In order to live an honest, full life, we must accept rather than resist all of our human experiences. We must recognize where we don’t have control and let go of the fight we all get entangled in: a fight that has us beating ourselves up, arguing with our thoughts, and denying our feelings.
This is, of course, easier said than done, and that is why it is a struggle that every human being who has ever lived has engaged in.
A few months ago, I got an eye infection that required me to wear glasses for an entire month and put eye cream on my bare eyes every night. The doctors told me that I might not be able to wear contact lenses again. During this month, my eyes burned, my glasses continually fell off of my face as I tried to exercise, but mostly, I felt afraid because I didn’t have control over my own body.
As human beings, we learn that our rational minds can help us control the world around us. We can compile ingredients to cook a nutritious meal. We can use a hammer to pound a nail into a wall and hang a picture. We can alter the world around us using our bodies and our brains.
So naturally, we try to control our feelings. When we have crises in our lives and we feel sad, anxious or alone, we try to change our feelings.
But our inner worlds are a lot like my eyes—things come up in them that we never signed on for. We can change how we relate to sickness or depression, but we can’t control the infection, the painful emotion, or the fact that we’re having a thought that we’re inadequate.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a multi-part blog post about how getting too attached to controlling experience limits us, and I will give alternative ways for relating to painful experiences that many of us haven’t learned. Rather than resisting our emotions or getting too entangled with them, we must relate to them in a way that invites in perspective and makes room for other thoughts and experiences to exist within us.
The Problems With Getting Too Attached to Control
- Pain is a Part of the Human Experience
Everyone living experiences pain. Everyone not living has experienced pain. This seems like a very trivial statement on the face of it, but when we are suffering individually, we often can’t see that our suffering links us to every human being everywhere and that it is natural to suffer.
When we expect ourselves to ‘get over’ the anxiety or to be done with sadness about a breakup or the loss of a loved one, we are holding ourselves to an unfair standard. We can see that others experience difficulty—our children, celebrities, our friends—but we often expect ourselves to be different and to be beyond unpleasant emotions. We should be different by now. We should know better. We should have healed.
When we hold ourselves to this different, always unrealistic expectation, we end up beating ourselves up and feeling more inadequate. Whatever we do (or anyone else does, for that matter) we will feel pain sometimes.
But the fact that we feel pain doesn’t mean we have done anything wrong. We feel pain because of patterns in the brain, genetic disposition, and the negativity bias, which I will discuss more next week. We try to explain our pain away because it’s unpleasant to feel anxiety and depression, but doing this robs us of a very human experience, and from genuine healing.
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach is designed to foster a sense of strength, understanding, and joy. Her expertise focuses on adults, adolescents and teens suffering from depression, anxiety, self-esteem and identity issues, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.