I expect emotions to surface when I make big decisions. So when I resigned last week, I anticipated waves of excitement, terror, and grief that often accompany this kind of transition. What I didn't expect was to be slapped in the face by an old pattern that I thought I'd abandoned long ago.
As tends to happen when one resigns, I spent the week announcing my departure over and over again, and finding myself on the receiving end of comments like "I'm so sad" or "This is a big loss". My response to 99% of these comments was some variation of "Don't be sad. It's going to be fine." As the week progressed, and as I had more of these conversations, I felt worse and worse. I had to call a time-out to dig into my dis-ease.
Here's what I found: Whatever my intentions, what I had actually done all week was invalidate others' feelings to minimize my own discomfort. I instantly saw an old pattern at play: I grew up in a household where I constantly heard "you'll be fine", "you're overreacting" or "it's nothing to get upset about." I learned quickly that it was not okay to express or discuss big emotions. Emotions were something to be dismissed or "fixed". As a result, I spent years feeling unheard, and disconnected from my own feelings. That is the very last thing I want anyone else to experience.
When we try to prevent others from speaking their truth or feel responsible for 'fixing' their feelings in order to avoid our own discomfort, we not only dismiss their reality but we also create disconnection. Conversely, when we learn to accept emotions, both our own and others', we feel seen and heard. This creates the conditions for open dialogue, growth and connection.
For those of us who struggle with this, the first step is becoming aware of default patterns and what triggers them so we can create the space to choose differently. Sometimes that means admitting that we are at a loss of what to do or say, or simply asking what others need from us in the moment. Regardless, it means choosing to just be there for others instead of making their emotional response about us.
If you just let out a big exhale, I feel you. This is big stuff.
I share this experience in the hope that it sparks your own reflection on how you are (or perhaps aren't) willing to feel and acknowledge your own reality as well as others'. Here are some questions to get you started:
What situations or conversations make you the most uncomfortable and what are your default responses?
When did you first become aware of your default responses? What past experiences or situations might you need to let go of?
How do you want to show up in those situations/conversations? What are some responses or questions that might help you show up in that way?