I was around six years old when I landed in the home of my third set of foster parents.
My birth mother (whom I now call mummy; it’s a Nigerian thing, no matter your age…) had taken me and my sister on holiday to America (where we experienced our first McDonald’s milkshake and burgers (#childhoodjoys).
We had returned to England from our holiday, but we had not returned to the house of mummy Olive and daddy Brian, my first set of foster parents.
We arrived at another house, a house I had never been to before, but mummy was chatting with the people.
As I sat on the staircase in this strange house, I felt a rising sensation that something was wrong. I would now call that feeling foreboding. I didn’t know what was happening, but something was happening, and I didn’t like it.
At that exact moment, mummy must have sensed that I was feeling something because she left the conversation; she was in, walked up to me and said, “This is your new mum and dad. Don’t cry.”
As a fully grown adult, I have a better understanding of my mother’s circumstances and the choices she made; I hope we can all give our parents more grace and understanding as we age. In doing so, we can provide freedom to ourselves and them.
At that time, as a young child, I knew never to disobey my mummy. As I felt the tears well up, I pushed them down.
As my questions stuck in my throat, I swallowed them quickly. And as I was gripped with a sense of terror, I smiled.
That evening in the home of my new mum and dad, at six years old, I made some decisions:
1. Do not have feelings.
2. If you have feelings, do not express or communicate them to anyone because you’ll upset people if you do.
So, every night for a long, long time, I would sob silently in my bed, in my new home, wanting to go back to mummy Olive and Daddy Brian, but having no idea how to do this. I didn’t know where they lived, and I didn’t know where I was. I knew I could not describe my distress to my new parents because it would upset them, and they would think I was ungrateful. So I kept my feelings and what I now know as grief to myself.
When the world of personal development opened up to me at the age of 18, I started to allow myself to feel. I learned that feelings and emotions are valid, and trying to hide or dismiss them is more painful than feeling them.
So in my mid-twenties, by the time I met my husband, my feeling life was intense; I had shut my feelings down for so long, so when I did feel, I felt deeply.
Sometimes he found my level of emotion challenging and confronting, and it sometimes made me think that feeling intensely was wrong, that I should have ‘more control’ and have better composure (my internalised English stoicism).
Until one day, I realised, “No.”
At forty-seven, my ability to have and own my feelings is one of my superpowers. I have earnt the right to feel, and I will not be consciously or unconsciously shamed for doing so.
So in raising our children, I would let them see my ‘feeling’; deep distress, excitement, fear, joy, confusion, grief, all the feelings. I once said to them, “Never be afraid of your emotional life, and do not be afraid of the emotional lives of others. Learn to be with yourself and to be with others.”
Being able to name our feelings is an essential tool in navigating our humanity and the humanity of others.
I have just finished Brenè Brown’s Atlas Of The Heart – Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience.
As a Dare to Lead™ (DTL) facilitator, I received an early copy from Brenè’s team when it was published. Still, I purposefully waited until the week before leading the next DTL retreat so that I would be ‘marinating’ in work.
The book is a map. A mapping of the feelings and emotions we experience as humans. It allows us to own and name our feelings and permits us to explore the feelings and emotions we are too scared to explore.
Pick up a copy or eight (or if, like me, you love Brenè’s voice and storytelling), get the audio as well.
Her explanation of the word anguish is what reminded me of 6-year-old Kemi lying in bed every night, crying, wondering how to get ‘home’.
This book not only invites us to name the feelings we experience in the moment, but in my case, at least, it has allowed me to name the feelings of the past.
There is POWER in naming our emotions, and there is bravery in owning our full humanity.
Wishing you a weekend of feeling, with no apology.
As always, I would love to hear your insights, thoughts or musings.
Thank you if you have already left a review for POWER; I sincerely appreciate the time you took.
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