Whether or not you celebrate Easter, you may be familiar with the tradition of decorating eggs. Maybe kids these days get the brightly colored plastic version, but when I was growing up we got the real deal: chicken eggs: boiled, dyed and covered in stickers.
When I was about 8 years old, I kept an exceptionally beautiful Easter egg in my bedroom instead of in the refrigerator. I suffered from the delusion that eggs were impervious to spoilage as long as they had been boiled, and I didn't want to risk this precious egg being eaten. Lord only knows how many weeks later my mom walked into my room, nearly gagged and demanded, "what's that smell?"
The egg looked like a hand-painted porcelain masterpiece. But just inside the paper-thin shell was putrefying slimy misery.
At times I have felt like that egg. Smiling face. New pair of jeans. New job opportunity. Vacation tickets purchased. Soul nevertheless silently rotting inside my chest. Rub me wrong and I just might crack.
Can you ever relate to that egg? When the outside observer thinks you have it all together. Smiling face. Pinterest-perfect home. Jealousy-inspiring career. Your family could be Shutterfly models.
For all appearances, you have "nothing to complain about." And that is what you tell yourself. You practice gratitude around the lump in your throat. Swallow down the emptiness and paste on another smile. Hope that no one notices the rotten-egg aroma of your soul seeping through the shell.
Hope they don't notice the sadness. The emptiness. The guilt, the shame. The perfectionism. The dissatisfaction with life that permeates all of your activities. The confusion. The relentless fear. The anger. The echoing loneliness.
This is where the analogy of the egg breaks down. I know of no other use for a rotten egg than the Humpty-dumpster. Unless, like my father in his less discerning teenage years, you stockpiled them for a frenzied rotten-egg fight on a friend's farm. Disclaimer: please practice discernment if tempted to try this at home.
Eggs are for the birds, but humans are so redeemable. Humans are so transformable. What might your life look like if the shell hid no inner rottenness?
I'm not arguing for perfection, which is unattainable. Perfectionism is likewise an exhausting, unsatisfying treadmill. Instead, I advocate for four things:
1: Identify the Pain
Wait, before you wash the rottenness down with another drink or swipe it away on Instagram, what is the pain, exactly? What are the feelings? Any idea where they're coming from? Are they rooted in something recent or distant? Or both? What needs to change? Acknowledging where the emotional "stench" is coming from is the first step to finding wholeness.
2: Soak the emotional pain in self-compassion.
Compassion does not equal complacency; it can be the first step to change. It's what makes it safe enough to acknowledge that we have pain and brave enough to take steps towards addressing it.
3: Take a calculated risk and step into vulnerability.
Is there someone in your life who just might be safe to open up to about the rottenness? Might they be willing to listen? Being seen for who we are and being loved and accepted is powerfully healing.
4. Don't give up.
If you can't find a trusted friend to open up to, or if you did share and didn't find the listening ear you needed, or you did but you need so much more, keep looking. Cautiously try again. Keep in mind that a good therapist is first and foremost a good listener, so if needed, shop around and find a counselor who fits the bill.
Lastly, dear reader, please know that you are precious in the process. Your worth is not measured by your painted yet fragile exterior shell. Neither is it diminished by the feelings of awfulness inside. You are valuable because you are you. Hold on to hope.
Laura Lanford is a professional counselor with a special place in her heart for internationals, expats, immigrants, refugees, third culture kids and all who have been "uprooted". She focuses on trauma, grief and loss, attachment and relationships, and finding connectedness and a sense of home in a world of global uncertainty. Learn more at lifeuprooted.com.