I’ve been seeing an alarming trend a lot in clients, friends and myself. It seems like everyone feels just a little bit guilty when they are feeling good. Somehow as humans we are a little bit unsure that we deserve to be happy, or healthy, or whole or generally unburdened. There’s kind of a resting level of guilt, anxiety and martyrdom that everyone acknowledges, recognizes, and accepts as their due.
It’s not quite social acceptable to actually feel good, be optimistic or have a positive world view. Although it is socially acceptable to put on a brave face, to soldier through, and to rally under pressure. But why? And more importantly, how do we stop buying into that ridiculously destructive collective insanity? We’ll make this a series, because I’m guessing we can talk a bit about it. 🙂
Step 1 to Feeling Good: Allowing Yourself The Benefits of Drama, Without the Drama.
Here’s the thing. You love drama. You will deny this, but at a fundamental level all humans do. You LOVE drama. You crave it (I do too). Here’s why:
- Having drama means you’re important enough to have drama – this meets our craving for status, influence, recognition.
- It means your lire is exciting in some way (even if it’s a bad way). Internally this has a lot of value for all of us humans – we like to have interesting things to talk about. This is also about status and recognition, but also just good socializing.
- It means you have an excuse to be “too busy” to do the things you didn’t want to do anyway or to take on the extra projects/duties/responsibilities/crap that you didn’t want to take on anyway.This allows us a graceful way to say no, because saying no is really hard.
- Drama gets sympathy points from everyone else, and on some level we all love both sympathizing with someone else, and also getting sympathy. This is sort of what makes us human, and a community. This meets a big need for care and community from the people around us.
So – the goal here is recognizing when we really have something going on and honor that – make time and space, take what we need and be human. Also to recognize when we’re just creating drama, exaggerating a situation, or making excuses. Sometimes there really is drama and that’s life, but lots of times there really isn’t and in those moments we can just drop it. Differentiating can be incredibly difficult, but it’s so liberating to stop making excuses, gossiping about yourself and your problems, and just be.
Recognizing when you’re Creating Drama
If you can learn to let go of the story and find what you need in another way, then things do actually get a whole lot simpler. It becomes easy to answer the question “How are you?” with a “great” rather than a dramatic story about how bad/busy/stressed/tired/overworked/crazy/etc… you are. Or to answer the “how are you” question with a “crappy” if that’s the real answer. There doesn’t have to be a story, sometimes it’s just crappy. But all in all, letting go of your story makes it easier to just feel good. To feel good about feeling good even. Here are some ways to recognize when you’re making something more difficult than it needs to be:
What is Your Story?
Sometimes there is a story that they (or I ) tell over and over in some version that becomes sort of routine. It’s the story you don’t have to think about, you just tell, and it usually gets an emotional reaction – sympathy, moral outrage on your behalf, something. Often it starts with a phrase like “You wouldn’t believe…” or “Guess what’s happening now…” or “Listen to this…” and the other person responds by emoting. In many ways we are mutually entertained by this, but we also kind of get stuck in the cycle of that being the way things are because we’re getting positive reinforcement. The relevant question to ask when you notice your story, is:
Is this the way I actually want to be in the world? Or am I perpetuating a story that doesn’t need to exist?
I’ll give you the example that I am working on letting go of – this is my “story”.
You wouldn’t believe how busy I am! I’ve really bitten off more than I can chew between [insert random obligation here] and [another random obligation] I feel like I hardly have any time at all. And now my boss is asking me to [yet another obligation].
My typical story is all about being busy. SO busy. SO VERY busy. And it’s usually told as a bid for sympathy and also a bit of a brag, all rolled into one. Which is recognizably absurd – I know. Ironically it has taken me years to notice that this is my story, and as much time to sort out why. As it turns out it’s because I perceive my value in the world to be about the things I do – the activities and the accomplishments and the ways I’m productive in the world. So by being so busy, I”m also being “so valuable” (sort of sad, right?)
The most absurd part is that while I’m telling that story I continue to perpetuate it – I take on more projects, I say yes to the next random obligation, I sleep less and try to do more. CLEARLY this is me creating my own drama and recognizing my story can help me to stop telling it.
Letting Go Of Your Story
To start letting go of your story you have to start to recognize what you personally get out of it. This is different for every person and requires some painful soul searching. Here’s the list of things I think I get from my story:
- Value – by telling this story some part of me feels valuable – I’m doing things.
- Emotional connection– other people express sympathy for my workload – it’s a way to know that people care about me and to feel connected.
- Kudos – doing it all with a smile makes me “brave” or “good” or some other undefinable something.
- Excuses – I get to say no with good reason to the things I really don’t want to do. I Don’t even have to say “no” I can say “I would love to, but…”
For me letting go of this story means finding other ways to get or do those things, better ways. As absurd as it sounds this is actually deeply emotional work. For most people, the story that they tell is reflective of some deeply held beliefs about the world and their place in it, and it’s usually a kind of dysfunctional way of going about it.
- Recognize Your Story – this has to be the first step. You can’t change it unless you see what it is. It’s harder than it looks and the best way to figure it out is to ask your friends. Not acquaintances, but the people who have known you for years. They will know your story right away and if you give them permission, they will usually be able to tell you. Make sure you ask when you’re in an emotional place to actually hear them and not get defensive about what they say because it can be hard to hear.
- Pay Attention When You’re Telling It – start to notice what you feel when you’re telling your story. Notice how the other person reacts and how that makes you feel. Check in to see if there are benefits that you get out of this.
- Build Your List of Things You Get From Your Story – you have to know what you’re getting out of it to be able to change it.
- One At A Time Find Other Ways to Get Those Things – this is the really hard part, and it will be different for every person. I”ve used a number of tools to separate my emotional feeling that my value is in what I do (not who I am) with the logical recognition that this doesn’t make sense. This has included Byron Katie’s “The Work,” hypnotherapy, meditation and a lot of personal contemplation (not to mention years of homeopathy and the occasional counselor thrown in there). It’s also included growing enough of a spine to learn to say no (we’ll do a whole post on that).
- Un-Learn Your Story – practice not telling your story. Recognize the situations when you would normally launch in, and don’t. It feels awkward to not say it, it feels like there’s a weird conversational faux-pas happening, but just don’t give in. Practice first with friends and ask them to give you gentle reminders when you’re launching into your story. Ask them to help you notice.
- Be Gentle With Yourself – this is far more difficult than you think it’s going to be. It involves looking at your own most vulnerable pieces. The parts of you that learned something in childhood that your adult brain now has to sort through.
- Start Feeling Good about Feeling Good – this is what it’s all about. You’re dropping your story so that you can let go of dysfunctional ways of getting what you need. This is about learning to feel good without using drama as a crutch. It’s about learning to feel good about feeling good and not letting guilt (about being happy) get in the way of actually being happy. We humans are crazy hairless monkeys, so we might as well enjoy it and not get all neurotic.
It can be tremendously liberating to let go of your story, but it also takes time. Just be gentle with yourself and ease your way into feeling good about feeling good.