I’m arguing today with someone who’s response to a group member asking for support for her hurt feelings was “You signed up for this, so you aren’t allowed to feel hurt.”
And when I say I’m “arguing” with this person, I mean that I full-on flexed my admin badge and told them to knock it off. They have subsequently left the group on their own rather than accept that people are allowed to feel shitty about things they knew were coming.
If I were making bumper stickers out of the phrases I say most often to people navigating the ups and downs of opening up their relationships, these would be among them:
Even so, there are definitely times when the feeling I’m feeling isn’t one that I want to be experiencing. This is especially true when I can can tell that whatever is coming up for me is masking what’s really going on beneath the surface. For example: when I feel hurt or unloved because circumstances beyond anybody’s control messed with my plans or expectations, or when I am feeling jealousy around something my partner is doing with a metamour. That’s another one of my bumper sticker sayings:
So while I will always support people in experiencing their emotions however they come up, I will also support the idea that how one interprets and acts on those emotions can make the difference between starting an unnecessary fight with your partner and finding peace within yourself for experiencing life as a human being.
An example: You feel sad because some plans you were looking forward to were cancelled at the last minute. The reason for the cancellation: Something came up at work for your partner and they got out so late that by the time they got to you, there was no point in going.
Would it matter if the reason was that they got a flat tire on the way home? Or if they came down with a nasty virus? Or if their cat got sick and had to go to the vet? Or if your metamour had a family emergency or accident and your partner needed to get to them quickly? The point is, this wasn’t a cancellation because something better came up. This was a cancellation because something unavoidable and important came up.
Some other common examples that come up for many people: Your partner is sharing a new experience with someone else and you’re feeling jealousy around it even though it wasn’t an experience you’d ever expressed any interest in before. Your partner’s travel schedule will have them out of town during your anniversary or on a holiday you were hoping to celebrate. Or, your OWN schedule has you out of town for a holiday so your partner is celebrating with another partner.
In all of these examples, there may be a feeling of disappointment, jealousy, or frustration (and maybe even a little self-doubt and blame), but nothing was specifically was done with the ultimate goal of hurting you.
Either way, you’re allowed to feel sad about it. I wouldn’t tell someone “well, you’re dating a person who has a job, or has other partners, or travels regularly. Shit like this could happen. You knew what you were getting yourself into so you aren’t allowed to feel sad.”
Screw that. You’re allowed to feel sad about it. Even if it’s within the parameters of expectations, stuff is allowed to SUCK. That’s like saying you’re not allowed to feel pain after surgery because you knew the pain was coming.
The hurt is there, but how we internalize that hurt to send us a message about what our relationship(s) mean to our partner(s) can sometimes be more destructive than it needs to be.
For example, is the message you are receiving from your partner’s late arrival due to work stuff that they wouldn’t have missed it they actually wanted to go? That the thing that came up at work was just an excuse to not do the thing that they didn’t really want to do? That maybe the thing that came up at work could have been resolved the next day?
Those are the little nagging feelings that don’t help at all. In coaching school they called them “Gremlins.” Those are the little voices in your head that tell you that you’re not good enough or loved enough or that you can’t trust people who have never given you a reason to doubt them.
So, the following is an example of how I process a situation where my gremlins show up, that (this is important) I believe are not *caused* by actions taken by somebody else against me, but are instead reflective of how I am interpreting and internalizing their reasonable actions, circumstances, or behaviors in a way that is bringing up pain or discomfort for me.
In other words – this is how I handle a gremlin that just won’t go away
1) Separate the gremlin from myself. I often visualize that feeling taking corporeal form that usually it looks like a shadow version of a very young me. Sometimes it helps to assign a name to this feeling, like “Oh, that’s Jane.”
2) Acknowledge and Validate the entity. I will often speak out loud to my “Jane” as though she were really there. “I see you. I know you’re here and I know why you’re here.” If i don’t know why she’s there, I’ll ask her: “Why are you here? What are you trying to tell me?” So, using one of the above example, she might respond “Because it’s your anniversary and he’s not spending it with you.”
3) Give or promise your gremlin some attention. If I don’t have time to deal with it in that moment, I tell her “Yeah, I hear you. I want to spend more time figuring this out with you, but I really gotta focus right now. So I need you to give me a few hours to get this job done and I promise I’ll come back later and we’ll talk. Is that okay?”
3) When you have the time, Ask the Gremlin “why is this important?” Listen to it. Sometimes the way to do that is to dive right into it and explore what your gremlin is telling you other people’s actions mean about how they feel about you. Try to listen objectively. Don’t 100% onboard everything the feeling is telling you, but don’t patently dismiss it either. Just listen and take it in. This is important, because it’s sometimes difficult to know whether the voice in our heads is our gremlin or our instinct. Is “Jane” trying to tell me that my partner doesn’t care about our anniversary and therefore he doesn’t care about me? Is she telling me that our relationship is less important to him than whatever it is that’s keeping him away on this day? What is she telling me about the importance of anniversaries?
5) Picture your gremlin as your friend. Your gremlin isn’t your enemy. Instead, imagine that it’s there to protect you from something you’ve experienced in the past. Maybe like an overprotective parent or sibling. An example would be “You show up when I’m feeling lonely or let down because you know I don’t deserve to feel that way.”
6) Show appreciation. “Thank you for loving me enough to remind me that I deserve to feel like an important and meaningful part of my partner’s life…”
7) Explore the reality. This is when we separate the instincts from the gremlins. How realistic is the premise that my partner doesn’t care about me because he isn’t there on the exact date of our anniversary? I remind her that she’s not taking the whole picture into account. Kind of like the way I’d talk to a child who’s upset but not seeing the big picture. “But our relationship *is* important to him. He makes time for me every week despite having a really busy schedule. He has shared with me how much he misses me when we can’t spend time together. He loves me and is happy with me, and you know that’s true.”
8) Assign that feeling a new job. Then I’ll ask her what she’d like to do instead, “So since you’re here and you’re loving me enough to stand up for me when I’m lonely or unappreciated, how about we go do something that makes me feel that love you have for me in a more productive way?” Then I’ll move into self care mode by doing something that makes me feel good, and I’ll look at that little voice in my head as the gift that reminded me to do that.
Does it always work? Probably not. There are times when I can’t figure out what new job I should give to my gremlin, or other times when the reality of the situation is too clouded by my own emotions for me to process it fully. But it always helps to take a step outside of myself and have an objective conversation with the feelings that are causing me so much turmoil. If nothing else, letting them know that they are allowed to be there and acknowledging that shitty situations are allowed to suck even when I knew they were possible is enough to take the edge off.
And practicing a little self care in those moments has never had a negative effect on me, even if it doesn’t always help me feel all the way better.