With all of the negative news as well as alarming acts of and allegations against current world leaders, I was absolutely thrilled to see headlines that Prince Harry was speaking out about his mental health issues.
In an interview with Byrony Gordon who has just launched a podcast entitled “Mad World – Why it’s totally normal to feel weird!” Prince Harry talked about the impact of losing his mother at age 12 and then shutting down all of his emotions. He said, “My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? It’s only going to make you sad. It’s not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side I was like don’t let your emotions be part of anything.”
Although people like his brother tried telling him it was not normal to think that a tragedy like the one he endured would not affect him, he was not ready to deal with his emotions. He explained how he spent years disconnected from his feelings, “I was a typical sort of 20, 25, 28 year old, running around going life is great, or life is fine.”
It was 20 years of denial followed by two years of chaos that finally got his attention and made him realize that there was a lot of grief and “stuff that he needed to deal with.”
We see this all of the time in the work we do – people not wanting or downright afraid to feel their emotions. Like Harry, they train themselves to keep a stiff upper lip, deny their humanity, and robotically tell themselves and anyone who inquires as to how they are that they are fine. Their denial, as well as their desire to not be different or appear as anything is less than fine in a world where everyone is striving for bigger, better, best, has them resist looking or talking about what is going on inside of them.
Like Prince Harry, many of us do whatever we can to disconnect from that quiet gnawing inside of us that something is off. But every time we step over our truth, we whittle away at our self-esteem. Our shame about being different or feeling what are labeled as the “negative” emotions causes us to want to disconnect. We ignore, numb out, and try to distance ourselves from these unwanted feelings. This ticking time-bomb of shame has a snowball effect as it then causes us to eat, drink, work, have sex, over-exercise, or engage in some form of self-sabotage until our life implodes or we somehow self-destruct. In Harry’s case, 20 years of denying his feelings turned into two years of chaos and public scandal.
Our work is rooted in the foundational concept of what we call “Emotional Education.” It is based on the integrative premise that we are everything. And just like shadow work is based on the concept of wholeness - that in each of us exists every quality that we see in others - we also possess every emotion. Yet just like many of us disown certain qualities, we also disown certain emotions. We label some as good and others as bad. No wants to be thought of as that “angry girl or guy,” some sort of “sad sack,” or the person who always appears anxious and stressed out. Emotional Education is predicated upon the knowledge that in each of us exists all of these emotions and to be the fullest expression of ourselves, we need to have access to all of our emotions. The truth is, many of our emotions have gotten a really bum rap and bad rep! Judging them as wrong and being afraid to lean into them, we deny one of our greatest gifts – access to the full range of our emotional expression. Our denial and fear keep us paralyzed, reacting rather than responding, and exhausted from suppressing what is and running away from our feelings.
We cannot heal what we won’t allow ourselves to feel. Instead of making our emotions wrong and feeling shame for feeling a certain way, we need to recognize the value and gifts of every emotion so that we can make peace with our emotions and integrate them back as a healthy part of our psyche. All of our emotions come bearing gifts. They are there to inform us when something is off or that there is something our soul is yearning for. However, if we have disowned an emotion or are making it wrong, we lose access to it and diminish a valuable birthright of all humans - the full range of our emotional expression. That is why it is crucial to transform the negative beliefs we have about any emotion and to understand that all of our emotions are valuable. They are here to educate us. For example, our anxiety and overwhelm might be a signal from our divine self that we are pushing too hard and need to engage in deeper self-care. Our fear may have us create healthy boundaries. And think about it – every major movement or change has stemmed from someone’s intolerance or anger over the status quo.
Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have started a movement called “Heads Together” to support people struggling with mental health issues to come together and openly discuss them. I applaud whatever emotion stimulated them to bring the light of awareness to this conversation. I remember years ago I was approached by a proponent of shadow work who was also diagnosed as bipolar to speak in front of a mental health organization that they were a part of. Since at the time there had been a rash of incidents in the news about people with mental health issues who had been suffering in silence and under that veil of shame acting out in the world and committing horrific crimes, I suggested we create a presentation called “The Shadow of Mental Health” and openly discuss the stigma of talking about these issues. For whatever reason, the presentation never came to be.
When we share our truth, we open the door for others to do the same.
I am so inspired by the Royal Family and other celebrities like Lady Gaga and Byrony Gordon for having the courage and consciousness to highlight this topic that impacts all of us. I am grateful they are opening up the conversation to include issues such as everyday stress, anxiety, addiction, insomnia, coping, overwhelm, grief, lack of confidence, physical and/or mental exhaustion, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, etc. As Prince Harry said in his interview, “There is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping them quiet is that it is only going to make it worse, not just for you but for everyone else around you. You become a problem.”
We have all heard phrases like, “Our secrets make us sick” and “The truth shall set you free.” As long as we are denying that which we are and that which we feel, we will never feel whole, complete, and liberated. And no matter whether you are a prince, a soccer mom, a pop star, an employee, or a CEO, you will not be able to enjoy the richness of your life if you are denying, undermining, and detaching from your emotional world.
Neale Donald Walsch said, “If you don’t go within you go without.” Well, to add to that, when you go within and can share that with others, you will never go without because, as Harry remarked, “What really sucks is being in a position to make a difference and not being able to do so.” We all are have the ability to make a difference. So whether you are British or not, let Harry, William, and Kate be the royal inspiration that has the world all put our Heads Together!
Transformational Action Steps
(1) Start to look at your relationship with your emotions. Are there those you judge as “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong”?
(2) Pick one emotion that you judge as “bad” and ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you do to separate yourself from this unwanted feeling? How do you numb out?
- What is the cost of denying this feeling? What is the snowball effect of denying it and acting out?
- What is the gift of this emotion? How could embracing and gaining access to this emotion actually serve you?
- What would be possible if you had a healthy relationship with this emotion?
(3) Find a professional, a workshop and/or community where you can be genuine and share all of who you are and what you are feeling. We invite you to join us at The Shadow Experience or The Shadow Process – where all of you is welcome…there is nothing that you can’t say and nothing you can’t share!
(4) Check out Heads Together! Visit https://www.headstogether.org.uk