3 Steps to Unlock the Power of Bad Feelings
Can we be free of envy, jealousy and other emotions that make us feel crappy?
"My friend...care for your psyche...know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves" -Socrates
In Laugh at your own Risk I said that we don't have to endure feelings of envy or jealousy and promised to discuss their origins and tips on how to resolve them. In researching this topic, I found it difficult to pin down generic roots for these toxic emotions except for our well-documented tendency to compare ourselves to others and its connection to low self-esteem. Whoever coined the phrase "to compare is to despair" should receive the brilliant common sense award.
And then it hit me.
There are no generic roots of envy or jealousy just as there are no generic roots of anger, sadness or any other negative emotions we'd rather not feel. They developed out of our particular story and to understand and resolve them, we have to look inward. By relentlessly pursuing them, we can extract information that will help us improve our lives. The first and most important step is to accept how you feel.
Thousands of books, seminars and advice columns are dedicated to promoting the idea that to find happiness, we have to fight bad feelings. I'm not the first to point out that this approach is futile. Years of research strongly suggest that emotions are adaptations that serve a fundamental purpose to our survival. We can't will them away anymore than the urge to eat or sleep. They inform us about what's good for us and what (or whom) we should steer clear of. And seriously, if we could will bad feelings away, wouldn't we all be doing it? And, wouldn't most modern maladies like addiction, depression, suicide, violence, and divorce simply disappear? Therapists would all be out of jobs, and yes, I realize that some people already think that this should be so.
Yet, the myth persists. It does for a simple but powerful reason: the truth hurts. Not only are negative feelings inherently painful, they also frequently communicate what we'd rather not know. They tell us that we don't feel loved or lovable, that our job is killing us, that we married the wrong person, that we feel alone and misunderstood, or that we didn't really want three children etc., etc. These emotional realities are hard to face and demand that we act or change. Human beings hate change. Even when it's change for the better.
So the worst part of sticking to the "fight and deny your feelings" strategy is that it leaves us in the dark. Even the pettiest reaction flickers to illuminate. By ignoring it, we deny the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. It's time to take off that don't worry be happy T-Shirt!
The second step is to verbalize what you are feeling, in the simplest terms possible. Ideally, you would do so in an empathic environment. It could be a friend, a support group, a family member, a spouse or a therapist. This is not easy to find. Most people (however loving or well-intended) have trouble tolerating someone else's pain (often because it triggers their own). Don't let anyone smother you with explanations, pep talk or some other really well-articulated diversion. Yes, maybe the person who hurt you didn't mean to. Maybe your feeling is childish or normal. Maybe this, maybe that. Who cares? It's your feeling and you're just trying to follow it down into your less conscious mind. So choose wisely and trust that what you feel means something. I have witnessed in hundreds of psychotherapy groups that even the most "off the wall" reaction is rooted in a coherent feeling.
The third step is to explore. Some good questions to ask yourself during this process: What do I need here or feel like I'm not getting? What is this person getting that I want (in case of envy)? What can I do to get it and who is (or was) denying it to me?
The answer is frequently very simple. Many discover that they need more (undivided!) attention. In any case, if you can pinpoint what it is for you, ask for it (very nicely) from someone who you know loves you and wants the best for you. I know this sounds scary, but many people respond to this kind of honesty and vulnerability with kindness. There is really only one way to find out.
This process should bring some relief, but it can also initially make the feeling stronger. Don't worry about it; no one has ever died from feeling something (but many have from trying to avoid it by using drugs etc.). You should start to have some spontaneous insights into where these feelings are coming from. It could be a memory or something in the present you really want but are not pursuing.
Use bad feelings for what they were created for: to tell you what you need but are not getting. A particularly insightful reader of my Charlie Sheen posts reminded me of the famous Thoreau quote that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Refuse to be one of them!
© 2011 Nadia Geipert - From www.psychologytoday.com