There is a feeling of liberation when you realize that something you have felt for a long time makes sense. Apart from anxiety, my other lifelong companion have been the voices of people around me telling me to “think positive”, “snap out of it”, “just smile”, “stop being so negative”. This soundtrack made me feel inadequate in my feelings for a very, very long time. The idea that I feel too deeply, that I am too intense, that I “live in a movie” in my head and heart, that I am naive to feel like this and I am just setting myself up for failure because … and this was the knock-out for me: if you think negatively and you allow feelings of sadness, fear, worry, you will attract only bad things in your life. For the longest time all of this just meant a vicious circle I could not get out of: I felt what I felt, I was the way I was but constantly tried to tell myself that there is something wrong with me, that this is not the way I should feel or think, that I need to mend myself. And I wonder why I ended up with a mental illness.
“Emotions are directives not data,” was a phrase that woke me up this week as I was listening to Susan David talk to Brene Brown about Emotional Agility. And for the first time I actually heard (because I was ready to hear it now, I must have listened to Dr. Susan David’s TED talk years ago and heard nothing) about toxic positivity. About the fact that when you get this narrative from people, when they tell you to just think happy thoughts and put on pink glasses, what they are actually saying is “I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with whatever you are going through, just you change so you make it easier for me.” WOW!
Emotions are directives, not data – what an awesome way of saying that when you feel rage, sadness, fear, these are signposts that you need to pay attention. Drs. David and Brown give the example of watching the news – if you start feeling rage upon seeing deported kids or people killed because they wanted a better life, this is not you feeling too much, this is your emotion directing you to understand that you are a compassionate human being who cares about others and what you are seeing is a threat to that.
So the strategy is that the next time when we feel the pang of fear, when we feel lonely in a full apartment, when we hear someone say nice things but we feel doubt and disbelief, when we feel deep sadness even though there is sunshine, all we have to do is sit with what we feel, even if just for a moment and get really curious about the direction that this amazing compass of human emotions is leading us to.