Have you ever been told that you cannot possibly feel sadness and joy simultaneously? That loving a person who has hurt you makes no sense? Toss a third or fourth emotion into the mix at the same time and advice pours in to "help" you figure out which is the right one to feel. When you hear these statements of singularity is there a part of you that wonders 'well, why not?' just before you shift into the most culturally acceptable stance?
Today I want you to know that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have only one feeling about any given event or situation. Think about becoming a parent for the first time. Do you remember feeling terrified, excited, blissful, confident, sad and doubting all at the same time? Was there an internal or external (or both) voice saying "Don't be ridiculous, this should be the happiest time of your life! You can't feel ______ (fill in the blank with a generally unacceptable emotion for the occasion)!"?
These voices suggesting a singular response, although very well meaning, are just plain wrong. The intention is to simplify and make sense of a complex emotional state. I get it. It's a lot easier to only feel angry at the person who betrayed you. It takes a lot of energy and sometimes even *gasp* help to weed through the layers of disappointment, sadness, doubt, relief and anticipation.
We deny the complexity of the human experience when we pick only one emotion to be allowable at any given time for ourselves or those around us. We impose shame by suggesting that certain ways of feeling are wrong by believing that there is only one right way to feel. Shame leads to the deep down belief that we are inherently flawed and unworthy of love. Shame is a topic for a later post.
Disney's new Inside Out offers a wonderful depiction of the complexity of our emotional selves. I highly recommend you check it out with your kids, grandkids, neighbors kids, your own inner kid, and let it be the springboard for curious conversation and exploration of ALL of the possible feelings associated with any given situation.
Lauren Pedersen, LMFT, is the clinical and program coordinator of the CCSU Family Therapy Institute at the Outpatient Children's Psychiatric Clinic of Klingberg Family centers. Her professional passions are training/teaching and supervising MFT clinical interns and bringing high quality, effective clinical services to the families in impoverished and underserved communities. This post was originally published on the Facebook page of The Ana Grace Project, the foundation of AAMFT15 keynote speaker Nelba Marquez-Greene, of which Lauren is a partner and works closely with to bring clinical services to elementary schools in New Britian, CT.