Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Permission to Let Go of Bad Feelings
More often than not when people walk into my office, they are in some amount of emotional pain. There is perhaps, confusion, frustration, anger, grief, all simmering around inside them, with no good place to go.
There is no shortage of solutions for coping with bad feelings, of course. The spectrum runs from most destructive (addictions, self harm, violence) to constructive (though I don't really like this word...perhaps productive or progressive would be better?).
Constructive being things like prayer, writing, exercise, talk, talk, talk to an understanding ear. Give service, do a kindness, read a comforting book, meditate, make love. And more....
"Practicing the ability to bear discomfort" is often prescribed in 12 step rooms. Learning to tolerate feelings without acting on them. Learning to wait until they pass, while taking good care of ourselves. Getting relief without causing harm.
So of course in the therapy rooms dealing with bad feelings comes up all the time. Why do we deal the way we do? We look to our family history for clues. We look toward biology, early life experiences, character and belief systems. There are clues everywhere. We study; We talk; We take a look at what keeps us stuck, if we are stuck. So that we can get unstuck and have more serenity, happiness and love.
One of my walking buddies told me recently that she thinks that when she gets to Heaven, G-d will not ask her,
"Connie, Why didn't you worry more?"
or say "You did a lot things right, except you were not angry more often, or long enough. You did not hold enough grudges."
But, Connie tells me, she thinks some part of her likes her bad feelings. She has long since stopped drinking. She does not rage anymore at her husband and kids. She has done lots of soul searching and knows a lot about herself. She has done the work of therapy. But she still feels crappy a lot.
As we were talking, we were marveling at how one can give up all (or most) of one's vices, learn how to tolerate difficult feelings, know a lot about one's mother and father and life history and still feel so awful sometimes. We chalked some of it up to mood, hormones and life being life.
We chalked some more of it up to the possibility that perhaps she still gets something out of feeling awful, strange as that sounds. Maybe some feeling of familiarity, of closeness or likeness to her mother (who felt awful most of her life), maybe feeling awful seemed to add some spice to the day. We aren't sure exactly. It certainly does not seem like we would want to feel awful. But its possible.
So I asked Connie if it would help if I gave her permission to not feel awful. Of course, no matter how good we get at feeling our feelings, we can't always hurry them along so we can feel better. But sometimes we can.
It hit the right note when I asked this. A light quite note, but a good one, Connie told me. Yes, somehow she has always thought there was some nobility in holding on to bad feelings. As if she had to be loyal to them somehow. Maybe the idea that feeling them would protect her from things getting worse. Maybe that serenity was not something she was allowed to have, espeically if others in her life were angry, suffering or upset.
We walked on for a bit in silence. It was nice.