Why do adults suck at this important life skill?
A couple of years ago, my dad's good friend and neighbor was diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of cancer.
The news was devastating and hard to accept for everyone. What made it worse though, was that leading up to his cancer diagnosis, his doctors told him it was nothing. But it was skin cancer, and it was on his face. He'd lived with it in plain sight for over a year before being diagnosed.
Devastating, and downright unacceptable are some words that come to mind when I relive this story.
I saw him again not long after he'd received the news.
And when we gathered around my parent’s dining table, nobody said a thing.
Instead, we talked about TV shows, the weather, and other inconsequential things.
It was on everyone's mind but nobody was courageous enough to acknowledge it or ask how he was doing.
We pretended like it didn’t exist, or that it wasn’t there, looming over us, looming over him.
Why do we do this?
As adults, we’ve somehow become remarkable good at avoiding emotions. Last night I came across this TikTok video on the very subject.
In the video, the woman highlights how instead of allowing children to feel their big emotions, adults distract them. We distract them with candy, toys, tv, and anything else can think of.
But we have a lot to learn from children.
They aren’t afraid to let their emotions out, AND acknowledge the big emotions of others.
Case in point: Last weekend I brought my 3-year-old son to the playground. It’s spring break week here in St Petersburg so the park was overflowing with kids.
There was a moment where a little girl began to cry, loudly. Instead of ignoring her or running away, other kids began to swarm around her. Many watched in curousity and others came to her rescue.
At what point in life do we stop doing this for others?
Maybe as adults, we ignore the situation, hoping it will make everything go away. If we don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t actually exist. Right?
Or we hold back thinking it’s better to leave things unsaid. It’s the polite thing to do.
Or maybe we don’t want to ask because we aren’t sure exactly what will happen. Will they lose control? Or worse, will we?
But are these really true? And, is this a good way to for us to approach life?
No, not at all.
There's an excellent quote on this very topic:
“Suppression leads to depression.”
Supressing emotions (also known as stuffing them down or powering through) is an avoidance technique that prevents us from processing them. It hinders our ability to process them, which is the very act that helps us experience, explore, learn, and grow.
The following day after we saw my dad's friend, I decided that I wouldn’t shy away from situations like that again. Something in my stomach said that it didn't feel right; outright ignoring it just wasn't for me.
Everyday, I strive to become the person who holds space for others — the person who opens the door a crack to let someone else share, to boldly go there, if they choose.
My dream is for others to do the same.
You never know, a small, "How are you doing since X happened" or "What's it been like lately?" will be the lifeboat someone needs.
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This story is dedicated to one of the coolest and kindest people, and neighbor I had the privilege of knowing, Matt.