Your pain is your greatest teacher; don’t skip the lesson.
Your emotions are what communicate your needs to you. They are nothing to be feared, stifled, or pushed away. They just want the chance to be heard and acknowledged. If you don’t acknowledge them, they will only grow stronger, or cause you to numb yourself to the full spectrum of the human experience.
When we fear difficult emotions, we instinctively turn away from them. We resort to addictions and distractions of various sorts — alcohol, drugs, food, work, sex — anything that will nullify our emotions and divert our attention from what our body and mind are desperately trying to communicate.
Your emotions are your golden ticket, the gateway to a better understanding of yourself and your needs. So instead of fearing and suppressing your emotions, do the opposite. Lean into the pain and hear what it has to say. And likewise, lean into happiness, and learn the lessons latent there too.
Don’t feel despondent if you’re in despair. It’s not a curse to be sad; it’s not an emotional state produced so that you will stay low forever. It’s a launching pad trying to thrust you into a higher level of awareness, into a new level of life.
In The Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist Dr. Van Der Kolk explains that “we must learn to “own” our emotional brains.” That means learning to observe and tolerate heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sensations that register misery… only after learning to bear what is going on inside can we start to befriend, rather than obliterate, the emotions that keep [us] fixed and immutable”.
Make depression your friend. Don’t be afraid to feel hard feelings. Just say, “roger that”.
Roger that. Thank you, feedback system, for functioning properly. Thank you, emotions and thoughts, for showing me that I need to change. Thank you, sadness, for confronting me with the fact that something I’m doing isn’t working. Roger that—I need to adjust my strategy a little bit.
Don’t give emotions more power than they have: they are meant to navigate you towards your best life, not condemn you to a life of misery. Sadness is your friend. Depression is your friend. Your pain is your greatest teacher. Listen for the lesson. Don’t skip class to avoid learning something you’d rather avoid right now. Eventually, you’ll be forced to learn it anyways. If you face it now, and face it without fear, you’ll be better because of it; you’ll be better equipped to handle life because of it. You’ll stand taller because of it. Your emotions are on your side. They are rooting for you, not against you; even depression is not there to destroy you.
In fact, current psychological research suggests that depression is an evolutionary adaptation, promoted by natural selection to help us survive. It is proposed that depression is a multifactorial stress response mechanism, designed to enhance your analysis of your situation. Dr. Paul Andrews of McMaster university and Dr. Anderson Thomson claim that “[depression] is triggered by analytically difficult problems that influence important fitness-related goals, [it] coordinates changes in body systems to promote sustained analysis of the triggering problem, otherwise known as depressive rumination, [and depression] helps people generate and evaluate potential solutions to the triggering problem”.
Remember that there are real nuggets of wisdom and self-knowledge hidden in your emotions, that are only to be uncovered in your darkest emotional states and seasons. So simply say “roger that”, and start digging for the lesson.
Andrews, P. W., & Thomson, J. A., Jr (2009). The bright side of being blue: depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological review, 116(3), 620–654. doi:10.1037/a0016242
The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.