My mother is a social worker, and she is a pretty smart cookie. I also went to the kind of hippie school where you call your teachers by their first name and people say things like “Could you say that again using I-statements?” I mention these things to point out that I had pretty much every conceivable advantage on this front, and yet it still took me nearly all of my life to figure this out: anything you feel is okay.
There are no excepts in that sentence, or sortas or other sneaky qualifying words. It’s just true.
From the time we’re small, we all learn that there are things we’re not supposed to react to in certain ways. Even if Jane steals our blocks, we’re not supposed to hit her. If we win a race at school, we are not supposed to shriek with delight. And because we’re small, and because our feelings lead so naturally into our actions that we have a hard time picking them apart, lots of us learn from this that we shouldn’t feel angry or delighted.
Then we grow up, of course, and we know in our heads that we don’t hit people doesn’t mean we don’t feel angry, but some of us — including ones who are smart and insightful and have every concievable advantage in this sort of thing (*raises hand*) — still believe somehow that we owe it to someone — the People In Charge (TM) or our parents or God or maybe even ourselves — to feel or not feel particular ways. And that’s how we get to be *mumblemumble* years old and someone says to us “you don’t owe anyone anything about emotions” and we’re knocked over with a feather. Or something like that.
It’s still true, though: we don’t owe anyone our emotions, and whatever we’re feeling, whenever we’re feeling it, is okay. We don’t need to justify or explain or get special permission. It’s magically, automatically okay, just because it is.
Here’s a habit I’ve found worth trying out: whenever I notice how I’m feeling, I try to make my first response be this reminder: it’s okay to be angry/sad/bored/delighted/whatever. Sometimes there’s something interesting or useful to know about why I think it’s not okay to feel what I’m feeling, and sometimes there’s not, but even if I never got another insight out of it, I’d still be recommending this practice. At the center, it’s a tiny practice of mindfulness, of accepting the moment that’s happening anyway and the person you are in that moment. It’s okay to be angry, and so you’re okay. Really true.