Now my kids are generally pretty good travelers, and we bring lots for them to do. I found that *I* got pretty cranky though, and felt antsy when I couldn't move a lot. Psychologically, we're like that too - when our minds and spirits are "cooped up," we tend to get irritable, cranky, and antsy.
"Cooped up" is obviously not a psychological or clinical term, but it's good for how we feel when we can't be ourselves - we're mentally and emotionally locked in a room that we can't leave for a variety of reasons. Maybe we're a little eccentric and people just don't understand us or think we're weird. Maybe the people and environment around us is toxic and it's not safe for us to be ourselves. Maybe we risk punishment in a variety of ways (ostracism, abuse, denigrating comments or discrimination) if we truly show who we are. My point is that we can't always be ourselves and that we suffer as a result.
Our world doesn't tolerate diversity and difference very well - we seem to be the kind of being that has to learn the hard way that our behaviors toward those who are different are hurtful and cruel. Sometimes, we don't realize this until we experience it ourselves and our eyes are opened. Some people never realize it, and some people never experience or recognize what it's like to be different. As painful as some of the experiences are, I think that coming through and overcoming them makes us stronger, more compassionate and more willing to change our own behaviors. In short - we grow, and become better people for the growing.
However, being emotionally and/or spiritually "cooped up" damages us while it happens. Part of being human is being able to express ourselves and who we are - it's what brings us joy and peace. Acceptance allows us to feel safe in sharing those soft vulnerable places where we let our humanity shine through. And being safe is crucial to being able to be who we are. When we're not safe, when we feel judged, or when we have to hide who we are, we wall off a part of ourselves that is crucial to being psychologically healthy. We lose the ability not just to play, but to grow, to thrive, to experience and fully immerse ourselves in joy and vitality.
Over time, we become anxious, depressed, angry, lonely, and maybe even traumatized (especially if abuse - ongoing or not - is occurring or has occurred.) We find ourselves "just getting through" - we may have trouble even knowing how to cope in healthy ways. We start to lose respect for and acceptance of ourselves as worthy, beautiful and interesting people. We may become isolated. It's tough to see the beauty in everyday life when we're focused on surviving and making it through instead of on living and thriving. It's next to impossible to feel free when you're cooped up by yourself or others and are unable to even think of breaking out. We become afraid - not just of the what will happen if we be ourselves, but of the punishments that hurt us and break our spirits. Fear becomes the companion of everyday life rather than joy - and the cost is locking up and losing ourselves.
I watch my children develop, and I really try to encourage them to be themselves, even if no one else understands.My son Aidan is different from other people, because he's on the autistic spectrum. Here's the thing - I celebrate those differences even as I worry about how he'll cope with being different once he's in school. My hope and goal, though, is that by showing him acceptance and by celebrating the things that make him unique - the things that make him Aidan - that he'll have the confidence to continue to be himself and have confidence in himself. I try to make his world safe and accepting while also showing him the realities of living in this world. We talk about how people are mean, and that it's ok to ignore that. It's ok to like "red balls" (marker balls), light poles, and power poles and not worry what other people think.
I try to use all the "tools" in my "toolbox" to help not just my kids, but myself break through and let go. I'm not completely successful yet, but realizing that this is a process helps (and that's one of the tools, too!) I use my DBT skills, my mindfulness skills, and my art skills to work on this - and I encourage the same in my children. Together we are curious, and go on "adventures" to see what's out there. I learn so much from THEM, too - noticing small things and seeing the world from such a different place...drawing on the sidewalk, splattering paint, using big, wide strokes to paint the world...there is a lot to learn from children.
We ALL need this kind of safety to grow. Without that safety, we may physically "grow up" - but inside there remains a scared, insecure side of ourselves that is "cooped up" and waiting to be able to run. Art therapists key into this when they encourage us to let go and play. The hard thing is that most of us don't know how to let go. Despite years of training, I include myself in this - even as I watch and encourage my children, I long to be able to release that side of myself.
One of the projects I've been involved with for a couple of years is a self-esteem seminar through Project Self-Sufficiency. I'm lucky enough to have been one of the facilitators, and one of the things I loved to do during that time was take part in providing safe and sacred space for the participants to let go and be who they were. I'd love to work on a "Letting Yourself Go" workshop, where I provide a safe place for music, dance, art and quiet time, all with the idea of breaking out of feeling "cooped up" and letting out who we are inside.
Just like children who get stuck in cars or planes or rooms or houses - we also get cooped up. We also need space, fresh air, play, safety, and love - and those things are not "extras" or "rewards" - they're basic human needs and if we didn't get them when we were little, let's work to have them now. Not just for ourselves - but for everyone. For the children who never get it, for the people we encounter everyday who are "cooped up" by jobs, bills, daily hassles, etc - we can ALL provide the breath of fresh air and just a little permission to let go.
Take care and remember to play!
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org