Remember Whack-A-Mole? It’s that ridiculously fun arcade game where you were to quickly smack the noggin of a mole as it pops out of its hole. The more heads you’d whack, the more points you’d get. Hours of fun! Though as a kid I’d usually get in trouble for trying to whack other objects (or people) with my mallet.
As an adult, I’ve gotten into a bad habit of playing Whack-A-Mole with my own feelings, more specifically the non-pleasant feelings. Had a bad day? Whack it on its head – get it out of sight! Sad about something? Bonk! Push it back down and out of the way! Hurt by a relationship? Angry about something that’s happened at work? Smack! Pow! Right on the head! Push. It. Down.
But emotional Whack-A-Mole is actually an unfruitful game to play. Our feelings are similar to the Whack-A-Mole in that when we knock them down without dealing with them, we will find them popping up elsewhere in our lives, often in a misplaced or disproportionate way. If I’m not dealing with an emotion correctly, I can usually see it in the way I drive my car or the way I treat my husband. My patience level decreases quickly.
The key for me is having the insight to pull back and watch my own signals. When my tummy growls my body indicates hunger. When I yawn my body indicates fatigue. Grumpiness and impatience should be my indicator that I have an emotion I’m not dealing with that needs my attention. Feelings are important indicators of our human condition at a given moment in time. Pushing them down and ignoring them is like saying we don’t deserve the right to feel, and that we don’t deserve to have a normal response to our lives. It’s like insisting I only play cards with diamonds, or I can only wear green, or I can only eat tomatoes. It’s limiting, frustrating, and unnatural.
This past weekend, I found myself in various shades of blue. Pressures of work and school, relational difficulties, circumstances beyond my control, fatigue, and long expanses of time alone created a perfect storm situation. This time though, I decided not to play my emotional Whack-A-Mole game; I decided I was going to give myself permission to just feel it all. I wasn’t going to try my usual tactic of talking myself out of it. I was going to treat myself the way a best friend would treat me: with care and validation.
Even making that conscious choice was helpful for me. Being my own best friend in the midst of my storm entailed letting myself write out my feelings, taking care of myself by working out even though I didn’t “feel” like it, working on a constructive, ongoing project, and also letting myself have a good cry. I made sure I ate well. I made sure I rested. I did all the things I would do for a best friend, but I did them for myself. This is not to say I don’t have people around who care for me and would do those caring things for me. It’s instead allowing myself to be the sole permission giver. It’s allowing myself to see my own value by allowing the way I feel to be validated to myself, by myself. It’s showing myself I don’t need another person to give me permission or validation to feel what I feel – a fault I’ve dealt with for far too long.
Allowing myself to feel a full range of emotions frees me up to be my authentic self. Allowing myself to be sad when I’m sad, allowing myself to be happy when I’m happy, allowing myself to feel what it is I feel is NORMAL. It’s something I would absolutely do for anyone I love. It’s time I learn to do that for myself. Anything less is the emotional equivalent to Whack-A-Mole.
My path to happiness involves sadness because sadness is a normal part of my life, as it is everyone’s. Not allowing myself to feel sadness when it’s there keeps me locked up, it keeps me from moving forward, and I’m not having anymore of that.