Everybody feels bad sometimes – sad, lonely, upset, worried, even angry. OK, except Tibetan monks, maybe, but only after 20 years of meditation and a strict diet of warm water. The rest of us sometimes feel bad.
The problem with feeling bad is not so much that we find something hard to deal with, but that we have been brought up not to feel bad, so we feel really bad about feeling bad. That, of course, makes everything worse, because now, we are feeling bad about ourselves and blocking ourselves from processing and letting go of the original bad feeling.
When I was growing up, I was often told that only girls cried. “Take it like a man”, people said to me and to all of my friends who were boys. The girls were not supposed to take it like men, but they were instructed not to bother others with their feelings and to “show their happy face” like “a good girl” should. So happiness was clearly good and resentment, anxiety, regret and sorrow were bad.
When Ronit and I lost our baby, the most natural thing for us to do was go back home to our parents, siblings and high-school friends for emotional support. But instead, everyone ran away from us, and when they were around us, it was awkward. Our grief was too hard for them to bear and they had no idea how to handle it. So not only did we mourn our dead son, we also felt lonely and rejected, simply because the people around us were brought up to hide bad feelings.
So today, I am here to liberate you, and I hope that by liberating you, you will go on to liberate other people in your life, until everyone feels OK about feeling bad.
My favorite philosophy is Taoism, which advises us to follow the natural forces and flow of things around us and to keep ourselves balanced at all times. In Taoism, nature is so much stronger than us humans there is really no point resisting it, so everything that is natural must be accepted. Our job is to find a good way to use it.
Taoism recognizes 5 elements – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element affects the others and all of them are needed for a balanced life. Favoring one of the elements (like favoring happiness) ultimately results in health problems. This is the foundation of Chinese medicine, kinesiology and other forms of healing.
The elements are also associated with the seasons. Spring is the wood season, a time of growth, movement, creation and change. It is always followed by summer, the fire season, a time when things ripen, strengthen and mature. Late summer is the earth season, a time when things are processed and converted, to be used later. Then always comes autumn, the metal season, a time of gathering, winding down and preparing for winter. Those who do not adapt to the change of seasons in autumn get sick or develop illnesses that will manifest themselves during winter. Finally comes winter, the water season, a time of closing, hiding and storage.
No matter how much we like the spring, it does not last forever and we eventually find ourselves in the summer. No matter how much we want to avoid it, winter always comes in nature, as does pain in our heart. But after winter, there is always spring again. In fact, preparing well for emotional winter and weathering it well makes for a wonderful spring.
According to Tearful Serenity: Crying Away the Stress, crying is our body’s way of releasing stress chemicals and helping us relax. In fact, when you stress about being stressed, it makes matters worse and brings the tears out faster. The great thing about crying, though, is that without changing the stressful situation a bit, it somehow feels better and you feel relieved.
Of course, many emotions do not lead us to crying and many situations do not arouse strong enough emotions to bring out the tears, by the same principle still applies – dealing with our bad feeling is the best way to feeling good again. Pretending everything is OK only makes it worse. Criticizing yourself for feeling bad makes it worse still.
Timeline Therapy is based on the idea that at some point in our life, we had an experience that created a certain feeling or belief in us, such as “I’m not good enough”. Since this often happens during childhood, we did not process that feeling or belief. Instead, we integrated it into our identity. Whenever something happens to us that seems like that original event, it reinforces our belief and strengthens our feeling. Throughout our life, we build a chain of these events and our bad feeling gets stronger and stronger.
In order to release a particular emotional burden, we can travel in our mind to the first time we ever felt that emotion or held that belief and experience from an adult perspective. Once we process the event and change how we interpret it, our feeling about it changes. We can then travel back to the present and other similar events along the way “pop” easily, leaving us with great relief and a different sense of who we are.
So you see, accepting all of our emotions as natural and processing them prevents us from getting stuck and limiting ourselves, sometimes for life.
Now, different people have different ways of coping with bad feelings. Some people cry, some need space, some talk through their issues and analyze them, some need to be cuddled, some meditate and some do an enjoyable activity or spend time with friends talking about “anything but”. No matter how you choose to cope, find it out and do it.
And when others feel bad around you, remember that although they may cope differently from you, it is best to let them work through their issues than to make them feel bad about feeling bad. To be a good supporter, find out how they cope, encourage them to do it and help in any way you can.
Feeling better now?