As my clients learn to take more ownership over their feelings and their actions, one of the challenges they face is how to address negative experiences. Their immediate inclination is to shift to a new thoughts to try and feel better about the situation. But reality is that sometimes things will happen in our lives that we don’t want to feel good about. So what do we do?
Many of the things we do (or don’t do) in our lives are because we are chasing (or avoiding) a feeling.
We get married because we want to be happy. We don’t volunteer to speak up because we don’t want to feel embarrassed. We don’t ask for more money because we don’t want feel ashamed if they say no.
We spend a significant amount of energy in our lives calculating how certain events may or may not make us feel and we then choose to act based upon those estimates. It seems logically self-protecting. Why would we set ourselves up for a failure or embarrassment? Why would we take any action that would make us feel terrible?
This recently came up when I had a client tell me how she blew an important deadline. She was overloaded and low on sleep and it just slipped her mind. Despite the fact that is wasn’t a career-ending mistake and was completely salvageable, my client felt terrible. She was overcome with disappointment in herself — I should have been more organized, this shouldn’t have happened, I let everyone down. She explained to me that, in the days that followed, she just kept trying to shift her thoughts to a “better” thought. To one that didn’t make her feel so terrible, but it just wouldn’t stick.
The problem was that my client was resisting her feelings of disappointment. She was trying to cover them up by manufacturing prettier thoughts. She was running away from that experience and, not surprisingly, it wasn’t working.
Why? Because she was disappointed. She didn’t want to feel good about her oversight. The truth was that she WANTED to feel disappointed (but she didn’t really want to FEEL disappointed). She didn’t want to feel good about it but she didn’t really want to experience the disappointment either.
Whenever we have an experience that we don’t want to feel good about, we cannot give in to the temptation to try and cover it up. We must allow the feeling of disappointment to be there. To run its course. We can’t try and cover up the 50% of our life experiences that aren’t sunshine and roses.
There will be hard days and we cannot simply write off half of our lives.
Half of the time it’s going to be hard and painful. We have to practice accepting that. We also have to practice processing emotions.
When we resist negative emotions and try to bury them with better feelings, the negative feelings simmer below the surface and compound. They will eventually make their way to the surface. It might not be today but it will likely be at some inappropriate time–when you are stuck in traffic on the way to meet a friend for happy hour and you burst into tears….when your spouse asks you what time you will be home for dinner and you bite his face off.
Those feelings will find a way to get out and whomever is on the receiving end likely doesn’t deserve it.
Aside from the fact that resisting those emotions is futile, there is a practical reason for allowing yourself to feel the disappointment. If we don’t accept that negative 50% of our emotional experience, we never get good and experiencing those emotions and moving on. Instead, we create patterns where we resist and avoid those emotions so we start to believe that we can’t handle them.
When we spend our whole lives avoiding those negative vibes, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn how to experience them. To learn that they won’t kill us. To learn that we can experience those emotions and keep moving. Think of it as emotional aversion therapy — we have a hang out with those emotions so we are no longer afraid of them.
When we create a pattern where we fear those emotions, we spend our lives trying to avoid them. It makes perfect sense that we would avoid those emotions that aren’t familiar and that we don’t understand. Of course, they would seem scary! But what if you could explore and come to intimately understand those emotions? What if those emotions were no longer so scary?
Consider what you would do with your life if you weren’t afraid to feel embarrassed? What would be different? What would you accomplish?
As I mentioned at the outset, we spend our entire lives taking actions or not taking actions because we are chasing or avoiding certain feelings. Those feelings are just vibrations in your body. They won’t hurt you. They are created by your thoughts and you have complete agency over those thoughts. But rather than using your brain to try and erase negative emotions, what if we allowed ourselves to experience negative emotions when it is warranted? What if we became practiced and comfortable with those emotions we typically avoid? Then our lives become a series of actions we take simply because we want to; because we know that whatever the outcome, whatever the feeling or negative result, it doesn’t matter because we have no reason to avoid it.
Allow yourself to experience the 50/50 that is our lives. What other choice do you have?!
As attorneys, I know that some days, weeks, and months can feel more like 80% negative and 20% positive. If you need help working through the yin and yang of your life, set up some time to get some free coaching. What do you have to lose?