It is okay to feel bad!

What you can’t say, owns you… What you hide, controls you.

In the series Ally McBeal, Georgia Thomas asks Ally “what makes your problems so much bigger than everybody else’s?” to which Ally responds: “They’re mine.

Isn’t this normally what we see… being told “get over it” or “look on the bright side” when we are feeling miserable? Ever seen a parent distract their child when he is getting emotional or bawling? Isn’t that what we learn to do even when we grow up; treat our reactions to problems like a taboo?

My way of handling difficult situations was simple – denial and then distraction. I never gave myself the permission to feel pain or sadness. Why would I not want to acknowledge these emotions you ask? Maybe because I felt voicing it would make them real or be a sign of weakness.

Similarly, I had the same reaction to cancer. I did not shed a tear, because I couldn’t believe it. Rather I became clinical about it for some time. Got into the process of it. I spoke to my family about my illness like it was some stranger’s diagnosis that I was giving.

Why are we not okay to feel bad? Why is it considered bad to feel bad? Or for that matter any such emotion such as stress, anger, resentment etc.

This is when I came across the term Toxic positivity – “Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes,’” explains Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist.

There is a reason why we have to experience all our emotions especially the painful ones – so as not to let them control or over power us. When we allow ourselves the freedom to experience them, they no longer own us. That is why often we are told to grieve the loss of a dear one, else the wound keeps growing and festering.

So how do we deal with the discomfort of feeling bad:  

  • Don’t pretend the emotion doesn’t exist: there is a Buddhist quote – Pain x Resistance = Suffering. So resisting the actual emotion of pain leads to more suffering. There are different ways of acknowledging these emotions. You can write, draw, cry. This will reduce the intensity of the emotion and eventually its control over you.
  • Accept your emotions with humility and grace: as humans we always feel so uncomfortable feeling anything but positivity. As a personality, I always liked to engage an audience and took it as a moral obligation to do so even when I did not feel upto it. I was not comfortable in my own low phases. To an extent, where the pretence and high energy I needed to show would drain me. So be kind to yourself and don’t fight it; go through the process of feeling that emotion. It doesn’t last forever.
  • Talk to someone about it: reach out to your trusted advisors. There is a reason you have them in your life. Sometimes all you need to do is vent. It doesn’t make you vulnerable, it just makes you stronger and helps build a more authentic relationship with that individual.
  • Sometimes you just need your space: you don’t need to surround yourself with happy people to feel happy. It is ok to be alone or find yourself company you connect with. It’s also best to stay away from social media which is a big source of toxic positivity. Lives are often distilled and seem totally pretentious.

You don’t have to hide, pretend, or feel bad about not always being the “strong one”. You are not weak, you are human and you never have to apologise for that. – Raphaela Browne