“So much pressure to be positive and I am down!” This is a phrase I hear over and over from my clients. Of course, the reason they are seeing a psychotherapist is because things aren’t going well. Something in their lives needs to change. But surely the change isn’t to be ‘up’ all the time.
I am going to say something controversial here that I regularly tell my clients:
It is ok to be down in the dumps and depressed every once and awhile. It is inevitable.
We are told all the time to turn lemons into lemonade. I do it myself! After my last column for Sixty and Me, Turn Loneliness into Solitude, I was touched by the responses. There is so much sadness out there, and those of us in the helping professions want to help ease the burden. We have tools that we know can be of real assistance, and we try hard to help our clients make things better.
But there is another side to it. If we are going to be full human beings, we cannot avoid sadness. Sorrow and loss are part of living. Periods of lack of confidence, lack of hope and lack of energy are inevitable. There is nothing wrong with us if we experience these feelings.
To me, the point is just not to be stuck there. I think those feelings should come and go. I have the image of being at the seashore, watching the waves come in and go out. Feelings can be like waves, and if we let them, they will recede like the waves of water we enjoy watching.
I want to emphasize ‘if we let them’ because we can actually hold on to waves of depressive feelings and, unwittingly, keep them from flowing out of us if we are not paying attention.
“What is the matter with me; I am such a loser,” we tell ourselves. Or, “I am afraid I will have this feeling for the rest of my life.” We don’t just feel something. We compound the feeling with our negative thoughts and fears by not letting go, adding another layer of negativity, and not letting the emotions naturally recede like a wave.
What if we just thought, “Too bad. I feel down today. Maybe I will have a bubble bath, play some hurtin’ music and go to bed early.” In other words, be kind to ourselves as in, “This too shall pass.”
We can give ourselves permission to have the sad feeling without panicking about it, without adding a layer of criticism that would keep the feeling stuck there and make it worse. It is difficult enough to feel bad; we don’t want to feel like a bad person for having the feeling in the first place.
Instead, we can try to allow a natural process to take effect despite our fears. We can just breathe, and try to stay in the present. The wave rolled in. It is likely to roll out of its own accord – if we let it.
I am sharing these thoughts to connect with anyone who needs to hear them. Even though I am part of a helping community of experienced professionals, sometimes I think just a little advice and reassurance can go a long way.
Do you feel like you need to be positive all the time? What happens when you feel down? Do you get stuck in the down feeling, or do you let it pass?