There is an unfortunate trend in many self-help podcasts, books and YouTube videos that encourages you to let go, accept and forgive through the use of affirmations. Letting go, even accepting and forgiving, is wonderful as long as you’re emotionally ready. Spiritual bypassing comes when you force yourself to resolve something even though you’re still upset or angry about it. When you forgive someone or accept something before you’re ready you simply create a polarized part in yourself. In other words, you now have all the angry, grief-stricken or frustrated parts and a new (or more strongly activated) inner voice that says you shouldn’t feel any of those things, you should just forgive yourself and everybody else…as if that’s so easy, or simply saying it is going to make it so.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, putting affirmations or positive self-talk on top of roiling emotions only suppresses them: the opposite of letting them out and letting them pass through you.
The thing to do with feelings is feel them. Emotions are truly energy in motion. If you try to squash them by covering them up with something that sounds or looks better you’re merely encouraging them to burrow into you more deeply.
If it were truly so easy to say a few affirmations and excise your demons everybody would have done it long ago and would feel happy and peaceful. Affirmations can be a useful adjunct in your mental wellness tool kit; however, you have to be ready for them. Merely saying them doesn’t make them magically change your life. If you don’t really believe them, they won’t work. Wanting to believe them is not the same as having done the emotional prep work that lets you fully embrace them.
So what can an angry or grief-stricken human do to pave the way for true acceptance and forgiveness? Allow yourself to feel your feelings no matter how disturbing, scary or unpleasant they may be. This is one of the hardest things you could possibly do and takes an incredible amount of practice, but it can be done. Just understand it may go against an almost cellular tendency to fight what feels unpleasant or overwhelming. Still, you invite in the scary, triggering, or disturbing feeling. It’s both counterintuitive and incredibly powerful.
The practice involves saying: Let me feel this. There are many variations on this essential phrase, like: I can make it safe to feel this. Or: It’s OK to feel this. Whichever one you use will open the door to greater calm, less muscle tension, and less cognitive dissonance.
When you allow the parts of you that are still disturbed about something to express themselves they relax. There’s nothing for them to fight against. On the other hand, if you force them into subjugation with forgiveness they’re not ready to truly accept, they will fight you by creating cognitive and emotional dissonance. This discomfort may not be conscious, because your ego and/or unconscious mind might succeed in suppressing it, but it will be there, just under the surface, waiting to pounce with either a physical or emotional manifestation (muscle pain, headaches, stomach aches, heart palpitations, addictions, insomnia, anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, etc.).
There is no way to bypass the work of feeling unpleasant emotions when they arise without incurring negative consequences. On the other hand, if you practice feeling all your feelings, they will become less scary, intimidating and overwhelming. Adding a hefty dose of self compassion by using Kristen Neff’s three key concepts can make this a bit easier.
She suggests saying the following to yourself:
1. This is a moment of suffering.
2. Everyone suffers, no one has singled me out for this, it’s simply part of the human experience.
3. Let me be kind and gentle to myself as I experience this.
It’s easy to see how suggestions to spiritually bypass this work can be enticing, but resist their enchantments. They will only add to your unhappiness. The only way out is through. If there were a faster route we would all be taking it and feeling deliriously happy. Just as with everything else in your life you feel good about, it requires some work. To build a muscle you have to use it. If you want to build emotional muscle you have to practice feeling and acknowledging what’s true and real for you. You have to feel your feelings. That’s what they’re there for. Stuffing them, ignoring them, or beating them into submission will not work. Just like whack-a-mole they will emerge somewhere else.
Resist the urge to wallpaper over your sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, anxiety, and grief with forgiveness and acceptance. Allow yourself to feel them all. Get to know them. Hard as it may be to believe, they’re there to help you. They’re simply parts of you that want to protect you from further pain by reminding you, through an unpleasant feeling, to take the very best care of yourself you possibly can.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang