It would be impossible to estimate how much time and energy we invest in trying to fix, change and deny our emotions ~ especially the ones that shake us at our very core, like hurt, jealousy, loneliness, shame, rage and grief. ~ Debbie FordA reader writes: My counselor came. We talked. I told her about my horrible feelings about other people who have been ill and are recovering. Instead of feeling good for them like a proper empathetic person should do, I feel sorry that they are getting better. How totally awful is that? My counselor said that it’s anger that my husband died and they didn’t. She said she asked me way back if I felt anger at my husband’s death and I said No. She said now the anger is coming out in resentment that others have survived and my husband has not. I think she may be right. I have struggled with this because it seems such a horrible attitude.
When people recover I should rejoice, but I don’t. I feel disappointed. This seems to make me the most horrible person I ever met. I am being really honest now with you and you are at liberty to think I am a completely awful person. I wasn’t like that before I lost my love. I hope this is a temporary state of affairs because it seems to suggest that bereavement, rather than make me a better, more understanding person has made me a monster of unfeeling. Please don’t think me a horrible person, just temporarily one maybe?
My response: Oh my dear one, please disabuse yourself of the notion that you are in any way “horrible” for feeling angry or jealous or mad or anything else you may be feeling! This is precisely why I’m often saying, Judge yourself not for what you feel, but for how you behave. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, good or bad ~ they just are. We simply cannot control what we feel ~ only what we DO with what we are feeling! If you judge yourself for what you’re feeling, you’re in effect condemning yourself for being human. None of us is perfect, and there is not a soul among us who has not felt envious or jealous or even angry that someone else gets to live while our precious loved one had to die (or that we got the flu and they did not, or that we live with chronic pain and others have no idea what that’s like). It’s all part of that “life is just not fair” realization that hits all of us at one time or another.
I truly do appreciate how hard it must have been for you to disclose to me ~ and to yourself ~ that you were feeling this way. It takes a great deal of courage to admit to those parts of ourselves about which we’re not proud. But when you share those kinds of feelings with me and with others who may read this, it only serves to endear you to us all the more, because we can embrace your humanness and know that you are more like us than not.
What is more, we humans are capable of holding more than one feeling at a time in our hearts. You can be angry that someone got to live while your beloved did not, and still be glad for that person’s return to good health. This is when it’s helpful to use a technique called splitting your ego: Say to yourself that a part of you feels angry about the unfairness of it all, but the rest of you is happy for the person who got to live. (Then you only have to think of part of yourself as imperfect instead of all of you.)
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