Discussing a challenge this week in supervision it is suggested to me that I am “in my head”. Often it’s a reasonable place to be because practical solutions and strategies are best constructed there, but this time it wasn’t serving me. Sometimes the best way to feel better means moving away from what seems like the obvious path.
Here are seven counter-intuitive ways to help ourselves feel better. I’m not pretending they are all easy to master, but they’ll almost certainly work better than the strategy that keeps getting you back into the same mess you started from.
To feel love you must give it.
As long as someone shows you affection, treats you properly and cares for you it’s guaranteed you’ll feel love, right? Wrong. For a start, if you don’t love yourself it’s pretty much impossible for anyone else to do so, but the big news here is that all you need to do in order to feel love is to show it. Whenever you show someone genuine love (this means you act because of your genuine feeling for the other person rather than because you want something) it feels amazing, regardless of what they give you in return.
Emotional resilience is easiest when you don’t need it.
Talking with a client this week who is four years into recovery from drug and alcohol dependence, he finds himself in a very painful separation from his ex partner, and is struggling to deal with her increasingly bitter and destructive behaviour. He tells me he has stopped eating well, can’t work, isn’t exercising and has allowed his daily meditation to fall away. I asked him how he managed to sustain his recovery for the past four years. He said, “By doing all the things I’m letting go of”.
Our lives are full of new “recoveries”, and when we feel under pressure we are most likely to abandon ourselves and return to old damaging habits and self appraisals. These are the times when the self affirming actions, the love for ourselves is most needed.
To sleep better stop trying to get to sleep.
There are countless times I have heard people say “I was trying to get to sleep for hours last night”. This is a strategy which never works. Sleep is a passive process and so it is reliant on NOT trying. The more you try, the more elusive it becomes. The easiest way to sleep is to let go of the imperative to sleep. If you can tell yourself you’ll be tired in the morning but that it won’t be a catastrophe, you’ll be more likely to nod off.
Positive thinking might have the opposite effect.
A client tells me he is unrelentingly positive, that he won’t entertain negative thoughts. On the surface this seems like a good policy, but it’s not realistic. We have experiences which hurt us, which trouble us and which cause us to wonder “what now?” and if we refuse to entertain anything but a superficial positivity in our heads, we never have a chance to understand what’s happening in our hearts.
Let yourself be low and hurt sometimes, feel the true emotion. Its easier to get through a negative genuine feeling than it is to consistently refuse the truth of how you feel.
You are not in therapy because you are “broken”
Therapy, done effectively, is frequently hard and often painful. People without courage do not do hard and painful things. Instead they content themselves with remaining in a stultifying familiar pain. It is precisely because you are not “broken” that you chose to work on yourself. It is because you know that you are valuable that you want to make a sustainable difference to your life.
Anger is not bad.
For many of us, experiences of anger were coloured by childhood. If we saw anger as painful combat, if we experienced it as destructive, and if we never saw any evidence of its constructive resolution, we grow up believing it to be wholly negative. But anger has an energy which we can use to our benefit. Anger can be used to move us somewhere better, to propel us away from toxic relationships, to preserve some sense of self worth, to help us understand ourselves better, and can even strengthen relationships and make us more optimistic about the future.
Happiness does not come from success.
This might be the most destructive myth in modern society. We chase acquisition in the material world with our logical minds, rather than being open to what we really feel and being guided our sense of healthy self value. We want more, bigger, better. We crave increased status and responsibility all in the hope that success will bring us happiness. The harder we run the more disillusioned we become when the feeling doesn’t follow the achievement for anything more than a moment.
It is happiness which drives success. If we can find satisfaction with ourselves then success becomes inevitable. If we consider ourselves “enough” then we assume that our dreams are within our grasp. Self acceptance frees us to perform at our best, and our definition of success is completely changed forever.
Reflecting on my conversation in supervision I realised that being “in my head” is hard work. Much easier to stop trying to understand it in my brain, to analyse it to exhaustion, and instead feel it. That’s where we’re all at our best, because your heart never tells you a lie.