Don’t miss the signal

Our emotions are here to help us pay attention. Let’s not turn them off.

At work recently I solved one problem and thereby created another problem for someone else. It seemed unavoidable when I did it, and may yet have been, but after I did it I wasn’t so sure. I felt terrible. I was worried the person inconvenienced would be mad. I have never met him. I don’t know whether he was likely to be mad or not. What I know is that I was making all of that mean something about my own competence and worth. My brain had pulled up thoughts from my past experience that were not serving me in the present moment.

I wanted to go eat brownies. I was working from home and there was a nearly full pan of brownies sitting in my kitchen, so I could easily have done that. But I decided not to. I decided to stay in my office and feel the pressure in my chest and constriction in my throat that comes when I feel shame, when I feel like I haven’t earned the right to take up space in the way that I have in the world. It’s awful.

It’s awful, and I could totally handle it. I called my sister and chatted with her. I was forthright about what I was experiencing and then I just kept feeling it while I listened to her talk about her weeds and her neighbor. I felt it as more work came into my inbox and I took care of that. I even felt it when I read the thank-you email from the department I had solved the problem for. I didn’t believe they were sincere; I thought they were being generous and trying to smooth things over.

And all of this happened because of sentences in my brain. “You shouldn’t have done that.” “He’s going to be mad.” “That was a mistake.”

All versions of “There’s something wrong with you.”

What I realized is that I was not loving myself no matter what. And if I am not willing to love myself even when I make mistakes, there’s no friendly email that can make me feel better, not even a more detailed thank-you email to my supervisor that got forwarded up the chain and to me, complimenting my great work. And now that I am aware of this about myself, I can change it. I can cultivate more compassion and acceptance for myself, whether or not I’ve made a mistake.

You can do that, too.

If I had spent the afternoon eating brownies instead of experiencing my unpleasant emotions, I would have missed it.

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