16 February 2009

You don't have to feel that way

  • Feb 16, 2009

You don't have to feel that way

The second arrow has been a recurring theme in conversations with many people for over a year at least.

You feel a certain way because of conditions or events in the external world, perhaps out of your control.
For whatever reason, you feel you shouldn't feel that way.
So then, in addition to feeling bad because of the real life problem, you also feel bad for feeling bad.

It is ok to show weakness. It is ok to be sad. Sometimes anger is appropriate.
It can never be wrong to feel a certain way. You feel how you feel.

It can never be immoral to feel a certain way. Your feeling alone can not hurt anyone else. It is only your behavior, actual actions and words, which can do harm, and feeling a certain way never forces you to act out in a particular way.

Besides, from a purely practical stand-point, it is ineffective, in fact usually counter-productive.
Say, for example, you make a resolution to work-out more. And then you don't end up sticking with it. The real problem is the consequences to your physical body. But in addition you feel bad about yourself for your lack of discipline. Feeling bad about it doesn't make you more likely to actually do it. It just makes you feel bad.

Nobody is perfect, yourself included, and it is best to recognize and accept that fact. Never add insult to injury by measuring your self against imaginary ideals, telling yourself you aren't good "enough".

On the other hand...

Some people skew this concept, using self-acceptance as license to accept everything they feel, as if we had no control at all.

You should never feel bad for feeling a certain way - but that is not the same as suggesting that every feeling needs to be validated.

It may be ok to be sad, angry, annoyed, disappointed, whatever, but they are still things to be avoided. They aren't bad in the sense of being "wrong", they are bad in the sense of being unpleasant. They feel bad. And that's reason enough to avoid them whenever possible.

And the thing is, it is possible!

Not all the time. If a loved one dies, there is no getting around the grief that will cause.
But when someone cuts you off on the freeway, it isn't them that causes you to feel upset.  Its you.
No one can cut you off if you choose to slow down and let them in.

Its not always as simple as deciding what to feel, but we do have a lot more control than many of us choose to acknowledge.

Feelings don't just happen.
They are directly related to our perceptions and interpretations of the world around us. Being intelligent animals with an understanding of cause and effect, we have a lot of choice over our circumstances.

There are times when the things affecting us are outside of our control, but aside from the obvious steps of dealing with the specific problem, there are ways we can affect the feeling itself, independent of the circumstances causing it.

There is often a very fine line between repressing something and letting it go, but there is in fact a difference. Repressing is unhealthy, and it will only build up and come back later with a vengeance.
But dwelling and wallowing as a way to avoid repression makes the bad feeling build up even faster.

Going for a walk in the sun or out with friends at night instead of spending all day alone at home.  Listening to upbeat music instead of something depressing to match the mood we're already in. Withstanding the temptation to look up all the details of our illness online when there's nothing we can do about it anyway.  Talking to a friend, asking for a hug, letting your guard down enough to allow someone to help.  None of these things make the actual problem go away, but they influence how much the problem effects you.

Accept the conditions life hands you, accept how it makes you feel, and then do something about it if you can, and focus on all the other parts of life if you can't.

There is piles of evidence that positivity has a real measurable effect, not only on mood but even on physical health.  The effectiveness of placebos, people kicking physical addiction with the support of friends, the usefulness of prayer, these are all examples of mindset and expectation affecting outcome.

From the folk wisdom of laughter being the best medicine to numerous scientific studies:
it is clear that there are concrete, measurable effects derived solely from how you choose to look at life.
Its even been found that forcing a smile can actually cause people to feel happier:


We may not have absolute control, but we have a lot.  You feel the way you do right now because of the thoughts you are thinking at this moment. 

Next time something upsets you, take a moment to relax.  It won't feel natural at first.  That's ok.  Give it a try anyway.  You have nothing to lose.  In the end, feeling bad itself is the only thing that hurts you.

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