Into our vernacular has come a popular phrase in the last ten years or so. The phrase “It’s complicated,” is used daily by many; but it is legitimately, in my opinion, a valid emotional state, and not just a Facebook relationship status choice. It can apply to many things in life, and here’s my case on this subject.
I recently encountered someone with whom I have a long, complex history. I was surprised to bump into this person at that particular moment. You know what it’s like, seeing an ex-love or ex-friend in person or on social media, suddenly, unexpectedly, and it messes with you. You can try and block it all you want, but occasionally, it’s gonna pop up and slap you in the emotional face, so to speak.
But back to what happened. In that instance, I reacted coolly. I was not feeling happy, I was not feeling unhappy; I was not feeling angry, and I was not feeling calm. I was feeling anxious, and a cavalcade of other emotions hit me too: betrayal, sadness, and a twinge of exhaustion. As all of these hit me, I knew that I didn’t want to engage right that moment. I just wanted to be away. Have you ever felt like this?
Later, I struggled with my reaction. It was a strong reaction in several different directions. My mind went back and forth…that I didn’t act right, or should’ve handled it differently, or been “nice”, or whatever. I kept at it, and my own internal beating-up was wrecking me.
So then I thought: what if I accept that I have complicated emotions sometimes?
What if it is perfectly ok to have things all mixed up within? Everything doesn’t have to be sorted out cleanly and tied up nice and neat with a bow, does it? Surely, we can feel five different ways in the span of a minute and it doesn’t make us any less of a strong, capable, loving person. Perhaps, even, it is crucial to go through those emotions to get to where we need to be in the end.
That night, I had some wine, etc, and binged Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. I allowed myself to rest in the trust that I will balance the complications later. It seems like it always gets sorted out (albeit with work, yes) at some point down the road. Accepting and allowing yourself to work through knotty feelings is human. But so is accepting and allowing yourself to just be a little bit tangled. There is too much gray area in this world for us to make this a black and white issue; to set a hard line upon ourselves to find one emotion and force sticking to it.
Obviously, I preach love and realness a lot, so it’s important to me to come from those places. But in the last few months, I have come to realize that loving myself has to come first, and allowing myself to work through things without holding myself to an unattainable standard is part of that self-love.
In a 2012 study from Berkeley psychologists Serena Chen and Juliana Breines, they discovered that self-compassion was a true motivator to self-improvement. As Heidi Halvorson, PhD, wrote of the study in Psychology Today, “Self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, may be the key to unlocking your true potential for greatness.” While this article and the accompanying research purports that we exercise self-compassion when making mistakes, I am suggesting that it could also apply to convoluted emotional states. We don’t have to push ourselves to constantly come to a conclusion right away.
Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t handle and face the nagging things that might be eating at us internally or causing us stress and possible physical manifestations. Of course those are worthy of exploration and resolution. But sometimes, a person or situation evokes a mix of emotions within us, and my point is this: that is ok.
So the next time you read “it’s complicated” or perhaps you yourself have several different emotions at once, like I did, find your own self-compassion. That’s not complicated. You give yourself a little playful punch on the arm and tell yourself, it’s ok. Sometimes things are kinda messy. And then, know that you always work it out. Rest assured that you will with this, too.