We often believe our thoughts and feelings need to neatly fit together however; it is usually not so simple. We often try to fight or deny it, but the fact is that we often feel many different things at once, and often these feelings can seemingly conflict as well. It is important to understand this experience and take meaningful action to get more comfortable with it.
This struggle often occurs when something happens, and we experience an unexpected thought or feeling as a result. For example, say you have decided to leave your job for a new career opportunity. You have felt for some time that it was time to move on from this job, maybe you even felt it was an unhealthy environment for you. So, you put in the time and effort to update your resume, apply, and interview for jobs, and after all this hard work you find an opportunity that is good for you. You get that offer and you feel so…conflicted. You know it was the right choice, you put a lot of thought and effort into this decision and the new opportunity sounds great, why don’t you feel complete unfettered joy? Well, maybe you are mourning the loss of opportunities that could have come from your previous job. Maybe you made good friends, maybe you feel disappointed it was not going as well as you would have hoped. Maybe you are scared about such a big change. The truth is you can feel all of these things at the same time, yet we often try to convince ourselves we are weird or confused for feeling something less than happiness and excitement.
Another example that I am hearing a lot lately; you are sick of isolating due to the COVID 19 health crisis, and also you still get angry at those who aren’t taking precautions. You miss your friends and family and think it’s probably safe to see them. Your partner tells you it’s not worth the risk and that frustrates you. You miss your old routine; you miss going to the theater and scoff at people who are not social distancing. You can feel all of these things at the same time. Yet, we are annoyed with ourselves for not having feelings or thoughts that just fit neatly together.
We are struggling with two things that our minds crave and struggle with. We desperately want things to fit neatly together. Our minds want things to be simple because we can organize, collate, and process this easily digestible information and now we feel safe because we understand it. However, our minds also recognize things are not usually this simple. You can feel excited for a friend who has something great happening in their life, and envious, and disappointed you aren’t experiencing that kind of thing. You can be annoyed with your sister but be willing to drop everything to support her. We do not experience feelings in a neat, organized, easily understandable way. And, we cause ourselves more anguish when we try to fit these square pegs in a round hole. We notice they don’t fit but try to convince ourselves they should and there is something wrong with the round hole for not conforming to the square peg.
So, what do we do? We experience this phenomenon. We notice it mindfully, and allow, without judgement, that this is normal and move closer to the experience instead away from it. We know that we cannot successfully push down or away thoughts or feelings for long before they will explode back up. Instead, acknowledge it is happening, maybe this gives you clarity to why this is happening, and this helps organize these thoughts in a newly formed filing cabinet that allows for a fuller experience of thoughts and feelings. Experiencing and allowing thoughts and feelings without judgement or the need to fix them is a powerful way to become more familiar with and understanding of our own struggles.