I Wish I Had the Courage
Here is our third post based on the wonderful article the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. This article gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to living life fully and abundantly. We hope that you’ll be inspired by its wisdom and what it teaches us about what really matters in life. Each day we blog we’ll continue highlighting one of the five regrets from the article.
Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
Several months ago I (Tom) met with a friend of mine in a bar. We hadn’t spent much time together for a very long time so we spent most of the evening talking about surface level things (i.e. jobs, sports, the weather, etc.). We met for nearly an hour. We were just about to leave when I happened to ask him about his family. He had never shared much about his family relationships before and so I wasn’t expecting much of a response. He typically doesn’t open up and share his feelings very often. But just as I was about to pay for the check, he responded by saying:
It is funny you would ask that right now because several years ago my (twin) brother and I had a huge blow-up. One night we had a little too much to drink and one of us started ridiculing the other brother for how he was (or wasn’t) living his life. There were many nasty comments made towards one another and things were said that night that really scarred our relationship and broke one another’s trust. The crazy thing is that we had never had much of a close relationship where we shared our feelings until that night. It’s unfortunate how it all went down. At every family gathering we simply co-exist and keep things cordial. But then last week, I happened to take a risk. I called my brother and said I’d like to get together to process everything that went down that night and how it has affected our relationship. So I did. He said he would like that so we met two nights ago in a coffee shop. We started to open up and share our hurts, our fears, our vulnerabilities, and our differences. We shared about the positive qualities that we have always seen in one another and how deeply we value our own uniqueness. I think this will change our relationship forever.
It is conversations like this one that remind us both of our need to share the deeper truths of our lives. We believe that there is nothing that leads to more bitterness and resentment and pain than keeping our feelings inside.
Several years ago I (Michael) received a call about a young woman I knew who had been admitted to the hospital the night before—to the mental health unit. She had a little too much to drink at a party the night before and something inside her snapped. She became mentally and emotionally like a little girl. It scared her family very much. Over the course of the next few weeks, as this young woman received treatment and explored what had happened that night, an incredible, painful story came out. She had been sexually abused as a very young child by a family member. She had never told anyone what had happened and had buried it deep, deep inside. As her story unfolded, and her family learned about it, it enabled other family members to share their own experiences with abuse over several decades and generations. There were stories that none of them had shared with the others, ever before. Suddenly, decades of family dysfunction began to be understood—unhealthy marriages, divorces, inabilities to forgive, deep seeded resentments, chronic illnesses–that in the light of this unearthed abuse began to be understood. This had been a family in crisis for a very long, long time. And because so many dark secrets were hidden and buried, never spoken of, those secrets brewed inside overwhelmed many of their lives. It was only in the light of them being able to share and talk openly about what many of them had experienced that the healing in this family could begin.
As the spiritual saint Fred Rogers mentioned, suppressing our feelings is one of, if not the most, debilitating afflictions we can live with in this life. Because living with resentment, or bitterness, or a lack of joy, or a lack of love is missing out on the greatest opportunities to find fulfillment in this life.
We find fulfillment by creating close, strong and constructive relationships—life-giving relationships—based on trust, on mutual vulnerability, and intimacy.