Quick! Do this right now: Jot down all the feelings you can come up with!
Now scan your list and see if there is anything you can notice about it. If you are anything like me (and my clients) you will notice that your list has mostly difficult feelings on it. Not the warm fuzzy ones. I’ve done this activity in a group setting before and everyone was like “woah! what is wrong with us we must be a bunch of negative Nancy’s!!!!???” Then the shame storm starts.
I want to show you something today that I try to teach clients pretty early in the therapeutic journey. Someone with a smart science brain has determined that there are 9 basic human emotions, some just didn’t make for good characters on Inside Out (seriously YES i talk about that movie all the time). Here is the list:
Notice anything about that list? 7 out of 9 can be very tough and uncomfortable feelings! I am giving curiosity some leeway- it can be a yay feeling, unless you’re the cat (that’s a joke folks…laugh!).
So the statistical likelihood that you are going to feel only comfortable feelings is…ummm…someone do that math! Not super likely!
Now you might be thinking….I don’t feel very good about this. Great! Guess what? That’s okay! I am a therapist who doesn’t buy into the lie that you always have to feel happy. It’s okay to not feel good. You can’t control how you feel, although I am willing to bet you try a lot. Most of us do.
In my work as an eating disorder therapist in Tyler, Texas I often see people using food and exercise behaviors as a way to “deal with” uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. We all have some way we try to manage these feelings.
What if we stopped trying to manage our feelings and just let ourselves notice them?
That is the scariest suggestion for most of us.
I have even had clients call me a few days after after I suggest this and say “I don’t like this! I don’t like feeling this!!!”
How beneficial is it to invest so much time an energy into controlling feelings, that you can’t even live your life?
Yet, it’s in our nature. We are a feel good society.
No offense Bobby McFerrin Don’t Worry Be Happy is a catchy song, it’s a terrible way to live your life.
Just be happy? All the time??? Be happy when you’re grieving, happy when you’re devastated, be happy if you’re hurting?
The most harmful thing about this belief is that it creates secondary discomfort, which is usually worse than the original uncomfortable feeling.
If I have experienced a loss in my family, I would naturally expect to feel some sadness. However, in the “Don’t Worry Be Happy” mindset that is prevalent today all of my friends will begin to busy themselves trying to make me happy, stopping at nothing to make sure I know that happiness is the ultimate goal. Now guess what I feel?
Sadness because I have lost my loved one.
Guilt because everyone is telling me to get it together and I just can’t seem to, what must be wrong with me?
Anger because I just can’t keep it together and I feel so abandoned.
Shock because I wasn’t expecting to feel all of these other feelings. I was expecting to feel loved and supported in my sadness.
Fear, what if something is terribly broken in me, what if I am feeling the wrong thing, what if I will ever be “normal” again?
Disgust because now I can’t stand how sad and pathetic I am.
See what happened there? All because we were trying so hard not to feel a very natural uncomfortable emotion. Sadness during grief is exactly what I would expect a person to feel.
Is it a cloudy day? I’ve had a lot of coffee and am all over the place but go take a peak at the sky. That isn’t just the coffee talking. Look at the sky for a few minutes. Really notice it.
Your feelings and thoughts are like the clouds and weather. They will come and go. The sky does not invest time and energy into changing the weather. Try this week to not put so much time and energy into changing your thoughts and feelings or the thoughts and feelings of others. Just notice them. If you hate me by Saturday, thats okay! Remember I am not invested in you feeling comfortable all the time! I know the weather almost always changes, without the sky even having to make it happen.