The famous movie “Rebel Without a Cause” starring James Dean was intended to portray the “moral decay” of American teens.

Instead it engendered a rabid fan following among those very teens, who perceived in the film’s outer twists and turns an accurate and (oddly) reassuring portrait of their own often emotionally chaotic, confusing and overwhelming growing-up years.

While the adults who crafted the film wanted to hammer home a message that youth needed to straighten themselves out, a very different message got communicated to their intended audience – a message that clearly said, “if you feel this way too, you are not alone.”

In a similar way, it is so easy to label the discomforts of daily life – the restlessness, the anxiety, the depression, the fears, the anger, the worries, the wondering – as unique to us, as an indication that there is something uniquely “wrong” with us that we need to “straighten out,” as “causeless” and frankly inconvenient, when in fact their presence is both universal and very purposeful indeed.

Restlessness has a place in our lives. So too does anxiety, depression, and all the rest.

Need proof?

Ask yourself if you know exactly what each of these words means and feels like to you personally, without any additional definitions or explanations being provided.

Then ask yourself if, upon feeling restlessness, stress, fear, anger, etc., you have ever let those feelings motivate you to make some much-needed changes that in time led to you feeling much better!

The truth is, there is no such thing* as causeless rebellion or causeless restlessness. Each has a purpose and a message to communicate if we are willing to listen and learn.

Here, it might help to imagine yourself learning to ride a bicycle for the first time. There is the goal – centered, accurate steering and the enjoyment of freely wheeling about whenever and wherever you like.

Then there is the learning curve.

This, of course, is the phase in which you teeter, totter, fall, get up again, lean too far to the right, lean too far to the left, learn what each of those errors feels like, attempt not to make them again, and eventually master the art of both remaining in the center of the bicycle seat and pedaling and steering and starting and stopping and all those necessary skills all at the same time.

At this point, “riding a bicycle” occurs.

In our scenario, feeling restlessness is like leaning to far to the right – it is a clear signal that calls for some course-correction.

In the same way, feelings of anger, fear, depression, anxiety, frustration, and the like can all be compared to the beginner’s errors we make while learning to successfully ride a bicycle. Once we begin to recognize our inner language; once we learn to respond to the warning signals when they are first offered, we can then make the necessary adjustments long before we are in any danger of falling again.

Today’s Takeaway: Are you ever tempted to judge yourself for feeling restless, anxious, depressed, angry, etc.? How does this hamper your ability to receive the message and begin making adjustments where needed? What can you do to more readily receive these messengers and their messages without letting uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions wreck your daily life in the process?

*Here, I also want to emphasize that if these emotions become overwhelming, it is absolutely okay and also vital to seek professional medical support. Medications, therapy, and other tools can both aid in the learning process and ensure no temporary emotion becomes a real danger to health and life.