No Time Limit on Feelings

It’s not unusual for me to sit with a client, especially a new client, who has been told some variety of this message, “All right now. Your loss/challenge/tragedy happened at least two weeks (months, years, etc.) ago.  It’s time to dust yourself off and get back to life.”  Basically, the message is that your feelings have a time limit.  Oh, and that time limit is determined by someone who isn’t living in your head or your heart.

I call BS on that message.  I think it’s a load of horse hockey.

Our feelings, particularly the tough ones, play out in their own time.  There’s no way to fast forward them.  And pretending that we should just be able to “move on” is not particularly helpful.  When the people around us share that message, we begin to feel shame and confusion in addition to our grief and loss.

This topic came up strongly for me earlier this year. The first part of May is a tough stretch for me.  I usually have at least one day or so that I can tell my emotions are pretty fragile.  And I’m not dealing with new grief.  Mine is eleven years old–plenty long enough for me to have “gotten over it,” at least according to our cultural messages.  And, while I am no longer in that grief space where you feel paralyzed by the strength and weight of your loss, I am also not “over it.” I probably never will be fully “over it.” And I am fine with that truth. I believe that there are some losses that touch us so deeply that we are permanently changed by them

That doesn’t mean I can’t function.  It doesn’t mean that I’m broken.  It means that I was broken once, and that the experience was an essential part of who I am today.  And sometimes, that emotional scar tissue is tender.  Fortunately, my training and the supportive relationships in my life (including therapy when I’ve needed it) have made it possible for me to have those “tender scar tissue” days without feeling as though that means I’m doing something wrong.

Feeling my feelings–or your feelings–is not wrong. Even if those feelings don’t quite match up with someone else’s definition of how and when you should feel.

Now, if your feelings are so big and so painful that they are interfering with your ability to participate in life, then it’s time to get some support for that.  But that doesn’t mean that having your feelings is wrong.  It just means that right now, they are big and painful.

It can be easy to buy into the messages that you hear about how you are supposed to do grief, or healing, or recovery from illness and loss.  It can be easy to slip into that shamed space where you feel like your own coping is wrong.  But I’m here to say to you: Feelings don’t have a time limit.  You aren’t doing it wrong.

If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please do do in the comments.  If you need some help with the big, painful feelings, that button to the right will get you directly to my schedule.

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