Editor’s note: Shannon King was a finalist for the Courier-Herald’s columnist application process. With September having five editions of the newspaper, Ms. King was kind enough to allow the Courier-Herald to publish her application column as a special opinion piece.
We spend so much time pushing our most difficult emotions down. Either we’ve been taught to just ignore these feelings, or we think they will eat us alive if we let them surface. Or both. It really isn’t any fun to admit we are angry, sad, jealous, resentful, or just plain scared. But what I have seen time and time again is this “push it down at all cost” method bite people in the butt.
You see, holding all your difficult feelings in is like trying to hold one of those big inflatable beach balls under water. You can hold that beach ball under water for a while, but eventually your arm muscles will get tired and weaken or your hands will lose their grip. When this happens, that beach ball will go shooting out of the water when they don’t mean it to.
This unplanned, uncontrolled beach ball eruption happens all the time in life, metaphorically. Someone shoves all that anger down, until it comes out in a full-blown rage. We bury that worry down low, only to wake up having a panic attack out of nowhere. We ignore these unpleasant, hard feelings only to have them come out as yelling at a loved one. That is who we usually take our crud out on, because they are our safe people. It’s not fair, but we know they aren’t going anywhere and will love us anyways, so they often get hit in the face with one of these beach balls.
I let a small beach ball fly the very first time I saw the movie Titanic in a movie theater. I was holding in all my crying. I was afraid if I let myself start crying I would just end up sobbing uncontrollably. Rose was floating on that door in the icy water, repeating “I’ll never let go Jack” as Jack was slipping under, no longer able to hold on. By the time Rose realized Jack was no longer there, I let out the most awful noise many people in the theater had probably ever heard. It was the sound of a seagull being strangled, or maybe the sound a cow would make screaming on a roller coaster. It was the result of me not letting myself cry, and it came out anyway in its own, oh-so-embarrassing way.
In real life, big feelings often feel unmanageable. Some people may have even been taught that it’s not OK to feel sad or angry. What I tell people is that these big, not fun feelings are hard, but they don’t last forever. They are a wave that will come and will eventually go. But shoving them down usually only prolongs the issue. We can actually deal with more than we think we can. People are always braver and more resilient than they realize.
Now, you’re probably wondering what in the heck to do with your beach ball if you’re not supposed to hold it down. The simplest thing to do is set it on top of the water, spin it around gently, look at it, poke around at it. This might mean just allowing yourself to admit how you’re actually feeling. Then spend some time thinking about it, writing, or talking to someone you trust who is a good listener.
Most people, when asked to think about it, have someone in their life they could have these kinds of conversations with. If you don’t have a good listener, if your hard feelings are of the extra horrible variety, or you are still not convinced you won’t be eaten alive by them, then you might poke around at your beach ball with someone like me. Ask your doctor or friends or insurance company for names of good therapists. We are especially trained in dealing with extra hard beach balls.
After you poke at your beach ball, you can simply just let it float away. It’s not that it doesn’t exist anymore, you just don’t need to work so hard to hold it at bay now. It’s like opening a pop can that has been shaken slowly and releasing the fizz rather than popping the top quickly — this usually works out better for people.
Now I’m just mixing my metaphors.
Admit how you are feeling, deal with those feelings, and enjoy not holding them down. Your arms will be free to do other things, and it will be a lot less exhausting.
Your family will also enjoy not being hit in the face with flying beach balls.
Shannon King, MA LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who has been working with adults, teens and families for 15-plus years. A native of the Plateau area, she enjoys raising her two children, volunteering in the community, and her rescue dogs. Finding ways to use metaphors, humor and everyday language to explain psychological concepts is a favorite part of her work. She considers herself a listener by trade and a story teller at heart.