From a young age we are often taught to avoid uncomfortable emotions, whether it's being told not to cry when we scrape our knee, that there are plenty more fish in the sea when we experience a bad break up, or to "just get over it" when something unexpected happens in our lives.
We push the bad feelings away or run away from them, plastering a smile on our faces, and carry on with our day. But have we actually learnt anything? Will we grow from this experience? Or will we find ourselves in the exact same situation a few weeks or months down the line? Take a bad break up, for instance. Breaking up with someone can be difficult, we all know this, but if we deal with the break up by turning to alcohol, taking up running, or generally distracting ourselves from our pain, then we are likely to end up in a relationship that will end very similarly.
Learning from Negativity
If we took the time to learn from the break up, sit with the bad feelings, we might realise that the relationship wasn't right from the beginning, or that something that we had done and caused the break-up, or that there were warning signs early on in the relationship.
One of the uncomfortable emotions that I have trouble sitting with is guilt. I tend to feel guilty about a lot of things, many of which are not my fault and it is therefore irrational of me to feel guilty. For example, in one of my many workplaces, there is a diary in which we write down when we are going to be away. Being a customer-facing job, we cannot have too many people away at any one time. Two is the limit. I was the first to book off a particular weekend, as I like to get my time off booked in well in advance.
Roll around to one week before said weekend and we receive a group message from the manager, with a photo of the diary pages, telling us that it was unacceptable that five (yes FIVE) people had booked that weekend off. My name was at the top of the page, indiciating that I had indeed put my name in before any one else.
Well, of course, I felt terrible guilt. I privately messaged the manager to explain that I had put my holiday request in first and had put it there months ago and that I couldn't possibly cancel as it is for my sister's hen party and I am the maid of honour! He replied that he had no doubt that I had put it in months ago and that there was no concern from him about that.
Of course, that didn't stop me from being wracked with guilt. My mind didn't go as far as cancelling my weekend away (then I would be filled with guilt about cancelling!), but I couldn't switch my mind off all day. I was trying to come up with new holiday requesting protocols and constantly messaging the manager throughout the day, despite the fact that I was actually at a different job that day (as I said, I have multiple places of work).
However, rather than pushing the guilt aside and attempting to get on with my day, I decided to sit with the guilt. To really experience what the guilt felt like and think about why I was feeling this sense of guilt. I became aware that my guilt was misplaced. I hadn't done anything wrong, I had put my name in first, and that was that. I decided, early on in the day, that I wasn't going to try to explain myself in the group message (I had contacted my manager personally and that was enough), and I wasn't going to do anything else about it.
Throughout the day, multiple messages were flying around about the unfairness of the situation and so on. I read these messages and didn't reply. Previously, I might have become annoyed or even angry at these accusations of unfairness, but this time I didn't. My guilt didn't turn into annoyance at others, because I knew that my guilt was misplaced and I was therefore able to hold my guilt in a little bubble, not letting it penetrate through me and effect my emotional reactions.
Sitting with Uncomfortable Emotions
Sometimes, it is okay, even beneficial, to sit with the uncomfortable emotions. It is okay, important even, to really experience them, what they feel like, where you feel them in your body, and what your knee-jerk reaction is.
There is a difference between pushing emotions away and letting emotions go. When we push emotions away, often we are not pushing them away from ourselves. Instead we are pushing them down within ourselves. They do not leave us, they are within us, and until we face them and truly let them go, they will effect and inform our decisions and behaviours.
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