You’ve got so much to be grateful for! At least you’ve got a husband! Why not look on the bright-side…
No, no and no.
That and other, perhaps well-meaning, comments that people can make when you’re not feeling great can be unhelpful and in fact do little to lift your mood. And that’s just what people around you might say: there is also a similar barrage coming from your own inner critic, which plays similar records in your mind (often, on repeat!).
Affirmations can also leave a similar dissonance – words such as ‘I am strong and capable’ may leave an emptiness inside if we can’t identify or believe in the words we are saying.
In negative mood states, we need to delve deeper.
So, what is it about the silver lining that can be so unhelpful?
Well, it can cause us to shun or block out the original emotion or situation. We can try to push aside our feelings and artificially impose something new. That doesn’t mean we should ‘dwell’ on negative things, wallowing in our mood state…but there is an alternative.
Turning towards difficulty
Actively allowing and turning towards difficult emotions can change our relationship with them. Instead of subbing them out for a new one, we can adopt an attitude of friendly curiosity to see what’s ‘under the bonnet’. We pull up a chair alongside our thoughts and emotions and befriend them. Difficulty is often not just the difficult emotion but also a feeling that we somehow ‘shouldn’t be feeling this way’, an aversion to the emotion. Beyond this there can also be thoughts such as ‘why do I always feel this way?’ and ‘will I ever be happy?’. These thoughts are often habitual patterns – we can investigate them for what they really are – just thoughts.
Psychologist Sheri Van Dijk says:
‘When we fight the pain: judge it, try to push it away, avoid it, ignore it, it actually triggers other painful emotions, resulting in more emotional pain.”
It is not an overstatement to say our reactions to our emotions can transform our experience of them. Through mindfulness practice and courses, we can learn to ‘sit with’ difficulty and investigate it. This may sound counter-intuitive but when we adopt this sense of curiosity, this openness to what is, a new dynamic with our emotions can emerge. Over time, this familiarity when coupled with kindness allows a gentler and more forgiving approach which often softens the edges of our difficulty.
This acceptance is not an endorsement of a problem or a mood state, it’s not passive but it is an active acknowledgement of how things are in this moment.
You may like to say to yourself ‘it’s ok to feel like this, let’s see if I can be open to it’ and ‘it’s ok not to want to feel like this, can I be open to it?’. Be as gentle with yourself as you can and going at the pace you feel appropriate. We don’t have to pick our biggest difficulties to use this, we can pick something lighter with which to practise.
So how can I use gratitude?
Gratitude is a wonderful tool to work with but in negative mood states, instead of a silver lining, perhaps delve deeper inside the emotion to see if there are sparks of learning. Alternatively, we can look for the good in other things. Most importantly, we shouldn’t use gratitude to chide ourselves – ‘chin up, at least it’s a sunny day’, but to allow ourselves to see the good in what we have.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough ~ Melodie Beattie
This includes all emotions we carry. We can befriend them and adopt a new stance to these emotions.
Simple but powerful.
I’ll leave you with this short poem
Never judge a feeling as ‘negative’
Simply feel it
Let its energy move in your body
Breathe into discomfort
saturate anger with presence
drench fear with tender curiosity
You’ll find no ‘negativity’;
only a precious part of you
longing for acceptance.
~ Jeff Foster