Pandora’s Box

We all enjoy experiencing positive emotions and actively seek them out.  We go out for a good time, plan activities to have fun, gather with family for closeness, and many people when asked their goal in life will say, “I just want to be happy.” But other emotions are felt as bad experiences and we often go to great lengths to avoid them – feelings of anger, disappointment or fear. Sometimes we are taught that certain emotions are somehow “bad” and we shouldn’t experience them.  We believe that “big boys don’t cry” or “nice girls don’t get angry”.  Nonsense!  Big boys and nice girls are normal people too, and to experience the whole range of emotions is perfectly normal.  When we seek to suppress certain emotions we only run into trouble.

The ancient Greeks were aware of this and brought us the fable of Pandora’s Box.  Most of us don’t know this story well.  We just use it as an expression of mayhem, confusion and trouble.  But it’s actually a story that imparts wisdom for living a well-balanced life.  In classic Greek mythology…

Pandora was the first woman on earth.   At the time of her arrival evil was unknown.  Everyone was good and kind and caring.  Pandora was given to Epimetheus who was enchanted by her.  The gods had endowed her with many talents – beauty, music, persuasion and curiosity, and she had been given a beautiful box which she was not to open under any circumstance.  Although she was obedient for a long time, eventually her curiosity got the better of her and she sneaked open the box lid.  Immediately, a great swarm of nastiness escaped and spread throughout the earth, biting people and causing them great distress.  Anger, fighting, hatred and fear broke out amongst the formerly peace-loving people.  Epimetheus slammed the lid shut on the box and scolded Pandora.  She was so remorseful and promised never to open it again.  Eventually the mayhem settled down, and life on earth returned to normality.

However, one day when Pandora passed by the box she heard a faint voice crying, “Let me out.”  Her curiosity was aroused and she entreated Epimetheus.  “Don’t even think about it!” was his very firm response.  But day after day, the little voice called, “Let me out.” Eventually Pandora could no longer resist, and she opened the lid.  And there in the bottom of the box was Hope, a new and positive emotion that had not been known before.

Some of us get to times in life when we seem to have no feelings.  On the occasions where we could be experiencing happiness, peace, love, anticipation or enjoyment, we just feel blank.  Sometimes our emotions seem stuck – especially when we have lost someone we love and we know we miss them greatly, but we just can’t cry.

This is often the result of slamming the lid shut on the box of our emotions.  Somewhere in life we have had an awful experience that has produced anger, fear or sadness, and we have felt that it was inappropriate to indulge in these emotions.  So we lock them down.  It might have been a disaster such as bushfire, cyclone or flood, or it might have been a traumatic experience such as a car accident, an assault or diagnosis of serious illness.  Many times in such events we are overwhelmed by the many tasks that such an experience often produces, and we opt to “just get on with it.”  This is okay for a while.  However, the unexpressed emotions do not go away.  Just like Pandora’s box, they are eager to get out.  We expend a lot of energy in keeping the lid on them, and begin to experience fatigue, headaches, and poor sleep.  What we don’t realise is that the lid of our box is not selective in only locking down the “bad” emotions, but it shuts down the good ones too.  Eventually we notice that life is flat and emotionless.

Like Pandora, our remedy is to open the lid of the box.  But of course the first things to escape will certainly be those bad feelings that we locked down all that time ago, and like Epimetheus we often fear them.  But if we can take courage and face them, re-visit the painful times and experience those emotions until they are fully expressed, then they will be gone forever, leaving us free to enjoy the “good” emotions, and freeing up so much energy to enjoy life.

Some people can manage this themselves, and others need a guiding hand.  We’re here if you need us.

Just click here or call Goldwyn Lane Psychology on (07) 5564 2202