The other day I asked a question on Facebook that basically started with, “Does it bother you when…” (The topic is not relevant to this post, and probably deserves its own conversation.) I asked mainly because I was curious, and sometimes I like to be curious out loud. People’s answers ran the full gamut from, “No, not at all,” to “Sometimes”, to “I absolutely hate it!” The one comment that is standing out to me though is this one:
I try not to be bothered by things like that. Life is too precious to worry about the little things.
Is it true? I mean, sure. Of course. It’s important to try not to sweat the small stuff. (And indeed, most of what we tend to stress out about is small stuff.) I’ve written entire blog posts about it, including one about my then 3 year old throwing her brother’s shoes into a lake, and why I was able to laugh about it. That was the post that initially led a lot of you to my blog, so I kind of have a soft spot for it.
But … I would write it differently were I to write it today.
The above comment, even in its truth, bothered me. Largely because it sounds so patronizing, but also because – just like the blog post I wrote all those years ago – it glossed over the fact that we are given a full range of human emotions, and that THEY’RE OKAY. It’s okay to get annoyed sometimes. It’s okay to get sad and mad and frustrated and scared. Because real life? Real life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. It’s just not. In real life, sometimes we do get upset over little things (and big things, and everything in between). Sometimes we’re cranky and irritable and don’t even know why. We’re human. We’re gonna feel stuff, and it’s not always going to be pretty. And we can have those feelings, and recognize them, and accept them, and allow them to come and go with curiosity and without judgement. There’s no prize for being perpetually happy.
I’ve been in therapy for the past twenty months – I totally just counted on my fingers for that number – and not once in those twenty months did he ever tell me, “Don’t feel that. Don’t think that.” We’re going to think what we think and feel what we feel. We can’t help that part. Our brains do it all by themselves. We can absolutely change how we respond to those thoughts and feelings, the tools for which therapy has taught me in spades. Ha. Tools, spades, see what I did there? But the feelings themselves? Sometimes they just come, and they’re okay, no matter how much someone else tries to shame us for having them.
I want my kids to see me dealing with my emotions in a healthy way. I want them to see me continually doing the work I need to do to interact with myself and with the world around me in the best way I know how. I also want them to see me being a human. I want them to know that it’s okay to get annoyed sometimes, even over something that someone else would consider small. I want them to know that it’s okay to have bad days and cranky days and I’m-going-to-hole-up-and-listen-to-melancholy-music-all-afternoon days. I want them to know that they can feel whatever it is they feel, and that their feelings don’t make them more or less than the person next to them. I want them to know that what they feel – whatever they feel – is VALID, and that I won’t try to tell them they shouldn’t feel it.
I think one of the greatest gifts (and rarest gifts, it seems) that we can give each other is the space to just …. be. No trying to fix, no telling someone that they shouldn’t feel what they’re feeling. No judgement. Just space. Acceptance. Sometimes the best thing we can do – really, the only thing we can do – is to just be there. To just sit beside someone, literally or figuratively, in the hard and the scary and the uncomfortable and let them feel what they feel. And it IS hard. It IS uncomfortable. And oh my gosh, do we want to fix it. Even I want to fix it, and I’m not generally a fixer. Sometimes though, you Just. Can’t. Fix. It. Sometimes, there are no magic words, and there are no solutions. There’s just space, and time, and empathy.
I was venting to my go-to person recently (I don’t even remember what it was about anymore), and I was just having a moment of feeling the injustice of the world, and of life, and of circumstances. And I told her how MAD I was, or SCARED, or SAD, or whatever it was I was feeling at the particular time, and the words were all flying out, and when I was I done she simply said, “I know.” That response kind of blew me away, and instantly tempered a lot of what I was feeling. It wasn’t a patronizing, “I know.” It was a genuine, heartfelt, “I heard you, and I get what you’re feeling.” She didn’t tell me not to feel that way. She didn’t tell me what I should do about it. She just … heard me. She saw me. And I’ll tell you what: That kind of response is a million times more helpful than any well-meaning “Look on the bright side; don’t feel that way; just think positively” admonishments could ever hope to be. Having someone – or I guess more than one someone, if you’re lucky – in your life that can just hear you that way is utterly invaluable.
I spent the good majority of my life trying to be someone and something other than what I was. “You’re TOO SENSITIVE,” was the refrain I heard – and to be honest, still hear – over and over and over, until it was like the scarlet letter that I wore around my neck. And oh, it was heavy. And it hurt.
But now? Now I own my sensitivity. I’m proud of my sensitivity. I’m not “too” anything. I’m me. And yep, I feel things deeply. Yep, my emotions are
often always on a hair trigger. Yep, my feelings are hurt easily. Yep, I sometimes feel annoyance at something that you deem too small to worry about.
And you know what?