Sometimes it can be really hard to separate “I feel bad” from “I am bad.”
Our culture often has very specific feelings about people who struggle emotionally or behaviorally.
Emotional pain is seen by some as a sign of weakness.
Struggling to manage our behavior is seen by some as lack of character.
Often there is a superficial acknowledgment that emotional or behavioral struggles are “not your fault,” and people are encouraged to seek help when they need help…but just under the surface, it’s hard for many people to shake their belief that peoples’ emotional pain or behavioral problems are largely self-inflicted.
People are often told to “choose’ to be happier.
People are often told to “choose” to be more productive.
And if people struggle to be happy or productive, it’s often assumed that they’ve been somehow doing life “wrong.”
These attitudes are sometimes even held by people who should very much know better.
And very often these attitudes sink into our own head and heart— leaving us with the conviction that we, ourselves, are “bad” because we struggle to be happy and productive.
You are not “weak” because your brain isn’t wired to hang on to states of focus or happiness.
You don’t lack “character” if you struggle to manage your behavior.
The truth is, emotional and behavioral problems are usually complex and multi determined.
That is: there are a LOT of things that feed into our difficulty getting and staying happy, and our difficulty managing or changing behavior— and many of those things are out of our control or awareness.
It’s true that, in therapy and recovery, we can learn how to make personal happiness and productivity more likely for us— and because we can do things to be happier and more effective, some people leap to the conclusion that the only reason we WEREN’T those things in the first place is because we were making poor choices.
It’s just not that simple.
Genetics plays a big role. Our early home environment and our relationships with our early caretakers play a big role. Our peer group growing up plays a big role. A LOT of that is out of our hands.
You are not “bad” just because you feel bad.
We are not defined by things that happen TO us.
It’s really important, in the course of therapy and recovery, that we constantly remember that we are not how we feel.
Many of us experience mental and behavioral symptoms that can be overwhelming at times.
But we are more than our symptoms.
We’re more than the diagnosis that DESCRIBES our symptoms.
Our most important characteristics, as people, are things we freely choose— not things that are handed to us by our genetics or early environment, and not choices where we feel we don’t have true options.
There are AMAZING people who have struggled with their feelings and behavior.
Kind people. Smart people. People who have made profound, lasting contributions to the world. People who have made the lives of the people around them significantly better.
Don’t get sucked into thinking that you are broken or “bad” because you feel bad.
In addition to the fact that it’s not true, the observation simply isn’t very useful. It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t explain anything.
Recovery isn’t about becoming a “better person.”
It’s about learning and strengthening certain skills, gathering certain tools, and accessing certain supports.
You are a perfectly good person just as you are. You, there, reading this.
Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
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