Feel All the Feelings, From Beginning to End
The year was 1998 and I was a senior in high school. As I sat in Abigael’s Grill on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst for my graduation dinner, the class photo montage began. Pictures were displayed to Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” And though at 17 I was more of a Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Dylan kind of gal, I was struck by the lyrics which have stayed with me into my adult life: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end..
The theme of this month has been “New Beginnings.” Around the secular new year, we are flooded with messages of positivity, setting intentions and lots of “how to’s.” How to Live Your Best Life in the New Year, How To Lose Weight in the New Year, How to Bring the Spice Back into Your Marriage in the New Year. And while I love to feel inspired and pumped up, another part of me knows that I am a rational being who knows how to do all of these things already.
We know that if we want to lose weight we have to eat in moderation and exercise. We know we could be more patient with family members, and we know that doing more of the things we love will make us happier. New beginnings are wonderful. We get it! Sometimes we’re just not feeling it, though. Some of us want the new beginning desperately, but we often become too lost and stuck in the ending to find our way out.
Let’s talk about the culprits that keep us stuck in our endings: fear, guilt, shame, regret, and perfectionism.
Fear is what warns us: What if you can’t do this? What if it all goes wrong? What if I get sick? What if something happens to a loved one? I may be a total loser and no one will like me.
Guilt is our internal punishment when we believe we have done something wrong: How can you go back to work when you have small children? How can you stay home with your small children when you don’t have the finances to do so?
Shame has a one-two punch: I believe there is something inherently wrong with me or that I did something wrong AND when other people find out they will also believe there is something inherently wrong with me.
Bring in the “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve”, and regret has arrived. If only I went to school. I shouldn’t have gotten married so young. I should never have left that job. I should have seen the signs of my son’s drug abuse. How could I have been so stupid?
Perfectionism can go one of two ways. In order for me to feel my worth, I must get everything done right. Or,I won’t be able to do it perfectly anyway, so why even bother? (Sometimes what looks like laziness or lack of motivation can actually be what I call “closet perfectionism.”)
All of these culprits, or internal mechanisms wired into our psyche, can be healthy and productive when experienced in measured doses. They serve as wonderful teachers and guides that are here to help us learn and do better next time.
For so many of us though, these culprits hold us captive to an ending that no longer serves us. We could literally be in the midst of a new beginning (new career, new marriage, new baby, newfound independence, new friendship) and not be able to feel it or connect with it. When fear, guilt, shame, regret or perfectionism is felt or experienced in excess, we can begin to have anxiety, to browbeat, ruminate, get depressed or run ourselves ragged.
What’s a girl to do when she wants to move on but is stuck in her ending? I will often have a client ask me “How do I do this, Jennifer? What are the steps?” And between me and you, I would also like the clear-cut answer to this question. Follow steps 1 through 10 and rid yourself of all meshugas forever! If there was one real tried and true answer, someone would have written the book, and profited, a long time ago.
There are no perfect steps. There is no rulebook. There is no “how to” article that could ever capture the magnitude of a person’s journey of release and growth.
What I can share with you is what makes the journey a bit more comfortable and manageable. You need to know that it’s OK to experience the feelings that hold us back. Feel all the feelings, ladies. Your feelings are signaling something to you. They are to be explored and not judged. They are to be opened and not closed.
We don’t move on from things, we move through them, hopefully with self-compassion and empathy, understanding and forgiveness. I was young when I made that mistake. I wish I could go back in time and hug that girl. When I decided to leave that job, I really did have the best of intentions. I forgive myself for not knowing then what I had no way of knowing then. I can understand how I missed my son’s drug use. I was so busy with all the kids and my job and my husband. My “imperfections” make me beautiful. The cracks are how the light gets in. I give myself permission to make a mistake. I am still loveable.
We will experience transitions, changes and new beginnings for the rest of our lives — this is the human experience. It is only when we can love and forgive ourselves that we can release from the end and begin anew. In 2018, may we all be able to believe that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
Jennifer Mann, LCSW is a psychotherapist working with individuals, families and couples in her private practice in Hewlett, NY. Her specialties include anxiety, self-esteem and relationship health. Jennifer facilitates an anxiety support group, Calm Together. She co-facilitates Girl Talk, an age based empowerment support group for girls. Jennifer writes a weekly column in The Jewish Home; What Would You Do If? Please visit facebook.com/JenniferMannLCSW to learn more.