I used to do everything I could not to feel bad anymore. It was like I was looking for some sort of perfect mental health and a life where I would only have positive experiences. Of course no human being only has positive experiences but I didn’t want to suffer even if I had difficult experiences. I wanted to be able to handle it all.
I didn’t want to feel insecure anymore. I didn’t want to feel anxious or low anymore. I was chasing the perfect experience. I wanted to be able to manage my thoughts and I wanted to feel good as much of the time as possible.
I think most of us would agree that we want to feel good as much of the time as possible but we’re designed to feel the whole spectrum of human emotions. So when we try to only feel good we’re having to try and override what is quite natural, and control something that we weren’t designed to interfere in.
I began to see that the problem wasn’t in feeling bad, it was in how I reacted to feeling bad and it was getting stuck there. Feeling bad wasn’t a problem if it was a flash in the pan, if it passed through quickly and if there was no damage done. But this was rarely my experience.
I had a lot of judgments around feeling bad and a lot of resistance to it. I had felt so bad at times in the past that I was afraid of it. I was afraid of feeling bad again and not being able to cope with it. I was afraid of my reactions to it and the feeling of beating myself up for not doing better. I was afraid of getting stuck there.
Thankfully I started to realise that I could only get stuck there when I worried about feeling bad. When I showered feeling bad with attention, which was exactly what I was doing when I was resisting it. It actually took quite a bit of energy to ignore it. It was a like a beach ball that I was having to hold under the water with some force. I was suppressing it, as if it was some giant force that I had to keep under control.
I was also showering it with attention when I analysed it. I thought analysing it would help me to get out of it quicker, but it actually held it in place. I wondered why I was feeling bad, what had caused it and I wondered what was wrong with me for feeling this way. I also wondered how I could change myself or my circumstances to prevent feeling this way anymore, again somehow trying to control the experience.
I feel so lucky to have seen that feeling bad really isn’t a problem and that I don’t have to be afraid of it. Because it’s designed to come and it’s designed to go, very quickly, when we don’t interfere – either by analysing and thinking our way further into it, or by trying so hard to resist it.
Feeling bad just means that some difficult thinking feels real to us in the moment. We have a sad thought and we feel sad. We have an angry thought and we feel angry. It’s just giving us feedback about the quality of our thinking in that moment and is an invitation to come back to our underlying wellbeing and peace of mind. It doesn’t mean anything bad and we don’t have to worry or take it so seriously.
Young children are the best teachers for this. Have you noticed how they can go through the whole span of human emotion and moods in one day? Yet there is no problem and they generally have a lot of fun. They cry when they feel upset, stamp their feet when they feel angry, and five minutes later they’re playing happily again. They don’t hold onto their difficult thoughts and feelings. They don’t try to resist them, they don’t think their way further into them and they don’t try to analyse what is wrong with them or the situation. They feel whatever comes up in the moment and then they move on, almost immediately. They don’t simmer and stew and feel low for days. They are incredibly resilient, and so are we as adults. We just forget this sometimes.
But we’re designed to bounce back. We’re designed for thoughts and feelings to pass through us like the weather. We’re designed to be playing happily again in no time at all.
Life can be so much more fun and we can feel so much freer when we allow ourselves to have this kind of experience.