Feel the Feels

The session starts:

Hi there how have you been?

Well, I’m really frustrated. I have done all this work in therapy and the other day, I woke up blue. It stuck with me all day and I couldn't shake it.

Oh that’s too bad. Are you still blue?

No, it only lasted a day - but still. It makes me feel like I’m failing at what I learned in therapy.

Oh. So there’s no room to have an off day? To be crabby or grumpy? Is feeling sad or lonely no longer part of the human condition?

Hmm .. I never thought of it that way.

Sometimes it seems, we lose sight of how things are “supposed to feel”. It is important to understand that some of how we feel on any given day is “normal”, and certain responses to events are “appropriate”. Many events in the course of ordinary life will elicit “feelings”. When applying for a new job or not getting chosen for one .. wouldn't some amount of “feelings” for either of these situations seem “appropriate”? Sometimes our brain fools us and has us believe our "feelings" (anxiety? rejection? simple adrenaline?) are a sign that we aren’t good enough, ready enough, suited enough to the task… when really all it is is an appropriate response to a pretty significant stressor. The “rejection” of not getting a job can sting to be sure, those are some strong feelings. But again, we shouldn’t interpret that as proof of something flawed about ourselves.

Anxiety is our body’s way of letting us know there is danger, something is amiss, we should prepare to flee or fight. Something as huge as a pandemic for example, will understandably set your nervous system off. Here is a great Podcast with Dr. Christina Runyan talking about the physiological impact of the pandemic on so many of us. Our feelings of sadness, numbness, anxiety - are appropriate responses to a huge, life changing event.

To the legions of young people (and also not young people) struggling with loneliness in this crazy time - that loneliness “feels” like something. And again, I believe our brain then creates messages that undermine our sense of our self, our confidence.. Because we “feel” this .. we must not be good enough, not worthy of love, destined to be alone. This is not true.

If we accept that certain things feel a certain way, maybe we won't be caught off guard by those feelings and then make the mistake of misinterpreting what they mean. If you feel lonely, it means you’ve been alone more than you can tolerate and still feel good. It does NOT mean you are not lovable.

I tell a lot of my clients that therapy (I hope!) can help untie a bunch of old knots. It will help one understand where their intentions and motives spring from. It helps to understand one’s self in relation to others. What it does not do is get rid of life’s stressors. What it does not do is make it possible to feel good and happy all the time, because that's just not realistic. Life is hard, hard things happen, you will wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Yes we can be resilient, most of us are, but it’s all going to feel like something.

Be kind to yourself.

This is for all the lonely people...


I think it's fair to say that social media is making a wreck of how we understand ourselves socially. Many now use Instagram, Snap Chat, Tik Tok and what have you, to gauge whether they are living “right” or “like everyone else”.  I remember pre-internet (yes, I’m that old) – when we would compare ourselves to just those people around us. While that is not great either, at least it was in doses that didn’t overwhelm and numb. The “media” of the day was not as insidious, not as damaging to our self-esteem. 

One of the many messages we get from social media today is that you are supposed to be surrounded by friends. You are supposed to be part of a “pack”, have a group of “besties”. The real truth of the matter is it’s not like that for everyone, in fact it’s not like that for most. Many people have a few close friends, many people have one or two. 

So here we are, so many of us growing into adulthood –  surprised at the loneliness. And worse, using that loneliness to somehow qualify who and how we are as people. We let our self-esteem take a punch because we don’t have the same social game going on as those we see on Instagram. If you think back to high school do you recall how you were socially? Were you part of a pack? Were you someone like me who engaged with different groups but never really joined one? Were you solitary with just one or two close friends? Your social network and relationships will probably look a lot like that in your later adulthood. 

People struggle with loneliness. It’s a hard thing – but inevitable in the course of a lifetime. When we are lonely we look at those “friend” images and wish we were different, wish our circle was different, and think it’s because something is wrong with us. 

There is nothing wrong with us. We have to carry loneliness no matter the context of our social life. There will be times where we are more connected, more in touch, more engaged with those around us – and there are times where the ache of a lonely heart will not be soothed. These are all conditions of the human experience. There’s no pill, no real intervention in my mind – other than to acknowledge that sadness, and accept that this is part of the journey. Sometimes there are hard truths. 

We can live in the world believing that we are no good and hence “deserve” to be lonely. We can also say that sometimes life is hard, sometimes we will feel alone and lonely – and this too will pass. I will cherish whatever relationships I do have. I am worth loving and being loved. That, THAT, can be a salve. I love myself enough to accept that life will get lonely from time to time and it’s not a reflection on me. I am strong enough to carry that, and I will also have better days. 

Peace to you.  

What does your anxiety look like?

So many of us struggle with anxiety. In fact, some level of anxiety is just a normal experience given the world we live in. But what do we k...