Emotional Health 6 minutes to read

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”        

Fred Rogers

The first time I saw the trailer for the new movie about Mr. Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I was so impacted by a quote he shares, 

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” 

This statement is very true. Where we get stuck is thinking that our pain, our emotions, our addictions, our shortcomings, and our weaknesses are not mentionable—that we somehow have to hide these things. This is especially true when it comes to our emotions.  

Emotions are not right or wrong, good or bad—they just are. Emotions are a huge part of being human and the inevitable highs and lows of life are something we share with all humanity. When we are able to talk about our positive and negative emotions—to feel them, name them, and share them with someone else—we are on the road to recovery.

In this new year and new decade, here are a couple of ideas that I am taking from Mr. Rogers:

IF IT’S HUMAN, IT’S MENTIONABLE

LETTING GO OF SHAME

What makes us think our struggle is so unique is that it’s “unmentionable.” Usually when we can’t mention our pain it’s because some sort of shame is attached to it. 

Recently, I went through a period of grief and depression. I was personally affected by the pain of some people very close to me and it was greatly affecting my emotions. I’ve had a lot of practice sharing my emotions, but the depth of this depression was unusual for me, and I felt shame around it. It wasn’t at the level that I could move past or minimize. It felt debilitating at times. 

I had all kinds of thoughts attached to experiencing and sharing how I was feeling: 

  • Other people are managing okay, so why do I feel crippled and broken? 
  • I’m so angry at God. How come others seem to have trust and calm through their storms?  
  • Who do I talk to about it, and will I just lay an extra burden on them?  
  • I need to fix my emotions quickly because I have to be there for other people in my life—my kids, family, friends, and others I am leading or supporting in some way.  
  • I don’t want to feel these emotions because it just hurts too much.

I have learned through the years that there is rarely a quick fix, even when I want negative emotions to go away. Life is short and I want to be full of gratitude and joy, not fear, anxiety, and depression. 

In my desire to not stay “stuck” in my process, I want to hop over the process, but sometimes my emotions stay with me. Sometimes there is grieving to be done. This will be a process of walking through many of the common emotions and stages of grief that many of us have walked through before: such as shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance, or discovering “a new normal.”

I asked myself: Am I comfortable sitting with my negative emotions and letting others sit with me in this? Am I courageous enough to use healthy tools even while residing in the middle of my pain?

IF IT’S MENTIONABLE, IT’S MANAGEABLE

LETTING GO OF ISOLATION

When feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions, one of the best tools we can use is getting out of isolation. This doesn’t mean everything will be magically fixed, but it is part of how our minds and emotions are designed to heal. Just as a cut or a burn has a process of healing in our physical bodies, the mental and emotional part of us is designed to heal through relationships.

As Mr. Rogers says, “When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

In this recent struggle, opening up to a few people helped me to not carry it by myself. It made my situation a little less overwhelming. 

I also began a new small group that meets regularly—where talking about our feelings, both negative and positive, is actually expected. It’s a safe group where it is okay to say that I don’t have it all together and that sometimes I feel downright crazy. And, what do you know, there are other amazing people I admire in this group who feel a bit crazy as well. 

The thing about vulnerability is that it’s a little bit scary sometimes, (and a lot scary other times), to share what is really going on inside of us without the guarantee of how others will respond. The way we find safe people we can trust is by “sticking our toe in the water,” testing it out a little at a time, and seeing what response we get. We have the choice to keep trying even when we are hurt. And, when we find a safe person (or people), the experience helps us to have the confidence to risk again, building deeper and more connected relationships over time.

I remember several years ago sharing about my husband’s recovery journey from sexual addiction with a small group I was leading. This was my first time sharing in a group setting about what we walked through, and I wanted to open up my life first because I knew this would probably help others to open up. What I found was, a bit surprisingly, that people weren’t shocked or judgmental. Others in the group were able to share deeper things that they were carrying. 

Over the years, I have found many safe groups. The risk of judgment is worth the value I have received by opening up and the value others have received by my openness. The benefit has far outweighed the risk.

I’ve actually seen this happen many times. When a friend is going through something really hard—like betrayal, divorce, disconnection with a child, or anxiety—and they begin to share their struggle, others seemingly come out of the woodwork to share their own struggles with them. They recognize that this person will be able to accept and even connect with their messiness. 

Last year, we had a panel of friends at church share about their experience with a loved one committing suicide. Many people were able to connect their own deep pain or a similar experience through the vulnerability of this group of people.

We need to take the risk and let our true selves be seen so that we can continue to unlock the doors of shame and let our stories out. 

Creating a safe community of openness requires a risk up front, but once you become part of a community like this, I assure you, you will never want to go back.

If It’s human, it’s mentionable—no shame; if it’s mentionable, it’s manageable—no isolation. 

Since shame often leads us to isolation, then this is a beautiful reminder of the way forward. 

By finding others who I can share my human struggles with, helps me recognize I am not alone in any emotion that I might have. I find that others can be there for me and I can be there for them—in the midst of our brokenness, sometimes in the most beautiful ways.