A few days ago, I posted some thoughts about a possible evolutionary basis for worries about whether or not we are “normal.”
Surprisingly, this contemplation came out of a book called “Come As You Are,” which is basically about, well, sex.
Author Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and researcher who has tackled (and, I would say, thoroughly knocked out) that age-old enduring myth that there is any kind of normal barometer by which to assess anyone’s sex life.
But she accomplished this in a surprising and welcome way – by first knocking out the underlying myth that there is any kind of normal barometer to anyone’s life, period.
Male or female, young or old, heavy or slim, tall or short, rich or of limited means, our individual biology can definitely differ significantly from one of us to the next (Darwin liked to call this variation “natural selection”).
But our individual psychology can differ even more so.
In fact, our psychology is unique to us and is totally dependent upon our innate mood “set point” as well as who raised us, how well they did, the messages we accepted along the way, whether we were good at what others wanted us to be good at, how well our appearance fit in with cultural sex appeal standards during our lifetime, how we felt about all of this, and – most of all – how we felt about how we felt.
And how we feel today about how we feel.
In other words, we may not have chosen to have the feelings we have, but we are definitely choosing how we feel about our feelings!
Dr. Nagoski calls this phenomenon “the little monitor.”
To her mind, the little monitor sits in our heads and gives us instructions for how to feel about our feelings. If we are having feelings that we have taught are acceptable feelings to have, we get a green light from our monitor to go ahead and feel them….and maybe even share them with others.
If we are having feelings that we were taught are unacceptable or even shameful to have, we get a red light from our monitor along with instructions to tamp those feelings DOWN already.
According to Dr. Nagoski, our little monitor is mostly trained by others – our caregivers, teachers, bosses, friends, colleagues, society.
For example, if your caregivers told you to “Stop that crying!” you might have learned crying is a “red light” or unacceptable feeling to have and express.
If a teacher or counselor ever told you “it is your choice whether or not to feel (fill in the blanks)” then you may be carrying around a big bag full of guilt for every time you have ever failed to overcome feeling that feeling.
If your best friend once told you she has no trouble with intimacy and her other women friends don’t either, you might feel like there is no hope for you if you do have trouble (when actually there is plenty of hope – and here, much verifiable evidence that the vast majority of women have a wide range of intimacy issues!).
Here, basically there is the feeling we are having – the joy or grief or anger or depression or whatever it is…..
And then there is the feeling we are having about feeling that feeling – the shame or guilt or denial or whatever it is.
So we are feeling our original feeling + a feeling about that feeling, such as “fear + guilt.”
Happily, Dr. Nagoski states that how we feel is never the issue – it is how we feel about how we feel that causes the issues we face in life with intimacy, relationships, recovery, prosperity, health and all goals we may set for ourselves.
So we have the ability to change “fear + guilt” into “fear + compassion,” which, not surprisingly, can produce a much more favorable outcome to situations that cause us to feel fear.
I felt – feel – remarkably excited when I read this and really grasped what Dr. Nagoski is trying to explain.
It gives me lots of new hope that I can feel any feeling I want freely AND have a positive feeling about that feeling. In this way, I can be a mentor and support to myself instead of standing as an obstacle in my own path.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you ever catch yourself forming opinions about the feelings you experience? Have you ever had a situation where you felt a feeling openly and someone else judged you for it or told you you should be feeling something different? How did that affect you? Does hearing that all feelings are okay change anything for you when you look back at that situation or look forward into the future of your feeling life?
Happy woman photo available from Shutterstock