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Oh what a feeling

It’s little things which often unwittingly confound or stifle us.

Any time I’m working with my clients, there is one phrase which quickly draws my attention. Although its first impression saddens me, it immediately turns into a great segue and opportunity for a client breakthrough.

It is possible this phrase, or ones with similar meanings, is uttered with such regularity that it goes unnoticed by many, escaping the recognition of its potential to create damage. Expressing this common sentiment potentially can disable us, makes us feel “stuck,” or leave us in an ominous downward spiral.

The statement is: “I feel bad and I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”

There are several variations to this expression and some of those include: “I really feel dumb for feeling this way,” or “My friend (or someone else whom I trust) said I shouldn’t feel that way.” Any and every rendition, however, points to the conclusion that even though I feel poorly in some way, I am in the wrong for experiencing them.

While there may be some occasions where this is emotionally acceptable, generally this sentence leaves you with a more confused mindset and further from personal growth.

It’s helpful first not to look at the action but rather the intention behind the act. Frequently, our motives and thoughts were done in hopes of a constructive outcome. However, our planning, reasoning, or methods may have unwillingly manifested the opposite result.

How could something like this not create sad, despondent, or sorrowful feelings?

It’s perfectly okay to have those feelings. Although we may despise the fact we are currently suffering them, there is nothing wrong in and of itself to have or experience them.

Learn to transform these unwanted emotions into a catalyst for change.

One of the remedies for overcoming these situations begins with understanding the difference between guilt and shame. Many times, guilt can be a moral compass of sorts. When we make a mistake or a bad choice, the painful, lingering thoughts can help remind us of our mistake and change future behaviors by reviewing our processes and learning from errors and oversights.

On the other hand, shame not only wants us to feel badly, it tells us we must, and we couldn’t have done anything differently because we don’t have the ability to do any better.

Not only do we feel bad, but we feel badly about feeling bad!

Unfortunately, many cultural norms adhere to this philosophy; warning or even threatening punishment should we not feel bad in these types of circumstances. This kind of obligatory conditioning is a major deterrent to our own personal development and self-understanding. These feelings are perfectly normal and not an indication something additional is wrong.

The issue becomes multiplied when others we trust think they are trying to help us by telling us we shouldn’t feel that way. It’s difficult enough experiencing those uninvited feelings. We don’t need the incident to be compounded by adding shame into the mix.

The mistake was made. The wrong choice, confusion, or whatever situation occurred will not be undone by our contrite reactions. My suggestion is to experience those unwanted feelings and perhaps even embrace them. Recall how dreadful they made you feel so the next time a similar instance occurs, it will alter your thinking and actions to better improve your odds against repeating the same mistakes.

Telling ourselves “we shouldn’t be feeling this way” accentuates the problem and is another great example of how damaging shame can be. Do you recall the last time you felt badly about feeling bad? Was there shame accompanying those thoughts?

It’s highly probable because this kind of reasoning is precisely how our own shame wants us to react. Our natural inclination is to feel disappointment when we make a mistake. Shame now takes this natural emotion and tells us we’re wrong for feeling that way. It’s the perfect environment for shame to thrive.

The good news is that once you become aware these types of feelings are natural and normal, emotional healing and self-growth occur more easily. The undesirable feelings will pass because: 1) it initiates a type of self-forgiveness by acknowledging the mistake; 2) gives you an awareness of your apologetic and remorseful attitude; 3) sparks a willingness to do better. Your intentions didn’t cause the mistake; it was in the performance and you are determined to improve.

This week, when you or someone you know are in a similar predicament, remember that it’s not wrong to feel bad. Acknowledge the original intent wasn’t the cause and you will strive to do better. Do what you can to stop the little things from becoming the bigger issue.

My thanks to Karsten Würth on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

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