It’s the overly cheerful Facebook comment. Your family telling you to lighten up, feel better, look at the bright side of things. Maybe it’s that one friend who just cannot help themselves with their bubbly, effervescent stream of positivity. Everyone is well-intentioned, and possibly attempting to make you feel better. But the problem is, they are trying to make you feel. Feel differently than what you’re feeling, do better than how you're doing, and you realize you have no safe space to feel your feelings without the judgment of others.
So, let’s clear something up right now: You have a right to your feelings. Full stop.
Feelings are important. I don’t mean this in a trite, self-help sort of way. I mean it in the “you need to acknowledge these feelings before they explode and burn your life to the ground” sense. Somehow, we have confused the appropriate acknowledgment and expression of feelings with acting on those feelings.
For example: You experience a string of difficult life events. You express your frustrations, despair, sadness, anger, etc. And then the Feeling Police (who mean well) descend, and tell you to stay positive. Cheer up. Don’t put negative stuff out there; it doesn’t help anyone, least of all you.
Have you purposefully injured anyone in your expression of feelings? Has your public acknowledgment of how you feel caused harm to innocent parties? No? Then you’re good.
We have an addiction to the positive.
Positive feelings, positive experiences, positive people, positive movements. And I get it. There is tremendous power in positivity. But we have failed each other in this arena. We have assigned positive and negative attributes to feelings, when the truth is, feelings hold no morality.
Your feelings are not good or bad.
Your feelings are not choices.
Your feelings are not controllable.
Related: Six Ways to Cope With Trauma
Feelings, just like every other piece of data we receive in our bodies, are pure information. They are not true or untrue, good or bad. Feelings are signals that can help us interpret. And it is impossible to interpret signals and information if we cannot acknowledge them.
Many years ago, I did an experimental expressive therapy with my very trusted therapist. After 30 years of repressing virtually all feelings that weren't considered positive, I had a treasure trove of big feelings I needed to release. My therapist encouraged me to say the most terrible things that came to mind, to yell like a warrior heading into battle. So, I picked up a dense foam bat and beat the hell out of a rolled up futon mattress. I screamed at the top of my lungs. The futon morphed into people who had hurt me in my lifetime. I beat the stuffing out of at least three people. I yelled obscenities, cried, roared, gave my inner warrior yell, and released feelings that had been holding me hostage for years. I was appalled at the primal response I experienced, shocked that I could evoke such powerful words and swings.
And I was relieved. I didn’t have to pretend to feel something different than what I was feeling. I didn’t have to soften the feelings or make them palatable. It was freeing.
After I was finished, my therapist told me kindly how well I did, and how important that exercise was. I knew she was 100% right. All of those terrible words and forceful blows that I unleashed on that old futon had been directed at myself. Those feelings and expressions of those feelings didn’t go away just because I trained myself to push them away. They became weapons that I wielded against myself. Berating words and gut punches. All of those feelings went somewhere and I used them to beat myself up constantly. And for the first time, I stopped using myself as the punching bag.
The world keeps telling us to feel differently.
Maybe it’s time to begin telling that same world to respond differently. Your feelings are not the problem. Happy does not equal good, angry does not equal bad. They are merely part of a powerful range of feelings that deserve to be expressed in a healthy and real way.
Express yourself, friends. Don’t give in to the entitled Feelings Police who feel compelled to make the world comfortable for themselves by suppressing your feelings. The path to positivity is through the full wooded forest of your experience, good and bad, true and untrue. The power of positivity is how you deal with ALL of the feelings and come through the other side.
You don’t owe anyone a feeling, an expression, or least of all your positivity.