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The other day I snapped at my husband for something minor that wasn’t his fault. After I stormed off, I broke down sobbing.
In so many ways my reaction felt totally out of proportion with the situation. I knew that and felt terrible. Being upset with myself for making such a big deal about something so small only made me feel worse.
A conversation with a friend helped me put the situation in a broader context and it started making more sense. As we talked, I admitted that I was feeling stressed but was quick to add that everything is fine. It’s just a couple small things. No big deal. I can handle it.
As she asked more about what’s been going on for me, she pointed out that actually those weren’t small things and there were more than a few of them.
This is a theme that’s been showing up in a lot of conversations lately. So many people I’ve talked to are feeling stuck and frustrated. They’re having a hard time getting started and following through on the things they want to do. They notice themselves getting upset about little things that usually wouldn’t bother them so much.
As we talk further, it comes out that actually there’s been a lot going on. In addition to all the day-to-day challenges of working, running a household, caring for a family, and so on, the people are dealing with:
- life transitions, such as major careers changes or moving to a different state
- painful loss
- illness or injury of themselves or a loved one
- holding everything together and taking care of everyone
- experiencing rejection and disappointment
- trying new things
- navigating complicated relationships
- present circumstances bringing up painful memories
- stressful, heartbreaking news headlines
- a global pandemic
- and so much more…
Instead of recognizing how much they are carrying, these amazing people have been putting pressure on themselves to keep showing up like everything is fine. I keep hearing phrases like:
- But things are better now…
- I don’t understand why it’s bothering me.
- I should be able to handle this.
- I should be over it by now.
- I need to stop being lazy and get stuff done.
- What’s wrong with me?
It can be hard to see the pressure we’re putting on ourselves. I could easily see where others were carrying a lot and remind them to be gentle with themselves and yet I struggled to recognize the same thing for myself.
There are so many reasons why we get to this place, but today let’s look at three things to acknowledge when we’re here.
Acknowledge all you’re carrying
Take a moment to list all the things that are impacting you now. List everything without analyzing whether it’s worth counting.
- What are the tasks on your to-do list?
- What do you take care of day in and day out?
- What do you dream of doing?
- What are you worried about?
- What’s going on in your relationships?
- What decisions do you need to make?
- What have you been avoiding?
- What feels beyond your control?
- What do you need to grieve?
- What is stirring your anger?
- What are you excited about?
Naming these things doesn’t add or subtract from the list. It’s all there whether we acknowledge it or not.
None of the things on your list exist in isolation. They are all drawing on our energy or resources in one way or another. It’s not fair to judge ourselves for struggling to catch a pebble while ignoring that we’re already holding an armload of boulders.
As you make your list, notice what you have a hard time naming. There are many reasons we might not easily recognize something that goes on our list.
- We think it shouldn’t bother us as much as it does.
- It feels insignificant compared to other people’s struggles.
- We’re so used to taking care of it that we stop noticing.
- There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.
- It’s painful or scary to acknowledge.
- We fear what it means about us.
Putting something on our list doesn’t guarantee we can fix it, but we can’t decide what to do when we pretend it isn’t there. When we’re willing to take an honest look, we’re much more able to give ourselves what we need and figure things out.
Acknowledge your experience
Where can you recognize how you feel without trying to change it? How can you show yourself love and support when you feel discouraged, frustrated, afraid, etc?
Often we try to come up with all the reasons why everything is fine. We try to convince ourselves that it’s not a big deal. It’s silly to get so worked up about something so minor.
We tell ourselves to look on the bright side. It could be worse. Some people have it so much worse.
How often does that actually help? Telling ourselves why we should feel differently doesn’t really change how we feel. It just reinforces that it’s not ok to feel how we feel. All the things on our list are still there, but now we’re using even more energy trying to convince ourselves that everything is fine.
Acknowledging our experience and how we feel about it isn’t the same as wallowing in self-pity. Actually, admitting we’re having a tough time helps us show up for ourselves in a way that will help us get through it.
Acknowledge what you need
Many of us get caught up in trying so hard not to have needs. We equate having needs with being weak or selfish. We believe needing as little as possible makes us a better person.
Much of this is rooted in fear. We’re afraid that if we’re too much of a burden—if we’re too needy—that people will decide we’re not worth the trouble. At the same time, for many of us this is a double standard. We bend over backwards to meet the needs of others as a way to earn our place in their lives.
How many of the things on your list involve caring for others' needs? How many help you meet your own? Caring for others can be a beautiful thing, but is there anywhere you’ve been so focused on others that you’re neglecting to care for yourself?
Now that you’ve recognized all the things going on in your life and how you’re feeling and how they’re impacting you…what do you need?
Pretending everything is fine doesn’t make all of life’s stressors disappear. It just adds to the pressure. When we acknowledging all we’re carrying, our experience, and what we need we’re saying to ourselves, I see you and I know this is hard. I’m here with you.