March 17, 2016

The Well-Meaning Advice We Should Ignore.

girl alone outside think sit thought sad angry

I saw an Instagram post on a big spiritual site’s feed recently: “Don’t Be Angry, Be Happy.” Guess what, it made me angry.

We feel anger. It’s just one of our emotions, like happiness, joy, and contentment. Sadness, fear, frustration—these are all valid emotions. I am all for keeping a positive outlook, and naturally lean toward seeing the silver lining in any situation. But at times, I also feel depressed, sad, angry, lost, hopeless, and a whole other range of emotions.

Instead of “don’t feel angry,” I say, “feel the anger—what is it telling you?” Anger can be a valid signpost to something important that needs to be addressed—not ignored—or worse, pasted over with positive affirmations and deep breathing. That can help, but first, totally feel that anger.

Where do you feel it in your body? Is your gut churning, or your heart aching? Give it all of your focus. Let it fill you, allow it to happen. Anger can feel overwhelming, but often if we give ourselves some space, anger will dissipate quickly—rather than lodging like a rock in our energy field.

When we ignore anger, or push it away by telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel it, we are just denying those parts of us that are wanting to be expressed.

Telling someone to simply “be happy” can be construed as disrespectful, and shows a lack of empathy for those who are going through hard times. It’s not always possible to immediately see the lesson we are learning from what we are experiencing. At times, our lives can make absolutely no sense, and the day to day experience of it can be overwhelming. Being told to keep a positive attitude and “release” anger or so-called negative emotions isn’t helpful, and shows a complete lack of understanding toward our situation.

That kind of thinking not going to help anyone feel better. Besides, why do we always need to feel only positive feelings? Certainly, I believe that positivity breeds more good feelings, but it’s human to experience a full range of emotion.

What if we allow ourselves to fully feel whatever is happening without judging ourselves? This doesn’t mean we should wallow for days in misery, but we can be open and conscious about it, acknowledge what we feel, and let it naturally run its course. This is surrender.

We’ve never been equipped with the tools or taught that we can approach our feelings this way. What is the first thing we tell a crying child? Stop crying, it’s alright. But at that moment, for them, it’s not alright. Instead of helping them to feel better, we’ve just taught them that they should hide their feelings, push them down deep inside, and never let them out.

It makes us uncomfortable when people are unhappy—we don’t know how to deal with it, we don’t like seeing it, and we surely don’t like feeling it ourselves. So we try to avoid it, or make it go away. Of course, we mean well—we don’t want our loved ones to feel bad, we want them healed, happy, and fun to be around.

I believe it’s time we all got more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Can we try this instead?

Let your child or friend cry, and just be there. You don’t have to fix their “problem.” Often we just need to give them the time and support to let out the emotion, to allow them to bare those so-called shameful, unloveable, ugly parts of themselves, without judgement.

We know they are not ugly, unloveable, or shameful—they are real. We are all messy, real people just doing our best to work our way through our lives with as much strength as we have available each day.

This is a constant lesson for me; my first reaction is to fix things, to give people solutions. I hate seeing my family or friends in pain. Now, I am learning how to stop and allow the discomfort.

  • To breathe for them, while they are struggling to.
  • To be extremely present in the moment and give them a respectful space.
  • To stop thinking about what to say to them next and just listen.

The term “holding space” seems so airy-fairy and vague, but I am discovering how meaningful it is, and how difficult to achieve. It’s not about new-age buzzwords. It’s about being respectful of the difficult moments in life and acknowledging that they happen.

You are, in effect, saying to the person: I am here with you, I am here for you, and I allow you to be whoever you are in this moment.

Not who I want you to be, even if this makes me uncomfortable.

Allow the uncomfortable moments; you just might find that is where the healing and the magic can occur.


Relephant Reads:

I Found Freedom from the Curse of Anger. Here’s How.

Spring and Shout: How to Let your Anger Out.


Author: Angela Wheeler

Apprentice Editor: Roseann Pascale / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Lucy Maude Ellis/Flickr

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