The other day, I woke up feeling pretty bummed. It was a combination of stresses, decisions made (that were the right ones, but still not fun to make) and, I think, just the daily drudgery that sometimes is life. A lot of life is just the grind, you know?
Normally, I try to force myself out of this headspace: “You have no right to feel this way, look around you: So many people have it so much worse. Your feelings are just selfish.” That’s how I typically shame myself out of sadness or anger. Or I just ignore the unpleasant feelings and push them down to put on a pseudo-happy front.
This day, though, I gave myself permission to just be sad.
I have been reading a lot about how emotions are kind of “all or nothing.” You can’t just pick the “good” emotions and never feel the “bad” emotions. In fact, it’s wrong to see emotions as “good” or “bad”; they just are emotions, and it’s OK to have them. We don’t get to pick and choose our emotions; we have them, and then we move on.
Now, if you’re feeling sadness constantly and can’t seem to break free of it, that may be depression, and I urge you to talk to someone about it. But if, every now and again, you wake up and are sad … I ask that you join me in giving yourself permission to feel it. Sit in that uncomfortable emotion and look around. You might be surprised what you see.
As I sat in my sadness, I noticed a few things. One was that when I first talked myself into actually feeling my sadness, I felt physically uncomfortable. Yes, you read that right, I had to pep talk myself into feeling I sad. Once I had given permission, I noticed my body first. I had a small stomach ache, super-tense muscles and a sour taste in my mouth. The longer I sat in my sadness, the less I felt that. As I released that control, it allowed my body to relax.
Secondly, my sadness was more like a roller coaster than a consistent, steady thing. When I first, let’s say, “submerged,” I was scared. I was worried my sadness would be so big, so deep, I would not be able to get out of it. And you know what? Off and on, it was big and deep. There were tears. There were frowns. But there also were some happy moments, and more importantly, once I let go, there was a sense of peace.
I never realized how much time I spent wrestling with my emotions. More importantly, I never realized how restrictive and binding that can be. Constantly monitoring your emotions, subconsciously or consciously, is actually exhausting. You don’t realize how much so until you finally let go. Even for that one day, by the end of the day, I noticed a difference in myself.
Finally, when the sadness had subsided naturally, on its own, I noticed that I felt happier. A more honest happiness that I hadn’t really felt in a while. I also felt steadier and more even-keeled in my happiness. When I “fake” my way into happiness, it tends to be more fragile. I can lose my grip on it quickly and then find myself wrestling back into it. When I let myself naturally go back into a happy place, it felt more authentic, and it did last longer. It did not last forever (we are potty-training a puppy, after all), but I think it lasted a lot longer than usual.
I am going to try and allow myself to actually feel my emotions. I think it’s going to take a while to get comfortable doing this. Actually, it’s going to take a while to even remember to do this. Fake Happying is a very ingrained habit of mine, but I think the rewards will be worth the work.
And, it will be work because it’s not just my own behavior I have to work on. I am also quick to try and force my kids into a “happy” state as well. I know I am EXTREMELY guilty of explaining away their emotions: “You’re just sad because you’re tired. We’ll go to bed early, and you will be better.” I am realizing even though sometimes it is true, we are all more sensitive when we are tired, it doesn't devalue their emotions.
That is what I have been doing, teaching them to be like me and to only value the happy emotions. When I look back I realize I’ve said that so many times to my kids (cue the shame triggers). I am hoping that as I get more comfortable in my emotions, I can be more comfortable with their emotions.
This is not a free pass for my kids to get away with temper tantrums over not getting a toy every time we’re in Target (which happens a lot), but I can validate their feelings. They probably are legitimately sad they can’t have a toy — I am sad that I can’t get a lot of things at Target — and it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that.
Maybe by acknowledging it, we can ease back into a more authentic happy faster. Maybe not. BUT we can learn, together, to feel a little more comfortable in our emotions.