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I Have No Excuse to Feel This Bad!

How many times over the past year have you heard (or uttered to yourself) something along the lines of “I know other people have it so much worse than me, so I really have no excuse to feel this bad?” Or maybe you’ve thought, “I’ve been so lucky, but I still can’t deal with this. What would I do in a REAL crisis?” Or you might feel anxious about something and worry you’ll be accused of having “First World Problems” if you voice those feelings. In our current social climate, there’s a lot of shaming when it comes to other people’s problems and, by extension, a lot of self-shaming when it comes to our own.

Being told that others “have it worse” does not alleviate your pain. In fact, it can amplify your guilt, leading to some confusing feelings and sometimes causing more pain. While not directly dismissing someone’s experience as trivial, normalizing someone else’s experience can sometimes be harmful if misplaced and can result in a missed opportunity to affirm the fact that their own, unique experience is legitimate and stressful for them. As a therapist, I carefully listen for cues to determine whether normalizing or individualizing someone’s experience would be more helpful. An example might be the “but” in the “I’ve been so lucky, but I still can’t deal with this” statement above. The phrase that follows the “but” signals a need for validation. If, on the other hand, the client is saying, “I feel so weird about such and such” normalizing is definitely in order!

It’s true, you might find that you’d actually be less depressed if you had certain “real” problems. When our attention is forced to focus on issues outside of ourselves, we don’t have time to ruminate. During an emergency or crisis (the “real” problems referred to above) things can be tough, but the focus is outward rather than inward. It doesn’t mean we’re happy, but we are not depressed. We literally don’t have the mental time to ruminate on how we feel. It’s not until the dust settles that our imaginations have room to roam freely, sometimes to dark places.

Spending time in solitary conditions now during Covid, many people have time to ruminate. Rumination can lead to low self-worth, which can contribute to further isolation because we can feel like “such a drag to be around.” We can go in a downward spiral of feeling a feeling, then feeling guilty for feeling the feeling, then feeling incompetent and broken for not being able to make the feeling go away. The truth is, feeling bad sometimes is normal. Not all the time, of course. And just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it doesn’t warrant some exploration and attention to understand what it’s all about.

As a therapist, sometimes I just need to give permission to my clients to go ahead and feel bad. For the client this can be an invitation to not feel obligated to chase the bad feeling off and recognize that it might pass on its own. Helping my clients give permission to themselves to feel rotten for a while sometimes stops that cycle. Entering into therapy is a way of announcing to yourself, “I matter” no matter what you are experiencing and understanding for yourself in your own, unique circumstances, that your feelings are valid.

Carla Krash, LSW, MSS, MFA is a Staff Therapist at our Center City and Blue Bell, PA Offices; she currently sees clients via online therapy. To set-up an appointment, you can reach her at ckrash@councilforrelationships.org or 215-382-6680 ext. 7005.