It doesn’t work when other people tell us to calm down and it certainly doesn’t work when we do it to ourselves either. When is the last time you were feeling anxious and someone told you to just “chill out” and it worked? Or when’s the last time you felt depressed and someone told you to just look on the bright side and cheer up…how’d that work out for you?🙄
So here’s the thing: why do we expect it will work when we do it to ourselves? When you’re having a panic attack, why, sweet one, do you think it will work to say to yourself “stop panicking!”? It often makes it worse since you ARE panicking and now feel powerless to it, right? Or why, when feeling so sad, is it so common to say to yourself “everything is so good in my life, I should be feeling happy”? This often brings such shame for the feelings you’re experiencing. By invalidating ourselves or fight how we ARE feeling, we’ve now added an additional layer of emotion to it: shame, embarrassment, etc., and tried to shove it down. I like to think of it like that game of “Whack a Mole”. The emotion will ALWAYS pop up again, but at a later time. And typically, the emotion we shoved down will pop up in a bigger, and “messier” way.
For example we might be feeling angry at a loved one but have been taught that anger is unhealthy, unfeminine or just simply a not-OK feeling to have so we shove it down and ignore it. The resentment can build and build and eventually we might snap at them for something else entirely, and say some nasty things that we regret. The rage we explode with might be much larger than the original anger we had.
Instead, here’s the mind-blowing thing: when we just acknowledge what we ARE feeling, it’s amazing how validating and reassuring that is. Let’s do that for each other and ourselves. We’ve got to name our dragon to slay our dragon.
For some, it might be really hard to even name what you are feeling, and that’s ok. It’s hard to identify what you’re feeling (or even that it’s ok that you are feeling) if you haven’t been taught how to do that as a child. Were you ever told “stop crying you’re being dramatic”, “boys don’t cry”, “knock it off, you’re fine”, or even more subtle messages like the expression of anger wasn’t tolerated safely in your family? We talked about that previously in the post about emotional regulation titled Freedom is Learning how to Feel All your Feelings.
Validation from others:
Validation is everything, isn’t it? There is such safety in being seen by others, and there is safety in being seen by ourselves. We don’t have to understand all of what someone is going through, just being there for them is enough.
You may never have had a mental illness yourself, experienced infertility, loss or trauma. Just showing up is the most crucial thing.
There are no magic words to make it all better. In fact, the empty platitudes (it happened for a reason, try not to think about it, cheer up, etc.) and advice giving can further alienate the person and make them feel alone and unseen. Instead, know that your presence is enough. Your sincerity and compassion can be calming.
Who makes you feel seen? Who holds space for you? Alternately, how do you do this for others? And most importantly, how do you do this for yourself?