Have you ever wondered what’s behind a smile?
I had my first job when I was 15. I worked a retail customer service position at Lenard’s. I will never forget a very important lesson I learnt at such a tender age… selling tenderloin.
Serving a middle-aged woman one afternoon, the dynamic was one full of tension and frustration. She kept changing her mind at the last second of her order and generally had a very rude disposition. I struggled whilst serving her, that teenage angst brewing inside… You know, where you just want to yell or tell them to go away? You know, SHE was taking up too much of MY time type thing.
Well I managed to complete the sale, upon which I turned to my manager (we had a pretty awesome dynamic, where he was like a cool uncle) and said,
“Gee she was freaking rude!”
To which he said something with the moral basis of… You should never judge someone straight off the mark. You don’t even know her, what her day was like or what she has been through. Of course you wouldn’t know, but her husband just passed away recently and she’s having a hard time adjusting.
I felt my heart sink.
I knew he was right and I felt a fool for offering my service with an agitated smile.
I was ashamed of myself, and my apparent lack of understanding!
I thought about that moment for a long time afterwards… In fact it lingered as a firm reminder and shaped the way I greeted people. It affected my service to customers and I made a promise to myself, that I wouldn’t be so reactive or judgmental… that I would make an effort to see beyond ‘face value’ to look within and feel al little deeper.
Where am I going with this?
Well, This whole blog was triggered by a close friend offering her perspective, that I have a high tolerance for emotional discomfort and pain, that I just seem to handle it, so it’s hard to gauge with me whether I am ok, or not… and It got me thinking.
How are we to know upon first glance, what people are experiencing?
How easy is it to hide our pain. Masking it as a coping mechanism when really we want to reach out but don’t want to be a burden on anyone so to speak.
We never truly know what someone is going through. Whether they are having a peak, joyful experience or battling an internal demon that has its grips on ones vital life force.
How do we know?
I mean, how do we really know when someone needs help or support if they just smile and go about their day because they have learnt to adapt and tolerate things beyond a healthy threshold until becoming numb, or immune to emotional discomfort.
There is a delicate balance between the art of non-attachment and complete disconnection.
We assume so much… and I know for a fact that there are people out there that aren’t dramatic for attention… that quietly suck it up and keep on keeping on… that go about their day feeling unseen and unheard… not wanting to create a fuss or impact another persons day with their woes.
So, What’s behind a smile?
You probably wouldn’t know, but there are A LOT of people out there that have learnt to smile through extreme hardships. Perhaps they have cultivated the ability to find the beauty in each challenging moment as a learning experience, or perhaps they have become really good at masking pain.
(I totally identify having these traits by the way).
As the youngest of 4 children, with two older brothers, I learnt to “suck it up” and put on my game face so to speak… I learnt to adapt through pain and discomfort. My physical and emotional pain tolerance is quite high… couple that with people pleaser dynamics and poor boundary issues and I can tolerate people’s bullshit and shitty behaviour… because I perceive things in a way, which allows me to understand where a person is at and the why behind it.
I am constantly forgiving and seeing beyond the circumstance into the very goodness of each individual… A real Pollyanna, and for some reason I have managed to cultivate a depth of awareness that what I think is common sense, isn’t actually that common.
What I see is different to what you see.
I’ve hurt myself in the process, through my naivety and wanting to be the Peacekeeper… Of having hope and faith that things will change, people will see the error in their ways, and make amends.
I have learnt the art of forgiveness as a tool for moving forward. This usually doesn’t arise from an apology… In fact I began to realise early on that people learn in their own time, in their own way. It is not my place or responsibility to fix or rescue anyone.
Even through deeply personal and intense suffering, I have had the ability to look at the funny side of it all. I have had the ability to muster a smile that shows the world that I am ok… even though the stories playing in my head says that I am not… Beyond that my soul is actually laughing at myself for the experience as it unfolds with a deeper knowing that the pain and emotional discomfort I feel is only temporary.
This too shall pass…
Due to the power of contrast in the ebb and flow of life… I will move on and I will see brighter days.
Just as an addict uses vices for comfort or self-medication… I often wonder how many people hide behind smiles. If you are perceptive, you can generally tell the difference between a real and forced smile… It’s all in the eyes but with the current consumer culture breeding apathy and dis-connection to each other…
Do we even see each other anymore?
Truly… I mean are we really looking… Do we REALLY care? Are we active or passive in reaching out and truly connecting with one another, or do we just let ourselves slip through the cracks of awkwardness.
I remember seeing a powerful photo series about Post Natal Depression, where women would send in photographs with a story along the lines of “You can’t tell, but I am severely depressed in this photograph” and it was an insight into the internal/external expressions that can sometimes take place with being ‘strong’.
Sometimes it is the strongest types of people that suffer the most… and they usually do so in quiet. During the day they suck it up, holding a massive sphere of support for those around their central sphere… and at night collapsing in on itself in the silent chasms of the unseen and unheard void.
This is how I process.
We never know what happens behind closed doors, behind closed eyes. What people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis? I don’t know your story… and you don’t know mine. Until we create a platform for sharing, for reaching out and connecting hearts.
Common unity in Community!
Depression runs in my family. That’s probably why I am so familiar with the energy around it and how it grips you ever so slowly and silently. I have experienced it (mildly) and I have seen loved ones be enticed into those numbed realms of hopelessness.
As an intuitive empathy, for years I struggled with embodying other people’s pain. I found it hard to separate their story from mine, as I can feel the collective suffering screaming in silence… for help… reassurance…
I can see it in people eyes… I don’t even know how to describe it… on a surface layer many will see a happy smiling face… but I have seen suffering behind a social mask that makes other people feel comfortable. When you interact with someone… let’s say at work (if engaging with people is part of your work) how often do you ask questions? Good questions. You know the ones that create room for dialogue other then simple Yes, No answers.
Do you know what makes your colleagues soul dance in celebration?
Do you know what their dreams and goals are?
Do you know anything about their life outside of work, their family, trials and tribulations?
Do you even care?
It is estimated that Depression effects over 1million Australians on any given year and that 45% of the population will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime (extracted from beyondblue.com)
So lets starting talking about this, lets break the taboo!
That’s why I love facilitating Sacred Circles and gatherings. I also love the initiative of the RUOK movement. Checking in with each other. Mental Health Counseling is becoming one of the fastest growing professions in this country.
In a technocratic age it’s so easy to become distracted and absorbed in our own little reality bubbles… hiding behind screens and written words. So much sincerity is lost without tone and inflection of meaning. We don’t write letters anymore. It seems we are slowly losing the ability to “SEE” one another, beyond the bullshit. We ask mundane questions that fail to give space for imagination, hearts and souls to dance in celebration for being. We are quick to judge and criticize others actions or lack thereof without seeing the bigger picture as to the why?
What’s happening in their world that could be affecting their behaviour?
Compassion and Understanding can go a long way in cultivating kindness and healing.
If you are still reading this I want to thank you for staying with me in this flow.
I would like to take this opportunity to express that your vulnerability is a strength and that reaching out to share your story is not only courageous but can be a step in liberating yourself from the story that runs in your mind about how things are for you.
Silence is the best friend of abuse.
I have learnt to have “Reality Checks” with close friends and associates. It helps to keep me grounded and sane. Everyone has opportunities to create a solid support network around them, if they choose to of course. You are not alone in the world although at times your mind might play tricks on you and convince you that you have been outcast and your behaviour leads to the feeling of isolation.
This is an illusion!
Seriously, Our minds are so powerful! They can convince us of anything we focus on deeply. If you repeat a lie long enough it becomes a ‘truth’. We begin to extract information from our external surrounding to validate the story in our head. Our emotions are a filter to perceive the world through. They aren’t truth. Rather a flux in energy at any point in time, as we respond to our environment our emotions change.
Our bodies are so intelligent, but this is where deep self-enquiry comes in. To sift through and find what has changed, what is needed and what is not relevant anymore.
After doing some deep shadow work on myself I came to the confronting realization that I had been primed for abuse since a child. Understanding myself, my thoughts, behaviour and learning what triggers me has been a path to liberation. It has been a challenge that’s for sure, and I have learnt that everything in my life as helped me to become the unique expression I AM… and that there is great value in that.
In any situation, before I point the finger, I turn my focus inwards and check in to see where I am.
How am I contributing to this situation?
How am I feeling?
Am I reacting or responding?
This has helped to cultivate Emotional Maturity, which provides continual learning and discovery.
Monitoring my internal dialogue. Being mindful of when I get swept up in story and drama and finding the fact and truth in it all.
A smile can be an expression of joy, a mask of pain and a shield to a thousand stories.
Look a little deeper. Build the trust needed for someone to release and let go. Everyone has wisdom and value. Sometimes safety and security is needed to access these stories, to release and let go. So reach out, connect, explore and find ways to understand one another.
At the end of the day we are all in this world together, all having completely different, (but relative) experiences.
As my Mother used to tell me as a child,
“If you want to get anywhere in this world Donna, You have to be a people person”
It’s so true. Without connection and shared bonds we fail to thrive.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” – Mahatma Ghandi
No man is an island and you are too beautiful to hide!
** If you resonate with my words and want to receive future blogs directly into you inbox, please Join my Inner Circle.
Love is… Donna