What you feel is okay! If no one else tells you that, I want to.
I was talking to a friend the other day and she was asking about some rules that I live by as a counselor. She went on to tell me how she was impacted by something that I said to her during one of our previous conversations. She said, "You told me that it was okay that I was feeling the way that I was feeling." I had no idea that this statement had left such an impact on her. I thought that what I was telling her was just friendly advice that everyone told their friends. Her telling me this left me thinking. "Why did this statement have such an impact on her?"
I know that she is not alone in questioning what she was feeling. We have all been in a place where we have questioned a feeling that we had. Most of us have also had someone tell us that they are either okay or not okay with the way that we are feeling and therefore should change it. Maybe it was someone telling you that it was not appropriate to cry. Maybe someone told you that it was time for you to be happy and get over whatever loss you had experienced. Whatever the situation was for you, somewhere along the lines, you held onto this idea that it was not okay to feel the way you do. We carry these experiences with us and allow them to determine what we do in the future.
I am here to tell you that 1. You don't have to get permission to feel the way you do; 2. You have got to own your feelings, because if you are not willing to own them and respect them, no one else will; and 3. Give yourself the opportunity to process your feelings. These 3 things are important and they are hard to put into place, but I believe in you. Give yourself grace and allow for yourself to be in the present with your feelings.
1. You don't have to get permission from others to feel the way you do.
Is it okay that I am feeling this way? Is this normal? These are just a few thoughts that might have crossed your mind a few times in your life. We often feel as though we have to stay within social standards when dealing with difficult situations. My counselor once told me, "there you go shoulding on yourself again." When she first said that, I was first trying to determine what she had said... Did she just cuss at me?! She clarified, "You are shoulding on yourself". Oh... Shoulding. Okay, now I know what she said, but what the heck does that mean!? The word should usually comes from a parent figure growing up, for example ("You should be nice to others', 'You should get good grades,' 'You should get a good job', 'You should make good decisions", etc.). Do these sound familiar? These messages stay with us for the rest of our lives and we generalize them onto other situations which determine for us what is acceptable behavior. However, these should messages can get in the way of letting ourselves feel. We somehow think that what we are feeling is wrong, selfish, inappropriate, etc. We set rules for ourselves which limit us from feeling the way we actually do. Let me be the first to tell you that there are no rules to how you "should" feel. You need to feel the way that you do whether there is a reason for it or not. I have especially heard this statement (I should or I shouldn't) a lot from those that are grieving. "I should have it together, I should be strong, I should, I should, I should..." Screw what you think you should be doing, and give yourself permission to feel what you feel. There is nothing wrong with the way you are feeling. If you are thinking about what you are feeling, you probably are not allowing yourself to feel. The moment that we become analytical about our feelings, we are keeping ourselves from actually having the feelings.
2. Own your feelings.
It is okay that I am feeling this way! Own those feelings. You do not need to seek permission from others to feel a certain way. Your feelings are important and need to be validated, not discouraged. You need to validate yourself. If you are not willing to do this, how can you expect this of others? I will tell you that not everyone is going to validate your feelings, Just in the way I spoke above about you "shoulding" on yourself, others can also should on you. This is when it becomes absolutely vital that you own your feelings and set boundaries with those who are feeling that they have the right to tell you how to feel. Even if they have experienced a situation that is similar to yours, that does not mean that the two of you are going to feel the exact same way. You are two different people dealing with two different situations and therefore you will grieve differently. Until you are okay with what you are feeling though, what others think about your process are going to affect you. While people usually have good intentions when they decide that they have the right to tell you how to feel, you can politely tell them that "you are sorry they feel a certain way, but that you are okay with what you are feeling." We shut our feelings off a lot of times because we become uncertain of whether or not they are okay for us to feel. Let the natural process happen. If you feel angry, let yourself feel angry. If you feel sad, let yourself feel sad - maybe even cry. Listen to your body and be okay with letting it feel what it needs to feel.
3. Process your feelings.
In letting yourself feel, you may need to process what you are feeling. That does not mean that you become analytical about your feelings. It simply means that you need to be okay letting your feelings out. Find someone to process with, or if it feels better to process alone there are healthy ways to do that as well. You can journal, listen to music, write lyrics, or be mindful and just sit with yourself in the present moment. If you are avoiding your feelings and being intentional about not letting them out, you are probably not processing them. Your feelings have to come out one way or another, there is no way around it. If you avoid it in one area, they will come out in another. Give yourself the opportunity, you owe it to yourself!
I know, a lot about mushy gushy feelings. Feeling can be scary and uncomfortable, but it is good and it is healthy. Don't be afraid to feel, it is only natural and part of you being human.
How will you give yourself the validation that you need today? Will you allow yourself to feel?
I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Brittany Wingfield, MS
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