An Open Letter to My Fellow Private People

Dear Private Person:

I see you. More than that, I know you.

I know how you were raised, because it’s the same way I was raised:

Try not to be a burden on anyone, don’t take up too much space. Don’t be loud, or obnoxious, or needy. Don’t seek to be the center of attention. Keep a low profile, help out when you can, and most importantly, keep private things private.

I know how you think, too, because I used to think this way:

I can handle this; it’s no big deal. I’m probably exaggerating anyway, and I don’t want to be perceived as weak or selfish. I don’t need anyone, because I’m strong enough to handle it. And I’m only hurting myself.

I once might’ve called it a curse that I could not also be a private person, even within my family unit. Stoicism is not my nature. Growing up, I was often teased for being “overly-emotional,” or unable to “take a joke.” If the adults wanted to know whodunit, they came to me. I always spilled.

I am an emotional, transparent person by default, and no amount of hiding has ever worked. I have found this to be a gift, not a curse. Because I’ve also seen firsthand what stoicism does to people when they tuck all of their emotions and pain and stories away.

I watched my mom as she slowly developed kidney failure, and then required a kidney transplant to save her life. When I learned that the kidneys relate to the emotion of fear in the Chinese medicine system, it clicked for me: she had never shown fear. Not to me. Her mantra was, “Do what you have to do now, you can panic later.” Which basically just resulted in her shoving her emotions back down, time and time again, until her kidneys erupted.

Emotions and feelings might not be visible to the naked eye, but they carry weight. They are real and valid and purposeful–not imaginary, made up, or self-induced. They are an inextricable part of being human–the best part, if you ask me.

Where do you think these emotions and stories go if you don’t express them, private person? They do not disappear, even if you try to shove them into the furthest recesses of your memory.

Unacknowledged emotions lodge in the tissues and blood and bones of your body. From there, they seek expression in the only way they can in such confined spaces: through minor aches to chronic pain, from regular illness to full-blown disease.

I hear you saying, “Yes, but better I am in pain than to be a burden to others.”

To which I reply, “Your conditioning runs so deep in your veins you can’t see that when you hurt yourself, you do in fact hurt others. You can’t yet see how, in sharing your stories, you would help others feel, and heal, and accept their imperfect humanity.”

It does, and it will. Here’s an example:

I just recently shared one of the most powerful stories of my life through writing.

Right after I sent it out, I received a phone call from a friend I haven’t talked to in a long time, inquiring about my well-being. She had read the article and wanted to check in on me. I told her that this story is from years ago, and I’ve done my healing around it. But her voice cracked, and I could tell the piece had touched her deeply.

Part of me felt instantly guilty. This is the part of me that was trained to believe that it’s not okay to cause someone else to feel anything other than happiness. Guilty that she would have to go back to work with red eyes, or that something cracked open in her that hadn’t been felt before.

So I said to her, “I’m sorry, perhaps I shoud’ve added a warning label…”

And she quickly replied, “No, it’s human, it’s what being human is all about.”

We ended the phone call with expressions of well-being and solitary as we navigate this thing called life.

“The value of emotions comes from sharing them, not just from having them.”

~ Simon Sinek

Private person, I know you think there are stories and emotions and thoughts in your mind that no one else could ever understand. I know you worry about burdening others, or embarrassing yourself, or being questioned, judged, or, worst of all, excluded.

To that I will say, you’re right–there’s no guarantee that our stories will meet receptive ears.

But in my life experience, this has happened only rarely, and for good reason–these were not people I needed in my life anymore.

If they could not accept me in my wholeness–my shadows and my light–then they’re simply not walking the same path, and it’s time to part ways.

More often, however, sharing my stories–through writing, or conversations over wine or coffee–has resulted in a deeper connection between us. My body relaxes and softens as the stories and related emotions exit. And, as the other person listens and takes it in, they too find healing.

Being a private person is often considered a badge of honor or a point of pride in our culture. But in truth, it’s a sign of disconnection from the whole of humanity. Separation was built into our psyches from childhood on. To choose to be a private person is nothing more than an extension of this false belief.

None of us are separate, and nothing you feel cannot be handled or held by another.

Your stories are human stories. Your emotions are human emotions. You have gone through nothing that someone else cannot relate to at the level of emotion. How you got to the pain, the anger, the betrayal, the guilt–that might be unique. But everyone knows and has their own stories of feeling these emotions.

Besides all of this–you are not only hurting yourself.

Think of it this way: every time a human being walks a particular path, it makes it easier for the next person and the next person to walk that path. The more we share our stories with vulnerability and honesty, the easier we make it for the next person to do so.

By withholding your personal stories and human journey, even from just one person you can trust, you’re allowing the thick weeds to grow back on those pathways. It is all of our jobs to regularly tread these paths of healing and growth so that others may have an easier time walking them. So that our children and their children can find expression and healing through sharing their stories.

Dear private person: I invite you to try calling up a friend and talking to them about something that really matters, something you didn’t think you could ever talk about. Don’t worry about being perceived as “put together,” or “organized,” or on your best behavior. Forget about apologies and buffers and qualifications and just let yourself be witnessed in your full humanity.

This is not only good for your health, it’s good for your mind, heart, and soul. And, it’s good for the mind, heart, and soul of those you share your humanity with.

We need each other, and stories are how we connect and relate. They remind us that we are all on the same journey of life, no matter how we got there.

There is nothing so private that cannot be understood or related to by another human being.

Nothing so private that it cannot be observed, felt, explored, and learned from.

There is nothing so private that can exclude you from the group of “humanity.” Nothing you’ve thought or done or experienced or felt is “abnormal.” It is only abnormal, and unnatural, to keep pain tucked away in your hip pocket, or your chest cavity, or your upper neck, or your kidneys.

Through open sharing, we let go, heal, and, eventually, find some humor and lightness in this experiment we call human life and the foibles that go with it.

Private person, true healing cannot be done behind closed doors. Strength is not built in a vacuum. Grief needs a witness, as does anger, and sadness, and loss, and all of the other emotions in the human family.

Private person, we need you to share your whole self with us so that we can all traverse the human path a little more easily.

Come out from behind your facade, private person, and let yourself be seen in your whole, messy, complex, bitter-sweet, angsty humanity.

I for one am here for that.

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