Clients will often tell me that they wish they could shake free of things that have bothered them quickly and effortlessly. Like an injured athlete who is asked to “walk it off,” many of us wish we could spend a second or two walking off emotional discomfort and then be free of it.
Unfortunately, many of us struggle with this. We may be irritated, frustrated, or plain bugged by a slight, a faux pas or a cross word that transpired between ourselves and someone else for much longer than could ever be considered healthy. If we were painstakingly honest with ourselves, many of us would find that we have perseverated on someone’s perceived misdeed for days, weeks and (alas!) perhaps even years.
Today, my mother and I had a conversation about shaking free of stuck and unpleasant feelings towards others. We went to see the movie Sex and the City yesterday and talked about its inspirational themes of tolerance, forgiveness, and love. Certainly, we agreed, when we are intolerant and are unforgiving, we waste time stuck in the turgid quagmire of bitterness.
In its wake, bitterness leaves us depressed, alienated, and exhausted. We waste time and energy being stuck in the vortex of unkind feelings towards others. While the object of our disgruntled feelings has often moved on, we are still fixated on the (often imagined) slight. At the end of the day, especially for those of us who have done a great deal of work on ourselves, it is a considerably embarrassing predicament. We can really tell how far we’ve come and how far we have to go when we are challenged by stuck emotions.
As someone who is not a stranger to thin skin, I recognize that having challenges in regards to “shaking free” is the shadow side of being intuitive, caring, and compassionate. Certainly, we are not looking to lose our sensitivity, but instead be able to negotiate more skillfully the challenges of interacting with others.
A healing first step may be to 1) Be gentle with ourselves and others. We may want to also seek to understand our process as well as someone else’s before we attack or retreat. For example, even if we feel we are being attacked, it may be important to remember that someone’s harsh response to us probably has very little to do with us.
2) We may want to go deeper into the situation with a life coach, therapist, or trusted friend. Carl Jung offered that, “All neurosis is an attempt to heal the self.” However, rather than a neurotic response that keeps us circling around a problem, we may want to, as Buddhist nun Pema Chodron offers, “Lean into the sharp points.” My friend Lauren will often ask, “What is really the issue here?” and then discuss that with me. When possible, be with the emotions. When I have allowed myself to really feel into my pain, I often find myself wondering in just a few days what I was so upset about in the first place!
3) Until you have gained clarity and composure, try not to act inauthentically. In other words, overeating, gossiping, or faking forgiveness (although acting with intent to forgive can be a move in a healthy direction) are poor coping strategies that will not lend themselves to the integration of coping skills for future challenges.
Sometimes it just isn’t easy to “get over it.” The gift in being stuck is that we are shown exactly where we still need to work. We can only be truly free when we learn how to liberate ourselves from the challenges we most need to transcend.