HavingTime.com featured a post of mine entitled, “The Top 5 Regrets In Life You Should Avoid.” In the article, among other things, I touched briefly on a book written by a palliative nurse called “The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying.” I have not read the book, but I did read the five bullet point regrets, and used them in my post. Now, in this series, I will be delving deeper into each statement, and reflecting on various strategies that we can implement to avoid having the same deathbed regrets.
Deathbed Regret #3:
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
I am incredibly internal. And though there are many amazing benefits to being a self-reflective and pensive introvert, just as with anything, there are dangers as well. If I’m not careful, I’ll slip into obsessive introspection and quiet depression, isolating myself from the world around me and rotting away in the confines of my own head. With many others in this state, it becomes all too common for people to hide their emotions, and it’s no wonder that one of the top regrets of the dying is “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” We all struggle at one time or another with showing honest emotion and allowing even Cyndi Lauper to see our true colors.
What does it mean to express your feelings? Let’s break it down.
Google Dictionary says that to express is to “convey (a thought or feeling) in words or by gestures and conduct…to say what one thinks or means.” The word feelings is defined as “an emotional state or reaction…emotional responses or tendencies to respond…strong emotion.” To express your feelings is to communicate your emotional response to an event or situation.
Ok, sure, we didn’t break awe-inspiring new ground by defining each word independently, but I do think there are treasures here to be found.
We All Have Emotional Passports
The key word in the definition of the word feelings is reaction; a feeling is a response. And think of the antonym of the word, express which is to impress. When something impresses on you, it makes a mark, much like a stamp to paper. When the stamp is impressed and then lifts, the paper expresses its new mark.
Imagine we all carried passports, but instead of receiving stamps when traveling country-to-country, we received them from interacting person-to-person. Through every encounter, you receive a stamp, an impression, a mark, and each mark represents your emotional response to that interaction, your feeling towards it. The rude clerk at the store stamps your passport as she rolls her eyes. Your spouse screams as she snatches your passport to thrust a stamp during a heated argument. Sometimes, you stay up late and stamp page after page in the dark loneliness of depression. In this hypothetical dystopian-like world, most would keep their passport closed, tucked away in their back pockets, hidden from others’ view. But, in reality, this is how much of our world is: we hide away our emotional passports, not allowing others to see where we’ve been, how we are responding internally, and how we are dealing with the external pressures.
Some “wear their heart on their sleeves” or are “an open book,” but for many of us, to express our feelings is a challenge. For the majority of the population, to be open, honest, and expressive is difficult and unnatural. We keep our emotions, our feelings, all to ourselves. And, though, it might seem easier to it keep it all in, it’s certainly not healthier.
Squeezing Out Emotions And Opening Books
Another definition of the word express is to “squeeze out.” Think of deflating a balloon or juicing an orange. Though this definition seems to be less immediately applicable to our conversation than the one before, it can be applied to the conversation in that conveying what one thinks is certainly not easy, effortless, or painless since it is so unnatural. Many times, to express your feelings is more comparable to the effort of squeezing something out rather than the ease of opening a passport. There is a strong need for intentionality to release the pressures that burden us internally. It takes time and training. To live transparently takes practice, effort, and sometimes, even force, like squeezing the juice out of an orange or slowly releasing the air out of a balloon.
At the end of the day, we will all step off the stage of our respective performances; we will be forced to reach into our back pockets and pull out our emotional passports. Fingering through the pages, reflecting on where we’ve been, who has impressed what upon us, and stressing over the weight of our internal burdens, let’s nudge the person next to us, and share our emotional responses to the world around us. Let’s say what we mean, what we think, what we feel. Let’s not sail through life without authenticity, without courage, without honesty. We all have emotional stamps from tough interactions, and we all are performing to some degree. To limit your deathbed regrets, stop the show, and open your book. It might not be easy. You may need to force yourself to do it–to squeeze out your emotions. It may be difficult, but life is simply too short.