The difference between stoicism and resilience

Let us not confuse resilience with stoicism, or toughness.
     A resilient person might endure hardship, but will recover. That’s what resilience means: having the capacity to recover from hardship. Resilient people might express their pain by talking about it; they might cry and express so much emotion it scares the pants off the rest of us. But they recover.
     A stoic, or tough, person can endure hardship without revealing pain. That stoicism doesn’t mean the person can bounce back afterwards and recover. It doesn’t mean the person is resilient.
     A man might be stoic his entire life. He might endure hardship and worry, day after day, desperately hiding his pain, believing that if he were to reveal his suffering he would be seen as weak and unworthy, and would be letting himself, his family and his manhood down . . . and in that ‘weakness’ he would feel shame so damning, so overwhelming, it would split his world apart.
     At least, that’s how it feels to him. That’s the threat. And so, he continues to hold in his pain, day after day until finally, mercifully, he dies of natural causes. ‘He was a tough man,’ others might say. ‘A hard worker. Never complained. There aren’t many men like him left.’
     Or, he doesn’t die. Instead, he cracks. He suffers a breakdown no one sees coming. ‘What happened?’ they ask. ‘He seemed to be coping. Who would have thought?’
     Or, he doesn’t die. Wonderfully, he seeks help, and gets it. He not only flourishes,  he keeps his stoicism. This time, however, his stoicism comes not from his ability to hide his pain, but from his ability to deal with it. He has become resilient.
     Of course, a degree of stoicism is good to have. For example, we don’t want to burst into tears in awkward circumstances. However, if we develop resilience (the ability to deal with our pain and recover) we tend to develop stoicism as well. Why? Because knowing that we will recover from the pain makes that pain easier to bear. That makes us stoic.
     Not everyone who cries and talks about their pain is resilient. It is not the ability to express our pain that make us resilient, it’s the ability to deal with our pain. Expressing it is just one way to deal with it.
     Further, a person resilient in one area of their life may not be resilient in another. For example, someone who is physically resilient, as tough as wombat stew, may not be emotionally resilient. Or vice versa.

‘Are there other ongoing innate needs?’
Yep. You might already be satisfying the other ongoing innate needs. The needs discussed in this book are the need to feel that we can handle life, and the deep need to belong.
They are two of the big ones many people lack.

‘If I apply the umpteen keys when will I notice a change?’
It may take a year or two, perhaps more.
  ‘What?!’
The keys to resilience aren’t snappy catch phrases that are applied in five minutes. You will need to absorb their lessons gradually and apply them consistently over time. You don’t turn an ocean liner around in five minutes, and you are not going to change your life in five minutes.
  ‘But two years?!’
Those two years will come quickly. Also, it depends on how long it takes you to adopt each key. On an intellectual level you might easily grasp the precepts presented, but for you to fully believe them and for them to become an integral part of the way you live your life takes time.
   ‘Two years is too long.’
You might already be applying most of the keys to resilience, in which case, you’re halfway there. You won’t notice the changes happening, but one day you will look back and see that you have changed. You will see that you have created a more confident, accountable person. You will gauge your happiness and see that your effort has been rewarded.
The changes you will be making don’t rely on willpower, but on awareness – a useful quality to possess in life.

’If I apply the umpteen keys to resilience, how much will I increase my core happiness?’
Enough to be pleased with the difference. To expect a complete transformation in your happiness levels may be unrealistic.
     Recall a time when you were elated: you won a contest or just received a promotion. Would you hope or expect to maintain that feeling throughout your everyday life? No! Now imagine you are outside playing a game, but it’s nippy. You want to enjoy yourself, but keep being reminded of the cold. If it were just a couple of degrees warmer you could forget about the chill and enjoy yourself. A small change could make a big difference. Or, think of a cup of coffee. The difference between a regular cup of coffee and a great cup of coffee can depend on a few drops of milk. Again, a little thing can make a big difference.
      In the same way, if you can increase your core happiness even a little, your whole life will change significantly.
     Ready? Let’s start.

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What are you thinking? What are you feeling?

Some of us grow up with mixed messages: our parents tell us what we are feeling, or should be feeling, instead of allowing us to experience what we are actually feeling. Tell a child they’re happy, or grateful, when they’re not, and they’ll get confused.
  And, some of us are told to not feel certain emotions: “Don’t feel bad, Don’t be angry, Don’t be jealous!” So, we get good at avoiding those emotions. We still feel angry or jealous, but we have lost our awareness of it.
  And, some emotions are uncomfortable, so we might become adept at avoiding them.

The trouble is, if we don’t understand what is going on inside us, problems arise.
  For example, someone not wanting to acknowledge their jealousy may become possessive. Someone fearful might not realise it, and turn their fear into racism. Someone might think they are angry when the emotion they are feeling is envy, or humiliation, or loneliness. Or shame. Some people aren’t even aware of their disappointment – they are so stoic they don’t let themselves experience it.
  The point is: if we are not aware of an emotion it can undermine us or lead us astray. It can prompt us to engage in behaviours we ourselves don’t fully understand. After all, if we don’t know what we are feeling, how can we address it? We can’t. So, that feeling keeps niggling, and influencing our behaviour. We might do something silly and later ask ourselves in exasperation,‘What was I thinking?!’ A better question would be, ‘What was I feeling?’ Only when we are aware of what we are feeling, and fully experience it, can we begin to deal with that emotion in a healthy, constructive manner.

It’s not just emotions. We need to be aware of all the ‘dark bits’ inside us. Instead of keeping those dark bits hidden from ourselves, and from others, we need to acknowledge them. And when we do, we come to realise they aren’t so bad after all. Then, after a while, we come to accept them. And when we come to accept them, we come to accept ourselves.
  Then we begin to relax. We feel better about ourselves and go easier on ourselves. With nothing to hide we can lower our guard with people, and connect with them on a deeper, more meaningful level.
  Further, the more we understand ourselves and accept those dark bits, the more we understand other people, and accept their dark bits. With that empathy, we become less judgmental and more easy going. We adjust our expectations of others, and become more flexible and easier to be with.

In short, one good way to develop resilience is to get to know ourselves: to be aware of what we think and of what we feel. In particular, we need to be attuned to the dark bits inside us, because it’s those dark bits that create anxiety.
  With less anxiety we feel more resilient, and add to our core happiness.

Q. ‘How do we know when we have fully experienced an emotion?’
When the emotion has lost its sting. Fully experiencing emotions isn’t easy, and it takes time. Take all the time you need, especially if you have experienced trauma. Delve into your emotions at your own pace. There is no correct amount of time.

Q. ‘We don’t always have to be aware of our emotions, do we? It would be a pain in the proverbial if we always had to go around being aware of what we are feeling.’
We want the ability to identify what we are feeling, particularly when we feel unsettled. If we have that ability, we can apply it when necessary.

Q. How do we get that ability?
One way is to label our emotions. See you in the next chapter!

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Label it. And be specific!

I once invited someone to dinner. I prepared the food and by 7pm everything was ready. By 7.30pm she hadn’t arrived, so I rang her.
  ‘Didn’t you get my email?’ she asked me. ‘I sent it this morning.’
  ‘I haven’t looked at my emails’, I told her.
  ‘If you had, you would have known I wasn’t coming tonight.’
  Through gritted teeth I said it was neglectful of her to assume I would look at my emails, and anyway, she should have rung me to give me as much notice as possible, to prevent me buying unnecessary food. The rest of the conversation was brief.
  After the call I felt inside me turmoil. So, I searched for the emotions I was feeling and labelled each one. I said to myself, ‘I feel annoyed. I feel betrayed. I feel belittled. I feel disappointed.’ And a few more. When I understood what I was feeling, I relaxed. I felt better.
  Why?
  Because it’s far easier to cope with a feeling when we know what it is.
  When we don’t know what’s happening inside us, it can be scary. But when we identify each individual emotion we recognise each one. They are all familiar to us. They are the same old friends we have felt in the past.
  So, the turmoil evaporates.
  Furthermore, by being specific we can reduce the intensity of the emotion, like when we realise we aren’t devastated, merely disappointed.
  We can also uncover emotions we didn’t realise we had. As well as feeling miffed, we might also realise we feel frustrated. Then we can begin to address that frustration.

But be specific. Don’t just say to yourself, ‘I’m feeling crap.’ The word ‘crap’ is a blob word. If you use a blob word you still won’t know precisely what you are feeling. Terms like ‘I feel okay’ and ‘I feel fine’ are blob terms too; they don’t convey enough information.
  Another blob word is ‘awesome’. There are so many richer, more accurate words to describe something that pleases you than that word, and the closer you get to describing that feeling accurately, the richer life becomes.
  Bad’ is another blob word. Someone who says they feel ‘bad’ might, for example, be feeling afraid, but not know it. So, they don’t address the fear.
  We might be feeling lonely, but if we simply say ‘I feel lousy’ we might not become aware of that loneliness, and so we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to address it. So, it hangs around.
  Avoid blob words. Be specific. If you are feeling angry, what word would you use to accurately describe that anger? Are you annoyed? Irritated? Peeved? Miffed? Vexed? Find the right word and use it.

In summary, get into the habit of labelling your emotions, and being specific. When you know precisely what you are feeling, life runs more smoothly.
  Plus, there is a bonus: when we make the effort to accurately state how we feel, people appreciate the honesty and tend to take us more seriously.

Q. ‘Sometimes people ask me how I am. They expect me to answer, ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ What answer should I give them if ‘fine’ is a blob word?’
In western culture that question is a standard greeting and a form of acknowledgement, so it’s alright to use ‘I’m fine’, or just nod. However, if the person knows you well, and is genuinely enquiring into your wellbeing, be honest and accurate.

Q. ‘Why would labelling an emotion reduce its intensity?’
(1) If you understand what emotion you are dealing with you will feel less turmoil. (If Bill is angry, but not aware of it, he will experience turmoil and won’t know why. But when he discovers he is experiencing anger, much of the frustration and fear will evaporate because he now knows what he is dealing with.
(2) Labelling an emotion can provide a similar outlet to swearing or other forms of expression.
(3) We may discover that our emotion is less extreme than we realised. We are not furious, merely peeved.

Rolf: ‘My cat died. I feel awful.’
Beatrice: ‘Be specific.’
Rolf: ‘Huh?’
Beatrice: ‘What are you feeling, exactly?’
Rolf: ‘Irritated, that you’re asking me this.’
Beatrice: ‘Good. What else? How do you feel about your cat dying?’
Rolf: ‘Awful. How do you think I feel?’
Beatrice: ‘Be specific.’
Rolf: ‘Wretched – sad – angry – miserable – flat – guilty . . .’
Beatrice: ‘Good stuff.’
 
Rolf says he feels awful, and he’s right. But he doesn’t know precisely what he is feeling, and that can be unsettling. And, did you notice that he said ‘guilty’? He may not have been aware of that guilt before. Now he can examine his guilt and ponder about why he feels it.
  Also, knowing that he feels those emotions and that they have been heard, will ease his discomfort.
  Rolf’s pain is still there, but he also knows he feels wretched, sad, angry, miserable, flat and guilty – and now he has a better chance of dealing with those feelings. He won’t have to suffer the ‘noise in his head’ telling him there’s something wrong, yet not know what it is.
  Mind you, being specific can have its problems:
Rolf: ‘I’m feeling discombobulated.’
Beatrice: ‘Huh?’

Ways to be specific:
(1) Search for the word that most accurately describes what you are feeling, as we have just discussed.

(2)  Don’t exaggerate or catastrophise.
Don’t use the word ‘ecstatic’ when you feel delighted.
Don’t say ‘I’m furious’ when you feel merely annoyed.
Don’t use the word ‘fantastic’ when you just feel pleased.
  When we exaggerate we make a caricature of what we are feeling. That won’t help us know ourselves.

‘. . . if you develop a habit of saying you “hate” things – you “hate” your hair; you “hate” your job; you “hate” having to do something – do you think this raises the intensity of your negative emotional states more than if you were to use a phrase like “I prefer something else”?’
(Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within)

(3) Ditch hackneyed disabling expressions like these:     ‘It’s all too much.’     ‘I’m freaking out.’
‘I can’t cope.’       ‘Life’s a bitch.’          ‘I am devastated.’      ‘What an absolute, total disaster.’
‘That’s typical.’   ‘That’s Murphy’s law!’         ‘I’m such an idiot.’
  Using these trite and whiny expressions prompt us to feel powerless, frustrated and discouraged.
Further, they make us look powerless, frustrated and discouraged! Try instead:
          ‘This is unpleasant.’  ‘I dislike this.’    ‘I’m disappointed.’
  These expressions will not magnify the drama like the other expressions do; instead, they will reduce the intensity of the unwanted emotion. Plus, you will see the situation in a healthier perspective.

(4) Avoid these two particular words of exaggeration: always and never
‘It always rains on my birthday.’               ‘You never do what I suggest.’
‘You always do that.’                                ‘We never go out.’
‘It always happens at the last moment.’    ‘I never have any luck.’
Avoid other exaggerations too, such as everyone and no one:
‘Everyone is corrupt.’         ‘No one cares.’

Exercise 1
Step 1. Think of a time when you felt angry.
Step 2. Do any of these words accurately describe that anger?
irritated       displeased    dismayed      peeved       exasperated    irked     irate      perturbed     annoyed        miffed        ruffled           If not, does another word come to mind?
Step 3.Did you feel other emotions as well? Hatred? fear? stress? frustration? resentment? humiliation? Do other feelings come to mind?

Exercise 2
Using a thesaurus, find the most accurate word to complete these sentences.
When the team I support wins, I feel …………………….   
When the team I support loses, I feel ……………………….
When the team I support draws, I feel …………………………..
When someone ignores me, I feel  …………………….
When someone cries, I feel ………………..
When someone praises me, I feel …………………
When someone talks about themselves all the time, I feel …………………
When someone gets mad at me, I feel …………………
When someone acts superior to me, I feel …………………
When someone is attracted to me, I feel …………………
When someone breaks a confidence, I feel …………………
When someone is late for an appointment, I feel …………………
When I am in a group of strangers, I feel …………………
When someone gives me the silent treatment, I feel …………………

(These sentences were compiled by Belinda Ballan, Sydney University)

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Distinguish between your thoughts and feelings.

Years ago, when I was visiting my uncle Geoff at his farm in Korumburra, he casually asked, ’Mark, how do you feel about circus lions being kept in cages?’    
     I answered, ‘It’s cruel, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be allowed’, to which he replied, ‘Wrong answer’.    
     While I was puzzling at this he asked me, ‘How do you feel about your footy team losing yesterday?’
     I told him we were unlucky; our key forward had a crook knee and we only lost by three points.
     Again he said, ‘Wrong answer.’
     Can you figure out why they were wrong answers?

He pointed out that he had asked me how I felt about circus lions being kept in cages, and I had given him my thoughts on the matter. Big difference. A correct answer might have included words like ‘concerned’, ‘appalled’, ‘irritated’, which describe feelings.
     How did I feel about my footy team losing? Disappointed. Deflated. Flat.
     Uncle Geoff explained that if we want our lives to run smoothly, we need to be in the habit of distinguishing between our thoughts and our feelings.
     ‘Why?’ I asked.
    
He said that some people try to be always rational, and lose touch with what they are feeling; others rely on their feelings and fail to think things through. Both tend to find themselves believing one thing but doing another, and living lives of mild confusion.

‘Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.’
Khalil Gibran in ‘The Prophet’

‘The trick’, Uncle Geoff continued, ‘is to think things through, yet be fully in touch with our emotions – and the best way to do that is to distinguish between our thoughts and emotions when we speak.’
  
‘We are taught many things in a lifetime, but rarely do we get a chance to learn about emotion and ways of relating to others. We make a great effort to develop the mind, but apparently we are supposed to deal with our emotions instinctively.’
Thomas Moore, from his book, Dark Nights of the Soul.

In short, a good way to be aware of our thoughts and our feelings is to distinguish between them when we speak. When you say: ‘I feel —’ describe a feeling. When you say, ‘I think —’ give your thoughts. And be specific.
  Over time you will become skilled at knowing precisely what you are thinking and what you are feeling, and adept at dealing with what is going on inside you. That will be a big plus towards becoming resilient, and happy.

Q. ‘Why is it bad to confuse our emotions?’
If you don’t know what you are feeling, how can you address it? You can’t. So, it keeps popping up, and niggling at you and misleading you. But if you know precisely what you are feeling you have a much better chance of dealing with it. Result? Less anxiety.

‘I feel we should look for another way.’ (Wrong)
‘I think we should look for another way. ’(Correct.)
‘I feel frustrated. I think we should look for another way.’ (Correct.)

‘I feel I’m unappreciated.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think I’m unappreciated, and feel hurt and disappointed as a result.’ (Correct.)

‘I feel you are not listening to me.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think you are not listening to me, and I feel irritated with that.’    (Correct.)

Jan: ‘I want to break up. How do you feel about that, Bill?’
Bill: ‘I don’t think we should break up.’ (Incorrect. That’s a thought. Before Bill expresses his thoughts on the matter he should address Jan’s question by telling her what he feels. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I don’t feel anything; I’m in shock.’ (Bill is not in shock. He’s exaggerating, and indicating that he isn’t aware of what is going on inside him. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel awful.’ (That’s a better answer, but Bill needs to be more specific. He needs to find words that describe precisely how he feels.)
Bill: ‘This is terrible.’ (Incorrect. He’s expressing his opinion again, rather than stating how he feels. Have another go, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel terrible.’  (That’s a bit better. He is describing a feeling, although he still not being specific.)
Bill: ‘I feel hurt. Frightened. Anxious.’  (Now Bill is getting the hang of it!)
Bill: ‘I feel nauseous.’ (Good. Bill is also recognising what his body is feeling.)
Bill: ‘I feel surprise, hurt, betrayal, anger, humiliation . . .’ (Good. It might sound like a shopping list, but by labelling his emotions Bill is becoming aware of them. He can now start to deal with them, and think things through.)
     When Bill got it right he: – expressed his feelings rather than his thoughts
          – used the word ‘feel’ to describe his feelings
          – allowed himself to feel vulnerable by expressing what he felt
          – labelled his emotion,
          – looked for other emotions he was feeling and labelled them too.
All in all, Bill did well. But Jan still dumped him!

Exercise
Practise distinguishing between thoughts and feelings by naming at least six thoughts you might think, and six emotions you might feel, in each of the following scenarios.

Example:
You find a rabbit with its leg caught in a rabbit trap.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
        I think —                                                I feel —
it’s in pain.                                             concern, anger, flustered, outrage, distressed
this shouldn’t happen.
who would set this trap?                                I feel in my body —
will the rabbit be alright?                      a knot in my stomach, tense, nauseous, goosebumps
how do I cook a rabbit?

Your turn now.
(1) You discover that your best friend has been stealing money.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
I think —                                                               I feel —

(2) A close relative gleefully tells you she is pregnant.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
 I think —                                            I feel —

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What presses your button?

Rolf was a road-rager. One time, when a car in front of him had stopped at the lights, Rolf got out of his car and rapped on the driver’s window, screaming. Fortunately for Rolf the incident did not lead to harm or an arrest.
  ‘Buttons’ are incidents in life that prompt us to react with unwarranted passion. Jan becomes tearful when given a particular insult; Roy feels overly hurt when ignored; Jenny feels outrage when someone refutes the existence of God; Ali feels overwhelmed with exasperation when he sees someone litter.
  We need to become aware of our buttons, for two reasons:
(1) It can help us moderate our behaviour. If Bill realises he gets narky every time Jill leaves the toilet seat up, he can say to himself, ‘Oh, this is one of my buttons. I’ll be careful to moderate my behaviour. I won’t chuck a wobbly about it. In a few minutes all will be forgotten.’
  He’s right. By recognising that button and moderating his behaviour accordingly, an argument has been averted and the violation is soon forgotten.

(2) Being aware of our buttons allows us to search for the deeper concerns behind them. That can make a big difference to how we feel overall.  When Rolf, our road-rage driver, explored the anger he felt when a driver cut him off, he realised he had felt the same way as a child: unimportant; dismissible. He had been well looked after as a child, but when he had tried to express an opinion his opinion didn’t matter. After all, he was ‘only a child’. As Rolf grew older he became sensitive to being ignored and feeling unimportant, and he developed strong ‘shoulds’ in his life: ‘Drivers should respect me. Drivers should think I matter. Drivers have no right to treat me badly.’ And so on. So, as a driver, Rolf’s immediate but subconscious assumption when a driver cut him off was to assume the driver considered him unimportant, and worthy of disrespect. All the emotions Rolf had elt as a child: frustration, exasperation, powerlessness, humiliation . . . rose within him and incited his fury.
  But Rolf came to realise he was making false assumptions about other drivers, and becoming unnecessarily upset. When he understood that those drivers were mere triggers for his own emotions, he focused on not taking it personally.
  He still became irritated when drivers cut him off, but he could cope with his irritation.
  By becoming aware of that button, and dealing with it, he had added to his ability to handle life. Had he had not bothered to identify his ‘button’ and examine it, he might still be road-raging today.

In short, become aware of your buttons. Knowing them will help you deal appropriately with situations when they arise, reduce the intensity of the emotion you are feeling, and it may even help you disable the false underlying beliefs creating those buttons in the first place.

Q. Another example, please?
‘I become irritated when Jim sings in the shower. That’s a button.’
‘I become grumpy when Kim suddenly ignores me when her phone rings. Button!’
  ‘What then? What do we do when we have identified a button?’
  What we do with our buttons is our choice. If we want to get mad, we can. But a better approach might be to ask ourselves, Why do I become upset when Jim sings in the shower? What emotions am I feeling? What beliefs do I have about life that are prodded by Jim’s singing? Why do I get upset about his singing when someone else wouldn’t?
  ‘Even if I do that, won’t I still be irritated when Jim sings in the shower?’
  At least you will know that Jim is not creating your distress; rather, you are. That’s a big step forward to solving your distress.
  ‘How? Why?’
  Because when you realise that you are the cause of your distress, you also realise you are the solution to it. Then you draw upon your resources and deal with the problem.

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Don’t talk like a zombie.

I once asked an acquaintance – let’s call him ‘Oscar’ – how he felt about losing custody of his dog. He shrugged and replied, ‘These things happen.’
  I could have pointed out that he had given me an opinion, not a feeling. But I didn’t. Instead, I persisted. ‘Do you miss your dog?’ I asked, ‘Do you feel like you are a victim of injustice?’ He replied, ‘It doesn’t worry me. Mary can look after Bosley better than I can.’
  I knew it did worry him because he had tried hard to keep the dog.
  Talking with Oscar can be like talking to a zombie. It’s not just Oscar: many people lack the ability to express what they are feeling. They use expressions such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘It doesn’t worry me’, or they provide an opinion instead of a feeling. However, when we regularly fail to articulate our emotions we can deaden ourselves.
  Yes, I understand that sometimes we don’t want to reveal what we are feeling, and we purposely evade the questioner. That’s fine. But some of us simply lack the skills to label what we are actually feeling. And end up talking like zombies.

‘The trouble is, we cannot selectively numb one emotion. We cannot say, here’s the bad stuff, here is shame, disappointment, fear – I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb them without numbing other emotions, like joy, gratitude, happiness.’
Brené Brown in her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.

If we lack the ability to express our feelings we will have trouble fully connecting with others, and from making friends. Worse, if we do start to feel our emotions, we won’t know how to handle them. We might do something we’ll regret.

To ask someone what they are feeling and get the reply,‘Nothing’, suggests not that they have no emotions, but rather, they aren’t good at identifying them. Perhaps they think emotions are frivolous things and more trouble than they’re worth. Or, they might be concerned that if they were to feel emotions they may again experience the pain they used to feel. The trouble is, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel emotions, a big part of us doesn’t get to see the sun. It doesn’t get to blossom.

If you are asked how you feel about something, search for what you really are feeling, and say it. Don’t be a zombie. Don’t say something lame like, ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it doesn’t worry me’ or ‘no problem’.  You are only telling the person what you don’t feel instead of telling them what you do feel.
  If you don’t want to explain how you feel, fine. But make it a choice to refrain, don’t make it your default position. If you don’t want to reveal what you are feeling, try something like, ‘I’d rather not discuss how I feel’ or ‘I’d rather not talk about it.’ Be direct. And, to make sure you’re not being lazy, figure out for yourself what you are feeling.
  The more adept we are at recognising what we are feeling, the more adept we become in dealing with those emotions. Then our confidence in ourselves grows and we feel safer, not because we are protecting ourselves, but because we have lost the need to.

In short, the next time you are tempted to say ‘I don’t feel anything in particular’, or ‘I don’t care’, or ‘I feel nothing’, search yourself for an emotion. Any emotion. Even if it’s just an atom of an emotion. And say it.
  Dear reader, what are you feeling right now? No zombie answers, please. Instead, label what you are feeling, and be specific!

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Charlotte and the Creatures of the Dark Forest

Once upon a time, young Charlotte was in a paddock warming herself in the sun and throwing pine cones at Farmer Brown’s beehives. Alongside the paddock was the spooky Dark Forest.
Out from the Dark Forest strode Anger. Anger was a ferocious looking creature. It was white with rage, and its huge, warty head had big, sharp teeth like breadknives. It drooled venom as it stormed up to Charlotte. She trembled.
  Anger complained bitterly to her about something and demanded she act immediately. Charlotte told it, ‘Go way! I don’t want you here! Go away!’ But the creature stayed and continued to complain, and drip venom, until eventually it strode away, back into the Dark Forest.
Charlotte felt dreadful.
The next day, Charlotte returned to the paddock, and with a stick began setting off Farmer Brown’s rabbit traps. Out from the Dark Forest stepped Prejudice. The creature’s skin was mould, its head looked like a garbage tip, and its rotten teeth looked like black carrots. It insisted on speaking with Charlotte, and this time Charlotte just shrugged, knowing she didn’t have much choice in the matter. The creature rambled on and on with breath that smelled like fresh spew, until finally it wandered away back into the Dark Forest.
Charlotte felt flat.
On the third day, while Charlotte was in the paddock shooting bullets into Farmer Brown’s ‘No Shooting’ sign, Sadness emerged from the Dark Forest. Sadness was soggy from crying a thousand tears of lemon juice.
This time, Charlotte decided to welcome the creature and listen to what it had to say. She even gave it a kind word and wiped a lemon-juice tear from its left eye. After a while, Sadness went quiet. It disappeared without her noticing.
Charlotte felt okay.
Then it dawned on her, that although Sadness was no fun to be with – a real drag, truth be known – it had come to assist her. It had come to tell her something was wrong in her life. Charlotte then realised Anger and Prejudice had also come to assist her. Anger had come to fight for her values, and Prejudice had come to address her fears.
The next day, Anger visited again. This time, instead of trying to shoo the scary creature away, Charlotte welcomed it and listened to its complaints. She then worked out a way to solve its problem. Anger considered her advice and agreed with her solution. It wandered off with a mild grumble.
Over time, other creatures emerged from the Dark Forest: Grief, Fear, Jealousy, Envy . . . and many others. Most of them visited more than once. All of them could see pain in her life and all had come to assist her. Although Charlotte didn’t want their assistance, she accepted them and dealt with their concerns. After a while she got to know them, and she came to understand their desires, foibles and fears. Although the creatures were hard to get on with, she became adept at dealing with them.
Charlotte knew that none of the creatures was bad; each was just a troubled soul trying to deal with the world – her world – the best way it could.
Over time, the creatures grew softer and wiser, until they rarely needed to leave the Dark Forest. And when they did, they didn’t stay long. They would have a quiet chat with Charlotte and return content.
Charlotte lost her fear of the Dark Forest and ventured into it. She discovered new paths and extended her boundaries. When she met the dark creatures in there she felt safe with them. And she came to realise: they were her friends. They always had been.
  A few years later she met Farmer Brown’s son, Tom. She held his hand and introduced him to the creatures of the Dark Forest. They married and lived happily ever after.

Of course, I have been talking about the Dark Forest within each and every one of us. We can learn from Charlotte. Let’s give ourselves permission to feel all the dark emotions.
  The dark emotions such as jealousy, envy, anger, hatred and greed are in our dark forest and they are meant to be there. When they venture out, let’s welcome them and deal with their concerns.
    We may not enjoy their visits, but those dark emotions require our attention. If we pretend they aren’t there they will just keep coming back, and keep nagging us. And, we won’t learn how to deal with them. They will remain ornery, and hard to handle.
But when we accept them we become skilled in dealing with them. And, like Charlotte, we also come to realise: they are our friends. Always have been.
   When we learn how to deal with our dark emotions they also grow softer, and wiser. Anger, for example, has now become a friend I value highly. It is a wonderful emotion to have and I enjoy its visits. Others have disappeared into the Dark Forest never to be seen again. Hatred. Jealousy. Contempt. But if they ever return, I will welcome them and look for their concerns.

Dark emotions are in our forest and they are meant to be there. It’s what we do with them that counts. If we are hateful, so be it. Instead of pretending hatred is not there, or criticising ourselves because it is there, we can simply accept that it is there, and deal with it. We can look to see what’s behind it. Is it fear? If so, the fear of what?
  Let’s feel it, and observe it like a scientist would. And try to understand precisely what it is we hate, and why. Then we can give thought to our response. We can still act wisely; hatred doesn’t have to influence our behaviour.

  When we observe an emotion without criticising it, we get to know it better and its hold on us weakens. After a while we might even stop feeling hateful, or jealous, or whatever, because we understand the fear behind the emotion.

So, let’s avoid criticising ourselves when we have an unwanted emotion. Let’s not say something like, ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this,’ or ‘I’m a bad person for feeling this way’. Let’s instead give that emotion permission to be with us. First identify it, then accept it, and then give thought to how we respond.
That will build within us a confidence that we can deal with our dark emotions. That’s a big step towards developing the feeling that whatever happens in life, we can handle it.

‘. . . it is important to totally give yourself permission to feel. And then feel it. Strange things happen when we feel our feelings. They themselves morph into another feeling and often we have a feeling of relief for honouring our own feeling.’
Gay McKinley, psychologist

Q. ‘You mentioned jealousy.’
The same. Notice it and label it. ‘I’m feeling jealous.’ Then remind yourself it’s okay to feel jealous and it has your permission to be with you. ‘Hey, I feel jealous and that’s okay. I am allowed to feel jealous.’  Then look for the fear, or the ‘should’, behind the emotion. Figure out how you’re going to deal with it. In his book ‘The Happiness Trap’, Dr Harris suggests we say something like, ‘I don’t like this feeling, but I have room for it.’ And, ’This feeling is unpleasant, but I can accept it.’
   If you’re suffering, tell yourself: ‘I’m feeling this and it feels awful. But it can stay.’  Remind yourself that at some point your suffering will go away. Until then, it can hang around for as long as it likes.

‘For the most part, emotional pain has a cure – and that cure is time.’  . . .
  . . . ‘The pain you are experiencing will build, peak and then ebb. It has its own energy force and its own time schedule. You’re simply its passenger . . .
     ‘Be an observer of the process. Tell yourself, “I’m watching myself be in pain but not wasting time trying to fix it.”

Toby Green, psychologist.

Q. ‘If I am sad, why would I welcome Sadness? Won’t I become even sadder? What if I end up sinking into a sadness I can’t get out of?’
Yes, sadness hurts. All the dark emotions involve pain. Accepting them instead of distracting yourself from them, or pretending you don’t have them,  or using alcohol to hide from them, will make you feel uncomfortable, but the pain will dissipate. It’s like lancing a boil or having an injection: in the short term it hurts, but in the long-run, you will benefit. By acknowledging your pain, and allowing yourself to undergo it, you give yourself the opportunity to heal.
  “If I don’t . . .?’
Then it will keep nagging you, like the creatures that kept nagging Charlotte before she accepted their presence. And, you won’t learn how to deal with that emotion.

‘It won’t go away! And you will feel it in unexpected ways and at unexpected times – in all its glorious messiness. It takes time to heal, but feeling that pain is a crucial step towards healing.’
Gay McKinley again.

Q. ‘I notice Charlotte didn’t meet the positive emotions.’
Charlotte already felt comfortable with her friends Curiosity, Calm and Confidence, to name just three. Our warm emotions also enjoy the ear of a patient listener, but unlike the creatures of the Dark Forest, they don’t need it. We usually embrace them.
  ‘Usually?’
Not always. I once heard someone say that only when they gave themselves permission to be happy did their life change. So yes, we need to welcome all our emotions, dark and light.

Q. ‘What if I were a paedophile or pyromaniac? Should I welcome my desires and invite them to stay with me?’
Just because you welcome an emotion does not mean you have to act upon it. Instead of telling yourself you should not be attracted to children, or should not have the desire to start a fire, acknowledge that you are feeling that way, and explore it. Give yourself permission to feel those things. Tell yourself, ‘I feel compelled to start fires. So be it. I am attracted to children. So be it. Then ask yourself, ‘how can I best deal with these feelings?’
That’s an important question to ask, and you couldn’t ask it if you refused to acknowledge those feelings in the first place.
If you refuse to let yourself have those feelings, or berate yourself for having them, you could foster an inner turmoil that might mean you have less control over your behaviour when it matters. If you find yourself holding a box of matches in a forest and have not yet learned to handle those impulsive feelings, your resistance to the impulse might be low. The first step towards handling those feelings is to accept you have them. Once you do that, you can take steps towards dealing with those emotions, and your behaviour, in times when it matters.

‘Allow yourself to be unhappy. When we’re feeling bad, feeling in pain, all we want is to get away from it. Ignore it, pretend you’re fine, comfort yourself from the pain, shield yourself, lash out in defensiveness, numb it with drugs, distract yourself. This is a very human response. But actually, wanting to get away from the unhappiness doesn’t make it better. It usually just prolongs the pain, makes problems worse. Instead, tell yourself that it’s OK to feel unhappy, it’s OK to feel pain. Pause and allow yourself to feel it, to fully be immersed in that unhappiness. See that it’s OK, and be curious about it, explore it, become intimate with it. It’s not pleasant, but it doesn’t kill you. And in fact, it’s where the healing starts, where growth happens.’
Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

Let’s avoid expressions like: ‘I shouldn’t be envious of her. I’m shallow.’ Try instead: ‘I feel envious of her . That’s fine. Although I’d rather not feel this way, it’s what I am feeling. So be it.’
We might choose to add: ‘What do I fear that prompts me to feel that way? What is my deeper concern?’

Let’s avoid: ‘I shouldn’t get angry. I’m supposed to be serene and mature. Only losers get angry.’ Try instead: ‘I feel angry. So be it. What’s the best way to express this anger to make changes, and not make things worse?’  Or, ‘It’s okay for me to feel angry, but is it worth getting angry about?’

Let’s avoid: ‘I’m afraid, but I shouldn’t be. Other people are have gone through worse.’ Try instead: ‘I feel afraid. I’m allowed to be afraid. I will be afraid!’
We might choose to add: ‘What can I do to solve the problem?’

Let’s avoid: ‘I hate that person. I must be a bad person to be so hateful.’ Try instead: ‘I hate that person. That’s interesting. Why do I hate that person? Is fear prompting me to hate them? Or envy? The fear or envy of what?  If it’s neither fear nor envy, what is prompting me to hate that person?’

When we give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling, we give ourselves an opportunity to grow.

Do it now. Officially give yourself permission to feel any emotion from now on.

(Say it out loud, and mean it.)    
     ‘I ,              , officially welcome any emotion that arises within me. That includes anger, fear, hatred, self-loathing, envy, doubt, jealousy, contempt, resentment, despair – any dark emotion that might arise within me.
     If I feel any dark emotion, so be it. It can stay for as long as it likes, and while it visits I will listen to it and aim to understand what it is telling me.
     I also give myself permission to feel joy, peace, serenity, humour, happiness – and any other warm emotion that might arise within me.
     All my emotions, dark and warm, will always be welcome.
     Furthermore, I will protect that emotion for as long as it chooses to stay.
     Officially, each and every one of my emotions has my unwavering permission to be. Period.’

It’s official! From now on you are obliged to notice what you are feeling and welcome it. On no account can you criticise yourself for feeling an unwanted emotion. When you feel an unwanted emotion, don’t say to yourself, ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way’, or ‘Why am I upset over something so trivial?’ No, those statements are now banned. Instead, be like Charlotte and let the emotion be. Welcome it. Observe it. Label it. Listen to its message. Then, if you like, shrug.

          ‘Have the courage to be imperfect.’
          Brené Brown.

Exercise:
Change the following sentences to give yourself permission to feel.

Example: ‘I feel ashamed., but I shouldn’t feel that way. I did nothing wrong.’
Try: ‘I feel ashamed, and that’s okay. Whether I should feel it or not doesn’t matter; I feel shame and so be it.’
You then might ask: ‘What beliefs do I have prompt me to feel this way?’

Your turn:
(1) ’I can’t stop crying. I’m hopeless.’
(2) ‘I can’t stand working with him. I shouldn’t be like that. I should be more patient, more tolerant.’
(3) ‘I feel hurt, but that’s my problem. If I get upset over something trivial like that, it serves me right.’

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