Often times in my line of work, I’ll have a client sit down and pull out their tiny violin. As they begin their tale of chaos and a downward spiral, I sit and listen patiently, waiting to help them process the whole ordeal. After a few minutes of what I’m sure is pure adrenaline and the need to emote, my client will sit back, take a deep breath, and say, “wow, I sound crazy”. This happens almost every time.
Living in a society that pushes the “frozen modality” (conceal, don’t feel), it’s hard sometimes to honor the feelings that we are having. In cases where they feel a bit extreme, it can be easier to bury them in the moment and discredit ourselves. However, when we do this, it is to our detriment. it causes us to doubt ourselves and our feelings. Eventually, this can lead to us turning our feelings off altogether, closing off one of our main sources of connection to the world around us.
Sometimes we forget just how many emotions there are floating around. You have your basic ones like happy, sad and angry. Then there are some medium tier ones like stressed, excited and frustrated. But then you have some that are on the outskirts of our every day vocabulary. This would include feelings like insignificant, disillusioned and detestable. Emotions have a wide range, even if we don’t get the chance to feel them all on an individual level.
One thing I advocate for is that all of our feelings are valid. We know this simply because we have them. Whatever your emotional range is, you can be sure that if that emotion pops up for you, it is there for a reason and is most likely associated with an event or a thought. We like to call this the cognitive triangle. Understanding where an emotion fits into the equation can help alleviate any lingering fears of being crazy that we may have.
I can tell I lost a couple of you with that last bit, so let me give an example. Say you’ve decided to go and get a pedicure. You’re pretty excited because it’s a brand new place, and you’ve heard great reviews. On top of that, the fact that you were even able to make the appointment and the outside being somewhat open again brought on a fresh sense of normalcy for you, which is all any of us have left in 2020. You go and get your pedicure (which is great btw…who knew hot pink was your color?), and you’re walking on sunshine back to your car. You hop in, getting ready to hit up The Target (because without “the” in front of it, it’s just not authentic Southern), and hear a funny noise as you pull off. Something tells you to open your door and look at your tires. Your back tire is completely flat, rendering you hopeless. Are you still here? That whole scenario took a sharp left, didn’t it? Let’s make it suck a little more.
You’re rescued from the chaos and get your spare put on until you can make it to the repair shop in the morning for Frankie to take a look. Your day goes on as planned, and you’re starting to get back on that cloud you were on when you got your pedicure. All is right with the world. Now fast forward to the next morning. You run out to your car, late for work (which is your business, sis, ain’t nobody judging) and realize that THE SPARE IS FLAT TOO!!! One ticket to blow-up town, please.
At this point, angry doesn’t even begin to cover what you’re feeling. You are in full on “infuriated” mode. You’re slamming things, screaming, balling your fists…the whole nine yards. What started off as a small inconvenience has now turned into a cataclysmic event of a Monday. All is not lost. In your enraged stupor you didn’t incinerate every bridge, so there is still some help to be given. Your tire is fixed, they buy you lunch, and you feel silly about the whole ordeal.
Now let’s look at the silliness. I would like to pose to you that this feeling of silliness (or craziness) over your reaction is learned. I mean, think about it. At some point when you’ve had an extreme burst of emotion, you may have been told by someone to “calm down”, or “it’s not that big a deal”. Maybe you were even told you were being dramatic. It doesn’t feel good to hear those things. But I want to encourage you today that your feelings are never not a big deal. Can they be a little extreme for a situation? Sure. I think that happens, though, when we choose to conceal instead of feeling the emotion as it comes forth.
Another analogy I share in sessions with clients is that of a garden bed. You’ve got the seeds you planted, and you may have a few weeds scattered here and there. If you aren’t aware the weeds are there, then when you go out to water your plants you’ll water everything. It’s only when you’re aware of the weeds that you can avoid them. The same thing goes with our feelings. If we remain blind to feelings we think are absurd or too harsh, that doesn’t mean that they go away. It just means that we accidentally water them along with all of the good feelings we want to cultivate. We have got to start paying attention to them so that they don’t catch us off guard later on down the road.
So how do we do that? Well, for starters we must validate ourselves before seeking that validation from others. If you are having a feeling about something, sit with it. Process that feeling and validate that it is yours. We can’t ditch it and make a run for it. That only causes other feelings to come down on us that we’d rather not have. But if we embrace it, imagine the possibilities! Maybe we’d finally feel like we’re in control. Maybe things that bothered us before won’t anymore because we’ve taken that time to process. Maybe we’ll find ourselves being happier in certain situations. However the cookie crumbles, just remember that your feelings are valid. You are valid.