Cornwall Family Photo - Circa 1964
Yup - that's me: front row, second from the right. At 3 years of age I was a stiff upper lip fail and I still am.
I was made in England and born in Canada of stiff upper lip, war-surviving stock if ever there was any, so how did I end up such an emotional cream puff? I've searched high and low and there is no evidence contrary to my familial genetics, so what factors make me different? I've skimmed the surface of this whole British stiff upper lip thing. Some people say it started in the Victorian era as part of the conservatism of dress and behaviour of the time. Some say it is is symptomatic of the tough English public school system and others say it is a result of those who saw / fought in one or two world wars and the need to remain stoic in the face of great chaos and loss. I have done nowhere near enough research to be an authority on the subject.
Some folks say it has changed in Britain as a result of globalization, technology and the epic public outpouring resulting from Diana, Princess of Wales', tragic death. I know plenty of Brits who are chock-o-block with heartfelt kindness and caring and emotional capacity. I know plenty of Canadians who are ill-equipped at showing and processing emotion, so perhaps I think that I am falling short of a cultural marker that no longer actually exists.
Maybe, just maybe, I am perfectly healthy in my capacity to express myself, physically and emotionally. It's not that I usually expect anyone to DO anything about it. Lord knows, it costs me thousands in counselling recovery from a variety of abuses to gain emotional well-being. My motivation in not wearing emotional armour is purely to ensure that I am being clear and maintaining a healthy energy flow for my being - using the appropriate face for the appropriate situation / emotion. Perhaps it is not up to me to determine how others deal with my emotional / physical truth.
It's interesting that some folks are just as uncomfortable with a show of what we deem 'positive' emotions - I am just as effusive with those in my day to day life. My joy shows, my happiness leaks out, my excitement pops out like an erupting volcano. Sadness = Tears. Joy = Laughter. Pain = Furrowed brow and physical stature changes. I was born with a full quiver of emotions so I am guessing they are there to be used.
The thing is, if we don't actually use the appropriate words and expressions for what is going on for us - everyone can tell something is up anyway and they wonder what it is and if it is them causing it and all that speculation usually brings about misconceptions, upset and sometimes disaster.
So, while my ancestors may be rolling in their tightly-bound emotional graves, I have to say, "Sorry guys, but this Brit/Canadian has to be who she is and be real to her emotions." Don't worry, it's not like I'm going to go cry on the shoulder of a stranger every time I run out of coffee but I may cry on their shoulder if we share a grief and I may cheer them on or smile at them on the street because, after all, we are of one energy, one people, one heart beating on one planet and I am inextricably tied to all of you and you matter to me.
So I'll save my stiff upper lip for when I really need it - perhaps when I need to put something aside in order to help another but I'll come back to those emotions in a timely and safe way to deal with them.
Strength is good, but I think the greatest strength is in being true to yourself - whoever that might be on a given day. Know that you are perfect on your path of growing, learning and feeling the wonders of life.
-Gillian Cornwall, August 10, 2014
Surrendering to a Broken Heart
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2010