We have all been there. A well-meaning friend tries to cheer us up with these two dreaded words: “At least.”
At least you didn’t total the car.
At least you have some savings in the bank while you look for a new job.
At least you didn’t break both arms.
This attempt to get you to look on the bright side makes you feel worse. Now you get to add guilt and irritation to the negative emotions you were already feeling, and you get to beat yourself up for complaining when plenty of people have it worse than you do.
We have a cultural tendency to compare our hardships with those of others and talk ourselves out of our pain when other people have it worse—as if only the people with the most tragic circumstances have a right to feel negative emotions.
If we could stop being ashamed of negative emotions in the first place and instead use them as opportunities to take care of ourselves, we would realize that everyone is entitled to all of their emotions, and comparing our stressors is never productive.
So, I say, give yourself permission to wallow sometimes. If you’re feeling bummed out, own it; name it; say it out loud. If it’s true for you, it’s worth exploring, which starts with admitting that you’re upset.
Then, allow yourself to take as much time as you need to stay in that emotion until you are ready to feel better and until you are clear about what the emotion is trying to tell you. If you cheer yourself up before you get the message, you’re likely to experience that negative emotion—and the situation that caused it--again. On the other hand, if you listen to the emotion and take care of yourself around it, you’ll make changes in your life that will have lasting positive implications.
So, next time you want to cheer someone up, do something radical: Validate how they’re feeling.
Then, if you’re feeling up to it, ask them what they need to feel better. If they don’t know, tell them that means they need to stay in the negative emotion a little longer, because the worst thing you can do is cheer yourself up before you identify what you can do to take care of yourself.
It’s funny how big emotions lose their grip on us when we stop trying to push them away. So be a good friend—to your friends and to yourself—and get curious about your emotions. And, if you aren’t ready to feel better when someone tries to cheer you up, give yourself permission to wallow.