This past weekend was Mother’s Day here in the US (in case you somehow missed the onslaught of ads and social media). And what struck me on Mother’s Day is that we like to think and act as though there is one right way to approach life. On Mother’s Day, the “one right way” is to be grateful and excited. Grateful for your mom. Excited for the chance to be a mom. Except, what if:
- Your mom has passed away, and you are missing her terribly.
- You don’t have children, and you truly wanted that opportunity.
- Your relationship with your mom or with your children is strained and difficult.
- You’re a single parent, so there’s not really anyone to show you appreciation on Mother’s Day.
- You’re working and don’t get the freedom to be “spoiled.”
- You had a child who passed away, so you’re a mother with no visible children.
Those are only a few reasons why you might be having emotions that aren’t simply “grateful and excited.” This post isn’t actually about Mother’s Day.
This post is about the fact that there is no one right way to be human. There is no one right way to experience emotion. There is no one right way to cope with stress. There is no one right way to handle grief.
Out of the billions of people sharing this planet today, not a single one is entirely identical (even identical twins grow different over time). Our bodies aren’t identical. Our circumstances aren’t identical.
And yet, we often act as though there is a single correct way to cope with the challenges in life. I have lost track of how many of my clients share experiences of being told that they are “doing it wrong,” when it comes to experiencing their own feelings. I think that this messaging about how we should feel and how we should cope is truly harmful to our mental health. When you are already struggling to cope with life’s tough stuff, it can be overwhelming to be told that you aren’t doing it right. That message of judgement can damage a fragile self-image.
I believe that sometimes, healthy self-care includes feeling sad, or angry, or frustrated. Sometimes (most times) grief doesn’t disappear in a poof of smoke because you pass some imaginary time limit. Sometimes, you really are facing overwhelming things, and you need a few moments (or longer) to sort them out.
So, as we recognize National Mental Health Month this May, my hope for you is that you give yourself permission to experience your own life in your own right way. Please know that I’m not saying that all coping is equal. I’m not. Some choices lead to healthier outcomes than others (for example, you’ll probably benefit more from a walk than a bottle of vodka to manage pain). But when it comes to your feelings and how you feel them, there is no one right way.
Have you had an experience of being outside the “perceived normal” experience? Feel free to share it in the comments. If you need help finding the healthy coping choices for your unique journey, you can always connect with me.