Want to feel better? Own how you feel

The Western culture does not often support individuality, despite its label of individualism; the assumption that independence and autonomy are highly promoted can be debunked when we carefully consider the rigidity of its norms and values upon which a person gains social acceptance. Expectations are high, from one’s financial status or ideas of what constitutes physical attractiveness to nuances of assertiveness and relationship forming. We are exposed to these quite early on in life and, depending on whether we receive acceptance from our parents, we become more or less equipped to function within the societal realm. This is because in childhood, we begin to learn about our place in the world through understanding our position within the family. Learning occurs multidimensionally; each relational dynamic accepted without prejudice and in a state of complete vulnerability. As a species, we are predestined to need our parents’ attention and care for the longest amount of time; the type of support we get can dictate our understanding of self, including expectations of treatment we receive from others.  

Our ability to set boundaries in both platonic and romantic relationships depends on the levels of encouragement we have received from our caregivers when we had no life experience outside of the home, nor were we armed (or armoured?) with critical thought. This means that we tailor our assertiveness to the level of comfort and safety we feel, based on our continuous early experiences. If the parent did not support our autonomy, we are more likely to stutter through negotiating it with others. 

This is also prevalent in how we perceive conflict; if modelled as a frightening part of the home of which we have no control, we tend to classify it as a threat and either avoid it at all costs or handle it in a way which, in turn, produces fear in our counterpart. Although we may dislike conflict altogether, we can end up developing its shape into a seemingly unacquainted territory, which feels crushing or impossible to endure. Paradoxically, the sense of overwhelm seems entirely familiar because it originates from our early experiences, continuing through to the present and breeding helplessness and resentment, as well as a lack of acceptance of our counterpart and of ourselves. This can also reflect in our relationship to anger; having grown up in an environment where anger does not pose an automatic threat, we are more likely to acknowledge our own self -expression, as well as that of the others. Children taught to supress it tend to struggle with any situations in relationships as adults where perceived conflict may arise which, in turn, can produce arguments when the person they are in a relationship with feels invalidated and unable to share their dissatisfaction. 

Clients who come to see me often express high levels of discomfort in disagreements, noticing their frustration at whom they are arguing with and their own behavioural patterns. The label ‘communication problems’ can be echoed by most, followed by low self – worth and feelings of loneliness. Those who appreciate the extent of their childhood’s contribution to their currently held beliefs and repeated actions are able to progress to reach their goals presented at the beginning of the therapeutic process. They also notice an increase in self – esteem, as well as in safety and security in their relationship. 

Often, what is discovered reveals how patterns of behaviour developed in childhood have led to assumptions about the world which resulted in the individual feeling disconnected from themselves, unsure of how they really feel or what their needs may be. This can be challenged by noticing and accepting your own emotions. To do this, you may want to try to:

  1. Connect with yourself.

Ask ‘What do I need right now?’ and follow your intuition. It may be challenging at first but do not be discouraged. The answers may range from something as simple as rest and relaxation to reassurance or being heard. Consider how you can have your needs met and voice it. 

  1. Embrace the sad.

There are no negative feelings, just the uncomfortable ones. We need these to stay alive; physical pain for instance protects us from excessive damage or death. Sadness can show us we need comfort or that some time for ourselves is necessary. Without it, we would just keep going and lose ourselves further, risking psychological and physiological health. Autonomy and self – worth develop when we own any emotions we may be experiencing. 

  1. Go to therapy.

A meme I have recently come across read ‘Dating in 1996: ‘You had me at ‘hello’’. Dating in 2022: ‘You had me at ‘I go to therapy’. There is a choice we all face; to ‘keep calm and carry on’ or to see things from our own perspective. The latter makes it possible to feel more in control of your life because you become more aware of the variables in it. Therapy offers a safe environment where you will be encouraged to observe and name your feelings and needs so that you can become more comfortable with expressing them.