“I’m feeling really anxious about this upcoming meeting with my boss, but I know I shouldn’t!”
“Why do I feel so down at the holidays when everyone else is celebrating…this is ridiculous!”
“Sometimes I have fantasies of just getting into the car and driving away from my responsibilities…I am a terrible parent!”
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? So often we have strong and difficult emotions, but almost instantaneously tell ourselves they are wrong or bad ways to feel. Although it seems like this internal scolding would begin to drive away the unwanted feeling I believe the opposite happens; we still have the original emotion but now feel more ashamed and lame for having it in the first place.
Wanting to avoid pain and get rid of a bad feeling as quickly as possible is completely human and totally understandable. Even our society favors quick fixes and not “naval gazing.” However, I’ve found the quickest and most direct way to stabilize yourself is to head towards it and get curious about what’s going on with you in an attempt to find comfort and support instead of self-criticism.
For example, let’s say I find out about a gathering of friends that I wasn’t invited to and I feel anger start to build in my stomach. Let’s complicate things by assuming that when I was growing up, feeling or showing anger was frowned upon. My unhelpful response might be, “you have no right to feel angry…shame on you!” Now I feel doubly lousy.
But what if I took a deep breath and tried to acknowledge and accept my anger just as it was presenting itself in that moment….a tightening in my gut, a hot feeling in my face and a hammering heart. Then what if my self talk included something like, “feeling left out really stinks…having anger about this seems 100% appropriate. I bet if this had happened to my next door neighbor she would be pretty ticked, too!” The funny thing is, there is a much better chance that my anger would make a transition and begin to simmer down, precisely because I acknowledged what it had come to tell me; that being treated that way is crummy and my angry part didn’t like it one bit. In fact, it was protesting ON my behalf, not to complicate my day or cause me shame.
So the next time an “unwanted” feeling shows up, resist the impulse to shut it down with condemnation or criticism. Instead, try to welcome it with as much curiosity and even validation that you can muster. I’m pretty sure it’s the way you would approach a close friend who came to you with a difficulty and your emotional self deserves no less.