11 December 2012

Not judging my feelings

A couple notes:

* Sorry about the horrible format issues with my last blog post. I published it on my way out the door, and didn't look back at it until today.  I noticed it was hard to read, so hopefully I've fixed it for any forthcoming readers. 

* My knowledge about things I post about is often infantile and inadequate, I think I know just enough to write a blog post and that's it.  For this post in particular I suggest reading a book on the subject from a real expert.  I might recommend "Calming Your Anxious Mind" for starters.  (Jeffrey Brantley and Jon Kabat-Zinn.)  I know it sounds like it is written for someone with anxiety, which it is. (Isn't that all of us?) But it is full of helpful information about meditation and feelings.

Sooo, without furthur ado...

What does it mean to not judge my feelings?

I had never thought about this concept until I read the book I mentioned above.  And then I started to see it alluded to all over on blogs and in counseling and at group etc.  Let me illustrate a great example of my bad habit of judging my feelings.

The night before Thanksgiving I had a meltdown. It was when my sister had hurt my feelings, then when I got home it seemed like everything was going wrong and I was spiraling into sadness and self-pity.  (Interestingly I don't even recall what had me so upset.)  But eventually I started having these, judgmental thoughts

"Why are you so sad? You shouldn't be sad.  Tomorrow is thanksgiving and you have so many things to be grateful for.  You are an awful person for being so ungrateful.  You should be ashamed of yourself for being so miserable when you should be so happy. Why can't you just be happy?!" 

So what is bad about that? I'm always saying things about choosing happiness and counting blessings right? Absolutely.  There is a time and place for that.  But sometimes, there is a time and a place for being sad.  So as I lie on my bed that night, I just let myself be sad.  I had a good cry and I thought about when Alicia blogged about that article in Readers Digest.  It was about how we spend so much time chasing happiness, we make ourselves miserable. 

Sadness and sorrow are part of our experience here in on Earth

Yep. I said it and I meant it.  We don't have to be happy all the time.  We can choose to be happy as much as we want, and when we want.  But it's okay to choose to be sad sometimes too.  Sorrow is not a sin. 

Here is a quote from that book:

"You are not your thoughts, feelings, or sensations.  These are events in the present moment that can be observed kindly and compassionately in the mirror of mindfulness.  Learning to experience these events [without judging them] ... will give you new power.  You ... discover your deepest quality of being and the peace and stability within you."

In other words, I don't need to feel guilt and shame when life's frustrating moments leave me feeling discouraged and sad.  If I don't want to feel discouraged and sad forever, I know what I need to do, I know how to turn it over and let it go.  But sadness isn't inherently bad.  It just is. 

I think all feelings serve a purpose for us by increasing our ability for empathy and compassion toward others, bring us closer to God, make us humble, motivate us to change, help us appreciate the good, and so on. 

So what do I do to feel sad without hating myself for it?

Here's what I try:

1. Stick to the facts.  I try not to make assumptions about other people and my perception of how they influenced me. 

2. Stay in the present moment.  I try not to dwell on the past.  I try not to focus on what should have been different, "If only..."  I also try not to worry about the future. I can be dramatic when I'm upset, truly believing that I'm going to feel this way forever and that everything is going to be different because of the way I feel in that moment.  If I can avoid this, chances are I will feel better in an hour, or in the morning, or in a few days.

3.  Just FEEL it.  Don't exaggerate it, but don't condemn it either. 

4.  Meditate. Breath in.  Breath out.  I'm no expert about meditation but this never fails me.  Sometimes it helps to distract myself by listenting to my body.  "I'm hungry.  My eyes are sore. My head hurts. It feels good to relax my shoulders and unclench my jaw.  My foot is falling asleep."  Or I focus on the sounds around me.  I listen to the clock tick, the cars driving by, the conversation of the people in front of me. 

This is an art I'm just on the threshold of understanding, but it is exciting and liberating to come to peace with not being a bubbly bundle of joy all the time.  And that's okay. And I can teach my kids its okay too. 


  1. This is super interesting! I agree! (And I actually had that book at one point but gave it away. Darn, I wish I had read it. It sounds insightful). Anyway, I really like this post. Because I've definitely beat myself up about my emotions before - "Stop feeling angry" "Quit your crying" - but it's true that sometimes you need to just FEEL. And more importantly, I need to accept myself as I feel.

    Love you. You're so insightful!

  2. In the last couple of years, I have found myself reminding friends that it is okay to be sad. It is okay to FEEL an emotion. I need to listen to my own advice as well. A few weeks ago I cried for no reason. I felt like I needed to cry. And I did. And I let myself have a good cry and then I felt better. No suppressing it. Thanks for the reminder to let myself recognize my emotions for what they are--no more and no less.

  3. love this post, Jane. It's been a theme at my house this week, trying to help the kids be OK with feeling their feelings..

  4. This is true. I often get upset at myself for feeling anger or sadness. Thanks for your words.