I find it one of the hardest things to do, to just sit with uncomfortable emotions. I want to talk about them and fix them. I look for a way to make these feelings go away. I really need to work on sitting and observing them.
The belief that everything should be rosy now that I’m retired is toxic positivity. I suspect those “Freedom 55” ads with the smiling retirees on their yachts are partially to blame. It seems like the rest of the world has good reason to be angry, over-whelmed, lonely, sad and frustrated because they have the stress of life with a full-time job. I’ve swallowed some of that toxic positivity and now I’m comparing my life to others. Dismissing my own uncomfortable emotions because there are folks who have it a lot worse than me, makes me wonder where else I picked up this bitter pill?
I wonder if that old parenting adage that was once popular had some effect on me? Even though I don’t recall being told this at home when I was a child, I certainly saw it in the media and heard about it from others. The child would be struggling to eat their meal and instead of asking what was wrong, the parent would insist that the child finish their food because there were starving children in the world who would’ve been glad to have it. That parenting nugget managed to dismiss the child’s emotions and force them to compare their situation with others. I was raised in a society that believed this was a good thing. I am trying to own my feelings rather than diminish and dismiss them as not worthy of regard.
Observing And Not Reacting
I know now that uncomfortable emotions lead to all sorts of numbing behaviours – alcohol, drugs, unhealthy food, binge watching, scrolling social media. “People may turn to substances as a way of coping with difficult emotions or situations. They start to rely on substances to regulate their emotions.”* It’s a lot easier to reach for my phone and scroll to soften the agitation, or to munch on chocolate chips to quell my anger. But I’m trying to be better, now that I know better.** That doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that I’m having loads of success. I’m trying to watch these emotions instead of reacting to them with my numbing behaviours. I’m trying to be more self-aware.
How do I even watch my uncomfortable emotions successfully?
There are lots and lots of blogs and books written about how to do this. It is a struggle for everyone and everyone has advice. Surprisingly, the simple process of sitting and naming my emotions as I notice them helps me. It’s not a complicated process but I find it challenging. Brene Brown’s Atlas Of The Heart is a wonderful tool that I’m using to identify my feelings with more precision. Her HBO series on the same topic is great and I need to re-watch it.
I’m trying to remember to name the emotion and then observe how my body feels as I am experiencing this emotion. (I often close my eyes and take a deep breath as I do it.) That’s my next small step in this process. That, and refusing to let myself dismiss my emotions as not worthy. Bye-bye retirement induced toxic positivity! I can be retired AND angry, over-whelmed, anxious, sad… Yes, I can.
**”Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou.