Imagine for a moment I’ve just given you a full glass of water, told you to hold it out in front of you and, no matter what happens, you can’t put it down until I say so. You might be ok for a few moments, but after a while it’s going to ache. Your arms might become numb or heavy. Your thoughts might start racing about what you should do. Eventually you might drop it by accident, sending water everywhere, or you say “that’s enough”.
This is an analogy for so many areas of our lives, isn’t it. How many things do we hold on to, only for it to become painful in the end? How much of what we cling to, is because of what someone else said we “should” do or think? The mind racing means we make ‘bad’ decisions; we make mistakes or numb out. In the end, it gets heavy and messy; we might even break. So it makes sense to look for another way.
In Buddhist teachings, for instance, it is said our suffering is caused by the very things that connect all of us as humans. We all want to be happy, and we all want to be free from pain. (I don’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning and says “I hope I’m really miserable today”). The irony is that in our striving for those things, it can create the suffering we endure. We try to control the uncontrollable. We use coping mechanisms – that don’t work long term – to avoid the pain of an emotion we don’t want. And we seek happiness in places that it can rarely, if ever, be found. I mean chocolate ice cream is great but, well…you know.
The other thing of course, is that when we suffer, those around us do too. (If the people in our circle are not sad that we’re sad, we might wonder why they’re there at all), We don’t want to be a burden to anyone, but at the same time it’s ok to feel what we feel. In order to protect ourselves and others, we might decide to just put the shields up, shut ourselves down and disengage completely.
So what do we do? Here’s what might help:
This week, maybe set the intention to Release Not Detach. When people tell us to “let it go” it can feel like they’re dismissing our pain, or implying we shouldn’t feel anything. But releasing doesn’t mean not caring about the thing, it’s asking us to feel what we feel while establishing what we (realistically) can and can’t effect.
Detaching is the opposite of that – it’s the same as numbing out; we never really push things away, just down – and eventually, they rise up in all manner of ways. We find ourselves disconnected which is the opposite of what we really want.
So it’s ok to care – caring is a beautiful thing – but it does mean accepting that sometimes life gets tricky. We will have good days and bad days, and when things are rough we can create a different plan for coping, than when things are on an even keel. If you know your sleep or diet suffers when you’re overwhelmed, for example, make that a priority. When you’re feeling an emotion that’s uncomfortable, lean in, rather than numb out. Talk if it helps and cry when you need.
In the same way, while we don’t have to let someone live rent-free in our heads, we also don’t have to let them back in to our lives either. You’re allowed to set boundaries – to say no and mean it. But be good to you at all times and practice self-compassion; find ways to speak to yourself like you would a good friend. And when things are really difficult, remember this too will pass.
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You might also like: my book Answers In The Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal, out now.
© Delphi Ellis 2023