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Emotional Spanx – Take ‘Em Off, Live Your Life

I bet you own a pair (or several) of Spanx. Hey, they slim and smooth, and make everything look a bit better. There are places I wouldn’t go without them. However, I love it when I get home and can strip them off and put on my normal cotton undies and a pair of sweats. Ahhh…

Emotional Spanx operates the same way.

There are times and places where having on your emotional Spanx is good:

  • The border patrol officer probably doesn’t want to hear how sad you are about your cat dying.

  • Your boss probably doesn’t want to hear all about your relationship angst in the middle of a business meeting.

  • At a party, you probably don’t want to shout at your friend for sharing too much information about your life with others.

So, learning how and when to feel is an important and healthy process.

The problem arises when you keep your emotional Spanx on and forget you’re wearing them. You get so used to repressing and suppressing how you feel; you don’t even know that you have emotions. I’ve heard clients tell me:

  • I used to cry but not anymore

  • I never feel angry

  • I don’t have time to celebrate – there’s just too much to do

Why are these signs of wearing emotional Spanx?

Because emotions such as sadness, anger, and joy are natural emotions that arise multiple times a day – yes multiple every day – for someone who is Spanx-free.

You’re addicted to your emotional Spanx if you hear yourself often saying:

  • “I just need to get everything perfect.”

  • “I’m never going to be (fill in the blank: successful, thin, pretty) enough.”

  • “I’m constantly worried and anxious.”

  • “Do you think he’s mad at me? I need to fix it. What should I do?”

All of these feelings suggest that your attention is stuck outside yourself – rather than inside you where your emotions flow.

When you are caught trying to make everything perfect with constant self-criticism, worry/anxiety, and an inability to tolerate someone being upset with you – you are wearing your emotional Spanx.

Why? Because you’re trying to control something outside of yourself and usually that is because you are not wanting to feel something INSIDE you.

Your emotions – yes, all of them, even the uncomfortable ones – are there for some good reason. Feeling them is the path to understanding what’s right for you rather than working to control others.

How do I know? Growing up, my dad, The Colonel, got angry almost every night at dinner. It was very scary for me.

To survive, I learned to put on my emotional Spanx and just not feel. When I focused on what The Colonel wanted and worked hard to please him, I was safe. My superpower was keeping our relationship smooth by keeping ME out of it – what I felt, what I wanted, and what I thought. Instead, I made it all about pleasing him.

When I left my parents’ house I was wearing a complete emotional Spanx bodysuit. Rather than feeling my emotions, I was caught up in worry, self-criticism, perfectionism, and working very hard to please those around me.

Holding my emotions in paid off for a while. I accomplished a lot: Olympic athlete, Boeing Flight Test Engineer, MBA, high-powered management consultant advising CEO’s of big companies.

It worked until it didn’t.

It didn’t work when I was suffering from chronic fatigue, chronic back injury, and loads of other health issues. It also didn’t work, when given leadership responsibilities at my consulting job, I couldn’t make a decision. I felt paralyzed.

Taking off my emotional Spanx was a process, which I worked on with my coach.

When I allowed myself to feel, I made different decisions. Decisions that pleased me, not necessarily everyone else.

I had to learn how to let more of my emotions out.

I had to learn to ask for what I wanted.

I had to learn how to develop genuine curiosity about the impact that was having on the people around me – rather than mind-reading and managing others’ reactions.

When it comes to emotional Spanx it isn’t about getting rid of them. It’s about being aware of your emotional landscape, allowing your emotions to flow through, and making choices about where and when that works for you. It’s also about being willing to show up as YOU, not controlling how that is for others, and staying present and relational from the inside out – Spanx and all.

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