The Downside of Optimism - Inside Out movie

The Downside of Optimism

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We aren’t meant to feel happy all the time. Some kids are born with a naturally sunny disposition (I always wanted one of those) and some, not so much, but when I talk to clients who want to be happy all the time, it’s a red flag.

Of course we all prefer to be happy, it feels much better than sadness, anger, fear and embarrassment. But we don’t get to only have the good emotions, we are human. If we deny ourselves access to the negative emotions, we actually distance ourselves from all of them. The movie Inside Out did a great job of demonstrating this. (If you haven’t seen it yet, go!) The character was fighting desperately to be happy during a time of turmoil. While trying so hard to be happy, our heroine was losing access to her silly/goofy side, her imagination, her connections with family and friends. It wasn’t until sadness showed up that she could feel better. Sadness made her feel better because it was the truth of her experience. She was sad. When we deny ourselves the truth of what we are feeling, we begin an internal struggle that is EXHAUSTING.

I see this in some of my SuperMom clients, continually running away from their negative emotions makes everything harder. They so badly want to stay positive that they end up in denial. From denial, they stay in jobs and relationships that aren’t healthy for them, make financial mistakes, overlook problems with their kids or their health. Denial does not serve anyone.

When your dog dies, you want to feel sad. When someone betrays you, anger feels appropriate. When you worry about something bad happening, you are going to feel fear and that’s ok.

It’s still important to allow the feeling you feel, even if our thoughts are illogical. Little kids will give you lots of practice in this because so few of their emotional reactions are logical. Next time your child has an illogical, highly emotional response, practice using these three magic words: “You feel __________.”

“I want a cookie!”

“It’s 5 minutes before dinner.”

“I want a cookie NOW!”

“You feel frustrated.”

 

You will be AMAZED at the calming affect these three words can have on your child!

“I don’t have anything to wear!”

“Your closet if full of clothes.”

“Nothing fits me. Nothing looks right. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to wear. I don’t even know whose going to be there. Everything sucks.”

“You feel overwhelmed.”

Now practice using them on yourself, “Right now, I feel _________.” We need to validate emotions before we can think logically. Ask yourself, “What am I trying not to feel?” You’ll know you got it right when you feel RELIEF. “I feel angry and that’s ok.” “I’m disappointed.” “I feel embarrassed.” A feeling is always one word so if you get “I feel like I wish my husband would just…..” that is a thought. Look for one word.

If you really want to be an optimist, you must allow yourself to feel the negative feelings when they show up. Then, when you do feel joy, it will feel richer, truer, and you will feel a deep sense of relaxation. Learning how to allow negative feelings, and becoming familiar with your full range of emotions, is a wonderfully empowering feeling. It feels awful when we think “I should be happy” and we don’t.  “I should be over this by now” is just another way of putting ourselves down for having a feeling. When you aren’t afraid of your feelings, you give your children permission to feel theirs as well.  Their happiness depends on their ability to feel the full range of human emotions: shame, disappointment, sadness, anger, excitement, joy, curious, etc.

The truth, even if it’s yucky, will still set you free.

 

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