Sometimes, it’s helpful to be upset.
Mindfulness is characterized by not resisting our reality, and sometimes that reality is emotional upset. Sometimes peaceful acceptance lies not in avoiding the upset, but rather in letting it rule us for a hot second. Although it might sound backwards, freeing our emotions allows us to keep calm when we need it most.
Peace can arrive post-emotion. The way this works is because, when we ignore the upset, we’re actually resisting the emotions we feel in that moment. There is nothing inherently wrong about hurting, feeling icky, or otherwise disliking something. Sometimes it’s helpful to admit we’re not feeling wonderful, since this admission (like with all things) is the first step of acceptance.
Last week, the surgery I was healing from reminded me of this lesson. My body has never liked medication and it made this very clear to me after taking some for pain relief. I felt icky and sick and drained days after the procedure, more from the side effects of the medicine rather than the requirements of healing from the surgery.
And, honestly, I was overwhelmed with strong emotions and upset. I’d been cooped up in my apartment for almost a week without going outside, sleeping only in one position, and unable to stretch to relieve the chronic pain I have. For about two days, I tried ignoring this upset and instead reminded myself to just accept my reality and know this was temporary, although difficult.
It sort of worked. But, eventually the frustration caught up with me.
What worked better was when I paced around my apartment, upset. I cried and groaned about how I just wanted the side effects to go away. The tears didn’t last long, maybe a minute or two at most.
The magical part is that after, acceptance came easy. I had expressed my grievances. Now that I was no longer ignoring how emotionally icky I’d felt for a couple days, I feel more at peace with the still un-resolved side effects. The peace is a serious blessing; I finally had a calm mind. As much as I had tried to foster it before letting out my emotions, serenity remained elusive until I actually cried and moaned about my current feelings.
Throwing away the (often compulsive) need to be composed isn’t always easy. Even though I consider myself an expressive person, I struggled for over 48 hours to accept that I was frustrated and not feeling good. And when I tried to accept it, my first attempts included telling myself “just accept how you feel!” and “it won’t last forever!” We’d be upset if someone said this directly to us, yet we somehow let this type of talk slide when we’re speaking to ourselves. Pep talks work sometimes, but when we’re feeling down we want to be validated, not dismissed.
To really accept how I was feeling, I changed my mental voice into one of temporarily complaining. I know, there’s a huge stigma around complaining, but there’s a difference between voicing upset and really actually participating in that nagging and unhelpful complaining. After all, this is the epitome of validation! We’ve all found some joyful solidarity in mutually ranting with a close friend.
I do want to clarify. Annoying complaint is incessant and without purpose. If we were to mope for hours on end about how we felt with no desire to actually feel better, that would be this. “Healthy complaining” is all about expressing something we’re struggling to accept and why the emotions make it difficult to accept. The object of our complaint becomes miraculously easy to handle once these emotions are felt. We’ve received the validation we needed to provide ourselves, so now we can effectively treat or accept the problem at hand.
Now I’m curious and I’d absolutely love to hear from you below in the comments. Have you ever had a time where complaining ended up bringing you a lot of peace?
Do you agree or disagree that some complaining can be healthy?
Related reading: Bad Day? 6 Powerful Ways to Get Through It