This is an article for grownups—but it begins with a little story about children.
At the beginning of my first career, when I was a new teacher, I thought it was my job to fix the problems my students brought to me.
If I couldn’t solve the problem, I thought, it meant I was failing. Failing the kids, failing their parents, failing myself.
No pressure, right?!
In fact, this belief (which is one of the most common limiting beliefs that teachers and parents hold) put an enormous amount of pressure on me to do the fixing—and, less obviously, it put pressure on the kids to be fixed. Within the immediate-fixer approach, there’s an implicit message that it’s not okay to feel the way you feel.
Naturally, I felt pretty stressed out when a child brought me a problem I couldn’t fix.
Then I had an experience that completely changed the way I approached helping kids navigate conflict, and knocked the Fixer completely out of my internal job description.
I tell the story of that transformation in my teleseries and workshops for parents and educators. But this article is not about that story. This article is about how what I learned in that journey can give YOU a powerful tool to help you deal with your own problems and pain.
Here’s the important part of that story for our purposes today: as part of that transformation, I discovered that oftentimes, just 100% accepting the feelings the kid brought to me diffused a lot of their energy around the situation, and just having the space to express those feelings and release that energy, free of judgment, made them feel better—before any action steps had been devised or solutions had even been considered.
This is an example of how it would go:
“I’m so mad at him!”
“Yes, you’re feeling really mad at him.”
After a few rounds of this (and sometimes after just one), the shoulders would drop, the body relaxed, and the child would just settle in and sit with the feelings. Only after that would the child be ready to move into problem-solving mode.
Because helping adults often do lead with a “fixing mentality,” the kids were expecting a redirection, a “here-is-why-you-shouldn’t-feel-that-way,” or a veiled (if unintended) message to “stop-feeling-that-way-as-soon-as-possible-and-feel-better-right-now.”
When they didn’t get that, any defensive energy drained away, and they emotionally and physically relaxed. The most common response to my response would be, “Yeah…” followed by a sigh and a visible settling-in.
So, how does this apply to you—to your pain, your breakup, your career disappointment?
Here’s the thing: kids are basically just little people. What works for them can work for you. You can use this strategy with your friends, your partner, and yourself.
One day, shortly after my shift in my conflict-navigation approach with the kids, I was suffering from a particularly painful breakup. I found myself desperately wanting to stop feeling the pain and just make everything better.
Suddenly, I recognized the Fixer…
…and I thought about the “yes” approach. Well, if it works with the kids… I thought. Wanting to break free from my out-of-control wheel-spinning, I decided to try the strategy with myself.
I decided to drop my “fixer” mentality and say yes to my pain.
I was amazed by how well it worked.
When I “yessed” myself, I felt an immediate, full-body physical change. My body just relaxed.
It wasn’t a happy feeling—after all, I was really heartbroken!—but there was peace in it. And acceptance. Total, no-holds-barred acceptance of the fact of the feeling.
I miss her.
Yes, you miss her.
She hurt me.
Yes, she hurt you.
I want her to come back.
I love her.
I didn’t have to fight for or defend my right to feel the pain, anger, and sadness. I didn’t have to produce evidence for why I felt that way. In the absence of that tension, I just settled into the feelings. It was the same change I had seen and felt in the kids.
So, the next time you are suffering from disappointment, heartbreak, or any kind of pain, try this:
When you hear yourself having the same thought on repeat, like “I’m sad,” or “I miss him,” or “I want her to come back,” instead of trying to get past the thought, try just saying YES to the thought, or to the feeling underneath the thought.
For example, “Yes. You’re sad.” “Yes, you miss him.” “Yes. You’re disappointed.” “Yes, you want her back.”
Or, simply: “Yes.”
This will take your body’s and mind’s own defenses down. It will also allow you to begin the healing process—rather than pushing your feeling away or adding guilt and “shoulding” on top of the pain, you’ll “be with” the feeling and it can start to move through you.
In contrast, when you tell yourself, or someone else, “no” with regard to a feeling, the voice will come up, “BUT BUT BUT!” “But I MISS HER!” “BUT HE HURT ME! HE DID!”
The voice will start to recite all the evidence, all the reasons, all the proof that this feeling is valid. This can keep that hamster wheel or thought spiral spinning indefinitely.
However, if you simply say yes—accept that feeling without proof or further discussion—there is no need to begin reciting all the reasons. No explaining necessary. And ironically, once you 100% accept your pain, you may notice your inner pain-spinning voice get softer.
Is there a place for challenging painful thoughts, and turning them around, choosing other thoughts that serve us better? Of course there is. In fact, that’s a huge part of my work with my coaching clients.
But sometimes simply acknowledging and FULLY ACCEPTING the pain can work wonders in diffusing it, and is a critical step in the beginning of the healing process.
This is a way to practice acceptance and unconditional love—for yourself, and for the entire spectrum of emotions and experiences that being human brings.
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Photo by Tavallai