Heart on My Sleeve
Are you someone who wears their heart on their sleeve? I have been told this my whole life. Growing up in a British household, being told you wear your heart on your sleeve in not a compliment. To be fair to the Brits, there are many cultures that believe emotionality and vulnerability are to be avoided at all costs.
Early on, the message I received was that I should feel a sense of shame for caring too much. I thought there was something wrong with me. This led me on a path to numb my sense of caring and try to be someone or something I was not. Human beings are bonding creatures. Our number one need is for connection, and our second highest need is authenticity. Oftentimes, we will sacrifice our authenticity to connect with others (our early-life survival is dependent on having someone care for us – for a very long time, we are simply incapable of self-sufficiency).
We always pay a high price when we sacrifice our authenticity. This can show up as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, disordered eating, debilitating shame and perfectionism.
Nowadays, I wear my heart on my sleeve proudly. I have learned that my innate penchant for caring is not weakness….it is strength. It is how we humans effectively and authentically connect with others and to Self. It is how we develop resiliency, grit, and find meaningfulness and purpose. While not everyone will agree that wearing your heart on your sleeve is a good thing, I found it deeply validating that esteemed author and shame and resiliency researcher Brené Brown prints a small heart on the left side of all of her promotional T-shirts because she has found in her work that it is badass to “Wear your heart on your sleeve™”.
Being caring and compassionate takes courage in a (Western) world that views “success” as an accumulation of power, wealth, and material gain. These things are not as valued throughout the world, nor should they be. Many of the most profoundly connected and happy (read: “successful”) people I have ever met reside in Third World countries. I truly believe that if more people chose to stop guarding their hearts so much, and cease prioritizing things over beings, there would be far less mental illness.