“There is no love in marriage, friendship or family. Love is in yourself.”
Thirteen women gathered on the 24th of February, 2019, at Africa’s premier life clinic – Safe Place in Ikeja, Lagos for She Writes Woman’s Safe Place (mental health) support group. Since October 2017, She Writes Woman has run monthly women-only support groups in Lagos, and held some in Abuja, Ibadan and Kaduna. About 800 women have benefited from these groups.
Despite being a rainy day with elections just the day before, these women showed up for each other. We talked about things ranging from valid feelings to forgiveness, from important relationships to a formula for happiness. Our facilitator was Oyinkansola Alabi, an emotional intelligence expert and the founder of Emotions City.
The floor was opened with questions centered on friendships, dealing with romantic relationships and mental disorders, coping with heartbreak, abusive relationships, family issues, work-life balance, being emotionally intelligent and more. Truth is, when it comes to relationships, we all always have a lot to say, and lots more to ask.
Relationships are a very important aspect of our lives. They form the basis for purpose and a sense of belonging. Extensive research shows that having good and quality relationships can help us to live longer and happier lives with fewer mental health problems. Loneliness and isolation remain the key predictors of poor mental health. Research has also shown that poor quality or unhappy relationships have a higher negative influence than being alone.
With that in mind, our facilitator began the session with, “Your feelings are valid.”
How many of us truly believe that our feelings are valid? And how could we have? From a young age, we were continuously told, “Don’t cry, you’re a big girl,” “hold your lips” while crying, and we made to shut down as adults when we try to express our feelings.
Then someone asked, “What about forgiveness? Is it possible to forgive someone after years of hurt?”
“Forgiveness is a process,” Alabi answered. “The term, ‘forgiving and forgetting’ doesn’t exist.”
Ah! That hit me hard. Imagine my relief just hearing these words. The person who sold us this idea really pulled a quick one on us. I had always wondered what level of amnesia I needed to have in order to forget a wrongdoing. It just never made sense to me.
“You must forgive at your own pace depending on what you want to achieve. In fact, forgiveness is a three step thing – forgive first, restore second and reconcile last.”
I have seen first hand what the pressure of ‘forgiving and forgetting’ has had on us as a people. We have begun to suppress our feelings and expressions to just create an illusion that forgiveness has taken place. In real terms, what has happened is that we have transferred our anger and hurt (which are perfectly normal emotions) from the person or situation to a kind of resentment (a very deadly emotion) to our own selves.
Outlets like conversations, jogging and other physical activity, journaling, drawing, coloring, etc., are healthy ways to cope or release unexpressed emotions.
“Emotional wellness is not repression. Emotional stability is not denial. It’s not suppression, its expression.” This is why forgiveness must be at your own pace. Your emotions are to be expressed the way and at the pace they can. Forgiveness won’t take place in a day.
But another very important thing to note is who you are devoting your energy to. Let’s face it, some people or situations are just not worth the stress.
“Life is full of balls and eggs. Eggs are those things that when they fall, you fall. Spend 80% of your energy on your eggs. Balls are those things that when they fall, they bounce back up,” Alabi explained.
By far, this was my key takeaway. Key takeaways are perhaps the longest tradition of Safe Place support groups. At the end of every support group, we all take turns to share the one thing we’re leaving the session with.
Eggs could be your family, friends or anything so important to you that if something negative happens to them, you feel the impact in a dire way.
It hit me there and then that a lot of us have been doing this relationship thing all wrong. We invest much of our time, emotions and energy on people who are balls and then we live in this cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction and unfulfillment in our lives and relationships. Your balls will bounce back, your eggs will break. Think about it and let it sink.
We ended our session learning about happiness. After all, that’s really what we ultimately hope that our relationships will give us, right?
When people typically say they are happy, it’s because their current life’s condition or situations or happenings match their expectations. That means – Life Condition = Expectations = Happiness. When your life’s conditions don’t match your expectations, that’s typically when we experience what we call “unhappiness.” That is – Life Condition ≠ Expectations = Unhappiness
This means our great expectations from life and standards we set on ourselves may be the underlying cause of our lack or fulfillment. It might include where you want to be (career, relationship, living conditions, possessions, etc.), who you want to be and how to get to the place that would define success or happiness for you. It’s good to set goals and try to achieve, but sometimes our expectations are holding us back from enjoying life as it is in this moment.
So maybe you didn’t factor losing a life partner, parent, having an abusive partner, being fired from a job, not getting married by thirty. If that is the reality, you must first come to terms with it and then manage and adjust your blueprint or expectations. This means the expectations and standards you had previously set for yourself – consciously or subconsciously, especially in line with societal pressures – will probably have to change. And that’s okay.
For many of us who hold ourselves to very high standards, who value excellence and seem to want to control the outcomes of everything, this can be especially hard and almost seem like reducing our standards sometimes. But you’re not alone. The quest for mentally healthy relationships and living is laced with hard choices to unlearn and relearn new ways to choose our mental wellness over all else.
Join our next women-only Safe Place support group by texting SAFE to 0817 491 3329