It's nighttime. Your baby girl has colic and has been crying all night. No matter what you do - feed her, rock her, drive her around the neighborhood - she cannot be soothed. You fall asleep ten minutes before the alarm jolts you back awake. At breakfast your baby throws up all over your new dress. As you hurry to change, you notice that your dog has recently peed on the white carpet in the living room that has miraculously (until now) stayed clean.
On your way to work, a pebble flies up off the freeway and smashes through your windshield. When you finally get to work, your boss yells at you for being late - in front of your assistant (the one who wants your job).
Bad day, right? Really bad day. This day actually happened to a friend of mine, Aimee, who told me about it over dinner a few weeks later.
"Wow," I said, feeling for her. "What a terrible day."
She shrugged. "It could be worse," she said. "I mean, one of my girlfriends went through five rounds of IVFs. She'd give anything to be sleep deprived with baby puke all over her.
Aimee went on to say the broken windshield wasn't a big deal in the scheme of things. People in the Midwest have tornadoes destroying their cars and homes and lives. She noted that she was lucky to have a job, given this economy, so she can't get too mad at her boss.
"Other people have it so much worse," she said. "I have no right to complain."
It's one thing to have a positive attitude. It's another to deny how the vicissitudes of life can impact you. Aimee minimized (if not outright rejected) her exhaustion, exasperation, frustration, and humiliation.
We all could theoretically have it worse. The key is to hold onto gratitude for the blessings and goodness in our lives without denying our other experiences. When we deny the difficult, upsetting, painful things in life, we deny our truth - and those feelings often get expressed in other ways, such as by turning to or against food. We may use food to distract, numb, comfort or attack ourselves, and never express the original pain or upset.
As we ate dessert, Aimee said, "You know what really upsets me? I have no willpower. Here I am stuffing stuffing my face, even though I'm the heaviest I've ever been. That's my real problem."
She did not give herself the right to be upset about her bad day, and instead expressed her frustration by turning on herself, finding fault with herself for eating dessert and attacking the size of her body.
Here are some other ways people dismiss or deny their feelings:
"I'm mad at the situation, not the person."
"I shouldn't feel that way."
"If I'm upset, that makes me a negative person."
Do any of those sound familiar? If so, give yourself the right to feel what you feel. Feelings aren't a reflection of your character or personality. They are reactions to situations. They don't disappear just because you don't want to acknowledge or feel them. They only go away when you feel them.
Your feelings need your attention, not your condemnation!
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