July 24, 2024
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Healing and Feeling Without Bullying Yourself

“Don’t be nervous.” A repeated line I heard while watching a mindless reality show recently.

“Relax.”

“Stop being so worried.”

“Calm down.”

Do people still think those lines work?

I suppose that for a few rare individuals, these types of lines can convey that the situation may not warrant their level of nervousness or activation. Perhaps it helps snap the person out of it. But, for the most part, it completely misses the mark on how emotions operate.

If it were just that simple, we would all be walking around in a state of bliss regardless of our situations because someone would say, “just be happy!” and poof—joy would appear. Telling someone to calm down or relax, to feel or not feel a particular way, essentially invalidates the experience, simplifies the process of shifting our emotions, and also conveys the speaker’s impatience. Above all, it is dismissive.

So some people try instead to use a logical approach to appeal to the person’s rational side. “Here’s why you shouldn’t be nervous…” And oftentimes, this can help. People can release and exhale, reflecting—using their minds—about their feelings. This is essentially one of the goals of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—to reframe and shift our cognitive distortions impacting internal dialogues and feeling states.

I was lying awake on Friday night, my daughter had woken up in the middle of the night and after she finally fell back asleep, I found myself sitting with swirling anxious thoughts—the kind that only really hit you at 3 a.m. And so I found myself engaging in the practice I recommend to clients, one that combines our logical minds with other steps that can allow for a sense of validation, reframing and curiosity—to use with oneself or others.

1. Validate the heck out of the situation. People often start by trying to reframe, and this misses the reality that we experience with our emotions. These emotions, while likely uncomfortable, serve a purpose and are “okay.” This validation can be as simple as “it’s okay/natural to feel this way.” Or even, “you’re feeling nervous right now”—it may help in the beginning to include neutral or non-judgmental language—simply name it. Let yourself/others feel seen, however they feel—even if you judge the feeling as being unnecessary, irrational or you simply cannot relate. (And this counts if you might have these judgments for your own feelings!) It may even help to validate by reassuring that these feelings are normal: “You feel overwhelmed because you’re tired, you’re thinking of everything you typically avoid, and these are topics that cause stress.”

2. Be curious. I encourage the question, “Is this feeling helping me right now? Why or why not?” Oftentimes our feelings communicate to us or help us prepare. Other times they may serve to act as punishment, avoidance, or, in a way, can keep the person stuck. Genuinely asking this question does not make the feeling dissipate if the answer is no, but it can display the need to actually work through the feeling if it is perhaps serving you in some way.

3. What are you forgetting? This would be the time to bring to mind that rational, logical part of yourself that is clouded by your emotions. This can be done by recalling information that is conveniently misplaced when you’re activated, or by remembering what is possible versus what is likely.

4. Make a plan. This can include dedicating specific time to think about what’s activating you, identifying a person with whom you can talk things through, or a plan of how to handle the situation. Sometimes a plan feels impossible, especially if your feeling is less situational than it is an old, familiar feeling or something that cannot be “explained.” Your plan in these moments might include visualizing letting go, grounding yourself, or distracting yourself—which can all be part of a plan even if you do have a specific “solution” in mind.

We are so quick to move from one state to the next, eager for a fast-paced life, and this can contribute to the “stuck” feeling; we expect ourselves to change or to be “fixed” when in reality—as I always like to say—we are not broken. Healing, feeling and coping all take time. I can guarantee, though, that you will not be able to move forward by bullying yourself, yelling to yourself what to do, or by ignoring your very real reactions.

So try these steps. Use them with yourself, with others. Give them a chance. Notice judgments; notice what you need. It is not about “just relaxing.” It is about giving yourself space to be, and then exploring what works best for you so that you can cope in a way that not only validates you, but also challenges and moves you.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 16 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker surrounding eating disorder awareness, and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com.

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