Allowing Ourselves to Feel

Note from Hannah: I’m pleased to feature this guest post by Jennifer Barbour of as part of the New Perspectives Series on mental health, wellness, and just being a human. Enjoy!

photo credit: © Craig Ikegami | Dreamstime Stock Photos

photo credit: © Craig Ikegami | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I could feel my eyes start to sting as I fought back tears.

Should I be crying? Is this professional?

“Denise” read a letter from her then nine-year-old son, begging her to stop taking drugs so that they could be a family again. It was heart wrenching to hear.

The three of us spent the day shooting a video for the treatment facility I worked for. I glanced at the filmmaker. He was concentrating on the shot. And while he was visibly affected by the content of the letter, he did not flinch.

Earlier that day, Denise told me how she would bring her twin girls to the park and watch them play from her car. She would smoke and talk on her phone.

She learned how to play with her kids in rehab.

I watched as she playfully kept her twin girls entertained, answering our questions while we filmed.

Why am I fighting these emotions?

Denise’s addiction got to the point where she could not feel anymore. If she didn’t complete treatment this time around, she would go to jail for four years. She told these things to me in a very matter-of-fact way.

I was in awe of her strength. I had heard other women in similar situations say the easy way out would be to just go to jail.

Denise kept the letter from her son in her pocket as a reminder of why she needed to stay sober.

I went through a range of emotions that day – anger, sadness, disbelief, confusion, hopefulness, pride. I couldn’t help but think that a few wrong decisions could have put me in the same situation. We were the same age. We were mothers. And, yet, our outcomes were so different.

In the beginning, I was painfully aware of my reaction to her story. In its entirety, it’s difficult to fathom. I couldn’t figure out if I should react to it or not. I was not a counselor, yet I was still representing the treatment center where she was still a client.

Too often we mask our emotions when we really just need to feel them.

I am reminded of Jimmy Valvano’s famous ESPY speech after winning the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. He was dying of cancer and well aware of his precious few moments left on Earth. In the speech he noted, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

My day with Denise showed me that it’s OK, and necessary, to feel. We laughed. We cried. And she made me think more than I had in a long time.

It was a heck of a day.

Do you fight your emotions?

Jennifer Barbour is a copywriter, blogger, aspiring author and new media consultant. She aims to inspire, to entertain and to make you think. Her passions are writing, philanthropy, her awesome family and bacon, though not necessarily in that order. You can find out more at


    • Hannah

      Jennifer- thank you for your contribution! I’m so excited to have more dialogue on emotions. It’s the most under-talked about topic on the planet! Thank you so much!

  1. Michelle

    I don’t think I could read a letter like that from my kids without bawling. Or hear a letter like that, for that matter. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I hear a sad story on the news, I cry. I read something that touches me, I cry. I don’t have to know the people involved. As a photo professional, I worked several times to create projects for memorial services for people that passed away far too young, and I also worked with 2 women to create books they wanted to leave to their families when they lost their battles with cancer. I would go home from those sessions drained, yet uplifted, knowing that they were giving their families the gift of memories with them.

    • Hannah

      Michelle- I really think that feelings need to be expressed and just letting them come out in ways like crying or just feeling touched are good. When we “stuff” feelings they come out all wrong! As a therapist, I do have feelings that need to come out. I have to find “homes” for these feelings after the sessions with clients. It requires a lot of attention. Thanks for sharing you perspective!

  2. another jennifer

    I’m the same way, Michelle. I think working with therapists over the years in my professional life has helped! They teach you all kinds of things about managing emotions (as you can see from Hannah’s response).

  3. Ilene

    The short answer: yes. I tend to be stoic in the eye of the storm and cry later. Sometimes, I just don’t want to “deal with” negative emotions but it’s so much easier in the long wrong to face pain or hurt or fear head on instead of run from it or allow it to manifest in another way. Lovely post Jen and I feel for what you were feeling for that mom in the rehab. It could have been any of us.

  4. another jennifer

    It’s funny how we aren’t sure how to deal with our emotions, Ilene. I try so hard to be stoic, but I’m learning that fighting those emotions often doesn’t move me forward.

    • Hannah

      I think you are onto something, Jennifer. We aren’t sure how to deal with our emotions. Hardly any of us (and none of us all the time). Who ever taught us, really? That’s why I’m so passionate about helping people be aware that this is going on. There is a lot of trial and error and we all need more guidance. I don’t think that necessarily needs to happen in a therapist’s office. By talking about it and trading ideas we can all start to learn more. This is a great discussion. I’m so excited.

  5. Tamara

    It’s complicated but yes, I do tend to fight my emotions at the scene. It’s stupid because sometimes I’m in a very safe place with safe people but it’s like I’m afraid to lose control. I’m afraid if I start to cry, I’ll never stop. I don’t really understand it because holding it in can’t be healthy!

    • Hannah

      Tamara- I think a lot of people would relate to your comment. I think the key problem with holding in the feelings is that they end up sneaking out in ways we don’t always like. I think we all need a little crying time. Thanks for sharing and contributing to this conversation!

  6. PeggyAnn Doak M.Ed

    there was a time, several years ago, when I was dead to feeling. I had made decision at the age of six or seven when my father died and my mother married a sadistic man. I began drinking at the age of fifteen, alcoholically and by the time I was 25 I was near death physically and closer to death emotionally. It took years of recovery fellowship which I still belong, and therapy and groups etc. etc. I became an emotional well person…well…sort of. 3 years ago I left a horse stable, a business I had built from scratch, because I was so depressed and tired that I could not go on. I remained like that for three years thinking that I was suffering from PTSD. I do suffer from that, but it wasn’t killing me. Nor was it making me terminally sad and listless… At the end of Nov.’12, I suddenly realized that I was dying. I was not depressed. I was dying. I didn’t know of what. I knew I had cancer in one breast but ignored it for a year. I did know that it wasn’t that that had been killing me. I was at a loss, and suddenly I realized that with my life past, I was a valuable person who could help in so many ways and yet, I couldn’t get beyond the little town I was in. I began to pray..God, either kill me fast or get me back into the Mainstream. On my birthday December 3rd, I went for a cancer biopsy, and I was evicted from my apartment for standing up for myself over an issue the previous summer. After I was operated on for breast cancer, Dec. 12, I had a heart attack on the 14th. I was sent to another hospital for testing and was told that I had two weeks to live. On January 2nd. I had open heart surgery and lay somewhere between life and death for 8 days. I was in the hospital for nearly a month. My aortic valve had been closing to the point of a near trickle of blood was passing thru. My depression etc. was due to this valve. What I have seen, more than ever before, is the need for people to have me be ok. I need to cry. People pat me on the shoulder or hug me but say, you are ok. Done. One woman, a woman from Nigeria, Mary, who worked at the first hospital I went to as a nurses aid, was told to get me ready to go up to another hospital for testing for my heart. At that time, on the fifteenth of Dec. I could feel myself slipping down a rabbit hole of confusion and dread and aloneness. My breast was half gone and raw from a lumpectomy and here I was headed out for major testing. Mary and I talked about Nigeria. ‘It is hell over there’ I said. She said ‘yes.’ I felt deeply for her for I had done alot of reading about the troubles in Nigeria. Mary had only left Africa 7 years ago. And here I was feeling worthless and useless in a place that was no nearly as hell bent and unsafe. I knew she had seen atrocities. While we talked and she washed me, she saw beneath my johnny, my surgery. She also knew that I had a major problem with my heart. She said, “Oh Wombman.” that is how she pronounced it. I knew that she understood then and that we were two Wombmans, who had experience hell in our lives and at that point I was facing another hell. I began to cry and she did not tell me I was going to be ok. She did not pat me with a patronizing motion. She washed my hair and even tho I had stopped crying, I sat there with my eyes wide open filled with pain and terror. She then washed my hair and took the most amazingly gentle movements and touch to make me ‘just so.’ I felt important and cared for. I held Mary in my Heart thru the next month of a tortuous battle for life. I could not find her when I was well enough to go back to the hospital to look for her. She’s there, I just missed her each time. Since then I have had to move to an entirely new city, I know very few people, I am not physically strong and I hold my emotions in. Like a vice trap, they are there, but not expressed. I have found the importance for a companionship of someone who knows, who can see, who will not hold back their own tears and dismay, that allows us to truely be free to heal. I hope that time is soon again. As of now, I have fallen all the way down the rabbit hole, to a place I do not understand, emotionally, intellectually or physically. I am adjusting as if I just got sober again, 33 years sober still, but the same feelings of ‘WTH?’ Please don’t stop people from crying and please don’t hold back your own emotions if you are a therapist or a nurses aid or a doctor etc. It is as though our blood moves smoother in company and spreads health. The other way is to cause infection and death. Not only must we cry, but we must learn to allow eachother to cry in our presence.

    • Hannah

      Thank you so much, Peggy, for your willingness to share your powerful story. I wish you all the best. You really highlight on a very deep level how important it is to allow people to feel whatever they are feeling. When clients cry in my office, as they often do, I tell them it is a compliment to me because we tend to cry most when we feel safe. We should honor each others’ true feelings. I will think of your story and try to live by that philosophy. Thank you for your profound contribution to this important conversation.

  7. Leah Davidson

    What a great post and a great discussion! I do wear my heart on my sleeve – in my personal life. But, I have had to manage it more in my professional life (I work in the rehab field of head injury) otherwise I just can’t cope and then don’t become very helpful to anyone. Sometimes though, I just can’t help it and my emotions get all mixed in. It’s a really hard balance….

  8. Chris Carter

    Having been a therapist in mental health locked Psychiatric hospitals for years, I have heard numerous horrific stories… and could only bear so much of the pain and suffering I was witness to. There is a story in every person’s heart and soul… and the emotions and healing process to all people lies in just that. Processing all the powerful emotions that rise and fall and torture so many… it’s a cruel world and so many are afflicted by it. I certainly have experienced my own painful circumstances in my life. Many deny their feelings as a protective visceral surviving tactic. And rightly so.
    This was a great story to share Jennifer. It’s important that we all make sure we tune into our emotional health and care for it and value it’s worth.

  9. Alexa (Kat)

    I’m so glad you led me to this site Jennifer! What a great idea for a series and what a lovely, thought provoking post. I used to hide my emotions. I have found life feels so much more full to me now that I am not scared of sharing and exploring and living through those emotions. And I feel like I can really feel others emotions as well. As Chris so beautifully put above, each of us has a story, and it’s amazing to be a part of someone’s healing story.

  10. another jennifer

    I’m so honored that my post has brought out this great discussion. I agree that we need to cry. Finding that place of comfort is so important. When it’s part of the profession, it can be hard to find that balance, but we are all human, right? I love how Chris notes says we should tune into our emotional health and value it’s worth. So true!

    Thanks for sharing your story, PeggyAnn. And, Alexa, I’m happy to introduce you to Hannah’s blog. I think you’ll love it! I think you could probably write a good post for this series!

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