I was recently thumbing through my journal from last year and came across an entry that gave me pause. I wrote this entry while on vacation at our family cabin in Colorado, and the gave-me-pause part was that I was writing about a sucky day when I was feeling bad.
I remember this moment well. I had spent most of the day with my emotions rotating between some variant or combination of sad, lonely, unmotivated, grumpy or critical – basically I was Eeyore, Archie Bunker and Oscar the Grouch all rolled into one annoying conduit of negativity. Bleh.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling bad. My life was actually going pretty swimmingly. I had a loving family, enjoyed meaningful work, was healthy in mind and body, and was lucky enough to be hanging out in this beautiful place.
After spending way too much time analyzing my feelings (a hazard of the profession) and coming up empty-handed, I then tried to talk myself out of them. Finally, when that didn’t work (it usually doesn’t), I began to judge myself for feeling so bad in the midst of such a good life.
WHAT WAS MY PROBLEM? I shouldn’t feel this way, I said to myself. It’s pointless and stupid, I said. Snap out of it, I said.
And then I felt even worse.
Because I had started feeling bad about feeling bad.
John Bingham, a sports writer, once wrote, “We can do, be, feel no more than our best, and our best changes from day to day.”
I knew these words well, but had forgotten them on that day in Colorado. On that particular emotional day I was keeping score, comparing myself to some universal and arbitrary standard of feeling, and had found that I came up wanting. And then I had begun to make things interminably worse by piling judgment about my negative feelings on top of the feelings themselves.
My internal negative thought loop sounded something like this: “Wow, I feel bad. But wait. I shouldn’t feel bad, because I don’t have anything to feel bad about. Well, now I feel worse. Because now I feel bad about feeling bad. But I really shouldn’t feel so bad, because . . . ” Wash, rinse, repeat.
The truth was, no amount of wishing I didn’t feel bad, judging myself for feeling bad, and telling myself I shouldn’t feel bad was going to make me feel better. Once I remembered this, I was finally able to just sit with my feelings and be exactly who and where I was.
I still don’t know why I felt so negative that day. But I do know that if I had allowed myself to drown in that crazy-making negative loop, I would have felt those negative feelings for much longer than I did.
Here’s what I did instead – I decided I was doing the best I could on that day, and forgave myself for feeling bad. Then I took a shower, thought some, felt some, and cried a little.
And then, slowly, once I had truly allowed my experience of feeling shitty to just BE, I began to realize that just experiencing the feeling was actually enough. And, lo and behold, I began to feel better.
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How are you feeling today? If you’re feeling bad, can you find a way to just let yourself be who and where you are? And, if you feel comfortable doing so, can you tell us a bit about how you’ve risen to this challenge in a comment below? We’ll all learn from what you’ve experiencing.