“Why can’t I just be changed without having to deal with all these shitty feelings?, ” I said with a laugh. My therapist laughed, too, “Well, wouldn’t that be nice! But you seem to think of things as black and white, good or bad. These feelings are just feelings. You can handle them.”
I know better than this. I’ve asked this question before. So have many of my own therapy clients. “Why does growth require so much pain? Can’t I just skip it?” I’m not sure I have the answer to why, but I do know that the only way to “get over” something is to acknowledge it and feel it. You can’t go around a feeling. There’s really no “easy” way out.
I think what we often feel is a pressure to get over things quickly. We want to be happy, productive people, good friends and good partners who don’t “burden” others with our “negative” feelings. But why do we even need to label feelings like sadness, anger, or anxiety as “bad”? Of course, these emotions don’t feel good, but does that mean they’re automatically bad? What if we could view them as simple messages?
Sadness can tell you that you’ve lost something and you need some time to heal. Anger can tell you that you’ve been hurt or wronged. These feelings are valid and important. They tell us when we need to take care of ourselves, to talk to someone, or to set a boundary.
Anxiety is a message that you’re afraid of something. It shows up in life – usually when there’s change happening or about to happen – even “good” change. Breakups, death, new jobs, new children, new relationships, these are all changes. When anxiety shows up, instead of saying “OMG, I’m crazy, how can I make this go away RIGHT NOW?”, maybe you need to ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” It might be difficult to find the answer right away. You might say, “Nothing. I’m just going to my office like anything other day.” But I guarantee if you dig a little deeper, perhaps to something that’s completely unrelated to what you’re doing at that moment, you’ll find something that needs attention. Then, over time, you’ll find you can face it and walk through the fear.
And that’s the key – walking through. Avoiding the fear will only make you more afraid. Pretending you’re happy all the time will not serve you or anyone else. Ignoring your anger and not acknowledging the hurt you feel will only hurt you more. PLUS, you won’t get that amazing growth and change you’re looking for!
Now, I’m not talking about wallowing. I’m talking about acknowledging your feelings, validating them, and maybe even getting curious about where they come from so that you can figure out what it is that you need to take good care of you.
What feelings have you been fighting? How can you validate them instead? When have you found that it actually was easier to move through a feeling rather than fight it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.