in life without our loved one by our side, we may also always feel their missing presence. Burroughs notes that you don't have to "heal" to be "whole." And to be whole in our humanness means feeling pain, loss, anger, fear and other emotions we (unfairly) judge as "negative." By distancing from our true feelings, we only diminish ourselves. And by embracing the most unbearably painful moments in life, we become more human and whole. In Burroughs' words, we become "larger" than we were before. So, here's to celebrating the negative as just the mirror image of the positive. And if we can embrace and experience ALL of our humane feelings, we can at least find more peace of mind and heart. Copyright 2012 Linda Marks