Some people think that being tough has to do with muscle strength and detached emotions, but it’s the opposite. It takes courage to feel.
Brenna, a client in her 20’s, mistakes strength with being stoic—devoid of emotion like one of Clint Eastwood’s characters. Her mom matches those qualities, and Brenna feels weak in comparison.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry,” Brenna said.
In contrast, Brenna wears her heart on her sleeve. Her emotions are right out there—she feels them all. In our sessions, she often gets teary-eyed and then immediately apologizes for it.
Not long ago she said, “I wish I were strong like other people.”
I had to tell her she’s got it all wrong. “Look,” I said, “compared to you, unfeeling people are lightweights. Quit apologizing for a strength. Quit apologizing for something that’s beautiful about you!”
We humans tend to avoid feelings of pain, grief, fear and annoyance, because the experience is like being in a small boat on stormy seas. It rocks our serenity. It frightens us and threatens our sense of control … meager as that is.
I explained to Brenna that it’s not unusual to discover that the people who are detached emotionally—who seem unfeeling—are actually submerged in a flood of unbearable emotions. Life has left wounds that are just too over-the-top to bear. For those people, detachment is a godsend—a means of coping.
Throughout her life, Brenna has suffered the effects of her mother’s detachment. Wrongly, she misread it to mean her mother didn’t love her very much. That’s changing. Brenna’s coming to realize that her mother’s emotional detachment is actually an outgrowth of her detachment from herself . . . not to be taken personally.
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality