If we are alert enough, we’ll notice that we are always on guard. We watch our words; we watch our actions; we don’t express our beliefs. We can’t admit to ourselves that we are afraid, that we are angry, or hurt. We deny our desires and fantasies. We try to forget our past, pretend that it never happened.
And so, even when we are alone, we cut off and deny entire portions of our inner life – every waking moment of our lives. This has become so natural to us that we are not even aware of it.
Releasing Who They Are
But have we ever stopped to see what we are really doing? Our thoughts and beliefs are as much a part of us as our bodies are – if not more so! When we deny and repress them, what are we doing? We’re cutting, trimming, and breaking ourselves, just so we can fit into a metal box, just so we can feel safer, more acceptable. As Nathaniel Branden puts it – we spend our entire lives alienated from ourselves.
So there is a gift we can give to our loved ones – our total, unconditional, acceptance. Try it. Just listen; just watch, while holding non-judgemental compassion in your hearts. Give them the space and acceptance to be who they are, let them express everything they’ve held back. Let them show their vulnerability, sadness, anger, and spitefulness. Let them state their beliefs, even those that make us uncomfortable, those that go against everything we stand for – even our religious and political beliefs.
And slowly, you will see them let their guards down. They begin to climb out of their prison, uncramping themselves, healing themselves. Slowly, over the weeks and months, they feel safe enough to get in touch with themselves – they become truly human. How can there be true love otherwise? All other affection is plastic, fake – wasted on the prison they are hiding in.
The most prominent constraint would be the one we construct around our feelings. Take sadness as an example; many people cannot show a natural range. My entire life, I have forced my grief down. Others have judged me too many times – silently or overtly – as somehow broken or useless for the simple act of being sad. Gradually, I began to judge myself the same way, even when I was by myself – I hated any sign of weakness, any sign that I was less than a rock. And so it began to pile up until one day I collapsed from the strain of it, becoming an empty shell, a parody of who I used to be.
The long depression began to lift when I simply let myself be sad. That was all I needed for change to begin. I let myself do things I had never allowed myself to do. I curled up on the floor and cried. I admitted to myself how hurt I really was, that I felt rejected, cast aside, humiliated, and spat on. I dropped my pretence, even if it was just for me.
Out of Invisibility
How many people can simply let a grieving friend grieve? How many have told them to put their chin up, to face the world with a smile? Others might have been blunter – stop being such a wimp, they might say. Stop whining. Certainly, some may have the best intentions. But they are unaware that they are devaluing a vital, core, part of the very person they are trying to help.
I remember, a long time ago, a personal discussion with a friend. She had been put through events that were many times worse than anything I had experienced. When she asked me why I had been depressed, I felt almost ashamed in telling her – I thought my reasons were petty and insignificant, and many others had implied the same.
But her reply was new to me. She told me she would never trivialise my pain, that it must have been horrible for me, and that it was just as valid a reason as hers. I remember how those few words made me feel. That was the moment I understood why Nathaniel Branden calls visibility one of the most important ingredients in self-esteem and happiness. How can we be truly human, if nobody accepts such a basic part of who we are?
The Rest Of Our Inner Life
What about the rest of one’s inner life – thoughts and beliefs, desires and fantasies, even likes and dislikes? Just like our feelings, we might have been attacked, humiliated, or made to feel wrong for them.
And once again, we have internalised these critics, and cut off an entire part of ourselves. These can be major – religious beliefs, for example – but not always. I remember when I was about twelve, and I saved up enough to buy a new CD for myself. I was excited, and showed it to an adult I looked up to. He took a glance and said, “What kind of idiot listens to that?” And for a long time afterwards, I always felt somehow stupid simply because I liked a genre of music he didn’t.
Can we let our loved ones express themselves healthily and safely? Can we let them express their beliefs, even if it clashes with our own? Can we allow them completely to be as they are?
Give your loved one the gift of visibility. It is simple, but not always easy – just acknowledge who they are, what they are going through, with empathy and respect.
Safety and Respect for All Involved
To close off this article, and in preparation for Part 3, please remember we are discussing unconditional acceptance and respect for all involved. This includes you, and never means we abandon self-protection, self-respect, or ethical action. We can accept someone’s anger and still restrain them if they get violent. We can accept someone’s depression and still restrain them if they attempt to hurt themselves.