Emotions like loneliness,
envy, and guilt
have an important role to play
in a happy life;
they're big, flashing signs
that something needs
~ Gretchen Rubin
The so-called negative emotions play a very important function: they let us know that something within needs attention, that something in our lives is out of alignment. Yet our culture teaches us not to listen but rather to distract ourselves by staying busy, or by utilizing one or more of the many possible addictions - food, over-work, sex, substances, etc- to not notice, to attempt to over-ride or outrun or drown out whatever the underlying dissatisfaction may be.
Many people think that it's a weakness to feel an emotion such as sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, shame or depression ( which is actually a suppression of feeling). They think that if they were stronger emotionally they would be happy and carefree. Many people subscribe to the idea that they should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or will themselves to be happy.
It's often hard to see what a gift these unpleasant emotions actually are in your life. They are messages from you psyche that something is amiss and needs attention. They serve as an internal GPS, trying to reroute you back onto the course that will get you where you want/need to go in your life!
They may be letting you know that something from the past has a hold on you and needs attention so you can make new choices in your present-day life. Or these feelings may be telling you that your relationship with yourself or with another is needing some attention or change. Maybe you are not happy with your job and need to attend to that and make some decisions. Or maybe you are being called to pay attention to your spiritual life.
Whatever the emotions are pointing to, the answers lie within you, if you can allow yourself to relate to these feelings as signposts and wayshowers for an inner exploration, as the starting point for the internal GPS that wants to guide you to a more fulfilling life.
The supreme happiness of life
is the conviction of being loved
or more correctly,
being loved in spite of yourself.
~ Victor Hugo
Everyone craves the sense of safety and well-being that comes from feeling loved and accepted; yet frequently love (for others, from others and for ourselves) seems to be given or withdrawn according to perceptions of good or bad behavior, strengths or weaknesses, flaws or abilities, body image and age. Love is too often conditional, or perceived as being so.
It is often hard to imagine or believe ( I hear this from my therapy clients all the time) that you are lovable or deserving of love because of ______ ( fill in the blank!). Maybe you will feel worthy of love when you_________( again fill in the blank), sometime in the future, a future that never arrives.
Often this sense of shame about who you are will cause you to perform all kinds of (usually unconscious) strategic maneuvers to keep people from getting close enough to see your flaws. The fact that the term "impostor syndrome" resonates widely in our culture today, speaks to how many people feel they are hiding and fooling people about who they really are. And that it's absolutely necessary to do so, or risk being rejected.
Imagine how free you would feel if you felt inherently lovable, just as you are (despite whatever you feel to be your flaws)! Imagine how you might do things differently, feel differently, take more risks, feel more open, more satisfied and less inhibited. Imagine how it would alter your relationships if you could be more authentically you, no longer needing to hide all the time behind a social persona. Relationships of all kinds would feel profoundly different, whether friendships, intimate or family relationships, co-workers. and community relationships. I realize that this is more easily said than done. However, maybe it would be worthwhile to sit down and write about this, meditate on it or enter therapy to find ways to truly embody a sense of your inherent lovable-ness.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley