“It could be so much worse”; words used to diminish your experience

Written by Amie on August 3, 2013 – 3:20 am -

Diminishing my feelings

A few years ago in therapy I uncovered a conditioned belief that was ingrained very deep inside me. It came with the message, “be thankful, you don’t have it nearly as bad as many other people have it, it could be so much worse.”  This message felt so real to me that I also began to use it against myself. I would remind myself, “this isn’t that bad, you shouldn’t feel so bad because you know there are other people who have it way worse than you do.” It took me a long time to dissect the shame and guilt wrapped up in this little package of words that was used by others in my life to try to diminish my feelings and experiences. I believe these words were said with a goal in mind. (maybe on a subconscious level, maybe not). The goal in my opinion, was to allow the person saying these words to remain in denial. If only I would just stay quiet, if I would just swallow my thoughts and feelings about any given situation, if only I would just pretend that everything is “normal”, then the people around me could remain in denial. If I spoke the truth about the dysfunctional behavior, others might be forced to face the truth of certain situations.

how do you define “worse” in this situation?

This phrase has popped up again a couple of times in the last few months. I thought I would write about my experience because I’m thinking there are others who are familiar with these words and are in the process of figuring out why they trigger a feeling of shame or maybe anger. I want to validate your feelings of confusion around this.  If someone tries to diminish your experiences and emotions by telling you, “it could be so much worse”, please know they are trying to avoid facing something in themselves. These words are used when someone is trying to avoid feeling their own truth, when someone is denying what is true in their life. These words are used to project a person’s discomfort onto the person speaking the truth, in hopes of lessening their own inner feelings of truth. Your feelings are valid, you have a right to feel as you feel, no matter how bad other people have it. There are always going to be people who have things worse than you do, or I do,etc.  Also, how do you define “worse” in this situation? That could be another discussion by itself!  The fact that someone else may “have it worse” doesn’t change your feelings! You have a right to your feelings no matter what someone else’s situation is. (and feeling your feelings and talking about them does not mean you don’t have compassion for others and their experiences).

guess what happens when a person keeps “shutting up”? 

It took me so long to understand what was really going on when I was told to “be thankful, it could be worse”. I internalized shame and guilt when I heard these words. I felt ashamed that I could be “so selfish” as to think *my* feelings should matter. Who was I to think I could have any issues at all when there were so many others whose issues were way worse than mine! I am so grateful I figured this out and unraveled the insanity of this brilliant little phrase used to manipulate and control. I was able to step back to see the big picture. By diminishing my experience, it shut me up. When I shut up, others around me could stay in denial. If I shut up, we could keep playing the pretend game of “everything is so great! our situation is normal! I didn’t do or say anything hurtful.” And guess what happens when a person keeps “shutting up”? Depression. In a big way. By being told numerous times that my experiences and feelings were nothing compared to others, I internalized the message, “I don’t matter, my voice does not matter. If I keep everything inside, it will make others happy”. And so I learned to not “rock the boat”.

until I started rocking the boat

That is, until I started rocking the boat. And really, “rocking the boat” to me just means I started speaking up and saying what is true for me. I think of this as a positive thing, but not everyone agrees. Some are not yet willing to own their words and actions, and that’s okay, I understand. But that doesn’t mean I am going to stop saying what’s true for me. And it doesn’t mean I will go back to pretending all is well. It is interesting that if a person is not ready to hear the truth, they instead decide to blame the people who are speaking their truth. The message being sent is something along the lines of, “if you speak up and tell the truth, you are a bad person. You are a trouble maker, why can’t you just “forgive”, *you* are ruining relationships, it is your fault we are divided.” This is unfortunate, and sad.

All I really want

Because I remember very vividly what it feels like to protect myself at all costs, I understand being in denial and I understand not wanting to feel the pain of my experiences and truths. Because of this, I really can’t be angry with people who are not ready to face their pain (even though it could mean an end to their suffering). Being vulnerable and taking ownership of your experiences is not easy work. It can be very difficult, in fact. But it is part of being a healthy human being. Feeling the pain of things we are faced with in life is part of the process while on the path to finding the truth of who we really are. It is part of the process of taking back the power we give away when we suppress our emotions so that someone else can remain in denial. All I really want from others is for them to show up in an authentic way and to be vulnerable enough to own their experiences.

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Posted in Awareness, Depression, healing from depression, Help with depression, Self-love | 3 Comments »

Depression and the game of “pretend”

Written by Amie on April 1, 2013 – 3:04 am -

 playing the “fine” game

Pretend as though everything is “fine”? No thanks.  Just hearing the word “fine”still triggers a bit of anger in me. How many times did I answer the question, “How are you?” with “FINE”, when in fact, I was far from feeling fine! I quit. I quit the game. The game of pretend is over for me. I refuse to do it. I choose healthy behavior, and pretending is not a part of healthy behavior. I will only choose to answer “fine” if I am just not in the mood to give someone my energy. I spent years playing the “fine” game, and it is a really unhealthy game. I understand why we do it. We do it to avoid having to feel the truth of any given situation. We do it to avoid being vulnerable. Most of us have been trained well at the game of pretend. A few years ago I changed the rules. Many people around me were not too happy. That’s okay. If they choose to continue playing, that is their choice. For me, the game of pretend equals suffering. I no longer choose to suffer. I chose the path of looking at my life and feeling the pain that was blocking my authenticity. I chose the path of truth.  In order to be authentic, we have to feel. We have to be real with the emotions that come up in our lives. I didn’t know how to do that until a few years ago. I’m still learning.

 suppressing all of my innate needs and emotions

I know for certain that my depression was the accumulation of years of pretending. I pretended I was feeling fine, I pretended as though I didn’t have needs, I pretended as though nothing bothered me, I pretended I was happy, I pretended like I was fulfilled…..I could go on and on. Pretending is another way of saying I was suppressing all of my innate needs and emotions. We all desire (need)to be with like minded people who love and support us. This is being human. We all desire(need) to be seen and heard. We all desire (need) to feel safe to express who we are. We all have needs, this is what we do as humans. It is healthy. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have needs. When we pretend, we stuff all of our needs and then try to talk ourselves into believing we don’t need anything, and that we are “fine”. And then when one of these needs speaks really loud, we tell ourselves we are being too needy, too sensitive, too…fill in the blank. We have been conditioned to feel shame and guilt for having needs! We have learned to feel bad about having real human needs. We have been conditioned to think we should be perfect….which means we shouldn’t have needs. If we don’t have needs, then we don’t have emotions, right? How can you have emotions if you don’t need anything? How can I be disappointed or sad when someone who says they care about me is disrespectful? If I don’t have the need for respect and safety, then I shouldn’t feel anything when these things don’t happen.  But the truth is, we all have needs! Just because we have been taught to ignore our needs, doesn’t mean we don’t have them. It just means we are pretending, so that we appear “normal”. (whatever that is! There is no such thing, in my opinion)

guilt and shame galore

We have been conditioned to judge ourselves for needing, and then judging and shaming ourselves for having emotions over the fact that we aren’t getting our needs met. If we continue this pattern, self-hate sets in. We think we “shouldn’t” feel a certain way, and when we do feel that way, we hate ourselves for having those feelings. It is a vicious cycle. Guilt and shame galore! Guilt and shame are learned “emotions” (it can be argued whether or not they are even true emotions). Guilt and shame are used to control others and to condition people. Guilt and shame are used to get a person to feel bad enough about themselves that they will comply with what someone wants them to do. Think about a situation with a child. If the child is doing something “undesirable” in the eyes of an adult, so often the adult will use tactics that actually teach the child to start feeling bad about themselves. For example, the adult may say, “but I will be so sad if you don’t stop doing that”, or “that is bad, you are bad for doing that”, or “why would you even think of doing that?” All of these examples begin the process of conditioning a child to feel guilt and shame. They learn to feel responsible for others’ well being. The adult is conditioning them to believe they should act accordingly so that the adult is comfortable. Therefore, the child starts thinking they are bad for expressing their own truth. If a person lives many years this way, they are in the habit of hiding their own truth in order to please those around them. They hide their true self, their true needs, their true desires, because they want to avoid feeling “bad”, and they want to avoid upsetting others. This is how we begin feeling ashamed and feeling as though our needs make no difference. Others’ feelings are more important than ours.

it is easier to isolate than to reach out

It is not surprising to me at all that depression is rampant. The majority of people go through their days pretending as though they are fine, feeling afraid to reach out to others for fear of being shamed, or labeled as weak. This is so sad. I understand how it is easier to isolate than to reach out. I did it for years. I pretended as though things were great, when inside myself I was feeling so lost and so sad. I reached out and started getting help, I read every book I could get my hands on, I began learning how to love myself and nurture myself, and I began seeking others who were on the same path. I sought out others who also wanted to stop pretending. I need authentic people in my life, and I am not going to pretend that I don’t. Once I opened my heart to this fact, some really wonderful people started to show up for me. Although it is sad to let go of those who would rather I pretend, I knew in my heart that I had to let them go with love. I have compassion for their struggles, but I can no longer stay in their stories with them. I have to take care of myself. I will allow people in my life who are authentic and respectful of the real me. They love and support me for who I am. They encourage me and lift me up. They show up for me in ways that I never thought possible. I also know and understand that I am responsible for my feelings, and others are responsible for theirs. Knowing this gives me the confidence to express who I really am. For this, I am grateful.

 

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Posted in Awareness, Depression, healing from depression, Help with depression | 2 Comments »
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