“Hope is the feeling that the feeling you have isn’t permanent.” ~Jean Kerr
For most of my life, I was a fugitive from my feelings.
Psychologists suggest that we are driven by two connected motivations: to feel pleasure and avoid pain. Most of us devote more energy to the latter than the former.
Instead of being proactive and making choices for our happiness, we react to things that happen in our lives, and fight or flee to minimize our pain.
Instead of deciding to end an unhealthy relationship and open up to a better one, we may stay and either avoid confrontation or initiate one to feel a sense of control. Instead of leaving a horrible job to find one we love, we may stay and complain about it all the time, trying to minimize the pain of accepting the situation as real—and enduring until we change it.
From a very young age, I felt overwhelmed by pain. As a pre-teen, I ate my feelings. As a teen, I starved them away. In college, I drank and smoked them numb. And in my twenties, I felt and cried my eyes red and raw.
I sobbed. I wailed. I shook and convulsed. And I wished I’d never chosen to feel them, but rather kept pushing them down, pretending everything was fine.
Except when I did that, they didn’t just go away—they compounded on top each other and built up until eventually I exploded, with no idea why I felt so bad.
One time when I was 17, I couldn’t open a jar of jelly. After ten minutes of twisting, banging, and fighting, I finally threw it at a wall and broke down.
You may think that was a sure sign I had emotional problems, and assume there was some pill to help anesthetize that sadness.
That’s what a lot of people thought. But the reality was a lot simpler: I simply never dealt with my feelings from events large and small, and eventually they dealt with me.
As unpleasant as it may sound, I needed to learn how to feel bad—but first I needed to understand why I felt bad so often. It’s a whole lot easier to deal with pain when it’s not the default feeling.
This, I’ve learned, comes down to three steps:
Developing emotional intelligence.
Learning to sit with negative feelings.
Creating situations for positive feelings.