When it comes to living a full and rich life, we’ve been sold the idea that feeling miserable is the result of not trying hard enough to be happy. Apparently, nobody likes a misery-guts. A vast array of confectionery, alcoholic beverages, fashion accessories, and self-help books, promise to miraculously transform our melancholy into merriment. And maybe the idea of uninterrupted bliss doesn’t sound at all bad. So, here are 3 essential tools for more connected relationships.
Ducking & Dodging
The practice of ducking and dodging unpleasant feelings can become a habit. It is often culturally enshrined. Friends, family and partners urge us to ‘cheer up’ or ‘get over it’, rather than sit with those experiences long enough to learn from them. Always avoiding the less warm and fuzzy feelings can also have the unplanned effect of lowering our tolerance to them when they eventually refuse to be marginalised.
The reality is that each of us experiences a range of emotions every day. A bias towards ‘positive’ feelings can lead us to suppress everything else. Consider the metaphor of pushing a beach ball under the surface of the water. We can hold it down for a good while, but eventually, it will burst to the surface. There is another way.
You are Not Your Thoughts
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) teaches us that experiencing our difficult thoughts and feelings doesn’t have to mean becoming fused with them. Borrowing from ancient Buddhist wisdom, this approach reminds us that we are not our thoughts. It encourages us to take a step back and be an observer of our mind’s constant chatter, rather than buying into it.
It is a paradox that when we stop wrestling with ‘negative’ emotions, they invariably consume less of our time, energy and attention. That allows us to focus on taking positive actions towards living our best life, aligned with values we cherish.
In our relationships, too, we can get caught up in editing our emotional repertoire. We minimise those presentations that might appear ‘unattractive’ to others. No partner wants the burden of our emotional baggage, right? And, ‘nobody likes a negative nelly’.
Newsflash: Nobody arrives at adulthood without at least a weekend duffle bag of complex emotional experiences. We can keep it zipped shut for the first few weeks or even months of a new relationship. But eventually, our partner will learn that we are a fully dimensional humans with a swag of joy, fear, excitement, sadness, anger, love and trauma in tow.
3 Essential Tools
So, instead of sticking your fingers in your ears and humming that Pharrell Williams song next time you feel something less than unadulterated bliss, consider trying the following:
1. Sit with your difficult feelings for a while, rather than banishing them. In most cases, scary monsters become less scary when we look them in the eye.
2. Thoughts are just stories. Rather than focusing on whether the story is true or false, ask yourself whether it supports you towards living the life you want.
3. Practice sharing your difficult feelings with those you love and trust, so that they can experience the full you. The more you do it, the easier it will become’
Chris Pye is a Relationship Counsellor and Life Coach who works with individuals, couples, and teams, creating safe and supportive spaces for difficult conversations. To book a free ‘first-step conversation’, go to: A Single Step.
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