The power of and: Bonnie and Clyde. Chocolate and peanut butter. Bert and Ernie. They just go together, right? The “and” works because we know (or have at least learned from others) that they fit together. You can have one without the other but most would say neither would be quite as good or complete.
“And” is good. “And” is how it should be.
But sometimes in life, we encounter circumstances that simultaneously press on both joy and sadness, hope and fear, relief and great grief. Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.
You just had a baby; you are excited to be a mom and also really sad to lose the independence and freedom you used to have. You have a workaholic dad who doesn’t always have time for you; you love and respect him and have also been really hurt by him. Your spouse just lost a long battle with cancer; you are devastated by the loss and also relieved that you are no longer overwhelmed by being the 24/7 caregiver.
Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together. And in the midst of trying to make sense of them, we hear those voices in our head (or perhaps very audibly from those around us) that only one side of that “and” is the acceptable response or proper set of emotions to feel given the circumstance you are walking through. The way you “should” feel. So the other, very real side of the “and” gets stuffed down inside with a sufficient dose of shame heaped on top. It’s not allowed to be felt or talked about or acknowledged with anyone. What would they think if they knew? How can both of these seemingly conflicting feelings be real?
For those of you who resonate with this, what would it look like for you to allow yourself to sit in the tension between your “and”? To be honest with yourself to see that you are feeling both the “acceptable” response to your circumstance as well as the “unacceptable” or less acknowledged response. And to give yourself room to feel both sides of your “and”. To grieve where there is sadness and identify what has been lost. To rejoice where there is goodness or something gained. And to realize that giving way to one emotion does not negate the very real experience of or reality of the other.
And when you encounter a friend experiencing an emotion that “shouldn’t” be felt, I encourage you to sit and listen. To take a moment to put yourself in their shoes…really in their shoes. And consider whether you might also be feeling a similar seemingly conflict of emotions. And then give them room to experience both sides of their “and”.
The power of “and” is freedom – freedom from shame, freedom to be honest, and freedom to be whole.
By Melinda Seley, PLPC