Here’s what I’ve noticed over the years:
We often feel bad about things we don’t need to.
Ironically, some of the ways we try to relieve our pain cause us more pain. While we need to cope with life’s inevitable challenges, we get into trouble by feeling bad about feeling bad. When faced with a difficult situation, we often think we should feel different than we do. Piling on this unnecessary judgment creates shame and we end up feeling bad.
Here are five doozies you can stop feeling bad about:
1. Being negatively affected by life.
We often tell ourselves and each other something like: if you’re really smart/rational/evolved, you won't be negatively affected by life. You’ll just magically rise above it all.
We talk about a difficult experience like losing a job or relationship, and we say, "I shouldn’t let this bother me."
The belief is if you try harder through more yoga and meditation, more self-help books, more therapy, more positive thinking (the list goes on and on), then you won’t be so affected or bothered.
In case you haven't heard it lately, you, along with every organism on this planet, will be affected by life, sometimes negatively and intensely. This is not evidence that there's something wrong with you. Quite the opposite.
There’s nothing you can do to stop being negatively affected by life. So, you might as well stop feeling bad about it.
“Letting go is a valuable part of healing — and it’s a process. Trying to force it won’t help.”
2. Taking things “personally.”
When people talk about a difficult experience they’ve had with someone, they’ll often tack on, “I know, I shouldn’t take it personally.” They say this with embarrassment, shame, and a sense of failure.
Let’s blow this one out of the water, shall we? Feelings don’t go away just because we tell them to, even if we try to bypass them with a cognitive trick like “don’t take it personally.”
Why not take it personally? It is personal. We're affected by life, especially by tough interactions.
Even a slightly weird interaction can cause us to feel anxious, hurt, sad, angry, or scared. This is entirely normal. The closer we are to that person, the more natural it is to take it personally.
Instead of “don’t take it personally” what helps is empathy and validation. That might sound like “This person is important to you, so it makes sense that you feel hurt.” When we give a good dose of empathy, we often naturally de-escalate and move on.
Do you feel the relief starting to kick in?
3. Struggling to “just let it go.”
Years ago, I was telling a therapist that I wasn't very good at letting go. His response was, "Welcome to the human race." Laughter and huge relief rushed through me.
Have you ever been told by someone, or yourself, that you should "just let it go"?
What I've noticed is that we don’t become instantly able to let go because we say we should, or because a friend, a book, or an infographic tells us to. When we are struggling with something and can't “just let it go,” we end up feeling double bad.
Letting go is a valuable part of healing — and it’s a process. Trying to force it won’t help. So I'm passing on to you what that therapist told me years ago:
If you're struggling with letting go, welcome to the human race.
Nothing to feel bad about there.
4. Needing other people.
Have you ever heard or said any of these messages?
"You don't need others to be happy. True happiness comes from the inside.”
“You need to love yourself first and be a whole person before you can love someone else.”
“You shouldn't need other people to approve of you. You shouldn't care what other people think.”
“You should be more independent. If you need other people for love and validation, you have issues. You’re needy."
I invite you to consider a different message.
Humans are inherently dependent upon each other. Everything we experience happens within the context of relationship. From the moment of conception throughout our whole lives, it’s impossible for us to be fully independent.
We learn how to love ourselves (or not), to feel happiness (or not), through our relationships with significant others.
Needing other people is not the same as being overly dependent. We do damage when we pathologize normal dependency, calling it "neediness" or "co-dependence."
It helps when we do our best to love ourselves, to give ourselves respect, care, and recognition for our achievements. And we need others too. Both/and not either/or.
So let's own this:
I'm human, I'm needy, and I'm not going to feel bad about it anymore!
“Needing other people is not the same as being overly dependent.”
5. Not being happy.
I often hear people say “Why can’t I just be happy? What’s wrong with me?” Their frustration is palpable.
All this pressure to be happy is making us pretty damn unhappy!
We're equipped with a full range of emotions and sensations that constantly help us respond to our environment. Our emotional state needs to be in flux, whether we like it or not. We can't be stuck on happy all the time. Sometimes it makes sense to respond with happiness or joy, other times with fear, sadness, or anger.
We can't be, and we don't need to be, happy all the time. What would happen if we accepted that and made peace with it?
Rather than fixating on happiness, what if we focused more on living a meaningful, more fully alive life that goes beyond mere happiness? Maybe we'd not only feel less bad, we might even discover some extra beauty, peace, and comfort.
Next time you find yourself feeling bad about something on this list, try stopping and saying, "Wait a minute. This is something I don’t need to feel bad about. It’s OK."
And just like that, an extra burden can lift off followed by a huge, wonderful sigh.
Kim Boivin is CEO and full-time psychotherapist at Positive Change Counselling in Vancouver, BC. She has a Masters in Counselling Psychology and a BA in Cultural Anthropology. Since her own first therapy session at the age of 13, she has been passionately engaged with emotional, mental, and relationship health.