Learning to Accept All Your Emotions
Could you imagine a life where you never felt anger? Never felt sadness? Sounds like paradise right? To never feel these negative emotions that plague so many people. What about not being to feel joy? Excitement? That sounds less fun right? The thing is, I don't think that you can feel the good feelings without feeling the bad ones. Why, as a society, have we decided to only talk about the good feelings, to act as if we never feel these bad feelings? I think that in a perfect world we'd be able to feel all the feelings we have and embrace each one appropriately.
I mean, there's a reason why Inside Out highlighted 4 key emotions right?
When I was 15 I was incredibly depressed, all I ever felt were anger and sadness. I felt like the few times I felt joy were so fleeting and that life was one giant ball of suck. For 3 years I was discouraged from showing any signs of anger, I couldn't raise my voice, I couldn't say things with even the slightest attitude. I was expected to be happy or nothing, so I learned how to turn off my emotions. This became my go to technique when dealing with unpleasant feelings. Sad? Turn off my emotions, Angry? Turn off my emotions. Jealous? Turn off my emotions. I spend 3 years in this almost zombie like state just going through the motions of life because it was easier then to try and deal with my feelings. The thing is, that isn't really a way to live your life. I constantly felt stuck, as if I was making no progress as a person both emotionally and mentally.
I went to therapy when I turned 18 because I knew that I didn't want to be "stuck" for the rest of my life but it wasn't until I was 20 that I started to actually learn about myself and feelings. When I was 20 I went to a therapist that specifically worked with people who had gone through trauma. While I had gone there to work through some underlying issues from being raped at 18. While my time at therapy helped with that, what it taught me more was how to deal with childhood trauma I hadn't even really realized I had. (I think that everyone should go to therapy, it is an amazing and excruciating experience but you learn so much about yourself through it). One of the things that I learned in therapy was how to feel feelings again, how to not shut off my emotions.
It's been such a life changing experience and it's made me appreciate life so much more. To clarify, I don't like getting angry and I don't like feeling sad but I do think that everything that you feel is justified and if you repress those feelings they'll just come out in an unhealthy manner.
I see on social media that life is all about the mindset that you have and that if you wake up in the morning and just smile through life everything will work itself out. But that is such a toxic way to look at life and emotions. You can't mantra and manifest your way through life. Life sometimes happens to you and there's no mantra or manifestation in the world that will change that. This expectation of living a happy, perfect life is so unrealistic! No life is perfect, my life definitely isn't. I have really great days and then I have really shitty days, as I'm writing this I'm having a shitty day. What matters is that you accept that these things just happen and try and find the joy where you can.
I have been finding my joy by re-reading the Twilight saga
That's something that I've been working on. As someone who had depression it can be really easy to fall back in to that depression when things are hard, but finding that line between feeling my feelings and not getting depressed is a very tricky line to straddle. But I would rather do that then never feeling anything.
I've had a lot of conversations with people where they begin to apologize when they start getting agitated or frustrated with a situation, I even do this sometimes. The thing is, our feelings are always valid! Even if what someone else is feeling is completely different than what I'm feeling, their feelings are still valid, because everyone has their own experiences in life that can trigger whatever emotions are coming up.
Applying this to your daily life!
There's two main steps to feeling all your feelings (at least this is how I approach it!)
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Feelings
This is really important, you are always allowed to feel the feelings you have. Acknowledging your feelings in that moment acknowledges the experiences that led you to that emotion. This is an important step to have when dealing with other people and their emotions as well. A simple "That totally makes sense why you feel ____." Let's them know that you are understanding and accepting of their emotions and experinces. For yourself following that up with a because could help to, "That totally makes sense why I feel ____ because it reminds me of ___"
Example: I had a friend (we dated very briefly but our friendship lasted longer than our romantic relationship) who I hadn't heard from in almost a year. We were pretty good friends and while he wasn't a good texter he always responded to my messages eventually. After 6 months of no messages I started to realize that he was ghosting me. Since he didn't have a social media presence I started to think that maybe he just moved, or got a new number, or maybe something worse happened. For the past 10 months I've worried about this person that I really cared for and wondered what happened to cause him to no longer talk to me. This weekend I saw him walking in my neighborhood and felt completely shocked at seeing him for the first time in almost a year. I completely froze and didn't say hi or try to get his attention. For the next few hours I kept replaying the moment in my mind why I was feeling so sad and betrayed. As I started to accept the emotions I was feeling I realized that I was feeling sad and betrayed because the confirmation that he was okay and healthy and still living in the area brought up some abandonment issues that I have. Once I accepted those feelings I was able to move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Moving Forward With Your Feelings
Once I learned how to identify and accept my emotions I realized that I had to learn how to move forward with them. Accepting and knowing what they are and why they're there is one thing, but I would fall into a trap of staying in the emotions too long and sometimes falling into a depression. What I started to do was ask myself how I was feeling about the emotion itself, was I okay with being sad for a little bit or do I think that it is hindering my days activity, and then I would create an action plan from there.
Example: I was super emotional a couple weeks ago and really felt like I needed a good cry so I turned on Pride & Prejudice and let myself cry. It was incredibly cathartic and it let me be in my emotions a really healthy way. Today I was feeling a bit frustrated about something and I knew that I had way too much to get done and it wasn't a productive feeling for the moment. Instead of ignoring it I channeled that frustration and went for a run to work it out of my system. Then I came home, and now I'm writing this feeling much better.
My therapist told me something once that I think about a lot. He said, "Life isn't always black and white, life is usually gray and you have to learn to be okay with gray." I feel like people forget sometimes that we can strive for a better life but still accept that life isn't perfect. This idea of being happy all the time just isn't realistic and the best thing that you can do for yourself is learn how to live in the gray, live in the feelings that aren't always so nice and happy. Just because someone posts something on social media that shows an emotion that isn't happiness doesn't mean it's a cry for help (but also be on the lookout if that's the only thing they post). Life is messy and that's okay, all emotions are valid emotions and learning to work through them productively is hard but necessary.