I can’t tell you how many times clients and friends, heck everybody I know has come up against a moment where, when we really dig down a bit, the problem isn’t necessarily HOW they feel, but how they think they SHOULD feel. Let me explain.
There’s a bride preparing for the big day. She’s sure she’s doing the right thing. Her partner is the right one for her, no question in her mind. And yet as she is getting dressed with her sisters and mothers, it’s there, that little twinge that makes her tear up. That bit of sadness that makes her pause for a moment and, if she gives herself enough time, maybe even start to doubt herself. Why am I sad? I shouldn’t be sad right now. It’s one of the happiest days of my life. I SHOULD not be sad; does that mean there’s something wrong? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Oh no, what if this is all wrong after all?…
You can see how this could get complicated.
Picture a funeral, one that follows a long struggle with an unkind illness. Picture a caretaker who is exhausted and grieving. Watch that caretaker brush aside the moment of relief he is surely feeling in favor of guilt that he should feel that way at all. He should be sad; he should only be sad. Being anything else means he’s selfish or unfeeling or somehow cheapens the relationship. We’ve now gone from grieving to self-abuse.
This is, I believe, a uniquely human trick: the double layer torture. Because we have the capacity to think about what we’re thinking, we are able to load judgment onto our struggles. Great.
I see my clients and friends do it all of the time. I see coach friends do it too – we’re actually extra good at it because we see it all happening and think that means we should know better: “I thought I was done with this. I KNOW this is just a story I’m telling myself. I can’t believe I’m here again.” Double layer torture is often rooted in some kind of feeling that we should know better, we should act better, that we should BE better people, the kind who don’t have feelings that don’t appear to match the occasion, the kind of people for whom life is simple – black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.
“Well, when you say it that way….” YES I’m saying it that way. Because we are all complicated; there is a whole lot of grey and with all of that complication and middle ground, we are, quite simply, allowed to feel however we feel. You are allowed to feel how you feel. You are allowed to feel how you feel. You are allowed to feel how you feel. And feeling how you feel doesn’t make you selfish, or unworthy, or wrong, or mixed up, or anything other than a stunning and complex human being. You get to feel how you feel without judgment, especially from yourself.
So what to do when these moments happen, when our feelings don’t match with how we THINK we should feel and we’re tempted first to torture ourselves with scorn for that and then to analyze that whole scene to figure out how messed up we really are… what to do?
How about a little compassion? How about taking a deep breath and allowing the feeling to be there, getting yourself a kleenex so the tears can come out without ruining your makeup if it’s your wedding day, allowing the smile if it’s a funeral? How about starting by telling yourself that you get to feel how you feel and it doesn’t make you anything other than human?
You may be startled to find that giving the feeling that room allows it to pass through, and suddenly it will become just a moment of real humanness rather than an indicator of a lifetime of anything. It will become a passing sentiment rather than evidence that you are who you’ve always been afraid that you are. It will just be a feeling, a feeling that you are allowed to have, and then it will be done. It will be done and you will still be worthy.