“Your Feelings are Legitimate”

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Sorry I’m Not Sorry – Refusing to Apologize for Feelings

I went for my first tattoo the other day, slightly nervous, but excited to commit a piece of art to my skin for all eternity.

But here’s the thing – I’ve always been terribly anxious when it comes to matters of the body, and I’m never quite sure exactly what will set me off. I had an uneasy feeling that something would go away at some point during the process – it was really just a matter of when. And sure enough, when the tattoo artist began to clean my skin with the pungent rubbing alcohol, I started to panic.

I suddenly felt extremely dizzy and sick to my stomach. My vision started getting blotchy and I was afraid I was going to faint. Before she had even applied the stencil, I had to rush outside for air. I felt so out of control of my body that I didn’t know if I would make it back inside.

After a few minutes, my tattoo artist came out and asked if I needed anything, or if there were any questions she could answer to ease my mind. Already feeling that wave of nausea begin to pass, I felt silly for my actions and was compelled to apologize for making a scene over something I knew was all in my head.

What she said to me next was the most kind and appropriate thing anyone could have said.

“You don’t have to apologize for anything. Your feelings are legitimate.”

I believe these simple words to be entirely true, but I’ve still had some trouble accepting this internally. Having dealt with squeamishness, anxiety, and depression throughout my life, I know there are more than a few times where I would have liked to believe that my feelings were legitimate. Yet, I was always overwhelmed with guilt because I felt that only people with “real” problems were entitled to feel that way. That since I didn’t have any “real” reasons, I was just a blubbering wimp.

Now, I’m not saying that each of us shouldn’t be accountable for ourselves, at least to some degree. In a perfect society, I think that we would do for ourselves what we could, and reach out to our communities for what we couldn’t. But as it stands, there are times when we are powerless to help ourselves, and our communities are not willing or equipped to catch us when we fall.

I think at least part of the solution will be in the widespread acceptance that whoever you are, your feelings are legitimate. You may be living someone else’s idea of the perfect life, but at the end of the day, it’s not their life. It’s yours, and you know it better than anyone else. So you don’t have to apologize for being stressed out, or sad, or for suddenly bursting into tears in a public place. Or for the myriad of other ways you might let your feelings show. You’re not trying to hurt anybody. You can’t help feeling the way you feel.

By apologizing, you’re saying that what happened was somehow your fault, and that you alone must atone and repair whatever social transgression may have transpired. And yes – to some extent, it is your responsibility to heal yourself, or ask for help if you’re finding your psychological condition to be disruptive, but this is something that you should be doing for you, because you deserve to feel better, not because your feelings are troubling to anyone else.

It can be incredibly difficult for a person who has no experience with mental illness to have the understanding and patience to effectively communicate with a person caught in the throes of an anxiety attack, or worse. In these situations, we can do our best to be aware of this and understand that those who surround us may be doing the best they can as well. But we don’t expect them to apologize. So why should we?

We all learn to deal with the cards that are handed to us, and we can’t possibly hope to know what’s in everyone else’s deck. What we can do is recognize the fact that we don’t know, and do our best to try to understand.

So the next time you feel inclined to apologize for your feelings, don’t. Be considerate of those around you, but don’t apologize and tell them that your feelings don’t matter. They do.

After those reassuring words from my tattoo artist, I was able to walk back inside and finish my tattoo with no further interruptions. I now have a beautiful piece of art on my arm that symbolizes not only a love for nature and freedom, but also reminds me that my little mental ticks are just a part of who I am. An experience that I would have typically found embarrassing was instead quite empowering.

To me, psychological health means owning up to the things you can change and refusing to apologize for the things you can’t. Our imperfections make us unique, and they make us human. Reflect upon yourself, but do not dwell on how others may perceive you. And if you must apologize, apologize to yourself, for letting yourself think you weren’t allowed to act or feel a certain way.

Just remember to forgive yourself, too.

Author: Shannon

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