When we experience pain, we make it worse with the stories we tell ourselves about that pain. Those stories are the source of suffering.
Pain is inevitable. It’s part of life. You feel jealous, or disappointed. Someone treats you unfairly. You lose something important to you.
These things will happen (and sometimes it seems like they happen all at once).
And we need to let ourselves feel them. As Daniel Tiger sings, “It’s ok to feel sad sometimes. Little by little you’ll feel better again.” Or as we learn in Inside Out, we need sadness and anger and envy and fear in order to feel true joy. (Yes, all of my references are to children’s media.)
But we don’t need to double-feel our feelings — or to beat ourselves up over them.
As Mark Manson writes in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (thank you, Dave and Jack, for this excellent birthday present):
There’s an insidious quirk to your brain that, if you let it, can drive you absolutely batty.
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: You get anxious about confronting somebody in your life. That anxiety cripples you and you start wondering why you’re so anxious. Now you’re becoming anxious about being anxious….
Or let’s say you have an anger problem. You get pissed off at the stupidest, most inane stuff, and you have no idea why. And the fact that you get pissed off so easily starts to piss you off even more…
Welcome to the Feedback Loop from Hell.
I’ve been practicing experiencing a feeling and paying attention to how it feels in my body while letting go of the story in my head that surrounds that feeling.
If my dog, Clover, lunges at another dog while I’m walking her and it stresses me out, or makes me mad, I feel those things and I breathe, deeply. What I try not to do is spin myself a yarn about how annoying it is to walk her and how she’ll never get better no matter how much training we do and how it’s not fair that we ended up with a dog who does this, etc, etc, etc.
Try this today — just try:
Feel what you feel, breathe, and let the story go.
Remember: Pain is part of life. But we create our own suffering through our response to that pain.
Let’s stop beating ourselves up.