Tell me if this sounds familiar. We beat ourselves up for feeling guilty. We feel guilty for feeling guilty. Then we’re off down that spiral again.
We feel inadequate. No, really we feel like failures because we can’t get everything done that we think we need to get done. Our houses are a mess, paperwork is piling up everywhere, all around us things are broken, missing pieces, or in need of some sort of repair.
Dishes spread like viruses around the house. Kids leave debris and mess in their wakes like tornadoes. Our houses look like candidates for the covers of Better Dumps and Hellholes. So, we feel like losers because surely every other house on the street is clean and organized, and everyone else has their lives together.
We feel broken because we can’t cope with most of life. Stuff is just hard. We wake up, we try to do some things, we survive, we get to the end of the day wondering what exactly happened, we go to bed. Repeat. This happens because we’ve lost control of our lives.
Surely everyone else has a lot more mental wellness than we do. I mean, we can’t all be this completely incapable of handling daily life, can we? How on earth would the world function otherwise? But here’s something I know to be true. The show people put on often is so very different than what’s happening on the inside. This is something we’re all quite good at. Inside we feel like desperate, out-of-control frauds.
This is an enormous problem to tackle, but here’s at least one technique that I think can really help you.
A Liberating Question
And now we get to an all-important question.
What if all of this were OK?
I’m completely serious.
When these or any of the uncountable self-judgmental thoughts you have about yourself pop into your head, reframe them like this. For example:
What if it were OK that my house looks like this right now?
What if it were OK that I feel like I can’t handle my schedule today?
What if it were OK that I feel like I’m going to scream every time somebody talks to me now?
What if it were OK that right now I just want to be alone all the time?
What if it were OK that I feel like I don’t want to get out of bed, like maybe ever?
What if it were OK that I feel like this person is being a judgmental a**hole?
What if it were OK to feel like it really sucks right now?
What This Is and Isn’t About
I’m not saying this is blanket permission ultimately to do whatever you want. What we’re doing here is reframing all that thinking you’re doing when you just beat yourself up. I mean, we all know it’s not the best idea to actually never get out of bed, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with thinking that’s what you want right now.
You spend so much energy trying to deal with every one of these endless emotions. You spend so much energy trying to fix the world around you, and you can’t do it. It’s simply not possible. The truth is you are exhausting yourself trying to meet some unattainable standard rather than just being OK with how things are right now for this moment.
When you dwell on and endlessly replay your past, is there anything you can do about it? Likely not. All you do is consume your energy in the right now, energy you desperately need. When you go in circles and spiral out of control about every conceivable future disaster and the million things you think you have to do, that’s energy your burning up now that you simply don’t have either.
All you have is now. And you need every bit of energy you can muster.
So what if it were OK to just deal with the right here and now?
I Know It’s Hard
There’s a host of things every day we could get angry about. The school is at it again. We’re slighted at a restaurant. Somebody is rude to us at work. We’re cut off in traffic. The other day the cashier completely messed up my checkout and I had to go to customer service, where the representative literally had to pull out a pencil and calculator to figure out what happened. It took 15 minutes. I could have been angry, but why?
What if it were OK that some things make me angry? What if I then just let them pass on by? What if I saved that energy for something else? Would that be OK?
When you feel bowed down under the weight of it all, perhaps the best you can do is sit there and say, “This is really effing hard.” Offer that to God, Allah, Source, Goddess, your Higher Power, or whatever you look to beyond yourself. Just saying or thinking it can lift a little of that burden.
What if it were OK to say out loud to your source of spiritual energy, “This is just really damn hard right now” and leave it there? What if it were OK to save some of that energy for yourself until better days come?
It’s OK Enough for Now
And that’s really the point of this exercise. Make things a little easier on yourself. Be a little more compassionate to yourself. Ease up on being so brutally hard on yourself. Life is challenging enough, and we don’t need to pile even more stuff on top of that.
What if it were OK that you feel afraid of the future?
What if it were OK that you feel guilt about the past?
What if it were OK that you feel panicked when you look at that enormous to-do list?
What if this moment were OK enough just as it is?
A little relief, I hope. You deserve it. You need it.
[I want to give credit for the “What if it were OK” question to Pace Smith, who first posed it to me. Of the twenty smartest people I know, she may be three or four of them. She has been a wise mentor, and I am thankful for her sage advice.]