Stay Soft

Stay soft.

This is something I’ve been telling myself lately.

I grew up being told I was too sensitive. That showing too much emotion was weak. That being vulnerable was overreacting. That I just needed to relax.

So I tried to keep my emotions to myself — let it go, move on, stop worrying so much. When someone said something that bothered me or undermined my intelligence, I’d swallow the emotions that came up and assume I was overthinking it. When someone treated me in a way that made me feel bad, I kept it to myself because I didn’t know whether I could trust my gut reactions.

I thought I’d found a solution. If I just assumed people would end up hurting me, I could prepare myself for the inevitable hurt and disappointment. If you anticipate it, you can brace for it. So I let the scar tissue form to pull closed the wounds of everything I left unsaid.

While layers of scar tissue began to build up, I felt protected. But soon I realized that I had created a façade that left me unable to be entirely honest with other people or myself. I stopped speaking up, asking for help, sharing my feelings. And after a while I grew resentful. Resentful of people who hurt me. Resentful of myself for keeping my needs and expectations to myself. Resentful that I couldn’t trust myself or anyone else.

When scar tissue first forms, it doesn’t feel painful because the nerves around it have been destroyed. Sometimes you never feel that pain. You’re left numb. But as layers and layers continue to build up, it can become more sensitive. Years later you can find yourself immobilized with a deep pain that you didn’t realize was growing inside you.

To break down that painful protective layer, you need to soften it. You need to give it special attention and be gentle with it. The longer it’s had to form, the more care it requires.

So I started to pay attention to that painful layer. Slowly and gently caring for it. Allowing it to break down and refusing to let more form. I started to feel the pain subside. I started to become soft again.

Without your protective layer you can still get hurt. But you can also learn and evolve. You can become more self-aware, more empowered to own your opinions, feelings, and standards. You can better meet people where they are, and walk away if they can’t do the same. You can remain open to new experiences, relationships, and interactions. The discomfort can show up again, but the trade-off is self-assurance and growth.

In my experience it’s taken far more strength to stay soft than it ever did to be hard.

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