When I feel bad I try to ignore it. To elaborate and describe feeling bad is particularly difficult because by ignoring the feeling it becomes hard to understand myself, much less articulate to others. I definitely felt bad what I was being abused, but there were lots of other times when I felt bad in childhood. If other kids made fun of me or didnít include me in their circle I would feel bad. If I was in trouble at home I would feel bad. Through practice I changed feeling bad into a numb, disconnected and vaguely uneasy feelingÖ a sort of dull dread of nothing in particular.
As an adult I have honed this skill until it is almost completely subconscious. But it doesnít always feel like dull dread. Sometimes, like right now in fact, it feels like acute anxiety. Trouble is that I have no idea why I am anxious. And when I sit down and earnestly try to figure it out I feel like I will drive myself straight into a panic attack, as if the truth about my anxiety will simply be more than I could bear. Maybe my anxiety isnít about the feelings themselves, but about the consequences of the situation causing the feelings.
Suppose I show up late for work. No one says anything to me because I am usually so punctual, but I know it has been noticed and I know the boss doesnít like people to be late. Now letís suppose the next day I am late again, and again no one says anything to me. I would drive myself crazy with anxiety, worrying about getting fired or the boss not liking me anymore or who knows what might happen to me. Although I wouldnít have any real feelings about the actual situation at hand (my tardiness being poor show of professionalism) I would have lots of feelings about the possible bad things that might be getting ready to happen to me.
That example is a bit manufactured and obvious though. Consider what happened to me today. I had a long conversation with one of my friends about my relationship with my ex-wife. He was interested in why the marriage failed and how I felt about her before the breakup and after it. The conversation got pretty personal but was otherwise uneventful. Afterwards I found myself anxious, apparently about nothing. Now sitting here writing this I am confident I am worrying about what will happen as a result of the conversation. Was I too personal? Did I give too much information? Was there something I should have kept to myself? Did my friend change his opinion of me (for the worse)? Will he tell other people the stuff we talked about?
Missing from this chaos of thought is any consideration of how I feel (aside from worried). Although I could legitimately turn all of those questions around (Was he too personal? Did he give too much information?) I never would. Well, maybe not never, but not in my present emotional state. Since I am completely concerned with how others will react to a situation I give little or no thought to my own reaction, and that is really a twofold problem.
One the one hand, without any conscious attention to my reaction, my behavior is likely immature and self centered. On the other hand, since I am not paying any attention to how I am acting or feeling I am not learning anything about myself. What could I have done better? What did I like? What didnít I like? All valuable questions, but never asked or answered. Instead, what did you like? How could I have pleased you more?
"Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself." -Mary Schmich