YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE & YOU FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL

 

Hi, my name is Ben. I’m into light choking, and the last time I felt sad I had no idea why.

Human interaction often feels like a game of filtering our thoughts. The same deep personal truths that we might reveal to a close friend or partner, we keep hidden from a casual acquaintance.

Every conversation we have seems to begin with, and be punctuated by tiny internal decisions about where our interlocutor falls on this sliding scale of honesty. The scale that determines which personal truths we reveal, and which we conceal. Surely there are even a few so potentially controversial that they’ve never even been considered eligible for release. Some so seemingly threatening to our identity that they live in chains on their native side of the this internal filter.

In most conversations, our mind seems to instinctually reduce everything we share into its least controversial form. The swirling oceans of complexity within each of our minds merely trickles into our interactions, drop by carefully evaluated drop. Share too much, and we risk permanent damage to the identity we’re determined maintain. A private truth spoken becomes a public truth, so here we all are concealing our honest selves for the sake of protecting that glowing facade. A fig leaf to cover the “flaws” of our humanity.

Our tendency to conceal personal truths about who we are and what we feel is one of humanity’s most self-oppressive habits. At the very least, it’s been one of mine. By doing so, we limit the richness of our relationships, and hinder our ability to live a life unburdened. We mold our inherent individuality into a pre-approved a template of a person, building a cage around what was once free.

 

 

For the sake of organization in this article, I’ll break down our personal truths into two categories:

TRUTHS ABOUT WHO WE ARE
These are the traits we’ve inherited from Mama Nature and/or our upbringing.
Sexual orientation. Body type. Mental Illness. Fetishes. Etc.

TRUTHS ABOUT WHAT WE FEEL
These are the temporary, constantly fluctuating emotional strings that tug at the stability of our mind.
Anger. Jealousy. Joy. Fear. Etc.

 

TRUTHS ABOUT WHO WE ARE

There are some things about me that are just flat out fact; my race (eggshell white), size (5’8), the thickness of my eyebrows (Italian). Some of our truths live right on the surface. Information about us that anyone with eyes can gleam. However, there are truths that, while just as inherently factual, are concealable; sexual orientation, current religious beliefs (or lack of them), mental illness. Things you can hide from a crowd.

Thanks to that filter through which we all interact, we’re able to keep certain truths about ourselves safely tucked away when we deem them potentially detrimental to the conversation we’re in or to the identity we aspire to maintain.

 

 

I consider the fact most that of us (myself absolutely included) actively hide undeniable truths about who we are, to be one of the most potent poisons to our happiness. Open & free sounds cliche, but damn. It sounds pretty great too.

Alright, time for some reader participation. Take a minute to dig into your mind to find an inherent, undeniable truth about who you are that you’ve decided (consciously or not) to keep hidden. Maybe your sexual orientation, or a fetish you’ve been embarrassed to admit. Maybe a political belief, or even something as simple as your love for a that one movie that everyone seems to hate. Once you’ve unearthed one, read on.

The instinct to hide that truth about yourself is often a finger pointing to one of two other truths:

1. You’ve bought into whatever stigma deemed this truth immoral or embarrassing.
2. You fear that exposing your secret will cause others to think less of you.
There’s value in examining this.

*Also, from an evolutionary standpoint, the reason we feel the need to keep certain things hidden from the group is because in our past it benefited us to fit in. For long stretches of our evolutionary timeline, our species was safest in large groups. To avoid banishment, we evolved to keep the things we thought might upset the group quietly concealed within our minds. Our desire for acceptance is an evolved trait, and knowing that can help take some of the sting out of the struggle we feel about it. (I’m convinced that this was a necessary tangent, at least to introduce this idea to anyone who might want to dig in later.)

 

Lake Pleasant Editorial / Ben Sasso

 

In hopes of beginning to convince you that this truth you’ve kept hidden doesn’t deserve the internal banishment you’ve sentenced it to, consider these questions:

 

Is my truth a natural result of being a human?

If you are in fact human the answer to that is technically always yes, but taking the time to come to this decision on your own may help you fully grasp the importance of that.

 

Would acting on my truth harm anyone directly?

“Directly” is an important word to consider here.
Some examples of actions that would cause direct harm would be murder, a punch, or an insult. An instance in which you are the cause of another’s suffering, without anything else being involved.

While it’s completely valid to think “If my religious mother knew I was gay, she’d be devastated,” this would be an example of indirect harm, not direct harm. If your mother didn’t buy into the stigma or religious conditioning that convinces many that homosexuality is immoral, would your homosexuality harm her? No.
In cases like this, it’s merely the stigma that harms, not the truth itself.

In fact, whether the truth is made public, or repressed, the stigma harms.

If made public, it would harm those who believe the stigma by causing them to feel “upset” when exposed to it.
If repressed, it harms the individual repressing it by causing the emotional turmoil of a life restricted. A half life.

In this way, the harm comes from the stigma and those who perpetuate it, not the one who acts on their personal truth.
Furthermore, the harm is inflicted on both the ones who’ve come to believe the stigma (by causing them mental duress that would be absent had they never have been exposed to the stigma), and on those who repress their truth because of it.

If acting on your personal truth doesn’t harm anyone directly, it’s not worth repressing.

In the rare cases in which acting on your truth would cause direct harm, say you have frequent urges to injure those around you, there’s an obvious value in not acting on those feelings. However, this doesn’t mean the truth should be concealed. In fact, repressing it could cause it to fight it’s way out (which we’ll talk about in the Truths About How We Feel section), and opening up about your urges to close friends and a therapist could help you work through the difficulty of having to repress those urges.

 

Meredith Adelaide / Ben Sasso

 

Does your personal truth make you feel guilt, or shame?

Another important distinction, and one that can help you determine the inherent “it’s really okay”-ness of whatever personal truth you’re struggling to share, is the distinction between guilt, and shame.

Guilt is a feeling of regret. It’s a feeling that typically arises while ruminating about a situation in which you acted poorly, when you know you could have acted in a kinder, or more responsible manner. Murdered someone? Here’s some guilt for you. Guilt grips you firmly and says “You fucked up. You made a huge mistake.”

Shame, on the other hand, is a feeling of disgust towards something that is naturally, and undeniably true about ourselves. When we’ve been conditioned to believe that an inherent truth about who we are is actually a flaw, we feel shame. Since we aren’t able to change the truth we feel shameful of, we hide it from others, or even try to convince ourselves of it’s absence. We repress. Sometimes, we even do this with full knowledge of how wildly freeing it would feel to release it.

A major difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is a feeling we could potentially prevent by choosing to act morally right in every situation (unless we’re talking about this from a deterministic perspective, which we’ll put aside for today). Shame is, arguably, unavoidable as it’s often a result of something natural within us (which we have no control over), conflicting with what our culture deems acceptable (which, mostly, we have no control over).

*Also, a technical note I feel obliged to mention for the sake of clarity: You can, and probably often feel shame for immoral actions. This is essentially guilt turning into shame, and still allows shame to hold the same definition as you’re now also feeling it for something you can no longer change, your past actions.

 

 

Does repressing my truth limit my happiness?

I’d have to say yes, and I’m happy to chat with anyone who wants to counter this.
If something is occurring naturally within you and you spend effort repressing it, that struggle alone limits your happiness.

The one caveat I’d add here is that there’s absolutely a potential of hardship when being honest about who you are (the example of the religious mother’s distaste for homosexuality would fit), but the repression itself is already causing you struggle, and I believe that working through potential hardship is a worthwhile endeavor. If this is the obstacle keeping your truth hidden inside, I’d highly suggest speaking with a therapist who may be able to walk through that maze.

 

Alexis Hutt / Indoor Natural Light Editorial / Ben Sasso

 

After considering these questions, if you determine that whatever you’ve been concealing is just a natural human thing (it is), that it wouldn’t harm anyone directly, that it makes you feel shame as opposed to guilt, and that it’s limiting your happiness, the next step should be fairly clear: Accept, embrace, and be honest about the truth you’ve been struggling against.

 

ACCEPT AND EMBRACE THE TRUTHS ABOUT WHO YOU ARE

Truth is truth. It’s here, and hiding it, disguising it, or denying it doesn’t make it any less true. You might be able to convince everyone that you’re a square but that doesn’t make you any less of a circle.

I deeply believe in the importance of being honest about who you are and what you’re feeling. There’s value in that. For you, and for the culture you live in. By hiding whatever truth a stigma caused you to repress, you strengthen and perpetuate the stigma that’s oppressing you. Your conviction to hide your truth convinces others that it’s a shameful truth worth hiding.

 

Joshua Tree Couple Session / Ben Sasso

 

LGBTQ rights have come a long way. Sure, it feels almost irreverent to say that considering the gulf our society still needs to cross on the issue, but the truth is that things are creeping forward. One of the most well known gay characters on a TV show was Will of Will & Grace. When the show first aired in 1998, it was a rarity. The media rarely portrayed homosexuals as normal people, in normal relationships, doing normal people things. Instead, they were portrayed as caricatures (at best), or mentally sick (at worst). Projecting a relatively unbiased homosexual character into living rooms across the United States began to normalize the LGBTQ community. It took something mysterious and taboo, and put a relatively honest version of it in front of viewers. Thanks to a continual trickle of networks beginning to carry shows with LGBTQ characters, we now have countless shows that portray a practical smorgasbord of the LGBTQ community, (Orange is the New Black, Rupaul’s Drag Race, and The Ellen Show to name a few), contributing to a culture that’s less under the control of the stigma against that community.

Since stigmas tend to not be based in truth,
familiarity with the actual truth degrades the stability of the stigma.

The more unbiased representations of the LGBTQ community the media decides to project into our living rooms, the more chances there are for familiarity, and the sooner the stigma falls apart. It’s often shown that if someone who thinks homosexuality is immoral meets and spends time with a homosexual person, their stance changes. While it would be great to be able to foster these perspective shifting interactions on a large scale, at least representation in the media has shown itself to be a pretty powerful alternative.

In this way, your honesty about who you are can contribute to destabilizing the stigma that has oppressed you. Your small, brave act of revealing the truths you used to conceal can nudge a culture away from a stigma, and towards actual truth.

When truths are concealed, they become taboo.
When truths are revealed, they become normalized.

 

 

TRUTHS ABOUT WHAT WE FEEL

Can you imagine anything more complex than the continuous and unpredictable manner in which emotions arise within us?

It’s pretty rare that our mind isn’t navigating some sort of emotional balancing act, trying to hold onto the joy we found in our morning cuddles, without it being overpowered by the frustration of traffic, or having it derailed by some intruding sadness we suddenly feel after unintentionally remembering a deceased relative. Complex multitudes of emotion constantly arise and transform in our minds, yet when we’re asked how we’re doing, we almost always simplify it into some form of “Good, you?”

 

Meredith Adelaide / Editorial / Ben Sasso

 

I’m not going to make a case for responding to every “How are you?” with complete, unrelenting assaults of honesty, but I do hope this section unlocks whatever gate that has kept your true emotional state locked out of your interactions. Keeping your emotions hidden robs those you interact with of the option of being sensitive to your feelings. If they knew you were sad, they might offer a kind gesture. If they knew you needed a break from socializing, they might not continue to tear away at your sanity with their stories.

There’s value in sharing what you’re feeling. There’s value in open communication.
There’s danger in hiding what you’re feeling. There’s danger in filtered conversations.

There are moments in our interactions when an internal feeling is so tangibly tired of being contained that it grows desperate enough to rattle it’s way through our filter. Have you ever had an angry simmer of annoyance, when not relieved of it’s source, boil over into a biting “WOULD YOU JUST SHUT UP?” This is one of those moments when an internal truth (you need some alone time), became so powerfully enraged that it punched it’s way out of your head, and into reality. When emotions boil over, it’s usually because we didn’t pay attention to the simmer.

 

Alex Noiret / Experimental Photography / Ben Sasso

 

Let’s try something. Let’s follow an emotional simmer down two hypothetical paths:

 

PATH 1

After a relatively sleepless night, you pull yourself away from from the sanctuary of bed, kiss your partner goodbye, and head to work. As soon as you arrive, you’re met with complications. Maybe a nasty email from a client. Maybe you didn’t have time for a lunch break. Maybe on top of all of this, Jenny got the promotion you were after. Fucking Jenny.

As you leave work, noticing the angry bubble of frustration in your mind, you spend your drive from work thanking time for finally passing so you can enjoy some peace and quiet at home.

You’ve made it through the day from hell. As you pull into your driveway, Fucking Jenny is almost unnoticably dissolving from your mind. You open your front door, and as soon as the tip of your shoe crosses through the door frame, your lovely partner starts telling you about their day. This is a human who you absolutely adore. A person who you share “everything” with. Yet, today their normally soothing voice seems just ever-so-slightly irritating as it interrupts the peaceful retreat you were longing for. No big deal, you let them talk.

As your partner launches into the second chapter of their monologue, you just barely notice a whisper of frustration arise in you. Faint and unclear like music from another room.

It would be rude to cut them off, and they’ll be done soon anyways. Then you can finally relax.

 

They continue, and that frustration starts to simmer. The bubbles are tiny, but your awareness of them sharpens.

Oh, you’ve heard this story of his before, it’s quick.

 

The frustration, now softened by the promise of imminent relief, seems distant again.

OH. This is the long version.

 

Newly emboldened, the frustration starts to taste more like annoyance. What started as a directionless upset, starts to take the shape of spear, with it’s jagged point aiming right at your partner. That person you so adore.

OH. This is the REALLY LONG version.

 

An image of Fucking Jenny and all of her promotioned glory flashes in your mind.

There’s no way this story isn’t almost finished.

 

The spear of annoyance you’re holding in your mind starts to tremble. Then shake. Then it lunges right at your partner. The person you so adore.

“WOULD YOU JUST SHUT UP FOR A SEC!?”

 

Whoops.

 

 

PATH 2

After a relatively sleepless night, you pull yourself away from from the sanctuary of bed, kiss your partner goodbye, and head to work. As soon as you arrive, you’re met with complications. Maybe a nasty email from a client. Maybe you didn’t have time for a lunch break. Maybe on top of all of this, Jenny got the promotion you were after. Fucking Jenny.

As you leave work, noticing the angry bubble of frustration in your mind, you send a text to your partner at home. Something along the lines of:

“Hey love. I’m honestly pretty frustrated after the day I’ve had and have been looking forward to some quiet time at home. I’m excited to hear about your day but would you mind if I just take a bath and read when I get there?”

You spend your drive from work thanking time for finally passing so you can enjoy some peace and quiet at home.

You’ve made it through the day from hell. As you pull into your driveway, Fucking Jenny is almost unnoticably dissolving from your mind. You open your front door to see your partner welcoming you in for a hug. He lets you know that he drew you a bath, pulls out a piece of paper from his pocket and reveals to you that he, literally, drew you a bath (a joke he couldn’t help). Then he laughs to himself as he says “really though, your bath is ready. Enjoy!”

You say your thanks, head upstairs, and let whatever frustration you were feeling melt into relaxation. After a bit, you come back downstairs and have a relaxing night with that person you so adore.

This is why open communication is so important. Leave the lid on a simmering pot and it might boil over into your interactions. This burns the people we love and in turn, ourselves.

 

MORE THOUGHTS ON SHARING EMOTIONS

One of the perks of being a self-acknowledged mediocre writer is the freedom it gives me to say things like this: Below are some thoughts I’ve deemed important to include but couldn’t manage to effortlessly weave into other sections of this article.

 

 

ADDRESS EMOTIONS WITHOUT ACTING ON THEM

The arising of anger in you doesn’t need to transform you into an angry person.

When feeling frustration, calmly tell your partner:
“Hey love, I’m feeling pretty frustrated and I think I just need to relax for a few minutes before we continue talking. I love you and want to make sure I don’t take anything out on you. Is that alright?”

When feeling socially drained, tell your friend:
“Hey, I’m super excited to see you but I’m honestly just socially drained and need some alone time. Can we hang tomorrow so I can give you my full attention?”

This honesty about what you’re feeling shares the truth, and the kindness of your intention. It shows that you’re struggling with something, but that you still want the best for whoever it is you’re interacting with.

 

DESTIGMATIZE YOUR EMOTIONS

The next time you feel sadness, try not to think “man, I must be broken.” Instead view your sadness for what it is, a natural, biological response to something you experienced. It doesn’t require your judgment, it just is. Any emotion that arises within you is completely natural, and something that every human has felt.

GRIEF? I’ve felt it.
ANGER? Felt it.
LUST? Yup.
GUILT? Been there.
ANXIETY? Yep.

When we feel shameful of our emotions, it points to the truth that almost every emotion carries a stigma with it. This is largely what compels us to keep them hidden. Anxiety doesn’t mean you’re helpless, it just means you’re human. Lust doesn’t make you evil, it just means that you evolved in the same way the rest of us did.

When we begin to grasp the fact that it’s merely a stigma about the emotion we’re feeling that compels us to filter it out of our interactions, we might begin to feel the importance of sharing them. If being honest about our emotions can help diminish those oppressive stigmas, the ones that cause most parents, friends, kids, partners, and strangers to lie about (or at least hide) their emotions, that alone seems to make honesty worthwhile. Like I mentioned in the previous section, when truths are concealed, they become taboo. When truths are revealed, they become normalized.

Sharing your emotions openly destabilizes their stigmas, which helps others feel more freedom to share their own.

 

 

IF YOU DON’T SHARE, THEY CAN’T CARE

Your life will become easier if the people you’re interacting with no longer have to guess at what you’re feeling.

If you don’t tell your friend that you’re feeling ashamed of yourself for …. whatever, they can’t console you or help you through it.

If you don’t tell you’re partner that you’re feeling socially anxious about the dinner party you’re about to have, they can’t help you out by taking the reigns of the conversations that will litter the evening.

If you don’t let your mom know that you really miss talking to her now that you left home, she might continue to keep her distance to make sure she isn’t too overbearing.

By hiding your emotions from those who love about you,
you’re limiting their ability to act on that love.

 

NOTICE YOUR LACK OF CONTROL

The things you feel inside are undeniably there, arising and falling away without your will. The last time you broke a mug, at what point did you choose to feel frustration? Did you thumb through an emotional catalog to select an appropriate mental state in that moment, or did frustration blast into your perception like a gust of wind?

Honestly, this particular tip seemed to evolve into something much longer than I intended it to be so I’ll be digging into this a bit more and writing another blog post for this topic soon. In it I’ll include a few book suggestions, and some thoughts on why we tend to latch onto negative emotions instead of letting them pass as quickly as they arose.

 

 

DO NO HARM

From here on out, please mentally include the caveat of “As long as you aren’t causing harm” with anything I write. I firmly believe in sparing other living beings from harm, both mentally and physically (and of course, I’m nowhere close to perfect on this front). When you hear me say “be honest,” please always include this prerequisite.

“Be honest” loses its value if you’re walking around telling people that you think they suck. If you think that a policy of honesty frees you to insult, I’d have to say that you should also work on forming kinder opinions of others by looking inward to clear out whatever cobwebs of conditioning and stigma have led you to think so aggressively.

Don’t forget to include yourself in this “do no harm” ideology. Don’t harm yourself by repressing who you are or what you feel, and don’t harm yourself by nurturing unkind thoughts towards others. Hate is a heavy burden to carry.

 

 

FREE YOURSELF FROM THE BURDEN OF DECEPTION

The sheer tension of being human is rough. We’ve all got a lot going on inside. Every single businessman, little league coach, single dad, kindergartner, and passerby has a rich, confusing, and aggressively complex emotional landscape that they spend their days unwillingly exploring. Some days they find themselves relaxing in the gentle sun of contentment, and other days crawling through the wet sand of depression.

Each of our lives is made into a riddle by the absurdity of our feelings.
We shouldn’t add to that by pretending we need to mask it.

Life is complicated enough, and taking off whatever costume of excellence you’ve disguised yourself with can feel fucking great. When we begin to open up about the truths of who we are and what we feel, we might begin to realize how much effort we’ve spent concealing them. When you talk about these truths openly, you free yourself from the burden of deception and welcome in a new way of interacting with the world.

 

You are who you are, and so is everyone else.

You feel what you feel, and so does everyone else.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

*Also, disclaimer:
I’m not a professional. I’ve never formally studied psychology, or whatever else might lend me any sort of credibility here. I just enjoy reading about, writing about, and meditating on the human experience and the things that unify us. Mainly, our seemingly universal goal of finding some sort of enjoyment in life.

  1. Reply

    This article was timely for me. I’ve been struggling with some negative feelings lingering after a difficult situation with friends and a business. One read through feels like a weight off my shoulders and clean, clear breath moving through me.
    I’m going to read this again later today and share it with others.

    Thank you Ben!

  2. Reply

    Fantastic article ben! You are my favourite Photographer philosopher!! Thank you for adding your gentle and all encompassing wisdom to the world.

  3. Reply

    Thanks, ben, for taking all the time you really needed to write this. I had been having a hard time to introduce this kind of conversation the right way to someone that is infantile in this concept of authenticity, shame/guilt, etc, so this was just perfect universal timing.

    A good amount to digest with stout reasoning and examples so that anyone could read and understand. THANKS!

  4. Reply

    LOVE THIS ARTICLE BEN, YOUR A REAL INSPIRATION, THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO WRITE THSI!

  5. Reply

    man, I WOULD BUY YOUR BOOK IN A HEARTBEAT IF YOU EVER WRITE ONE. THANKS FOR YOUR THOUGHTS.

  6. Reply

    I particularly like this collection of images and the topic of emotions too for that matter!! People should talk about this stuff more! I REALLY ENJOY YOUR BLOG!

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