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The Mask of Strength: Exploring the Impact of Emotion Suppression on Mental Health and Well-being

I'm studying to be a dharma teacher (Buddhist teacher, kind of like a Christian chaplain). Our teacher has broken us down into cohorts of about 6 people. One of the people today was discussing how he was taught growing up to suck it up and be tough - don't share your emotions. This is something that Buddhism doesn't teach.

Buddhism teaches us to sit with our emotions. Don't judge them, just sit with them. Acknowledge that you have them and consider where they're coming from and how they, like everything else in life, are impermanent.

Obviously this isn't something that neither he nor I were taught to do while growing up. While he said that he didn't grow up in an abusive home, I do wonder if the fact that I did is where I picked this up from. I never saw my parents show anything but anger towards one another - no other emotions were ever expressed. I also wonder if it's a generational thing (my parents would be well into their 80s if they're still alive). My parents grew up and lived the majority of their lives during a time when mental health was considered "taboo." In fact, I still remember the day she asked my son and I if having anxiety simply meant that you have a racing heart. She didn't know that it was a "feeling."

Anyhow, this guy is currently working through his "issues" here and I thought about how somewhere along the way I learned that it's OK to cry but that I should still push away and judge my emotions. This is definitely something that I need to work on now that I realize it's an issue for me.

I tell you all of this because I'm wondering if you've been through this too. Did you learn while growing up that emotions were "bad"? Did you learn to judge them? To suck it up and be strong?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these things, I want to encourage you to take a deep breath and consider challenging yourself to learn how to sit with your emotions. I can see how this can be truly healing and life changing. These are both things that we need while recovering for domestic violence (and trauma in general).


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