September 8, 2022

Can we all just STOP with the positive thinking for a second?

So the other day, I got triggered. I mean, let’s be honest, I get triggered every day but this was a trigger which brought to light something which felt apt and important to share.

I was out hiking with a friend of mine outside of Mexico city and a part of the hike basically involved us rock climbing down the face of a cliff. I mean I exaggerate slightly but it was pretty intense, and I was wearing bad shoes and just generally underprepared so that made the whole situation a hell of a lot more stressful.

As I hung on for dear life off the edge of this cliff, I noticed that I started panicking. The child part of me was out in full force and felt myself almost moving into full on meltdown mode. The type of meltdown a kid has when they are absolutely sh** scared. That.

Anyway, in my panic, I said to my friend…. ‘I really don’t like this, I really don’t like this’, to which he said: ‘You’re ok, don’t say that, it’s all good’.

As soon as he said those words, I felt myself withdraw. The shame came over me in an instant. Silence. I clambered down the rock and then just carried on walking, as if nothing had happened.

But something had happened.

As I’m always on the look out for intriguing emotional responses in myself, I started to ponder what it was that had happened. Why I felt the shame. Why I withdrew.

What I uncovered can be summarised in two neat little pieces.

The first is my struggle to clearly express when I’m feeling fear. If I’d said, ‘I’m really scared right now’, my guess is that the response may have been different, maybe, maybe not, but at least I would have actually stated what was happening for me rather than throwing it into the catch all bucket of ‘I really don’t like this’, which, let’s be honest could be taken in a number of different ways (I don’t like hiking, I don’t like hanging out with you, I don’t like Mexico, I don’t like having dirty hands from climbing….take your pick) and therefore can result in a tonne of miscommunication.

The second piece was how painful it can be to have our emotions invalidated and how that invalidation of emotionality is the perfect breeding ground for shame.

In this particular situation, it was more nuanced as I wasn’t entirely clear with how I felt but it made me think a little bit about why we (and myself included here, this isn’t a blame game post) are always trying to make things ‘better’.

We will do anything in our power to avoid accepting that sometimes people feel fear, anger, grief, resentment, shame… enter any other emotion you’re uncomfortable with.

It can, of course, come from a good place, a desire to help the person to feel better by reframing things, but for someone who is already deep in an emotional experience, discounting that emotional experience can actually be more damaging than anything else.

The key thing here is that there is a difference between situations where we are in a trigger (emotional experience out of proportion to the stimulus) and when we are in just a general day to day situation where  we are feeling a bit out of sorts.

In the latter scenario, reframing thoughts can be incredibly helpful.

In the former, reframing before acknowledging the validity of our emotional experience and giving it SPACE to be exactly as it is is unlikely to do anything other than exacerbate the feeling we are already in.

Imagine this:

You’re super pissed off about something that happened at work with your boss. Like REALLY annoyed and you tell someone about it, about how annoyed you are and how it’s ruined your day etc etc.

They reply: ‘I feel you, but maybe they were just having a bad day?’

How would you feel?

Terrible, right?

Ok, same scenario but imagine this time they reply:

‘Oh, that makes so much sense you’d be super angry. How does it feel to be angry like that? What did you want to do? Tell me more about that?’

And then, once you’d had space to express the anger fully, asked…

‘I wonder what could have been going on for your boss at the time?’

See the difference?

The first ends in disconnection. The second, in connection.

A lot of us have existed in a world where our emotional experience has been completely dismissed and as such, we don’t know how to ‘be’ with anger, sadness, grief etc. Giving each other permission to ‘be’ in an emotional experience is one of the greatest gifts we can give to people we love.

The acknowledgment and validation of our emotionality is one of the key building blocks to healing and connection.

So the next time you notice yourself asking someone in your life to shift out of something ‘less positive’, see if you can give them space to fully be in it for a moment. Holding them gently with compassion and love… and see how things change.

L x

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