Tag Archives: shame

Resistance as a Protective Mechanism – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned that certain emotions are bad or wrong to feel or express. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising emotions such as frustration, fear, or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those emotions are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression. Similarly, if we expressed joy, excitement, or exuberance, believe it or not, sometimes our parents can believe those emotions are also wrong to express in excess, and so they will teach us (in a variety of creative ways) that the expression of those energies is not acceptable.

As young children, we depend upon our caregivers for survival. This means that our basic autonomic survival mechanisms will engage when our caregivers strongly disapprove of something we are doing or expressing, and we’ll begin to mold ourselves in whatever ways are necessary to meet their expectations and demands. If our caregivers clearly do not want us to feel or express certain emotions, we will begin to resist or repress those emotions whenever they arise in us. This resistance/repression is actually an internal protective mechanism formed to keep us safe—that is, safely away from feeling or expressing the emotions we aren’t allowed to feel, given our circumstances. This protective mechanism becomes ingrained and autonomic; that is, it will be triggered automatically whenever these “dangerous” emotions begin to arise in us, effectively keeping us away from feeling or expressing them. The amazing thing is all this happens without our conscious minds needing to do anything!

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesIt turns out that it takes quite a bit of energy to repress natural emotion, and we experience this resistance as various kinds of suffering. The suffering can take the form of anxiety, rage, depression, shame, blame, self-reproach, fear, restlessness, and any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion. The suffering itself actually forms the protective mechanism we have developed to keep us away from feeling the underlying emotion. (I should note here as well that these states don’t just protect us from feeling unwanted emotion, but they can also protect us from feeling the overwhelming energy and sensations associated with unintegrated trauma. I’ll be discussing that topic in Part 2 of this post.)

So, what is important about this distinction between emotion and states of suffering? Well, if you have been around the block in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is to “feel your emotions.” But, the problem is if you think that the rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression, the restlessness, etc., are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions.” After all, you are feeling these things… over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now?

The issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what is happening is your protective mechanism is being triggered. The rage, the shame, the anxiety, the depression… none of these are the underlying emotion. You are experiencing what it feels like to resist and repress the emotion, and it hurts—a lot.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move in a way that is not overwhelming, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I started to feel authentic emotion, it was hard for me to even label it because it was so different than what I had been experiencing (depression) for so many years. A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave with a certain “flavor” that moves through me. It is powerful, yes, but it does not continually spin and never resolve. Actually, in my experience, it feels good to feel real emotion, no matter what flavor that emotion might take.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, shame, anxiety, depression, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. The feelings will be triggered and arise over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” There will be patterned thoughts, beliefs, and physiological/physical changes that arise at the same time. Also, the states will probably escalate over time because it takes more and more energy to repress more and more emotion, thus greater suffering is present in the resistance and repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly. That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again with no resolution or progress.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that get more intense over time, they are often labeled as mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Eventually, the suffering can also become a significant contributor to physical diseases and disorders, such as autoimmune conditions, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, inflammatory conditions, and more.

Perhaps by now you can see how these states of suffering distract us away from experiencing the underlying emotion because we become focused on the suffering itself. Our attention turns toward trying to get rid of the suffering. We take drugs to treat the depression and anxiety and chronic pain. We read self-help books to try to fix our “destructive belief systems.” But because we unconsciously believe that the underlying emotions are wrong or dangerous to feel, our suffering—which is the protective mechanism itself—is actually designed to distract us away from feeling the original emotion. That’s its job! Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own suffering. As you can see, our protective mechanisms are very effective at keeping us away from the emotions we aren’t supposed to feel.

The rubber meets the road in our healing journey when we finally turn toward those aspects of ourselves that are suffering and meet them in a different way. The rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression… when these protective mechanisms are met with curiosity rather than animosity, we begin to realize how they served us in the past and continue to serve us even today. At the same time, we can also see clearly the ways in which these protective mechanisms no longer serve us, and in fact hurt us and hurt others in deep and profound ways. It is when we are able hold both of these truths in our hearts that something else—another option—becomes possible. Through this process, the protective mechanisms can begin to let go, and when they do, the energy that is underneath them will come to the surface to be felt and integrated. I have found this to be the crux of healing this kind of core wound.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post, I’ll be discussing this same topic in a more nuanced way as it relates to trauma. To say that suppressing emotion is how and why we form these protective mechanisms is actually incomplete and bit simplistic. With trauma, the sensations and feelings we experience are literally overwhelming—so overwhelming that we are unable to integrate and process them at the time of the experience. Our system then isolates that unintegrated energy (so that we can continue to function) and forms protective mechanisms to keep us away from re-experiencing the overwhelm. I’ll be exploring this in more depth in Part 2. Stay tuned!

With love,
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The Self-Help Trap: The Illusion of Choice

I’m guessing many of you have been around the block in the self-help world. We self-help junkies can be easily identified. We are the “sensitive” ones, the hippies, healers, light-workers, and spiritual seekers (or any combination therein) with years of personal growth work under our belt. We’re into inner reflection, meditation, spiritual awakenings, and have extensive knowledge about the micro-nutrients of kale (organic, of course!), goji berries, maca, cacao (otherwise known as chocolate to the unsophisticated), and, of course, red wine. We know all about taking responsibility for our own feelings and may have embraced the notion that we create our own reality. Maybe we’ve even “manifested” something we thought we wanted — oh joy! We know all about our destructive patterns and limiting beliefs. We definitely do yoga, maybe even with goats. (Well, most of us do yoga. I’m a yoga rebel. Although I do enjoy a good corpse pose now and again.) We’ve read all the books, been to all the seminars, know all the theories, cleared our chakras and meridians, received gong baths, aromatherapy, reiki, and other energy therapies we can’t pronounce or remember, let alone understand. We may even pretend to be therapists ourselves. And, most of us are profoundly bored with our own story and our own suffering.

As I’ve journeyed on the self-help path, I’ve found along the way a lot of potential for confusion. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds due to the many contradictions, lack of clarity, and incomplete information prevalent in the personal growth and new-age spiritual arena. As our (*cough*) beloved President would say, “There’s fake news everywhere!” It’s also very easy to fall into what I lovingly refer to as “the self-help trap.”

The self-help trap has many layers. I’m going to discuss just one aspect here, but in general and as an overview, the self-help trap is a trap of self blame and lack of self acceptance. This shame and lack of self acceptance is already present in us, but it is amplified by some of the confusing aspects of self-help teachings. It is a blaming of ourselves for our own suffering and results from a confusion between the notion of responsibility and choice. It arises when we mistakenly believe we have choice when we do not. The self-help trap is subtle because this particular flavor of self blame often feels justifiable and necessary for any sort of growth or change for the better to occur in our lives.

Last week I wrote about a time recently when I went extra crazy. I described how rage had consumed me, that I had expressed it in a hurtful way, and how that rage had then turned inward, transmuted into extreme shame and self-hate. Part of the shame (self blame) came from a belief that “good people” don’t feel such rage, let alone express it, and the fact that I felt and expressed it meant I was an all around bad person. After all, shouldn’t these destructive patterns and feelings be gone by now after all this personal and spiritual growth work?

Anyone who has been in the personal growth world long enough has been inundated with the idea that the only place we have true choice is in how we respond to what is happening in our lives. We come to learn that our reactions are our responsibility and that outer circumstances are not the cause of our inner experiences. We can see this truth easily enough when we notice that two different people often react and respond to the same circumstances in drastically different ways. This realization of responsibility is critical in moving from a place of victim consciousness to a place of empowerment.

The problem is not that this principle of responsibility is wrong or bad. The problem is where we take it next:

    1. We conclude that the next step toward being a happier, more fulfilled human being must be to create shiny, new, loving belief systems so that over time our destructive patterns will no longer arise. Indeed, this is what countless self-help programs are all about.
    2. We confuse responsibility with both blame and choice.

When a pattern that we are very well aware of gets triggered, and none of the personal growth work we’ve done related to #1 above has changed the fact that it is arising (yet again), this is the moment when it is very easy to fall into the self-help trap. Oftentimes these patterns are made up of old belief systems and autonomic survival reactions which we know at a logical level are not relevant or helpful in the current situation. So, part of what can happen is that since we are now consciously aware of the pattern, know logically that it doesn’t “make sense” in the current situation, and know we are solely responsible for it, we conclude (often unconsciously) that we are therefore to blame for its arising. After all, if we are responsible for our reactions, then why wouldn’t we blame ourselves? There’s no one else to blame!

In addition, we can also believe that because we are responsible, this means we suddenly have conscious choice as to whether or not these patterns arise. More specifically, we believe after a pattern has arisen that we should have been able to stop it, or that it shouldn’t have arisen in the first place because we “know better by now” or because we’ve done affirmation or other work to create new belief systems. After all, we are consciously aware of the pattern, and with awareness comes choice, right? Indeed, this is exactly what we are told over and over again. It is repeatedly pounded into us that the only place where we have true choice is in how we respond to what is happening in our lives, and that that choice somehow magically appears due to conscious awareness of our responses and patterns.

Can you see the walls of the self-help trap now? The truth is that we do not have a conscious choice as to whether or not an automatic pattern will be triggered (although we can certainly do our best to control our outer circumstances in ways that allow us to avoid situations we know trigger us in order to give ourselves the illusion of control). In the end, the triggering process is automatic, which means by definition it is not under our conscious control. And certainly once a pattern is triggered, we no longer have a choice in the matter. It is done. The beliefs, thoughts, sensations, and feelings associated with that pattern will inevitably arise. But what happens for many of us is that, due to a misunderstanding of what responsibility actually means, we believe we had choice in these situations when we did not. The inevitable result is self blame, frustration, and shame. We blame ourselves for allowing the pattern to be triggered, or for not being good enough at this self-help stuff to be able to make it so the pattern doesn’t arise at all. This self blame increases our suffering tenfold by adding an additional helping self loathing to the mix.

It gets worse when the pattern then propels us into some kind of action that is destructive or hurtful to others. If, for whatever reason, we are taken over by the intensity of the experience in such as way that we experience what is arising as all that we are — as our very identity — then we do not really have much of a choice in how we behave either. This was my experience when I went extra crazy recently. In order to have choice in our behavior, some sort of witnessing consciousness — that is, the ability to differentiate our thoughts and feelings from who we think we are — has to be online and engaged as a mediating factor. Sometimes we simply do not have this capacity because our system is overwhelmed, and therefore we run on automatic pilot, acting out unconsciously what we’ve learned to do in similar situations in the past. Then, later, when things have settled and we are no longer triggered, we often look back at how we behaved and think we could have and should have done something differently when, in fact, given our state at the time, we did not have a choice in how we behaved. The shame and self-hate that can arise here is devastating. Not only is it prevalent in the self-help world to think we should always be able to control our behavior, it is also prevalent outside the self-help world. This is not to say we aren’t responsible for our behavior. We are. But there is a difference between responsibility and choice, which is my entire point here.

Perhaps you can see by now the main confusion is that, on a very subtle level, we think we have choice when we actually do not. We end up berating ourselves because we believe that since we have realized we are responsible for our reactions and behavior, this means we suddenly have the capacity and ability to consciously choose our reactions and behaviors from that point forward. And that is utter nonsense. We have to get out of the cycle of shaming ourselves for something that was never in our control in the first place. This is the only way out of the self-help trap and into true healing.

The good news is that we do have choice, just not in the way we may have thought or been told. In general, the patterns programmed into our nervous system are complex survival strategies which worked in the past to get us through situations that our system interpreted as life threatening. When our strategies work (i.e, we survive), our system remembers (programs) these strategies into our nervous system and will automatically (without conscious thought) respond similarly when it perceives threat again in the future. It also changes what we perceive as threatening, as our system now becomes biased to perceive more situations as threatening as a protective mechanism. As a child, we rely heavily on our caregivers for our survival and to help us regulate our distress. Situations that feel life threatening can be not only the obvious traumas such as abuse and neglect, but we can even perceive life threat if a caregiver is not there to help us regulate when we are in extreme emotional distress.

The strategies that are programmed into our nervous system include belief systems, but they also include powerful physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses. The self-help world tends to focus solely on belief systems, giving us a false sense that we can consciously choose and control our responses by simply changing what we believe cognitively. Another approach is to help us create new belief systems, through processes such as affirmations, which are meant to gradually replace the old “outdated” belief systems. (By the way, these new belief systems often include spiritual beliefs, which is where the new age spiritual world integrates with the self-help world.) Even when these methods include bringing in emotional feeling and physiological conviction to better integrate the new belief system at an autonomic level, this does nothing at all to change what our system perceives as threatening! If we have experienced trauma, very small triggers can be perceived by our system as survival threats, even when we can see and understand cognitively that we are safe. We will therefore still be triggered into our automatic survival reactions when our system perceives threat, and this is beyond our conscious control. And remember, many seemingly innocuous social situations can be perceived as life threatening due to our experiences as a child or due to other traumatic experiences as an adult.

So how do we work with this? Where do we actually have choice? The only way to shift our autonomic survival reactions is to change what we perceive — at an autonomic level — as a threat to our survival. When we are triggered, our system is “remembering” a past threat as if it is happening now (which is the same as saying our system is biased toward seeing threat). Often this is the case because the past experience was so overwhelming that it was never fully integrated and processed. The way to integrate these past experiences and rewire the nervous system is to work to build our capacity to be fully present in the here and now when we are triggered.

Being present means having witness consciousness online and being able to differentiate what is arising (thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions) from “us,” from who we think we are. This allows us to recognize and realize on a deeply physiological level — in our bodies — that we are actually safe right now. When we are able to do this, our innate healing capacity kicks in and our nervous system integrates the past experience and actually rewires our nervous system.

The capacity to be present and inhabit witness consciousness — to differentiate the intensity of what we are experiencing from “us” — can actually be quite challenging due to the overwhelming nature of what arises when we are triggered. We need support, and we need to build internal resources to be able to do this. It takes time and practice to learn to be with our experiences in the way I’m describing, but it is possible. There is no quick fix. This is where we have choice.

If we can let go of continually shaming and blaming ourselves for not being able to control our automatic patterns and responses, then we are freed to be with them and meet them in a new way, with acceptance and curiosity. Compassionate presence with ourselves is what allows for true healing, and the ability to differentiate our experiences from “us” is what gives us the ability to choose our behavior when triggered. In the process, we also build our capacity to shift our attention to the aspect of us that is not suffering, the part that is never affected by our conditioned responses and patterns, the part of us that is more who we truly are on an essential level. As we gain access to our true nature, it becomes our strongest and most powerful resource. We begin to embody more and more fully the creative, joyful, loving, vibrant part of ourselves that we all know is at the heart of who we are.

In the end, this is where the self-help and new age spiritual world is trying to bring us. Despite its confusions and inconsistencies, I am endlessly grateful to be on the path. I’ll be forever proud to proclaim myself a self-help junkie. ❤

Extra Crazy

A few weeks ago, I completely lost it. As one of my favorite integral psychologists (Dr. Keith Witt) would say: I went “extra crazy.” I take some comfort in the fact that we all go extra crazy from time to time, and that I’ve grown enormously as a result of the experience. Plus, my version of extra crazy (at least in terms of outward behavior) was pretty mild and short in duration compared to some other expressions. But still, there’s no escaping it. I went extra crazy, and it wasn’t pretty.

It was rage that consumed me, first directed at someone I respect and love dearly, then later that night turned against myself. It started out as simple irritation. Then I let it fester, and we all know what happens when we let irritation fester. It grew slowly into anger and finally into all-consuming, self-righteous rage. And unfortunately, I unloaded and expressed that rage in a hurtful way.

The grace of the situation was that the woman I unloaded on has enormous capacity to be grounded and present when extra crazy shows up, and even though it was hurtful for her, when I apologized the next day, all was forgiven and repaired between us. She could see I had gone extra crazy and that it wasn’t really about her, because she knows and has integrated that extra crazy part of herself — a part that we all carry.

The truth is the real violence happened within myself that evening as the rage turned inward. The outward expression of the rage was nothing compared to its ferocity when turned against myself. It morphed and transfigured into intense shame and self hate. The violence of my thoughts astounded me even as I was in the midst of experiencing their barrage.

I’m not sure how I made it through that night and showed up the next day to apologize and make repair with the woman who was the original target of my rage. I truly believe part of it was grace answering my prayer for help, as I knew I was out of control. But part of it also was all the work I have done over the years to learn to be present with the intensity of my experience when I am triggered. Even at the most intense moments, I was still in touch with another — and somehow truer — aspect of myself that was not suffering. This aspect was witnessing the whole thing, quietly but insistently whispering in my ear that maybe — just maybe — it wasn’t quite so black and white as I was thinking and feeling, that maybe there was more to me than rage and one hurtful act, that maybe I would learn something through this experience and have more capacity to love as a result. It was the “essential me” whispering truth in my ear. And the miracle was that I had the capacity to hear it and feel it at the core of my being.

In the days that followed, I came to fully accept for the first time that this extra crazy part of myself exists. I saw that I had been living in denial, believing until this experience that I was a purely “good person.” I saw that my concept of what makes a person “good” was completely made up and unattainable by any human being. And when I was finally able to turn toward this part of myself and meet it, I realized why it exists and what it’s trying to do.

This aspect is not often extra crazy, but it has the capacity to go there when triggered. It’s the part of me that has done everything it possibly can to help me survive and be as comfortable as possible in difficult situations. When not extra crazy, it’s the logical aspect, the part that analyzes challenging situations and comes up with solutions based on past experience. It’s the part of me that has figured out brilliant ways to make it through. It’s also my protector. It protects another part of me that finds this journey of life to be unspeakably hard and often doesn’t know what to do, and would simply give up if it weren’t for its protector. And it worked. I’m still here, even if a bit battered for the journey. With these realizations, I was finally able to embrace this part of myself with compassion and love.

Of course, this aspect of myself is also the part that can go extra crazy. It is all about me. It can seem like it’s concerned with others, but it’s really not. It’s manipulative, and it lacks compassion. It can only be in relationship on a superficial level. Connection, compassion, and empathy are not in its job description… although I realize now that before this experience, I expected it to be and do everything.

What has changed now is that I am no longer shunning this aspect of myself. I see where it fits, that it is an important part of me, and I also see where its role ends. I see that I had unintentionally abandoned this part of myself, simultaneously shunning it while expecting it to figure everything out. And at the same time, as I came to these realizations, I also more fully embodied what I might call my essential nature, the deeper aspect that is about love, and compassion, and empathy, and heartfelt connection. This deeper aspect finally showed up to embrace and support the other part that had been abandoned. And somehow through all of that there has been an integration into a greater whole, like there are no longer separate parts inside of me, but rather different aspects working together as a whole being.

So in the end, I suppose I am grateful I went extra crazy that day. It’s that exquisite paradox of both beauty and horror all wrapped up in one experience. I came out of it feeling more whole, more integrated, and more real. And yes, I came out of it with more capacity to love.

Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
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“There are kids starving in China.” Huh. Yep, I still hate peas, but now I feel guilty for hating peas!

As a youngster, I despised peas. Peas were the enemy. But for some reason, my parents insisted I eat them. I accomplished this horrific task by attempting to swallow them whole as quickly as possible so as to hardly taste the awful things going down. I also tended to drench them in butter and salt, which basically counterbalanced any nutritional value they once had, thus making the whole exercise fairly pointless. I’m not sure if it was my parents or someone else who then pointed out that there are kids starving in China, so I should be grateful I have food on my plate at all. We’ve all heard this line of reasoning in one form or another. The problem was that I still hated peas. Now, on top of being forced to eat peas, I was also horrified that there were kids starving in China. I wondered why I was such a bad person to hate peas when those kids in China would be grateful to have them. Ah, sweet, sweet guilt!

Even though most of us know by now the ridiculousness of that argument, the truth is we still do the same kinds of comparisons every day in hopes that we’ll suddenly feel better and grateful for what we have because someone else is supposedly worse off. Lately, I’ve been noticing a somewhat disturbing tendency in my friends and clients to dismiss their feelings by comparing themselves to those “less fortunate.” For instance, a client might spend five minutes pouring her heart out to me about how she just doesn’t feel passionate about her job anymore and is actually quite miserable. Then, suddenly, she goes on to exclaim in an unconvincingly chipper voice, “Well, at least I have a job! I know so many people who don’t have work.” While it’s true that many people don’t have work and that situation can be very difficult, this fact has absolutely nothing to do with my client feeling miserable in her current situation. So why do we do this? Do we actually feel better by comparing ourselves to people we think might be more miserable than us? In the long run, I don’t think so. I think we actually feel worse.

I believe the reason we feel worse is because all we succeed in doing is adding guilt to our misery, and guilt + misery only equals more misery. The fact that we are feeling miserable doesn’t change when we compare ourselves to others, but now we also think we shouldn’t feel miserable because, after all, someone else would clearly feel grateful (or so we think) to be in our situation. Sure, for a short time, we might feel better as we realize how lucky we are in so many ways. That’s fantastic! Gratitude is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, the problem is that after only a few hours or even a few minutes we will revert back to our original feelings, only now we are also disgusted with ourselves for not being able to stop those feelings. I remember many times in my depressed states hating myself because I would look around the world and see the absolutely horrific atrocities happening to billions of people, and then I would look at my cushy little life and feel that I simply had no right to be depressed. I ended up dismissing my experience as invalid and had added yet another reason to hate myself. You can imagine how well that worked out!

So the next time you are tempted to perk yourself up by comparing yourself to some poor, suffering soul, remember that being grateful for what you have has nothing to do with what other people lack, and your feelings are valid regardless of how your situation compares to another’s. For me, this realization was one small step toward loving and accepting myself just the way I am, pea-hater and all.

Aloha & blessings,
Penny