Emotions Aren’t Bad

We’re taught that certain emotions are “bad” or wrong. We aren’t supposed to feel them. We’re supposed to suppress them and act like they don’t exist.

The top among these is anger. Especially if you’re a girl, or raised/socialized as one, you’re told to be quiet and “ladylike” and sweet. If you show anger, you’re bad.

This can be common in the spiritual practice world as well. If you’re truly spiritual, so the story goes, you don’t feel anger. You just accept and forgive everyone and everything and feel nothing negative at all ever, because if you do, you aren’t really spiritual.

Bullshit.

Anger, jealousy, fear…all the emotions that some people designate as “bad” are HUMAN emotions. If you’re a human being, odds are good that you feel emotions. Feeling anger is no more “bad” than feeling joy. Emotions are not good or bad; they just are. And trying to force yourself not to feel them often results in just stuffing the emotion down into a little box in your mind—a box that might burst somewhere down the line.

The key isn’t to stop *feeling* emotions. It’s to learn healthy and productive ways to *express* them.

Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own emotions and how we display them. Emotions are neither good nor bad; actions can be, but taking a negative action does not automatically make someone a bad person. 

Feeling emotions is NORMAL. Even emotions we’ve been taught are wrong or bad. Trying to suppress or ignore those emotions can be harmful to us and can lead to them coming up in less manageable ways down the road.

We also dishonor ourselves when we deny our emotions. Many of us who have experienced abuse and trauma have a child self living within our minds, a part of ourselves that became frozen at a time of trauma. In DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy, a technique often used in treating borderline personality disorder and PTSD among other things), that part of us is referred to as the “emotional mind.” In some forms of Witchcraft, it’s Younger Self. Whatever you call it, it’s a part of us, and it’s part of our healing journey to accept, nurture, and work with it. If we’re telling ourselves, “I can’t feel angry, it’s bad, I’m a bad person for feeling this way,” we’re continuing the abuse that damaged us in the first place. We’re taking the words and concepts forced on us by others and internalizing them, and that continues the damage.

Instead, I’ve found it’s far more productive to feel the emotion. To say, “I feel really angry, and that’s okay; how can I deal with this?” Even to express fear of feeling the anger, if that’s present for you. Some coping strategies for anxiety and PTSD can be used for anger as well.

Allowing yourself to feel those emotions and express them in *healthy* ways can help lessen them, and honors you as the awesome human you are.

You aren’t bad if you feel anger. You aren’t “not truly spiritual.” You are human, and you have the right to feel however you feel. You don’t have the right to express those feelings in harmful ways, but you one hundred percent have the right to feel them, and to express them in nonharmful ways. (And if you do express anger or another emotion in a way that’s harmful, that still doesn’t make you a bad person. It still just makes you human. Make apologies, make amends, and get help with learning more effective management strategies if it’s an ongoing problem… but accept yourself as a good person who just needs help to learn better responses to your emotions.)

As a final note, if you’re a parent, please teach your children that emotions are always okay to feel, and teach them healthy, productive ways to express them. Show them that they, too, are good people, and that you love them no matter what emotions they feel. Show them how to love and accept themselves even when the anger seems big and scary, or the jealousy overwhelms them, or the fear seems to cover everything else. Let’s break the cycle of people who believe and preach that it’s bad and wrong to feel human emotions—and the people who, because of those beliefs and preaching, believe that *they* are bad and wrong.

When to Walk Away

A few years ago, I was part of a group of people I considered friends. I socialized with them. Had online conversations. Told them things about myself. I liked most of them, and I thought it was mutual with at least some.

Then I learned the sad truth. Some of them were not only saying insulting and hurtful things behind my back, they were overtly trying to sabotage my connections with other people. Including my own husband.

I had known that some of the people in the group weren’t my biggest fans, but I hadn’t realized their dislike of me ran that deep until two people, independently, came to me and said, “These people told me this about you and told me not to have anything to do with you.” When I vented to my husband about my pain and anger, he said, “Oh, yeah, they said that stuff to me too.”

Despite knowing there were members of the group who didn’t think so highly of me, and in spite of things a few had said to my face, I’d hung in there. I was determined not to let them “run me off,” so to speak. After all, didn’t thinking highly of *myself* mean not allowing other people to have power over me? Didn’t not caring what others thought of me mean continuing to expose myself to people who didn’t think kindly?

Nope. It didn’t mean any of that. And when I realized how deep the dislike ran, and how much damage some people in the group had tried to cause–and may have succeeded in causing, because I did learn that at least two people I’d tried to form connections with had chosen not to due to what the others said to them–I realized I wasn’t doing myself any favors by staying in that group.

I left. I cut ties even with group members who, to my knowledge, hadn’t said or done anything negative, because I was no longer sure I could trust them. I blocked them on social media. I called it quits.

And I immediately felt lighter, more positive, and more sure of myself than I had in a long time.

We’re often taught that we should keep people in our lives. Especially if we’re “spiritual,” according to some, we’re supposed to keep connections even with people who are toxic to us because otherwise, we aren’t showing compassion or forgiveness. Some of us also come from backgrounds in which we were expected to accept poor treatment without complaint, and even expected to forget it entirely the moment someone said, “Sorry,” even if we knew they didn’t mean it and would only do it again. 

Some of us become conditioned to being treated poorly and blaming ourselves for it, and take that to mean we can’t walk away just because we don’t like how someone is dealing with us.

But that isn’t how it’s meant to be. We are under no obligation to keep people in our lives when we know they’re treating us badly or that they’re toxic to or unhealthy for us. We aren’t somehow more spiritual or evolved because we choose to continue exposing ourselves to people whose actions cause us to doubt and dislike ourselves.

We can walk away from those people. Not caring what others think includes not caring how others view our choices about who to allow in our lives. It includes building a life in which we feel happy, confident, and positive, regardless of what anyone else tells us we “should” do.

No matter who someone is, what their role your life has been, or if they’ve done anything positive for you, if their behavior toward you is hurtful and toxic, you do not owe them any place in your life. You have the right to shut them out for your own sake. That isn’t refusing to show compassion, and it isn’t “unevolved.” You are showing compassion for *yourself*, and evolving beyond a life where you are constantly feeling negatively about yourself due to the actions and words of others.

The time to walk away is when you feel it’s necessary. You don’t need to explain it or justify it to anyone. If you need to have someone out of your life, you have the right to make that choice. 

Spiritual Bypassing

“You created being abused. You should examine why you chose to create that.”

“If you aren’t healing, it’s because you don’t want to heal. You enjoy feeling this way. You like the attention.”

“Don’t talk to me about those issues. Those don’t affect me. I choose to believe only in light and love, and you should believe that way too.”

“Anger just lowers your vibration and makes bad things happen. You shouldn’t feel anger. Just love the person or thing.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. If you’ve spent any time in spiritual or “lightworker” communities, I’m sure you’ve heard at least some of the above, or similar statements.

This is known as spiritual bypassing. Basically, it’s the use of spiritual beliefs or spiritual-sounding statements to invalidate, gaslight, and even bully or abuse others.

I’ve seen statements like these and others thrown around freely on social media and in communities of people who call themselves healers and lightworkers. And those statements–and people–have caused harm to myself and to others who are working on their healing but don’t embrace the basic philosophy of “ignore the bad things and they’ll go away, and if they don’t, it’s all your fault.”

People I know and care deeply about have chosen to stop working on their healing journey because they’ve heard those statements. Since they can’t just ignore the bad things into nonexistence, because they already deeply blame themselves for what others chose to do to them, and because healing is neither instantaneous nor linear, these people came to the conclusion that they were too broken to heal. They weren’t. They had the power to heal, and they had the strength. But they listened to the words of those who told them, “It’s all your fault and you’re doing it wrong.”

This angers me–and yes, I do feel anger, and I make no apologies for that. Anger is not “bad.” NO emotion is “bad.” They’re simply emotions. We feel things because we’re human, and EVERYTHING we feel is valid. Sometimes people respond to those emotions in unproductive or harmful ways, and that is absolutely not okay, but the emotion itself is perfectly fine.

Healing isn’t linear, and it certainly isn’t instant. It’s called a healing “journey” for a reason.

While I do believe we have the power to create our own reality, I also believe that if we are unaware of that power, we are not responsible for what comes into our lives. We might be responsible for the aftermath; for example, if we have been abused, I do believe it’s our responsibility to examine how the abuse affects us and our relationships to others, and to work toward healing and repair any harm *we* have done because of our reactions. But responsible for being abused? Nope. Not even close. That is the choice and the fault of the *abuser.*

I believe those who preach “it’s your fault, you caused it” and “only love and light no matter what” can cause harm to others. Whether it’s intentional or not, gaslighting and bullying are never acceptable, and unfortunately, in too many corners of the spiritual communities, those things dominate. While I won’t tell anyone their beliefs are wrong or invalid, I do encourage people to examine how they’re sharing those beliefs and what harm they might be causing as a result.

Above All, Harm None

So much information is circulating right now about COVID-19, medications, vaccines, and the like. You see it on the news and on social media. Maybe you hear it from friends or family members.

Some of it is accurate. Some is not. Some is true, and some is blatantly false.

The problem with the inaccurate or false information is that it has the potential to cause harm. Think about the claims from the so-called leader of the US government about a certain drug that supposedly could treat COVID-19. People took that drug. Trials were conducted. And people died as a result, because the drug was not a good treatment for COVID, and was in fact dangerous to people with certain health conditions.

I’ve seen a number of people lately circulating blatant lies on social media and calling them “facts.” Things like “this vaccine contains pieces of human embryos,” or “this herb will cure that illness, but the medicine your doctor told you to take won’t.”

This isn’t a matter of differing opinions. When something has been scientifically proven, and someone else says, “Nope, that’s wrong, this is true even though I have no proof,” that isn’t opinions. That is falsehoods. Those statements have a high potential to cause harm to people who will listen because they distrust medicines, or because they believe in conspiracies that don’t exist, or because the person spreading the false information is a “lightworker” and that apparently means they must know what they’re talking about.

I respect people’s right to believe what they believe. But when they spread those beliefs as facts and others suffer harm as a result, I lose my respect for them. I lose my respect for people who spread information without proof and directly harm others by doing so.

I don’t bother calling these people out anymore. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth for constant online battles with strangers. There’s zero chance of my convincing them that they are harming others, and there’s zero chance of them convincing me they’re right when I can research and find multiple sources proving them wrong. Instead I choose to block them and post on my own timeline or blog the reasons I believe certain information is harmful.

People can draw their own conclusions. I personally do not have the time or energy to devote to conspiracy theories, false statements, and harmful misinformation.

I urge everyone to do their research before sharing information. To have sources available to back your point–preferably reputable, factual sources. To trust yourself and the knowledge available to you instead of thinking “This doesn’t really feel right, but that person’s a healer so they must know what they’re talking about.” 

I urge everyone, above all else, to consider–honestly and fully–whether their words could cause harm, and if they could, to refrain from sharing those words. Above all, harm none.

Unseen Effects of COVID-19

Note: This appeared as an article in my May 20 newsletter. I have chosen to share it as a blog post as well in the hope of reaching a wider audience.

In Stephen King’s novel The Stand, about a manmade pandemic ravaging the world, he devotes an entire chapter to snippets about the people who die because of the illness but not *from* the illness. People who are injured and can’t find help because everyone around them has died. People who take their lives because they can’t tolerate the situation. People who are murdered by others whose sanity is slipping due to watching the illness take everyone and everything.

The Stand, obviously, is a work of fiction, and unlike “Captain Trips,” COVID-19 is not manmade. However, there are some similarities, among them the fact that COVID is having unseen, indirect effects.

Most people aren’t wired to spend weeks on end not leaving their homes. Being so isolated, even if you’re staying in contact with family and friends by video chat or phone, is not usual for us, and can have a negative impact on mental health. The constant information, true or false, that is being shoved at us by sources from the nightly news to the conspiracy theorists on social media raises our own fears and stress.

Being unable to get a break from the people one lives with can have a negative effect as well, even if we’re with people we love and get along with. For those who are essentially trapped in homes with abusers, it’s even worse.

The virus that’s spreading isn’t only the illness of COVID-19. It’s the side effects. The stress, fear, and panic. The increased abuse of those who are now unable to escape to school or work. The arguments among even couples and families who usually get along well. The arguments and endings of friendships among those who refuse to listen to facts and can’t find a middle ground on beliefs.

As restrictions are lifted in various areas, some of these side effects might lessen. Being able to go outside again might help people feel less isolated and trapped. But some effects will remain, and lifting restrictions will bring more impacts such as increased anxiety about being exposed to the illness, panic from people who are unable to wear masks due to claustrophobia, PTSD, or other issues but are told they have to wear them, etc. And the issue of abuse is certainly not going away, especially with schools still closed at least until the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

As we continue to navigate this time, please take care of your mental health as well as your physical. If you are struggling, please reach out for help; likewise, if you are experiencing abuse, seek help if you can safely do so. Talk to friends or family you can trust, or contact a helpline such as the Crisis Textline (741741) for mental health issues, 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org for domestic abuse, or 1-800-422-4453 for help in dealing with child abuse. 

If you have the emotional and mental resources to handle helping others, reach out to your friends and family to make sure they’re managing all right. Some people don’t feel able to reach out for help out of fear of being seen as “weak” or “attention whores.” Sometimes all it takes is someone calling or messaging to say, “Hey, I was thinking of you, do you need anything?” to tip the balance from someone choosing to die to them choosing to live. Even people who aren’t at that low a point are likely to benefit from knowing that someone cares.

Too many people in our society (and in my opinion, even a few are too many) live by the basic philosophy of “I have what I need, why should I care about anyone else?” Now is not the time to live that way. Please consider others. Take care of yourself *first*; you know, that whole oxygen mask thing. But if you are able to do so without stressing yourself, please look out for others as well. Let’s all do what we can to minimize the effects of this virus–both the direct effects and the indirect ones.

It’s Fine Not to Be Fine

How are you doing?

When someone asks you that, do you reply honestly, or do you cover up how you’re really feeling? Do you say, “I’m fine,” when you’re anything but?

Right now, a lot of us are anything but fine. As the pandemic continues, people are fearing loss of income. Some are struggling to survive in homes that were unsafe even when they were able to leave from time to time. Some are wondering if they’ll have homes to survive in by the time this is over.

Marriages and relationships are ending. So are some friendships, either because of inability to stay connected or because people are realizing that their ideals and beliefs are diametrically opposed to those of their friends.

It’s a difficult time, even for those who seem to have everything together.

When you answer the question I asked at the beginning of this post, do you say you’re fine? And if so, is it true?

Many of us are taught to cover up the negatives in our lives. We’re told that it isn’t okay to talk about feeling stressed or afraid or angry. We’re told that no one wants to know if we’re having trouble with our finances or our families.

We’re told no one wants to hear if we’re experiencing abuse or other harm.

It’s time to change that conditioning. Right now, a lot of people are not fine–and that is okay. It is okay to talk about the not-fineness. It is okay to say you’re afraid or stressed or angry.

It is okay to reach out for help, whether to people you trust in your life or to organizations or professionals, if you are experiencing harm or abuse.
Even though there are widely different ways of handling the current crisis, and people are experiencing hugely different impacts, we are all experiencing the same crisis. We aren’t all “in the same boat”; far from it. But our boats are all in the same ocean of fear, uncertainty, and crisis.

So speak your truth when someone asks how you’re doing. Speak it so you can get help or support. So you can know you’re heard. So you can know you aren’t alone. Speak it so others know it’s okay for them to speak their truth.

You don’t have to be “fine” right now. Really. You don’t.

(If you are experiencing abuse, please seek help. In the US, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website http://www.thehotline.org. For support and help in dealing with child abuse in the US, visit http://www.childhelp.org or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). You might also receive help or resources from your local law enforcement agency. If you are concerned that someone you know is experiencing abuse, please don’t remain silent or figure it’s none of your business. Reach out to them, to one of the hotlines named, or to law enforcement.)

How Normal is “Normal”?

One phrase that keeps popping up in news stories and online is “the new normal.” But what does “normal” even mean?

Usually when that phrase is used lately, it’s referring to the current state of restrictions and advisories caused by COVID-19. Those changes have become the way of doing things during the health crisis, and most of them are new to many of us. But are they “normal”?

Normal isn’t a consistent, objective thing. Just as each of us perceives things in our own way, each of us has our own “normal.” For some people with certain health or immune system issues, washing hands constantly and wearing masks any time they leave their home has always been normal. For some introverts, and people with some physical or mental health conditions, not leaving the house for days on end has always been normal.

The “new normal” we’re experiencing now is the same old normal for some of us. To others, it’s anything but normal. It’s difficult, complicated, and, we hope, very temporary.

Another phrase that shows up regularly is “back to normal.” What does that mean? Again, for some people, the current way of doing things *is* normal. If we’re using that phrase as shorthand for “returning to the way we did things before COVID-19,” “normal” will look very different depending on whom you ask. A lot of people consider leaving the house to go to work to be “normal”; those of us who work from home don’t see it that way at all.

When restrictions are lifted and things are reopened, we won’t be returning to exactly the way things were before regardless of what you consider to be “normal.” There will be changes in place to help people stay healthier. Hopefully, people will remember how all this felt, and will be more considerate of their health and of other people. I don’t believe it’s likely at all that things will go “back to the way they were.” Some things will be similar, but I don’t believe much, if anything, will be exactly the same.

Through all of this, people are worrying about whether their reactions are normal. Is it “normal” to be scared, angry, upset? Is it “normal” to have no reaction at all, or to even be thriving during this time?

The answer is… yes. It’s “normal” in that you are not the only one feeling or reacting that way. But more importantly, it’s normal because it is what is happening for you. And normal is subjective.

While we continue through this health crisis, and in any other crisis that comes, try to let go of what is “normal.” Think instead about what is happening for *you* and how that is affecting you. Normal doesn’t matter. What matters is you. If you are concerned about how you’re feeling or reacting, it doesn’t matter if it’s “normal,” it matters that you are concerned. And it’s okay to reach out for help if that’s the case.

“Normal” is a loaded word, and it’s one that you can probably tell I don’t think too highly of in general. Our world has changed, and will continue to change. People have reacted, are reacting, and will react in different ways. And whether it’s “normal” or not, it is okay.

Free Will =/= Freedom from Consequences

Free will is vital. All of us, as sentient beings, have the freedom to make our own choices and decisions. Mind control isn’t a thing, whether it’s by other people or by higher powers; we were all created to be able to choose our actions for ourselves.

What people forget when the subject of free will or freedom to choose comes up is that freedom to choose does not equal freedom from the consequences of that choice. If you choose to go skating on thin ice, you have the freedom to do so, but that doesn’t mean you won’t fall through the ice. If you choose to drive fifty miles an hour in a thirty mile an hour zone, you have the freedom to do that too, but it doesn’t mean you won’t get a speeding ticket.

Too many people, when confronted with the consequences of their actions, try to argue that “I have free will! I have freedom to do this!” Yep, you do… and you’ve done it, and there are consequences. You do not avoid the results, whether positive or negative, of your actions just because you have the freedom to act in the first place.

One of the biggest consequences of ignoring and fighting against restrictions during our current health crisis isn’t that you’re breaking the rules. It isn’t even that you might get sick, since you have the freedom to choose whether or not you get sick–and whether or not you die. The biggest consequence is that you might cause *someone else* to get sick and die. And doing so is a violation of *their* free will. 

Free will allows for you to commit actions that might harm yourself or others. It allows you to act in a way that violates someone else’s free will. You have the freedom to choose to do those things. However… why would you choose to harm anyone? Why would you choose to take away their freedom of choice when you rail against someone doing the same to you?

Free will does not equal freedom from consequences. If you harm others, there will be consequences for your actions. If you take away someone else’s free will, you may face consequences. And the fact that you have free will doesn’t change that. You are absolutely free to make whatever choices you make–but you are not free from whatever effects those choices bring you.

Relax and Breathe

If you’ve been on social media at all, you’ve probably seen the meme that says something along the lines of, “If you don’t come out of this time of quarantine with a new skill, new hobby, or your side hustle launched, it was never a question of time, it was a question of discipline.”

That meme brings up so much frustration and anger in me. Not for myself as much as for the people who see it and believe that they are, in fact, undisciplined failures because of what someone on social media says.

Here’s the thing. This is a time unlike anything any of us have ever lived through. Some of us are worried about losing our jobs; some have already lost them. Some are struggling to take care of children while working from home–and having to become teachers on top of it. We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know whether we’re going to get sick. We don’t know what the short or long-term effects will be.

And with all of that uncertainty, fear, and struggle, we’re somehow supposed to be able to corral our brains to learn new things and build new businesses? Um… okay, I’ll refrain from profanity here.

Many of us, if not most of us, are living through trauma right now. Trauma causes mental and physical effects, including loss of concentration, memory issues, and exhaustion. Some of us are absolutely able to say, “Oh, yay, free time, let’s do ALL THE THINGS!” But a lot of us are barely able to say, “Okay, I’m going to take a shower and get dressed now.”

And that is OKAY. It is completely okay to not be able to learn new skills and build your side hustle right now. It is okay if you are just managing to get out of bed and put on something resembling clothing in the morning.

Not being able to learn new things and build your business right now does not mean you are undisciplined. It means you are struggling to live in an experience you have never lived in before, surrounded by others who have also never lived through anything like this. It means that you need your time, energy, and stamina to get through the day-to-day pieces of this current “normal,” and you don’t have anything left over for the extras.

It isn’t a question of discipline at all. It’s a question of priorities. Right now, for many of us, the priority is surviving. Everything else can wait.

Take care of yourself, and let go of whether you’re “supposed to be” doing all the things right now. The only thing you need to do is breathe, rest, and trust that this will get better.

5 Ideas for Self-Care

Self-care is more important than ever right now, but some of us are finding it harder than usual to make sure we’re practicing self-care. Depression, whether as a diagnosed mental illness or just a feeling, leads to less motivation in general. If we’re struggling with losing a job, we might feel less worthy, which means we aren’t taking care of ourselves because we, consciously or not, believe we aren’t “worth it.”

Here are a few things you can do to take care of yourself without spending money (something many of us are afraid to do right now) and without taking a lot of time:

  1. Take a quick shower. Even just turning on the water and standing under it for a minute or two can wash away some of the energetic sludge, and for some of us, water feels refreshing and rejuvenating. (Baths work too for some, but those take longer; I did say “without taking a lot of time.)
  2. Practice deep breathing if you’re able. Take 10-20 long, slow, deep breaths in and out. You can even do this while doing something else, but I recommend focusing on your breathing while doing it. This can lead to you feeling calmer, and also helps keep your lungs in good shape.
  3. Step outside. Just taking a few steps outside of the building you live in and getting some fresh air can help short-circuit feelings of being trapped or isolated. If it’s sunny, that can help your mood. And bonus points if you’re able to touch a tree, grass, or anything natural.
  4. Hug something. Some of us don’t live with people we can hug, and obviously we’re trying to socially distance ourselves from the people we don’t live with. At the same time, hugs can be comforting and mood-boosting. If you don’t have a person–or pet–you can hug, the physical act of hugging a stuffed animal or even a pillow can give you similar sensory input.
  5. Practice self-compassion. You’re feeling angry? Cool. Feel it! You’re scared? That’s okay! Allow yourself to feel the emotions you’re feeling. Allow yourself to rant at the wall about the activities you’re missing, or the places you aren’t able to go. Most importantly, honor the fact that you are a human being in a really difficult time, and it is OKAY to struggle right now. It doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong” or that you aren’t spiritually enlightened, or anything like that… it just means you’re human, like the rest of us.

I hope some or all of that is helpful for you. And I would love to hear from you: What are you doing to practice self-care right now?