I grew up knowing that all the people who live in Somalia are starving. If your household was anything like ours then you know of the “incentive” some mothers would use to ensure that their kids finish their carrots, pumpkins or other eeky veggies. (To this day I still cannot stomach cooked carrots, pumpkin or french beans)! When this incentive failed (which it inevitably did), she would threaten us with a severe beating and we would have to sit at the table till every single morsel was off the plate. Luckily we had cats and the felines quickly learnt whose feet to sit at under the table for discreet food drops when mum wasn’t watching.
I always used to wonder though, what did eating my carrots have to do with starving Somali people? Like, if perhaps I didn’t finish my food, could it then be shipped off to feed one of them?
Closer to the present, I have noticed that the greatest hindrance to life’s solutions is comparisons. We are always comparing ourselves to one thing or the other. If we get a pay increment at work, it still isn’t enough because there is someone we know that earns more. Or whose car is bigger. Or whose house is owned and not rented. We place lots of conditions on our right to contentment thanks to all the comparisons that we subject ourselves to.
That’s not the only disparaging aspect of comparisons however. Often without even realizing it, we use the very same comparisons to shame people about their issues or concerns. The same way my mother tried to use it unsuccessfully to shame me into eating those yucky carrots. You know it because at some point you have done it to someone else, just as I have.
Have you ever tried to talk to someone about something that you’re going through, only for this person to tell you that you should be grateful to be alive, or have food or have a house etc? Or worse, did the person tell you about how their problems are way worse and delve into a blow-by-blow account of their issues leaving you feeling like crap for ever opening your mouth? Or have you ever started to talk about a problem you have and the first sentence out of your mouth is “I know this sounds silly/stupid/like a small thing……” Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If yes, then you have been shamed at some point for something you felt validly enough about to vocalize. And you were probably shamed by someone you felt should have known better.
When I first started dating my husband, I would constantly apologize for my feelings. Whether angry, hurt, sad, whatever I felt; I would always feel the need to say I was sorry. He always responded the same way and to this day this phrase reverberates in my head.
Feelings are neither wrong nor right. They are simply what you feel.
This phrase had such a huge impact on me. Knowing that I didn’t need to validate my feelings created a safe environment to simply release them. Talk about them without feeling like I would be judged. Or shot. Or shamed. It also helped our relationship to grow to the point where I knew that I could express anything I was feeling safely and he would not take it personally. The trick of course was to express my issue as what I was feeling and not as an accusation towards him. The latter will predictably turn anyone on the defensive.
Despite knowing all this, during my initial self-exploration sessions, I started every single sentence with that phrase. “I know this may sound silly….” It took a couple of sessions for my “sage guru” to constantly affirm to me that whatever came out of my mouth was valid. My regression made me realize that I am still constantly apologizing for having any issues at all. That I still feel the need to validate a low mood or a sense of discontent or anything vaguely construed as negative.
After a while of validating myself and still getting shamed, inevitably I simply shut down and didn’t open up about anything at all, no matter what I was going through. Outwardly I put on my brave face which fooled a lot of people. Inside however, I was piling up unresolved issues which was the result of constant shut downs.
You see, when people constantly shame you for even having an issue, you convince yourself that what you’re feeling isn’t actually valid and train yourself to numb the feeling. What you may not realize is that you are actually not dealing with the underlying issues that led to the feeling, hence a buildup of pent-up emotions which eventually go boom! Not to mention the additional resentment that you feel towards the person shaming you.
So this is what I have learnt. Every single feeling I have is valid. After all why did God put such a feeling in my body if it serves no purpose? Every feeling I have is a sign of something. Usually something that I need to address. Ignoring the feeling only makes it worse and postpones the inevitable which is that I will have to face it anyway. Most importantly I have learnt who to speak to when I need to vocalize what I feel. The initial step to dealing with anything is to acknowledge its existence and vocalizing it is a critical part of awareness. Most people will tell you that just saying something out loud helped them to actually start dealing with it.
If someone trusts you enough to tell you about something they are going through the least you can do is put your own issues aside and listen to the person objectively. If you find yourself inclined to give them a comparison analysis of how someone else (or yourself) is doing worse, or how they should at least count their blessings, just hold your tongue. It doesn’t help at all and only makes the person feel worse.
The truth is gratitude and problems are not often directly related. Simply being grateful for everything you have in your life does not automatically save you from having problems though it will probably alter your focus and attitude towards your problems.
The first and toughest step is to talk about your problem. After that anything is possible.