Change Hurts

In yoga teachings, there’s an affliction called parinamadukha, which translates essentially to “the pain that comes from change.” (I have to admit one of the reasons I remember this is that it’s a fun word to say, though the feeling/affliction is definitely NOT fun!)

It’s human nature to resist change in our lives, even when we know it’s for the best. Leaving a relationship is painful even when the relationship itself also hurts. Taking a new job can be terrifying. Moving to a new location is complicated, stressful, and painful, especially if we’re leaving a place and friends we’ve been around for a long time.

At the same time, though, change is part of life. It’s impossible to be alive and never go through any changes at all. Just for starters, we grow physically. We can’t decide as infants that our bodies are going to remain exactly the same for the rest of our lives. Many people’s brains also go through growth and change as they learn new things and have new experiences. Some growth and development happens whether we want it to or not.

Many of us also reach crossroads in our lives, where we have to make some kind of choice, which necessitates some kind of change. Even if we choose not to choose, we have chosen; and that choice causes a change in us. We then have to live with the choice we’ve made and how we feel about it, and whatever choice we’ve made will have an impact on us somehow. If we do make a choice, that choice might lead to things like ending a relationship, moving to a new place, changing jobs, etc.

I’ve spent the past several days dealing with a painful choice that is leading to painful changes. I’m not comfortable sharing what those are, but I will say that one change is the ending of some people’s presence in my life. People I would really rather keep around, except that doing so is becoming as painful as the thought of not having them around.

Most of us reach points in our lives where change has to happen. It’s completely human to feel fear and pain at those changes, to resist them and even deny them, and to need help getting through them. Ultimately, many of those changes end up being for the better. Even when they don’t, we can learn and grow from them.

It’s Okay to Feel

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.

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I was raised in a home where it was not safe for me to be angry. If I expressed anger, I was punished for it, sometimes in psychologically damaging ways. I was told I was a bad person for feeling angry. That “good little girls” don’t feel that way.

In my first marriage, expressing anger was even more dangerous to me, so I learned not to express it to my husband. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes it spilled out onto my children. But more often, I just stuffed it down into that little mental box and convinced myself I’d dealt with it and didn’t feel it anymore.

When I was finally in a place where it was safe for me to express anger, I had no clue how to do so. I had no tools for managing my emotions—any emotions, regardless of what they were—because I’d spent so much of my life trying not to allow myself to feel them. So when something small sparked anger in me, the anger became huge and harmful, with lots of ranting and swearing and punching of mattresses and pillows, because I didn’t know how else to handle an emotion I was terrified to feel.

Note that I am not making excuses. I handled my anger very poorly a number of times, and at times that caused emotional harm to others. I am working to repair relationships that were damaged because of this.

Despite the reasons, ultimately we are each responsible for our own emotions and how we display them, and although I didn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tools to display my anger in less harmful ways, I still take responsibility for how I did display it and the consequences thereof. Part of my healing journey has been repairing those relationships, making amends where possible, and owning my stuff. Part has been accepting myself as a good *person* despite the things I said that I can’t take back, because while I *own* my emotions and my actions, I am not the things I feel and do. Emotions are neither good nor bad; actions can be, but taking a negative action does not automatically make someone a bad person.

It took a lot of work and therapy, but I did learn. I still sometimes get angrier than a situation warrants, but I am now able to recognize when I’m angry beyond what makes sense. I’m able to walk away from a situation that’s causing anger, and sometimes even to say to whomever else is involved, “I’m feeling very angry right now and need to step away.” I go someplace where I can be alone to work through what I’m feeling, and when I feel calm enough, I return to the other person and say, “I’m feeling angry about that thing you did, because it hurt me in this way. I’d like to stop feeling angry with you, so I’d like to talk about this and see what we can do.” It works a lot better.

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 *actions*.)

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.

Emotions

Emotions can be tricky things. Sometimes they seem to just sneak up on us, suddenly and without warning, and we go from zero to sixty in a second flat. That happens to me sometimes, especially with emotions like fear and anger. I don’t know they’re on the way, but suddenly they’re there, complete with racing thoughts and a running mouth I can’t seem to stop.

But the thing is, I *can* stop the thoughts and the words. I can stop any actions I might be on the verge of.

What I can’t stop are the emotions themselves. Believe me, I’ve tried. And the harder I try to make that anger or fear go away, the more stubborn they become. It’s like the concept of not thinking about the pink elephant. Now that I’ve brought that up, just try to stop thinking about pink elephants. At all. No thoughts of them. None.

See how difficult that can be?

One of the more useful things I’ve learned about emotions is to stop identifying myself *as* the emotion, and instead identify the emotion as something I have. For example, instead of “I’m angry,” saying “I feel angry” helps to separate me from that emotion, which can help the emotion fade sooner. It also prevents me from condemning myself for feeling it at all, which brings me to the second point.

Many of us are taught that feeling certain emotions is just plain not acceptable. You can’t feel anger. You shouldn’t feel afraid. And so on. So we learn to fight those emotions, or suppress them, or pretend they don’t exist at all.

Instead, I believe we need to learn to accept them, and more importantly, accept ourselves for feeling them. I’m not a bad person because I sometimes feel angry, or jealous, or afraid. I’m a human being, and most human beings experience a huge range of emotions in their lives. And that’s perfectly okay.

Anything you feel is okay. It’s what you do in response to feeling that way that matters. So be kind to yourself when you feel a negative emotion. Accept it. Even thank the emotion for what it’s bringing you, or for trying to protect you. And then move on.