Easier said than done. So much of counseling and mental health falls into this category. Treat yourself kindly. Be on social media less. Move your body often. All of it sound so simple, but putting it into practice is surprisingly hard. Sure, telling your inner critic to “hush” sounds like a no biggie. But actually doing it? It can feel damn near impossible at times. I heard a saying once: The steps are simple but they are not easy. Couldn't agree more.
I've found another piece of guidance that is surprisingly hard to put into practice is the idea that we are allowed to feel two opposite emotions at once. I'm sure even reading that sounds like common sense. Of course I can feel dual emotions. I do it all the time! But how often do we judge how we feel or have the belief that we are only supposed to feel one specific emotion?
The pandemic, for example, has many of us excited to see things opening back up. But there can be opposing feelings as well, like anxiety about what it will actually feel like to go back to normalcy. Maybe there are some things you will actually miss, like more downtime and less busyness.
I've found when it comes to the highs and lows in life, we allow little room for dual emotions. New parents, for example, believe they are supposed to love being a parent 24/7. That there should be no room for frustration or sadness, or that they aren’t allowed to miss some pieces of life pre-parenthood. This can also occur when experiencing grief. People who have experienced a significant loss will start to feel a little better over time, but then feel guilty about this change and the idea that they are “moving on.”
I've found this struggle with opposite emotions falls under the “should's.” I shouldn't be feeling this way. This isn't how people in my situation are supposed to feel. The problem with this type of thinking is that it always leads us from feeling bad to worse. As one therapist put it: When you say ‘should’ you are ‘should-ing’ all over yourself. We are already struggling with what we are feeling, and then we judge ourselves for feeling that way. In DBT, we call this a "secondary emotion." You feel something, then you feel something in response to that feeling. You feel angry, then you feel guilty about being angry. It's adding another challenging feeling to an already uncomfortable one.
What helps me in these moments is to ask, Who says? Who says I am supposed to be feeling this way or that way? We are allowed to feel two wildly different emotions at once. We can feel ecstatic about parenthood, while still feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. We can feel devastated about a loss and also grateful for the moments when grief begins to lift. The film Inside Out demonstrates this beautifully when the protagonist Riley lets herself experience a moment that is both happy and sad. This is depicted by a ball of emotion that is multiple colors, instead of the previous emotions that were each one color and all-encompassing. I like to imagine actively holding space for two emotions, envisioning two different colors inside of myself.
Bottom line: we're humans. We are complicated and messy creatures. Our emotions will be no different.