by Avery Thatcher
I have a lantern tattoo on my right arm, and although it is beautiful, my favorite part is that the glass in the lantern is broken. The little winding cracks in the glass are very intentional and I want to share why.
As a highly sensitive, very emotional person I used to be scared of the hurt. I would try to avoid it at all costs – people pleasing, going above and beyond, doing everything in my power to prevent people from feeling disappointed in me. Someone told me that as a child saying that what I did was wrong didn’t impact me as much as when they said “I’m very disappointed”. They could see that it had a much greater impact on me.
And then there was the phrase “I didn’t mean it that way, don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re too sensitive” or “stop crying, you’re making everyone uncomfortable.” From listening to my clients, these are phrases I know other highly sensitive people have heard pretty much all their life. I know I’m not alone in this, but at the same time that’s not really that comforting.
On my Instagram accounts I often reference that we live in a world that’s scared to feel – and I stand by that. When highly sensitive people show and share their emotions, I believe it triggers the inner protective mechanisms in the non-highly-sensitive people around them and puts them in fight, flight, freeze or fawn. Growing up I did everything I could to numb my emotions, to not feel as deeply until I got to the point where I barely felt anything at all.
It wasn’t all bad. I mean, I still experienced some happy moments but didn’t have to deal with anger, frustration, or sadness very much. I was the kind of person people would call “too nice”, and then take advantage of that, but in all fairness I let them. The truth is that I numbed myself to the point that I didn’t notice when I wasn’t being treated well. I often say hindsight is a jerk, and looking back I can see all kinds of behavior that I shouldn’t have tolerated both in friendships and intimate relationships. I used to say “if you want to offend me you’re going to have to let me know because I always think the best of people.” Or “I never get angry.” Really, though, that was just me fawning and numbing myself to all of the warning signs and red flags.
I met my partner when I was still trying to numb all of my emotions yet he did what he could to create emotional safety. He often shared that he liked my sensitive nature. But truly he only saw a part of it at that point.
As we grew in our relationship, I started feeling more and more able to open up, to let him in behind the mask, and slowly open up the emotional vulnerability that I had kept hidden for so long (even from myself). Really it was only two years after we were married that I think I was able to fully let that wall down. That being said, he still struggles when I cry sometimes. I get it. It’s hard to watch other people move through difficult emotions especially if there’s nothing you can do to help except to hold them. So interestingly enough, we came up with an emotional safe word so that I could process deep emotions without him worrying that he did something wrong.
I used to shy away from big emotions, especially painful ones, because I thought it would be better to push it down, move through and ignore the experience. But now I know (as I shared in the episode called Lighter Than a Stone) that this means that when I do eventually process that emotion (whether it’s my choice or not) it’s going to almost explode out of me in an uncontrollable rush. All of us just need to allow ourselves to move through the emotional experience. You may have heard the phrase that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience? I like to think of it a slightly different way in that we’re logical beings having an emotional experience.
Wondering what this has to do with the lantern tattoo with the broken glass? Stick with me. I’m getting there.
Recently I discovered a song called “Let Me Hurt” by Emily Rowed that absolutely encompasses why we needed a safe word to allow me to process and move through the emotional experiences so I could feel whole again.
A lyric from the chorus resonates so much with me and it is “Need to cry an ocean before I’m stronger” which is often what happens when I cry. I feel utterly broken and emotionally destroyed when I have those whole body shaking, ugly cries. But then I feel healing, I feel whole, and I feel calm.
This reminds me of a quote from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu that says “If you want to become whole, you first must allow yourself to become broken.” That, my dear friend, is exactly what I think we all need to do when it comes to deeply emotional experiences. To allow ourselves to hurt a little longer, to fall into that deep emotion and allow it to wash over us. To allow ourselves to become broken in order to feel whole again.
The cracks in the glass of my lantern tattoo remind me to allow myself to break. To allow myself to fully feel what I need to feel and find my way through the experience. As Emily says in her song “Used to think that being brave just meant moving on. Now I sink into the pain until it’s all gone.”
As with so many things in life, the only way out is through. The journey doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but if we want to truly be ourselves and embrace our full potential – we have to learn how to lean into the pain.
I know this was heavy, so I want to leave you with something to move forward from here. I like the idea of affirmations, and logically sometimes I believe them. But emotionally…not so much. I mean, I can say “I unconditionally accept every emotion I feel” and use logic to try and convince myself it’s true. Emotionally, I don’t usually believe it. So instead I add in two little words at the beginning: “what if”. What if I unconditionally accept every emotion I feel? Changes the game, right? Instead of you trying to convince yourself of something you don’t really believe yet, you’re now starting a conversation.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.