Did someone teach you at a young age how very important it is not to complain? Maybe, like me, you were told not to cry or you'd be given something to cry about. Or that you were too sensitive and you needed to quit your whining.
Funny how the stuff we learn in childhood sticks to us like glue!
Okay, no one wants to be labeled as a Debbie Downer, that's lame. However there is a real tendency to minimize or discount our problems by saying things like:
"It's no big deal."
"Other people have got it worse."
"I shouldn't let this upset me."
"First world problems, right?"
It's the opposite of exaggeration, AND it's just as inaccurate.
One of my therapy clients, Carly*, was going through a rough time. She was unable to work due to severe lymphedema and was forced to move back home with her parents at age 36. The household was chaotic and Carly was verbally abused by her mentally ill brother who also lived at home.
If you talked to Carly, you would have no clue that she had all of these issues going on in her life. Carly didn't want to burden others with her problems. Even in therapy, Carly down-played her situation and was constantly looking on the bright side and making statements like "it's not that bad".
But it was bad. It was *really* bad.
Carly thought she was doing herself a service by trying to stay positive. But what was happening is she was denying her legitimate feelings of sadness, resentment, hopelessness, and frustration.
Instead of feeling her feelings, Carly was eating them. She had gained over 100 pounds in the 2 years since she moved back home. Now Carly was topping off her original problems with mobility issues, shame, and self-loathing. The denial and rationalization weren't serving her at all.
Now maybe you're thinking, "but my problems really aren't as bad as Carly's" and that may very well be true. But because your problems are your problems they are affecting you in a very real way.
It's okay to acknowledge when things feel bad. If you don't admit that you are feeling bad you are using a type of psychological deception called denial. And if you try to argue away how bad you are feeling, you are rationalizing. If you you downplay how much something is making you feel bad, you are minimizing.
This mighty trio~denial, rationalization, and minimizing~all give you the same result...you are not allowing yourself to feel your feelings. And if you're not feeling your feelings, you are likely stuffing them down with food or wine or over-spending or some other self-harming behavior.
Because so many of us were taught that expressing our emotions was somehow wrong, we learned very quickly to judge our feelings as bad. When we are denying, rationalizing, and minimizing, we are judging our feelings as unacceptable. We think "I shouldn't feel this way" and then find our own way of repressing those feelings.
You've got to feel the feelings.
If you're out of practice, here are some tips to help you get more comfortable with uncomfortable feelings:
Acknowledge when something makes you feel bad
Talk or write through it
Reframe your feelings
Do something nice for yourself
Acknowledging a feeling, simply means calling it out. You can say to yourself "wow, that really hurt me" or "I'm so angry right now I could scream". That's it. Just by labeling your feeling you are recognizing the fact that it exists.
Find someone~your partner, a close friend~ that you can talk to and say "something happened today that's really bothering me, do you have a few minutes to listen?" If you don't have someone to talk to, a journal is an excellent surrogate and it never interrupts or offers advice. Just write about what happened and how it made you feel.
Reframing is just a technique that allows you to look at what happened and how it made you feel with a little more openness. Say that one of your co-workers was really short with you. Instead of making it about you, can you let it not be about you? Maybe your co-worker wasn't irritated with you, maybe your co-worker was irritated and you happened to get in her path. It's a subtle shift, but it makes a huge difference in how you perceive what happened.
Finally, dear friend, do something nice for yourself. Make some small gesture of self-compassion like asking for a hug or dabbing on a little aromatherapy oil or reading something that is uplifting to you.
Want to go deeper? My next mind-body small group coaching program starts in November. Get all the details here or just respond to this email and let me know you're interested.
*Nope, not her real name.