Expression over Repression
Wars have been fought in the name of freedom. People have sacrificed life and limb for what they believed in, been buried in unmarked graves- abandoned and isolated because they stood up for their convictions.
Forgive the drama, but I find the subject important enough to merit the dramatic and gloomy emphasis. Despite all that has gone before, people work so hard to hold things back. They are desperate to hide their real selves. It is exhausting, but they do it anyways.
As children, we are taught all the many things we are not supposed to say. Our parents, educators and the society at large and in particular, dedicates a lot of time and effort teaching us all about diplomacy, social etiquette, and how it is more important than honesty and integrity.
Maybe not in so many words, but that is essentially what they are saying. I have never understood diplomacy, and I find it utterly stupid.
“If you don’t correct them when they upset you, they will never learn how to treat you right.”
You know what happens when too much is held back? Pressure builds up! The pressure that keeps rising till it can’t be contained anymore and then, there is a mighty explosion.
Freud gave a lot of importance to the unconscious mind as the one thing standing between us and utter insanity. He believed that we use repression as a defense mechanism, wherein we shove all that we wish not to deal with, into our unconscious mind. We get into the habit of ignoring anything and everything unpleasant.
Sometimes walking away may be a good thing if it gets you out of a violent situation, or keeps you from being a jerk to someone, but more often than not, it’s really not the best option.
You simply have to choose your battles.
When someone treats you like a doormat, you need to speak up.
Or when you are judged and condemned for personal choices that affect only you, you need to speak up.
When you are forced to do things that make you unhappy, you speak up.
You either speak up, or you allow your silence to make you an accomplice in all that is done to you or against you.
Over time, you get into a habit of retreating from situations that cause even the slightest discomfort so much so, that you forget you even have a voice. Worse, you learn to like it. It stops feeling unnatural. The behavior turns into a reflex.
The most unfortunate part is that the people who have the courage to speak up are outnumbered by those who don’t. What do you think that’s doing to the world we live in?
Victims of sexual and domestic violence suffer for years because they don’t have the courage to raise their voice, and fight back. This repression, whether you realize it or not, is the reason why sexual violence is rising so rapidly. Bullies get away because people would rather suffer in silence than force a confrontation.
Even when someone hurts and humiliates you, in my family, you continue being cordial to them. You pretend that things are okay. This isn’t something typical to just my family. Most families do it, and of course, children internalize it, and as adults do it to others.
It was only a few years back that I realized the utter ridiculousness of the whole situation, and how it was impacting my life. At that point, I was done hiding how I felt in order to maintain the status quo, and live up to everyone’s standard of correct and appropriate.
It took some long, tough conversations, but I made my parents understand, and eventually, not only did they show support, I really believe they respected me for standing up for what I believed in. It was hands down, the most liberating thing I could have ever done for myself.
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”
– Madeleine Albright
You see, the behavior we maintain in our personal life, spills into our professional and social lives as well. It is what you are used to so, you make similar choices regardless of the setting you are in and the people you are dealing with.
Basically, if you cower in silence in your personal life, it is more than likely that you’ll do it in your professional and social life as well, therefore, solidifying the pattern. The cycle is inevitable, but not unavoidable.
You can decide to be different at any point in your life.
You may have suffered as a child; it doesn’t mean you have to suffer as an adult.
I changed my behavior as an adult. It takes time, but it can be done.
Maybe people are hoping for a little understanding or for someone to tell them that it’s ok to have an opinion different from everyone else’s. It takes a very small spark to light a raging fire. All you need is one moment of courage and faith, and perhaps some practical help. I would like to share a few things I’ve learned in the past few years.
1) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
You must have heard this line before. It is an excellent piece of advice.
If you stop being afraid of discomfort, you’ll remove every limitation the world has placed on you. Limitations that are unnecessary, but that the society will have you believe are for your own good.
Just forget all of it. Forget everything you have been told about “correct and appropriate” behavior. Just speak your mind. The first time you do it, it’s going to be absolutely awful. You’ll probably tremble with fear. Your head will be pounding. You may even have a nervous twitch. You might even pass out.
The second time you do it, it’s going to be the same – the trembling, the pounding, and the twitching.
The third time, there may be trembling and the pounding, but what do you know, the twitching might be gone.
Eventually, it will all just stop. You’ll say what needs to be said, and you’ll do what needs to be done without the accompanying physiological trauma and that’s when the exhilaration will set in. You’ll feel like a badass – tallest, strongest, bravest person in the world! Soon after, you’ll be helping others find their voice.
You just have to take the first step.
2) Learn to respect yourself
Psychologists believe that people who are okay with being treated badly secretly hate themselves. A part of their brain believes that they deserve everything they are getting, which keeps them from putting an end to it.
I am strongly against generalization, but why else would anyone be okay with living their life on someone else’s terms, if not for a lack of self-respect? You either hate yourself, or your brain is so addled with insecurities that it has rendered you incapable of telling wrong from right.
Young girls, in an attempt to be thin and fit the socially approved idea of “pretty”, intentionally shove fingers down their throat, take dangerous pills, cinch themselves into painful underwear. I mean, what is up with that!? You can’t help but think, that girls like that must nurture a scary level of self-loathing.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like that. You need to start seeing yourself as an individual with the right to be happy.
We have rehabilitation centers for hardened criminals, which tells you that even people who have raped and murdered are allowed the chance to live a better life. There is hope even for them, then why do people who have done no wrong, live their life believing that they only deserve a mediocre existence directed by someone else.
You have a right to spend every day of your life reveling in joy. Cultivate better self-awareness, and find reasons to celebrate yourself.
You exist, therefore you matter! Forgive yourself for whatever wrong you think you’ve done. Give yourself permission to really live, and not just get by on the crumbs thrown at you.
Fight for a better life!
3) Choose your weapon carefully
My mother often tells me that I overshare with people who cannot be trusted. She is right. I do overshare, but not because I don’t know how to choose the right people, but because I don’t care if everyone finds out about my business.
I used to be a very secretive person, not because I had anything to hide, but it just felt more comfortable. It allowed me to keep people at a distance. It also held me back in life.
It kept me from realizing exactly how strong and brave I am. Now, I overshare. Random people know random things about me. I don’t care! Judgment, mockery, ridicule – none of it bothers me. That’s my power, and I am pretty sure it annoys a lot of people which is just an extra incentive for me to be my badass self.
Oversharing is my weapon of choice. I started by quite deliberately inviting embarrassment. When I started with this plan of action, I went through the whole routine of trembling and twitching. Except, I did it so often that eventually, I reached a point where the part of my brain that processes embarrassment just gave up, I think.
What doesn’t kill you, really does make you stronger.
Oversharing is my weapon. It takes a lot to fluster and/or scare me. I just don’t back down. Oversharing is not for everyone though. So, pick your weapon wisely.
If roaring isn’t your style, break your silence with whimpers. Take small, timid steps towards freedom. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. You decide your pace.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
– Malala Yousafzai
4) Build a support system
When something manages to get through my armor, I write. On the rare occasion that my system is jarred with embarrassment or fear, I write, and then I share it with my mom.
She is the voice of calm reason in my life. No matter the storm raging around us, nothing ever shakes her. She is my support system. If I ever allow anyone to treat me badly, she shakes sense into me. You can have a similar support system. Depending on what you are dealing with, seek help from friends, family, or professionals.
If nothing else works, you can join an online community. You can call on helpline numbers. Go to a coffee shop, and talk to a stranger.
If you cannot go at it alone, find help. Have the courage to show a little vulnerability, and you’ll find that the world isn’t as hostile a place as you always believed it to be.
5) Understand the consequences of repression
Think of what your life would be like 10 years down the line if you don’t change things.
Repression comes in different forms. It isn’t always the society, friends or family that represses an individual. You could be the one repressing yourself. When you refuse to admit to yourself all that you want in life, you repress your own voice. Settling for a mediocre job or marriage, or for that matter, settling for anything at all is not right.
So many of us, don’t even have the courage to dream of a better life. We fear everything, except mediocrity. Do you even realize how ridiculous that is?
If you reach for the stars and get burnt in the process well, at least you have experienced what it’s like to beat your limits for a few months, weeks, or seconds. Mediocrity will never make you feel the euphoria of beating the odds or the pain of utter defeat.
You’ll spend your life in the shallows. It will be comfortable, but you’ll never really be alive.
Telling the truth is the easiest thing to do. Being yourself is the easiest thing to do. It requires no camouflage, or indulgence in a pack of lies to support a story that can unravel any second. Despite all that, somehow, the society we live in has done such a number on us that we’ll go as far as it takes, to hide our vulnerabilities.
We would rather smother ourselves to maintain a pathetic farce, than scream loud enough to shatter the forces of repression. We are so desperately clinging to the comfort zones, that life is just happening to us, and we can’t even remember the last time we were in control.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be like this. All you have to do is take the first step. Speak up in your own defense. Find your voice, and fight against repression. Free yourself from everything that is keeping you from realizing your potential, and seeing yourself as the truly courageous, and strong individual you are.
If you have an inspiring story on the subject, do share in the comment section. Nothing inspires change like the account of someone who has lived through something that scares others witless.