I am currently working with a woman who is going through chemotherapy. During one session, she told me how, when confronted with making a grocery list that morning, she had burst into tears. She was ashamed for being so easily overwhelmed with her emotions. She said, “I’m acting like a crybaby.”
I didn’t think my client wasn’t being a crybaby at all. She wasn’t complaining about her condition. She was simply crying like a baby. And there’s a big difference.
When we are in crisis or fatigued, even the littlest things can overwhelm us with negative emotions like frustration, isolation, fear and helplessness. We often struggle to get rid of these feelings, as if they represented a threat to our survival. “Why is this happening to me?,” we ask. “No one understands what I am going through. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”
Complaining is one way we resist the negative emotions associated with the alarms of the monkey mind. Our hearts are closed to feeling this pain. Unfortunately, complaints do nothing to improve our situation, and worse, they send the wrong message back to the monkey mind. That message is, I can’t handle this.
Instead of treating negative feelings as something to be complained about, it is far more useful to accept them as necessary. Like the sun overhead and the clouds passing by, negative emotions are beyond our direct control. All we can do is allow them to pass through our lives. Disruptive and painful as they may be, we can choose to make room for them and yes, to express them. Depending on how
deep the pain, that can mean letting the tears flow—just like a baby.
From the first moments of birth, our bodies and minds are perfectly capable of expressing negative emotions in a spontaneous and healthy way. When we welcome our negative feelings, instead of complaining about them, we can process them, from the beginning all the way through to the end. A crying baby can sound like a thunderstorm. But eventually the sun comes out.
- Of course, it takes courage to accept negative emotions and allow ourselves to feel them without question or complaint. But your courage will be rewarded with increased resilience to all the inevitable pain in life.
- And when we welcome uncomfortable feelings, we are sending a much more productive and powerful message to our monkey mind. We are saying, I can handle this. This message calms down that part of our brain, and with continued repetition, fosters more peace or equanimity in our lives.
- Finally, and most importantly, when we actively open our hearts to pain and sorrow we widen its doors for all emotions, including joy and pleasure. We are expanding our capacity to feel and stay present in the moment.
The next time you feel sad, or scared or frustrated, if you notice yourself slipping into that well-worn, but ineffective habit of complaint, take a moment to stop and acknowledge what you are feeling. Can you welcome it instead? Open the palms of your hands as a physical reminder that you are keeping your heart open, and allow the feelings to flow through you without any resistance. Breathe deeply, making plenty of space for whatever sensations emerge. You don’t need to change or control anything. Trust that what you are feeling is natural and necessary.
And if you are so moved, let the tears flow. Go ahead. Cry like a baby.