Why can’t I just feel better? (Part 2)
In part one, we looked at how not noticing emotions till they hijack our mind, not labelling them appropriately and viewing them as adversaries instead of informers were some of the major obstacles that stopped us from feeling better. We took a good look at some of the major things that happen on the inside. Now, let’s take a look at some of the factors on the outside that can impact how we feel and hinder recovery.
As someone very wise once said, your past informs your present. Almost all our behaviours are learnt, as we’ve been observing and absorbing since we were babies. We might pick up mannerisms, phrases, or gestures, but one of the things we pick up the most is about human behaviours – how to act, react, or manage a situation. We’re often only exposed to our caregiver’s emotional expression, and that in turn, can shape how we express ourselves. Even if the experience is ours, we look to out caregivers to understand what an acceptable way is of dealing with it in the moment. If we get hurt and cried, how was it received by the people around us? Were we comforted, scolded, ignored, or mix so you didn’t know what was coming? A good place to start is by reflecting and enumerating your family’s rules around emotion, as well as coping. Another question to reflect on – what were the acceptable ways of making yourself feel better?
Similarly, societal norms are perhaps one of the biggest contributors to how we feel about feeling. An extension of the family unit, social rules are formed and enforced by the same people, regardless of whether they are harmful or helpful. Each culture has its own set of rules (often unsaid, making them so much more complex) around “permissible” emotions, and those that must not be seen, heard, expressed, or acknowledged. These can further be subdivided into how normative or part of the majority you are, as each have their own rules. For example, conventionally, it might be alright for women+ to cry with friends when they’re unhappy, but the same space might not exist for men+. On the other hand, anger and aggression are seen as acceptable emotions for men+, but by anyone else, they can have a negative connotation or label attached. And that’s what can really hurt – labels given to us arbitrarily, but that seem to stick (like Velcro, more on that in the series on anxiety!) and make us feel like we need to earn or dispute to be seen as individuals with value (hint: you already are, and always will be). So, even if we acknowledge and label an emotion, the question that often arises for us is – is it okay to feel this way? And the answer to that is always going to be a resounding YES! We’re more than allowed to feel whatever is coming up for us. How we try to express it, though, is completely up to us and our responsibility.
Let’s take for example our friend Ken – he’s a 30-year-old cisman and employed in digital sales. Despite his best efforts, Ken doesn’t meet his targets for the month and is politely chided in a meeting. He might feel angry, embarrassed, hurt, ashamed or several other emotions, or a mix of all of them subconsciously. He’s in pain and unknowingly, looking for a space to hold it, or a someone to witness it and acknowledge it’s importance. However, as his family and society have trained him to believe that only anger is acceptable, he might actively or passively be aggressive towards his colleagues, friends, or family. He may end up not only alienating the people in his life, but also feeling resentful, lonely, or rejected. Our story could end here, but it doesn’t. Ken decides to seek therapy, to help himself feel a bit better, but over time and with compassion, he discovers that he couldn’t deal with criticism because he didn’t know how. And so, he discovered he was stuck in a loop, and in the end his anger was only corroding him. The next time he’s pulled up in a meeting, he might still feel hurt and embarrassed, but this time, he acknowledges them as such. He soothes the part of him that felt the pain and understands that it’s okay to feel bad when criticized and to make mistakes, as they are part of the human experience. His mistakes don’t define him, and nor do yours define you, dear reader!
If you feel like Ken’s journey resonated with you, and you too would like to discover your patterns and heal from them, please book a free 15-minute consultation with us at The Trauma Healing Center. We provide virtual as well as in person therapy, accessible for those in Mississauga, Toronto, Brampton, and Oakville.
Mental Health Professional
Member of OAMHP