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“AREN’T BAD FEELINGS NORMAL?”

“Aren’t bad feelings normal?” an audience member asked when I was speaking recently. What a great question. Provided you’re prepared to dig a little deeper. For a lot of people, what they’re really saying is: “But experiencing icky feelings is the way I spend a lot of my life.  Isn’t that what most people do?  Isn’t that the way it’s meant to be?” Do a lot of people spend a lot of their lives ‘housing’ unpleasant feelings – mostly about themselves?  You bet they do. But is that the way it’s meant to be? Well, it certainly was in the home I grew up in.  The covert belief was: “spare the bad feelings, and spoil the child”.  Now, I’m not sure how conscious the strategy of not spoiling the child was.  I suspect it had been passed down through the generations.  In our family, it was absolutely normal. Most families start from the premise that they’re normal, and what they think, say and do, is normal. That’s debatable. Common, or usual though something may be, that doesn’t necessarily make it normal. See, the person who asked me about bad feelings was a lovely, sweet lady.  And she had two rules of thumb: one for her; and one for other people.  Having bad feelings was, she honestly believed, perfectly normal… for her.  That’s how she expected to live her life: carrying a heavy burden of bad-feeling beliefs on her back. But would she want her own children to do the same? Absolutely not. In fact, she didn’t tell herself that story about bad feelings being normal for the people she loved most in the world.  As she saw it, although she’d never been aware of it – before - her loved ones lived, and were entitled to live, by a different rule of thumb. Isn’t that interesting? Most of us have two rules of thumb: the positive one for other people, and the negative one for ourselves. If we truly believed the negative one was the right one we wouldn’t have any problems visiting it even on the people we love.  If we truly believed the positive one was rubbish we’d have stopped pouring so much energy into it and ditched it years ago. What it comes down to is emotional confusion: living in an emotional fog where your own feelings are concerned. Is that normal? No, but it’s common, and usual. Which doesn’t make it right, does it? It’s a tough way to live, isn’t it?  Life really is too short to stay stuck in icky feelings. What do you think really stops you letting go of them?
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